Bryan Caplan  

The Social and Political Realities of Immigration: A Reply to Hoste

Unassorted Links... Intra-National HDI...
I'm pleased to see one critic of immigration, Richard Hoste, engaging my Comparative Advantage argument for open borders.  In fact, he admits that my point, then objects:
Unfortunately, the low IQ masses vote.  They demand free health care, welfare and schools for their children.  Since the less intelligent commit a disproportionate amount of crime your tax dollars go to more jails and police (not to mention the better odds of getting robbed, raped or killed)...

In the long run, multiracial societies with vast life disparities between different groups aren't known for their high levels of social peace.

Hoste concludes, "Caplan's analysis is good as far as economic truth goes but ignores all social and political realities."

My reply: I've addressed these "social and political realities" before.  The crime complaint is off-base; despite any IQ deficit, immigrants commit much less crime than natives.  The political externalities concern is more serious, but as I explained in this interview:
[T]he simplest model seriously overstates natives' political losses for natives. Some of the main reasons:
  • Empirically, non-natives are markedly less likely to vote than natives, even controlling for education and age. Immigration has a considerably smaller effect on the median voter than it does on the median resident.
  • Natives start with a near-monopoly on political slack. At least initially, all of the incumbent politicians, government officials, media leaders, etc. will be natives, and will tend to use their slack to prevent deterioration of the political status quo.
  • "Faith in rulers," another source of political slack that I discuss in my book, makes immigrants more likely to simply accept whatever policies are already in place.
  • Although poor immigrants are likely to support a bigger welfare state than natives do, the presence of poor immigrants makes natives turn against the welfare state. Why would this be? As a rule, people are happy to vote to "take care of their own"; that's what the welfare state is all about. So when the poor are culturally very similar to the rich, as they are in places like Denmark and Sweden, support for the welfare state tends to be uniformly strong.

    As the poor become more culturally distant from the rich, however, support for the welfare state becomes weaker and less uniform. There is good evidence, for example, that support for the welfare state is weaker in the U.S. than in Europe because our poor are disproportionately black. Since white Americans don't identify with black Americans to the same degree that rich Danes identify with poor Danes, most Americans are comfortable having a relatively small welfare state.

    Thus, even though black Americans are unusually supportive of the welfare state, it is entirely possible that the presence of black Americans has on net made our welfare state smaller by eroding white support for it.

    Immigration is likely to have an even stronger counter-balancing effect on natives' policy preferences because, as far as most Americans are concerned, immigrants from Latin American are much more of an "out-group" than American blacks. Faced with the choice to either cut social services or give "a bunch of foreigners" equal access, natives will lean in the direction of cuts. In fact, I can't think of anything more likely to make natives turn against the welfare state than forcing them to choose between (a) helping no one, and (b) helping everyone regardless of national origin.

I'd add that if political externalities are your real concern, you should offer solutions to that specific problem, not lash out at immigration per se. 

Hoste's response, I suspect, would be to repeat his charge that I'm "ignoring social and political realities."  My question for him: What makes you so sure that it's "socially and politically realistic" to further reduce immigration?  Haven't immigrations' detractors felt extremely frustrated for decades?  Maybe you'd actually make more headway in the real world if you stopped using moderate IQ differences to justify massive oppression of immigrants - and started proposing humane ways to mitigate specifc drawbacks of immigration.

COMMENTS (15 to date)
cassander writes:

Point 2 isn't the case if the politicians think that they can increase their share of the vote by upsetting the status quo. This was quite visibly demonstrated in the 50's and 60's, when urban machines used "renewal" projects to destroy existing ethnic communities and create new ones who were more likely to vote for the machine, the identity of the ethnic groups in question varying from city to city.

There is also the longer term question to look at. Take, for example, abortion and Catholics. If you import a lot of Catholics, they won't have the right to vote, so they won't change outcomes at first. But they will have kids, and many of them will be raised catholic, and many of those will become anti-abortion because of it. When they start voting, the country as a whole will be more anti-abortion than would be the case had you not had immigration.

I'm generally pretty positive on immigration, but it does create issues that deserve more than the handwave that they get from many libertarians.

agnostic writes:

Immigrant crime is a red herring. It is the future expectation of more crime through the descendants of immigrants. Do Puerto Ricans in New York commit crime at higher rates than whites there? Yes. And Hispanics in New Mexico? Yes. Their ancestors arrived 3, 4, or more generations ago, and may have been super careful not to do anything that might get them thrown out, but their descendants face no such pressure.

So as long as the critics are long-term-minded, rather than right-now-minded, the crime complaint is completely on-base.

