Bryan Caplan  

Marketing Liberty to Immigrants

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The Libertarian Missionary remarked:
It's possible that immigrants will vote to destroy the system that attracted them, but unlikely.  Immigrants come here because they prefer life here to life at home.  It wouldn't take a marketing genius to win them over to the cause of American liberty.
David Henderson responded:

My reaction to Bryan's statement about how easy it would be to convince people is like George Stigler's reaction to a similar statement by Adam Smith. Stigler quoted Smith's famous passage:

I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.
Stigler commented, "I wonder what those very few words were."

Similarly, I'd like to meet Bryan's marketing non-genius.

First, let me clarify my position, then defend it.  The original post was an opening statement in a hypothetical debate, so I tried to be brief.  More detailed version:

I don't claim that is would be easy to actually convert immigrants to libertarianism.  My claim is more modest: It wouldn't be that hard to persuade immigrants to be as libertarian as the median native-born American. 

How would a mediocre marketing guru advise his clients to achieve this transformation?  Since conservatives worry far more about immigrants' political views than liberals, I'll assume the clients come from the conservative movement.  Here goes:

Step #1: Stop going out of your way to insult, demean, and dehumanize immigrants, legal or not.  Given the way that conservatives now talk about immigrants, it's amazing that immigrants don't universally detest them.

Step #2: Praise immigrants for their many admirable traits: Their courage in coming to a new country, their determination to make a better life for themselves and their families, etc.  Make them feel welcome and appreciated.

Step #3:  Explain how America's relatively libertarian policies foster and reward immigrants' admirable traits.  Contrast the system of free enterprise and initative immigrants have chosen to the systems of cronyism and something-for-nothing they've fled.  Tell them the other side's policies are gradually turning America into the kind of country that people want to leave.

Step #4: Stick up for immigrants when addressing the broader population.  Public displays are more credible than private messages.

I'm the first to admit that my campaign could be improved.  Like I said, this is what a mediocre marketer would advise.  But it's still light years ahead of current conservative rhetoric.

Admittedly, you've got to invest in this marketing campaign for a decade or so to see results.  Conservatives will have to struggle to overcome the mistrust they've been cultivating.  But if they want to win immigrants over to the cause of American liberty, this is how they'll do it.

P.S. None of this assumes that immigrant voters are less irrational than native voters.  As I argued here, irrationality makes good marketing more important, not less.



COMMENTS (30 to date)
Dain writes:

Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks' book It Didn't Happen Here shows how immigration inhibited the formation of a strong socialist party and undermined the sense of collective fate needed to implement socialist policies.

Bring on immigration.

Ella writes:

There is a massive, huge, impressive difference between a legal immigrant and an illegal immigrant. It is the difference between an entrepreneur and a thief.

Legal immigrants are awesome and have all the benefits that you list. (I work in information technology, an industry stuffed with legal immigrants, and they are, to a person, some of the nicest, most productive people around.) #1 - #4 all apply nicely to legal immigrants.

Illegal immigrants are, quite frankly, criminals who bilk the welfare state. Of course they'll kill the system they came to. Citizens who bilk the welfare system are killing the system they live off.

There is a reason, btw, that legal immigrants are disgusted by illegal immigrants. No one likes a liar and a cheat.

Quit conflating legal and illegal immigrants. That's insulting to the millions of legal immigrants, workers, and residents who sacrificed years of their lives to FOLLOW THE RULES. And it's insulting to the tens of millions of Americans who support expanded legal immigration and oppose granting illegal aliens cuts in line.

hacs writes:

Immigrants do not come to the USA because of American social welfare. In fact, they believe the USA social welfare is worse than the social welfare in his/her country of origin (the local propaganda strongly emphasizes this), but they desire more opportunities than they had in his/her birth place. In other words, in their minds, immigrants have already chosen more opportunities at the cost of less social welfare, and that makes them potentially conservatives.

MikeP writes:

Quit conflating legal and illegal immigrants.

Accepting for the sake of argument your assessment of legal and illegal immigrants, I have a proposal for you: Legalize all economic migrants tomorrow.

Then suddenly all the people who are illegal today would tomorrow be awesome and would be totally following the rules.

And, best of all, there would pretty much be no more illegal immigration!

Bryan

Its a simple cost-benefit equation. Most immigrants come in as economic migrants, but that does not mean they know what policy/philosophy/ideology nurtures this economic opportunity necessarily. Most immigrants are also Mexicans and they are demonstrably to the left of the median American voter presently.

The equation is: with the present racial spoils system in the US, what possible reason is there to incur a cost and adopt a non-tribal/racial ideology when you can get the spoils by identifying strongly with your own tribal group? The benefits of assimilation have been evaporating.

