Bryan Caplan  

A True Conversation on the Political Externalities of Immigration

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Thoughts on Immigration... Tunisia: Tullock's Model Fits...
Will immigrants from dysfunctional countries move to the West, become citizens, then vote to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?  I've addressed this common fear before - see here, here, and here for starters.  But recently, I discussed the issue with an angry Republican.  Our conversation went something like this:

Angry Republican: And what's worse, these Mexican immigrants are coming here and voting!  And who do you think they vote for?  The Democrats.

Me: Maybe Hispanics vote Democratic because Republicans are such jerks to them.

AR: No, they vote Democratic because the Democrats give them unlimited welfare!

Me: Bush managed to get a pretty high share of the Hispanic vote.

AR: Yea, by being weak on border control!

Me: If that's all Republicans have to do to win Hispanics over, what's the problem?  By your own account, Hispanic voters will stop being your enemies if you stop treating them like your enemies.

AR: Rrrr.  Immigrants.
 
I know that this dialog seems like a cheap shot.  When I give a public lecture or write an essay about immigration, I try to argue against the most reasonable opponents of immigration I can imagine.  But this rhetorical technique has a serious downside: If you're not careful, you might forget the fact that most opponents of immigration are as unreasonable as my Angry Republican.



COMMENTS (35 to date)
flawed writes:

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Two Things writes:

It's easier to win an argument if you just make up your statistics (like the false assertion that Hispanics gave a lot of support to Bush).

Anyway, your argument is ridiculous:

Republican: ...by being weak on border control!

Caplan: If that's all Republicans have to do to win Hispanics over, what's the problem?

What's the problem?!? Oh sure, if the Republicans just espouse the Democrats' policies, Democratic voters will be theirs!

Talk about circular arguments!

Anyway, the argument you're not confronting is that low-IQ/ obnoxious- culture immigrants (prototypically Mexicans) alter public policy in undesirable ways by attracting and supporting politicians with bad policies, including especially leftist/ redistributive/ collectivist policies which appeal to those immigrants.

You like to call immigration opponents "unreasonable" but you the arguments you offer don't seem more reasonable-- they seem evasive and incoherent.

mobile writes:

Bush got ~44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, by far the best results for Republicans in a generation. If you frame the Hispanic immigration issue as being all about long term electoral success, Angry Republican is being completely rational to oppose it with every fiber of his being.

Brian writes:

Two Things:

Republicans should espouse the Democrats' policies on immigration if they are better policies. And vice versa.

That list of undesirable qualities about low-IQ obnoxious Mexicans is drenched in xenophobia and racism. But what strikes me is that many of those are things were commonplace in the US 50 years ago. Sexism, racism, drunk driving. And the drug cartel violence has as much to do with the US as it does Mexico.

Are you saying 1950's America was undesirable and irredeemable? I happily welcome more freedoms between Mexicans and Americans.

Steamer writes:
Republicans should espouse the Democrats' policies on immigration if they are better policies. And vice versa.

What does "better" mean?
You are again, as always, assuming than in the field of values there are objective criteria for assessment and comparison.
{Not to even mention the fact that you view everything through rule - utilitarian perspective in which the "rules" are those of libertarianism}

steve writes:

there is no economic problem in the u.s.that can't be solved by bringing in 100 million people from all over the world. add immigration to a weaker dollar and we manufacture here what we have contracted china to do for us, and there will be plenty of highly intelligent skilled professionals coming here as well(think of how many we throw out after college/grad school). want to know if i am right? ask hu jintao whether he would be open to the u.s. adopting this policy.

as for voting, immigrants, in fact, generally end up being more conservative voters as they appreciate better the relative values of the american economy and society to achieving the upward mobility they came here for. no one risks life and limb to come here to be on the dole. we are a nation of immigrants, and hence risk taking is in our dna as a society, and adding more just freshens up the pool. nyc revived thanks to immigration from asia in the 1970s and 1980s. anyway, that's my two cents worth.

Pat writes:

Angry Republican: And what worse, these Mexican immigrants are coming here and voting! And who do you think they vote for? The Democrats.