Going through the other points:

1. Immigrants might vote less, but by your own debunking of the selfish voter hypothesis, this doesn't matter. It's what the majority would vote, and over time we've seen the majority grow more and more sympathetic to extending existing entitlements (like expensive public schools) and cooking up new ones ad hoc (like affirmative action) to low-achieving ethnic groups. More immigration from such groups would worsen this trend.

2. That's true, but again the status quo is already so much in favor of dreaming up more entitlement programs and dumping even more money into existing ones (like how much is spent per pupil in DC public schools). Even if things stayed the same, they'd get worse because we'd add another large group of entitlees.

3. That's true too. I don't think immigrants would immediately try to throw their weight around, but they wouldn't need to based on 1 and 2 above. Natives are pretty warm to protecting the "historically disadvantaged," and really we want to worry about the long term when the descendants *would* feel emboldened enough to turn themselves into an organized ethnic lobby.

4. Counter-balancing that force is the assimilating force. Whites view blacks as much closer to themselves than they used to before the Civil Rights movement. They view formerly non-mainstream groups like Italians and Jews as virtually next-door to themselves. To the extent that descendants of immigrants would be assimilated into the mainstream, the majority would be more willing to extend welfare benefits to them.

Again look at the case of blacks: as whites have changed their perceptions, so that blacks are now closer, they've grown more OK with extending existing entitlements and cooking up new ones just for blacks. For a host of reasons, whites would grow to perceive Hispanics as even closer to themselves than are blacks, so looking the other way on entitlements would get even worse.

And then there are points you don't address, like the well documented evidence that areas with higher ethnic heterogeneity have lower levels of social capital and trust. Even economists are growing more aware of how important those factors are in building civil society, the use of the market (vs. extended-family firms or same-ethnic firms), and economic growth.

Your characterization of the immigrant-restrictionist view is that they think the country would go down the tubes tomorrow if immigrants flooded in. But in fact what they're talking about is the long-term effects this would have. And as far as I can see, they're right.

As for practical solutions, we shouldn't let in loads more immigrants from low-achieving groups until we can find a way to raise their achievement among their counterparts who have been here for generations.

If the full force of social engineering can't raise Puerto Ricans in New York anywhere near the level of Irish in New York, despite their having been here for generations and often being so assimilated that they don't even speak Spanish, how could we hope to avoid similar problems of persistent low achievement among would-be immigrants from Puerto Rico? Ditto for Hispanic communities in New Mexico.

Once we find that cure, then there would be no problem -- we'll just apply it to their immigrant counterparts as well. That's very practical: "We'll let you in once we figure out how to avoid the problems you'd likely bring us. No offense -- you'd say the same thing if our roles were reversed."

Brian Clendinen writes:

I am more for a liberal border not a full open border. I still think we need quotes and some minimal restriction mostly criminal background, know organized crime, terrorist links or was deported.

Visa should be granted this way. Ever month for each type of the 4 or 5 (not the current 28 or 29) types of visa the State Department would hold a competitive bid for application permits quota. The winners could only use for themselves or immediate family the visa application permits (you could bid on behalf of someone else though). Then if one past the minimal requirements, they get the visa. If you fail the requirements (not due to poor or missing paper work which you are allowed to clarify, re-submit), you have to win another application permit to reapply. No arbitrary weightings based on family, race, and work criteria, no quotas by country which is soft bigotry at best, best of all one is decreasing the power of the government bureaucrats. The exceptions would be marriage, and political asylum permits. These would come out of the permanent residential visa caps. One would still need some additional criteria in granting these.

One it is a revenue stream to the government, secondly the price would be the best metric at determining if the quotes where realistic. The only downside I could see if permanent residential visas got to be in the tens of thousand of dollars, there would be a lot of what we see now, people would start skipping out on tourist and student visas in larger numbers.

ziel writes:

What Agnostic said. I'd add that the IQ differences are NOT trivial - they are significant and persistent, and pretty much explain the achievement gaps.

Bryan, I really hope you respond to Agnostic's points - debating with Hoste is fine, but Agnostic has a more comprehensive and fact-based understanding of the issues.

Cassander's point is a pretty good one, too - think "John Lindsay".

Mercer writes:

"presence of poor immigrants makes natives turn against the welfare state."

Has the news about the huge recent addition to our welfare state not reached people in ivory towers?

Jason Malloy writes:

The fact that Bryan Caplan is repeating arguments that have repeatedly been engaged on his blog would seem to indicate a show of bad faith.

This isn't really about externalities; Dr. Caplan disputes the moral legitimacy of borders and nation-states, but this conflicts with the moral beliefs and intuitions of the vast majority of people.

I dispute that it's a fundamental human "right" for anyone to enter or live in my house. I also dispute that it's a fundamental human "right" for anyone to enter or live in my country. This is because I think private property and sovereign territory both serve important human needs.