You are massively understating the problem.

aez writes:

"Legalize all economic migrants tomorrow. Then suddenly all the people who are illegal today would tomorrow be awesome and would be totally following the rules."

MikeP: so that I can be sure I understand what you are proposing, could you define "economic migrants"?

I assume it will take into consideration the difference between a) observation of the laws of the migrated-to country and b) flaunting of those laws--or it will explain why the distinction is unimportant.

Otherwise, it seems to me that your second sentence quoted above is facetious...so I'd appreciate the definition.

Steve Sailer writes:

Bryan,

You're are just repeating the GOP conventional wisdom of the last 37 years. How has that worked out so far in recruiting immigrant elites to the GOP?

Currently in Texas, for example, there are three dozen Latinos in the state legislature, all Democrats. That's after an era of over four decades in which the Hispanophilic Bush family was the prominent Republican dynasty in Texas GOP politics.

Nationally about 92% of elected Hispanics are Democrats.

The standard Republican response has been to give more legal privileges to immigrant ethnicities. The Nixon administration in 1973 made it possible for the Griggs' disparate impact decision to apply to Hispanics and Asians by setting up the administrative apparatus to count them as groups. In 1982, Reagan transferred Indian immigrants from Caucasian to Asian so that they could get minority business development privileges in government contracting and SBA loans. Bush I in 1991 signed legislation codifying disparate impact after the Supreme Court had weakened it in 1989. Bush II spent the 2000 trying to get more Mexicans into the country, emphasizing illegal immigration as a quasi-civil right for Mexicans.

The absolute key to getting immigrant ethnic elites to side with economic liberty is to take away the legal preferences that the government currently gives them. At present, the primary job of Hispanic leaders and of Asian leaders is to defend and extend their groups' racial/ethnic privileges under the government. Not surprisingly, they side with the Democrats, who are always going to be more enthusiastic than Republicans about defending and extending affirmative action and disparate impact law.

The current Democratic immigrant elites will scream in rage, but once their legal privileges are removed, they will become less relevant. From then on, the government will no longer give them money and prizes for identifying as minorities, and they won't need the Democrats to protect these no longer existent privileges.

Steve Sailer writes:

Bryan,

How do your four talking points differ from the immigration rhetoric and actions of George W. Bush and John McCain (or, indeed, of any GOP Presidential candidate of the last generation or two)?

Snorri Godhi writes:

Steps 1, 2, 4 are sensible; but I suspect that step 3 would work only with "Henderson type 1" immigrants: immigrants who seek opportunities, rather than wealth. It might actually alienate "Henderson type 2" immigrants. [NB: by sticking to the Henderson dichotomy, I am avoiding the can of worms that is the dichotomy between legal and illegal immigrants.]

BTW Dain makes a good point: usually, a diverse society does inhibit the growth of socialism. Natives don't want to pay for immigrants' welfare, and immigrants don't want to pay for natives' welfare. I should know, because I am an immigrant myself.

Mercer writes:

Latinos have lower incomes then Anglo-Americans. Dems are for giving more benefits to low income people then the GOP. Dems are also more in favor of diversity quotas for Latinos in government and private sector jobs. Latinos who vote Democratic are being perfectly logical in maximizing their income. Economic libertarians are deluding themselves if they think they can get a majority of the Latino vote.

PJens writes:

Mr. Sailer hits the issue head on here. I add that legal immigration needs to be encouraged and expanded. Especially to people who are well educated and looking to start new business. But do as Sailer suggests and remove all legal preferences enabled by government.

Illegal immigration, and the deportation of people caught in this country illegally ought to be taxed. Yes, taxed. If a person is caught in the US illegally, fine them heavily. Make them pay or work the fine off, then send them back to their home country.

This follows the (Ronald Reagan's?) wisdom of: If you want to diminish something, tax it.

MikeP writes:

so that I can be sure I understand what you are proposing, could you define "economic migrants"?

Economic migrants are those who enter in order to work or engage in voluntary trade -- in contrast to migrants who intend to do harm to the US.

Otherwise, it seems to me that your second sentence quoted above is facetious...so I'd appreciate the definition.

What's facetious is being utterly focused on legality in a normative debate about what the law should be. If the law is wrong, it is wrong, and there is no moral duty to follow it.

Consider similar comments from the 1850's...

Quit conflating emancipated and fugitive slaves. That's insulting to the millions of emancipated slaves who sacrificed years of their lives to FOLLOW THE RULES. And it's insulting to the tens of millions of Americans who support expanded emancipation of slaves and oppose granting fugitive slaves cuts in line.