Caplan: Maybe Hispanics vote Democratic because Republicans are such jerks to them.

AR: No, they vote Democratic because the Democrats give them unlimited welfare!

Caplan: Bush managed to get a pretty high share of the Hispanic vote.

AR: Yea, by being weak on border control!

Caplan: If that's all Republicans have to do to win Hispanics over, what's the problem? By your own account, Hispanic voters will stop being your enemies if you stop treating them like your enemies.

AR: They're not enemies. We just oppose the combination of a welfare state and open borders.

Caplan: Arrr racists

Charles R. Williams writes:

The bottom line is that the laws are not being enforced. Both Bush and Obama have refused to enforce them. People have a right to be angry.

One reason to control immigration is to preserve the country's culture. This is perfectly legitimate. To oppose illegal Mexican immigration to prevent large regions of our country from becoming culturally Hispanic is not anti-Mexican because it is not the fact that the culture is Mexican that raises issues, it is the fact that the culture is alien in significant ways.

Mexicans and others who have become American citizens have taken an oath of loyalty. We have a right to expect them to defend our Constitution and our laws including our immigration laws and to put the interests of the country of their adopted citizenship above the interests of the people and the nations they left behind.

My pastor is Slovak. My sister-in-law is Filipino. My future son-in-law is Moroccan. The husband of my wife's best friend is from Iceland. I have colleagues from Russia, the UK, and Iran. I get health care from a Afrikaner and a Ukrainian. All of these people are legal immigrants who make a huge contribution to this country.

But I am angry that the immigration laws are openly flaunted and for political reasons the politicians will not enforce the law.

Daublin writes:

Keep fighting the reasonable opponents.

The person you were talking to wasn't thinking it through for themself. They were just going along with what they perceived as an important movement. I've been in many, many such discussions, and it just doesn't matter what you say. They cycle through all the things they've heard on talk shows, and then they still aren't convinced. It wasn't the reasoning that convinced them to begin with. They're falling in line with authorities they trust.

Hyena writes:

You can get around most Republican objections without resorting to principles:

  • It doesn't really matter who they'd vote for, since there are a lot of immigration reforms which fall far short of citizenship.
  • Nor is "low-IQ/obnoxious culture" a good argument: we can always impose significant taxes and penalties on immigrants to offset any negative externalities.
  • Ditto for welfare: nothing says we need to provide any services whatever for them and they're not generally expecting them anyhow.
  • We don't much need to worry about "anchor babies" since we are, after all, not obligated to the child's parents and could expel them at will.

Since there are no actual principles under debate anyhow, the negotiations should begin. I've had a lot of fun with that strategy in the past. A lot of hard-heartedness and dishonesty is revealed as your interlocutor presses deeper into inhumanity.

Occasionally, though, I have won people over to at least "some rights reserved" immigration reform.

Richard A. writes:

If Republicans are scaring conservative Hispanics into the Democratic party, then those Hispanics must be moving the Democratic party in a rightward direction. This is laughable.

Poorly educated immigrants avoid the Republican party like the plague.

Indian immigrants in the US appear to be among the best educated immigrant group. I strongly suspect that Republicans are not doing badly among this group. It would be interesting to see some polling.


shecky writes:

As ugly as it it, it's all too true. Far too much anti-immigration sentiment on the Right is simply unreasonable. It wasn't that long ago that Latino immigrants were praised as being "natural Republicans". But in desperation, the Right's leaders chose to rile up the white, largely nativist base by pushing angry, irrational anti-immigration/anti-foreigner arguments.

Naturally, this line of attack impresses neither Latino immigrants, the target of such contempt, nor Latino natives, who see conservative leaders creating ethnic dividing lines from the top, where there were none before. What political choices are left for the Latino voter? Vote for the side that objects to smaller government, or vote foe the side that objects to your very existence?

Eric Falkenstein writes:

"Bush managed to get a pretty high share of the Hispanic vote"

You mean, relatively high for a Republican. More hispanics still voted for Obama, Kerry, or Gore.