Philosophically, the difference between "owning" a house tied to the land, and "owning" citizenship tied to the land doesn't strike me as very different, and to the extent that either is viewed as "oppressing" some people, I believe the alternative would be even worse.

Outside of that more fundamental disagreement, there is simply no credible argument that mass low skill immigration will enhance the well-being of the American people. It is also doubtful that it would increase the sum well-being of non-Americans as well. The specifics have already been discussed here.

Peter writes:


While I know this wasn't the main thrust of your argument just wanted to comment on "Again look at the case of blacks: as whites have changed their perceptions, so that blacks are now closer, they've grown more OK with extending existing entitlements and cooking up new ones just for blacks. For a host of reasons, whites would grow to perceive Hispanics as even closer to themselves than are blacks, so looking the other way on entitlements would get even worse."

This is a very regional specific outlook, I can tell you for one in the Great Lakes region white's perceives hispanics much much closer than blacks by far. I have found the farther you get from the Mexican border or the West the more hispanics are accepted and less so with blacks. I think this holds up anecdotally pretty well also, how many whites do you know trust their families with black nannies, housekeeps, et al.; the pecking order seems pretty much illegal Hispanic, illegal asian, legal filipino, legal eastern european.

hacs writes:

American immigration policy is highly homogeneous for different IQ levels (there are exceptions for very high IQ immigrants, but even the native elite has an average IQ lower than that group), given nationality, and highly heterogeneous for nationality. This fact and the discussion above define an ownership structure.

D writes:

Other blog posts that make excellent points that Bryan doesn't seem to have good answers for.

I think Malloy has nailed the reason why he still makes these arguments without being able to refute these obvious points.

Also, why does Bryan not address ILLEGAL immigration or otherwise NAM/low IQ immigration, which is what these people he's responded to are talking about? Instead he just says "immigration" as though this is about Koreans and East Indians.

David C writes:

"Outside of that more fundamental disagreement, there is simply no credible argument that mass low skill immigration will enhance the well-being of the American people. It is also doubtful that it would increase the sum well-being of non-Americans as well. The specifics have already been discussed here." - Jason Malloy

Bryan Caplan's comparative advantage argument is a credible argument that mass low skill immigration will enhance the well-being of the American people. It's his second link.

A quick internet search came up with these as the top three:
Which argues that immigration slightly increases well-being based on standard economic theory, like Bryan Caplan's argument.
Which argues that immigration decreases well-being in the UK because of lack of resources.
Which argues that immigration slightly improves the economy but is insignificant based on empirical evidence. It does significantly improve the well-being of the immigrants themselves.

Jason Malloy writes:

David C.,

Right, we've been over this before here. The economic reasoning is otherwise sound in a vacuum, or given a variety of contexts, but incorrect in this context when we factor in real world externalities. See the linked comment.

Dr. Caplan's ideas about how a ballooning, entitled underclass will actually lead to a more libertarian America and more economically savvy electorate are almost unbelievably ludicrous.

The political consequences of mass low skill immigration are ruinous.

mulp writes:

I'd like to remind everyone that the immigration problem dates to the illegal immigration in the 19th century. In response to the illegal immigrants, the military was activated to defend the border, but President Polk declared war on Mexico to prevent Mexico's military defending its borders.

But this wasn't the first time the English and their descendants; I'm a 20th generation descendant of an illegal English immigrant who defied the Americans born here and used force to take their land.

I love the irony of individual enterprising Mexicans accomplishing what Santa Ana failed to do, keep Arizona Mexican. And judging from American history, immigrants always defeat the natives.

What Polk should have done is finished the job. If Bush had wanted to solve the immigration problem on our southern border and finish an unfinished war, he should have demanded Mexico surrender,and then invaded when they refused, and annexed the rest of Mexico.

We wouldn't have had the same kind of housing bubble because the opportunity for developing the rest of the Mexican territories to prepare them for statehood would have been a productive use of the retirement saving the boomers have been socking away. And the American population would have become healthier and younger, improving the demographics for Social Security and Medicare.

Carter writes:

What a horrible world you wish to bequeath to your clone.

The notion enforcing borders is "opression" resembles arguments all property is theft, therefore "justice" demands redistribution of wealth.

Buck writes:

[Comments removed for repeatedly supplying false email addresses. Email the to request restoring your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

Steve Roth writes:

While I agree with the overall point, your comparative advantage argument arguably fails due to the fallacy of the extremes.

As so often, it's a matter of degree.

If a society has too few Brains to maximize utility, it needs more of those. Ditto Brawns.

And that doesn't even touch on whether those human resources are being allocated efficiently, which is deep tangled spaghetti, certainly not a given.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top