Chris writes:

While I can't really argue with Ella's assertion about the level of resentment among legal immigrants towards illegal immigrants for cutting the line, I am curious about where the characterization of illegal immigrants as "criminals who bilk the welfare state" comes from. The "criminals" part is easy to understand, however, it has been my understanding that illegal immigrants pay out more in taxes than they receive in from government benefits. Does anyone have good numbers to quantify this one way or the other?

Regarding Steve Sailors' question about how Bryan's plan differs from the Republican platform of the last 37 years: GOP Presidential candidates may be trying to capture pro-immigration votes, but can it really be said that the GOP base supports freer immigration? In close races, such as John McCain's current Senate race, GOP candidates tend to favor less immigration even if they had previously favored more immigration. GOP candidates seem to move towards freer immigration when the social issues base is locked up and they need to capture more economic values votes. This is not consistent with the long term commitment Bryan's mediocre marketer recommends.

aez writes:

MikeP:

That was helpful-thanks for the clarification.

So...normative, i.e., what should be, trumps enacted. Interesting. I'm not able to see it that way. And...could you source your quote of comments from the 1850s? Thanks.

MikeP writes:

In case it isn't clear, I simply took Ella's closing paragraph and replaced legal immigrant with emancipated slave and illegal immigrant with fugitive slave.

As for a source, I don't know where anyone cited words exactly to that effect. But certainly Congress passed laws that made fugitive slaves still slaves -- even if apprehended in a free state -- while continuing to recognize the emancipation of legally freed slaves.

Steve Sailer writes:

"GOP Presidential candidates may be trying to capture pro-immigration votes, but can it really be said that the GOP base supports freer immigration?"

Damn wreckers and saboteurs subverting the Great Leaders' best-laid plans.

Doc Merlin writes:

My father, my mother and I were all left leaning immigrants. Seeing the arguments made by theright and seeing the (pretty miserable) lifestyles led by the hollywood left was what converted us. (In the case of my mom it was actually social conservative arguments that converted her and she is slowly coming around to eocnomic conservatism)

aez writes:

MikeP:

OK, sorry not to have caught on.

One last clarification: since you want to compare the status of slaves with the status of immigrants, does the following create any problems with your comparison of fugitive slaves with illegal aliens?

a) illegal immigrants come here willingly, knowing they are breaking laws.
b) the fugitive slaves either were themselves brought here against their wills, having been sold and traded against their will in several venues, or were descendants of others who had been traded.

I see a difference, but perhaps the contrast doesn't pop out to you. I'd love to know why.

MikeP writes:

b) The fugitive slaves escaped, knowing they were breaking laws.

I'm not comparing voluntary migration to involuntary importation. I'm comparing illegal activity to illegal activity -- both activities that I think should be legal.

Snorri Godhi writes:

BTW it strikes me that all 4 steps are compatible with cracking down on illegal immigration, with only a little change to step 4:
"immigrants" --> "legal immigrants"

Count me amongst those who agree with Steve Sailer on removing ethnic privileges. The fact is, that becomes more difficult with increasing immigration -- especially legal immigration. (It might seem that I am contradicting what I said yesterday in my first comment, but I am not.)

MernaMoose writes:

I don't claim that is would be easy to actually convert immigrants to libertarianism. My claim is more modest: It wouldn't be that hard to persuade immigrants to be as libertarian as the median native-born American.

So in other words you're changing your tune.

Since conservatives worry far more about immigrants' political views than liberals,

It appears that you have not yet understood why they worry far more. I suggest you work on that, and I'll give you a great big hint: it's really not just because they're "racists".

Here's another hint. It has a whole lotta-lot to do with what some have pointed out above -- that poor uneducated immigrants (which mainly means, Mexicans) vote Democrat by huge margins.

Maybe you have no problem with that and if so, that's a topic for another debate. But before making more statements like this

Conservatives will have to struggle to overcome the mistrust they've been cultivating.

you might first put some "struggle" into understanding the "conservative" people you're criticizing. And I presume by "conservative" you mean "anyone who isn't in favor of legalized wide open borders".


But I strongly disagree with your whole premise to begin with. Persuading Mexicans not to vote Democrat (and socialist and progressive etc) by huge margins would be a neigh-impossible task for even the best marketer. I know lots of Mexican immigrants and it's going to be a matter of culture, much more than a debate over abstract ideals. How well do you understand Catholics? If not much, then you should put some "struggle" in on that front too.

You sorely underestimate what issues are going to come into play (and their magnitudes) in the process of trying to change these attitudes among migrant Mexicans. By and large they're going to vote for socialist-progressive policy and that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Chris writes:
I know lots of Mexican immigrants and it's going to be a matter of culture, much more than a debate over abstract ideals. How well do you understand Catholics?

Merna, is it your position that Republicans do not already understand the religious vote?

david jinkins writes:

MikeP, your comments are awesome. You must be a legal immigrant.

Brian Clendinen writes:

I cannot blame poor illegal immigrants for sneaking into the U.S. If I were in their shoes I might try to the same thing. The real issues is Insurance, Medical, and Job Fraud they regularly commit once they are her. That I can consider them criminals for. If I did they same things as a citizen, I would be no better than they are.
That is what erks me and I think a large majority of people who are for more legal immigration. What something like 30% to 40% of the 60 Billion plus ever year of Medicare/Medicaid fraud is from Illegal’s. Car insurance being hirer due to accidents on Illegal’s driving with-out insurance.

Because they are afraid of being deported they due not report crimes to law enforcement so crime goes up. Don’t get me wrong Illegal’s are abused and it is quite serious. They are used as sex slaves, Farm Serfs, and indentured servants in households (that is they are not paid and threaten with deportation if they do not work, and at times imprisoned). It is a very serious problem and most people do not realize how prevalent it is. However the sex slavery is actually funded largely by other illegal’s and immigrants for the most part (at least in Florida per State Prosecutors). So there is blame to go around.

gulfportmm writes:

Perhaps the notion that it is proper to treat equally those that immigrated to the United States under the legal system (my parents for example) with illegal immigrants that come into the United States under unlawful circumstances has a remedy through a transformed Title 26 of the US Code of Federal Regulations.

Not just a tweaking mind you but rather a scrapping and a start over. Controversial as it is a Flat tax on all purchases might be the answer to all ills perpetrated on the system from stolen Social Security numbers, other fraud which the most casual observer recognizes and other currently illegal activities that must be conducted by those living in the "shadows" of North American society.

Local, State and Federal fees built into a product would be distributed through the stripped down system. I suppose the uncertain element to that system would be the wage control. However over time it would seem to me that assimilation to consumption would likely make wages a non-issue for most.

A permanent zeroing out of income taxes on small business's and corporations and capitol gains would make doing business in the US the envy of the world, no?

Ella writes:

Chris, sorry for the delay.

In Oklahoma, during a debate over our immigration laws last year, it came out that illegals take over $200 million in services (education, health care, food stamps, and other programs - I don't know if that included criminal courts costs), and contribute around $25 million. At least in Oklahoma, illegal immigrants cost us $10 for every $1 they contribute.

Ella writes:

MikeP, that argument makes no sense. Are you claiming that the entire country of Mexico is a giant slave plantation? Are Mexicans who are here not allowed to own property in Mexico? Can thy not choose where they work, whom they marry, and where they live? Can they not name their own children? Are they bought and sold?

Because, if you're not seriously calling Mexico a single monolithic plantation of no freedom or social contract, you're just having your little strawman call me a racist for no good reason.

MikeP writes:

Ella, I am not comparing Mexico to a slave plantation, nor am I in any way calling you a racist.

If I am calling you anything, I am calling you a legalist: Your moral judgment of someone appears to be based largely -- if not entirely -- on whether what they are doing is legal or illegal.

I don't see the world that way. Something could be legal and be wrong, and something could be illegal and be right. I think that government's making the migration of peaceful people for peaceful reasons illegal is wrong. I simply brought out an example from the past where we all would agree that those who behaved illegally were in the right.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

The "oh noes immigrants taking our liberty" goes way back, here is Thomas Jefferson in 1782:

"[foreigners] will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave, imbibed in their early youth; or, if able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty. These principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children. In proportion to their number, they will share with us the legislation. They will infuse into it their spirit, warp and bias its direction, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass... " --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.VIII, 1782. ME 2:118

Gee, we seemed to have survived all those darn Germans, Norwegians, Irish, Russians, and Italians!

Mr. Econotarian writes:

"illegals take over $200 million in services (education, health care, food stamps, and other programs - I don't know if that included criminal courts costs), and contribute around $25 million."

OK state budget is $6.7 billion, just to keep that $200 million in services in perspective.

You include education. Are you saying the OK education system is so bad that the government doesn't get a return on investment over the working life of the student? Then perhaps you should disband the OK education system.

OK raises $8 billion per year alone on its 1% witholding tax on wire transfers to Mexico. Is that included in the $25 million total?

Moreover, the $200 vs $25 million discussion regards direct state spending and taxes. How do you know how much money an illegal immigrant is bringing into the economy? If they are working, then they are producing surplus wealth, otherwise they would not be hired. This is indirect extra wealth in the economy that is likely to be taxed somewhere down the line (sales tax, income tax of employer, etc.)

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