RMV writes:

Who do these people think they are, risking their lives for better opportunities? They should learn that our laws are always moral and just and that they should stay put in their own countries.

While we're at it, can we please please please get rid of the Irish, Italians, and Chinese? They've done nothing but systematically destroy our American culture for these past 100+ years.

Seriously, nothing good comes from immigration.

America for Americans.

p.s. I'm not racist. I have plenty of ethnic friends.

agnostic writes:

The larger problem is not newcomers voting for a larger welfare state out of selfishness -- that's the old public choice theory that you rightly correct in Myth of the Rational Voter.

In reality, voters who don't even benefit push through legislation that they believe helps others -- men voting for abortion rights, young voting for social security, middle/upper class voting for universal health care, etc.

And whites voting for welfare-state policies that benefit blacks.

All of this will continue if large numbers of Mexicans come here, both the racial/ethnic policies like disparate impact and affirmative action, as well as the class policies like raising the minimum wage, creating more affordable housing and non-discriminatory lending (uh-oh), and so on.

I've made this point every time you use old, selfishness-centered public choice model that you yourself have discredited in book form, and you never address it, so I take that to mean you concede the point.

Steve Sailer writes:

Bryan, you really need to learn the basic facts of this topic. For example, in 2004, the Democrats got 58% of the Hispanic vote (not 54%). In 2010, the Democrats got 60% of the Hispanic vote.

TimG writes:

Actually US immigration policy the last 30 years has been just about perfect for Mexico. Restrictive enough to keep out poor from countries that don't share a boarder with the US, and permissive enough that 10s of millions of Mexicans have been able to immigrate to such a degree that an amnesty/normalization seems inevitable.

To Bryan
I know that this dialog seems like a cheap shot.

Maybe it seems like a cheap shot because it is a cheap shot!

When I give a public lecture or write an essay about immigration, I try to argue against the most reasonable opponents of immigration I can imagine.

Your imagination seems limited, why not argue against a real position? Because honestly, if you can't understand/respect anyone's position on the immigration restriction side you sound pretty unreasonable.

David C writes:

For those arguing otherwise, alhough Bush didn't really improve much in his vote share from 2001 to 2004 among Hispanics, Bush did perform significantly better among Hispanics than the typical Republican. And his push for immigration reform in 2006 likely did keep his numbers from deteriorating as much as they did among whites in those years.

Two Things writes:

The more carefully I parse Caplan's posting the more bizarre it seems.

According to Caplan, Angry Republican said that Mexican immigrants support leftists (Democrats) and crypto-leftist "compassionate conservatives" who favor open borders (Bush).

Caplan basically told him "you're right! So you should become an open-borders leftist, then Mexican immigrants will like you!"

Caplan put Angry Republican in his place by telling him to "lie back and enjoy it!"

How was that supposed to refute Angry Republican's complaints?

Caplan agrees with him! Mexican immigrants do support leftists, etc!

(As for "public choice" theory, though I'm reluctant to quibble with Agnostic who's probably smarter than I am, I do think the badly-named "public choice theory" explains much of the way politicians behave, and that the more low-wage immigrants we have, the more leftist politicians we'll have as well-- because those politicians will feather their own nests with schemes they tell everyone are aimed at the immigrants. After all, Fannie and Freddie didn't just provide bad loans to minorities, they also paid gigantic bonuses to politicians and their cronies.)

Steve Sailer-- I linked your article about Hispanic support for Bush up above.

Moebius Street writes:

In my confrontations with Conservatives over immigration, the topic is always "illegal immigrants", generally shortened to "illegals". Setting aside the unjust connotations that this creates...

Framing the debate over "illegal immigration" is a smoke screen. If this were the whole debate, then by definition the laws are already in place, and there's only an enforcement problem: no need for additional regulation. But when the actual policy in question is fence-building and the like, it's clear that we're not worried about enforcing what we've got, but creating tighter controls.

If you're demanding tighter controls on who can visit or immigrate, then your real argument is not over the enforcement, it's over immigration in general. And if so, then the "illegal" part is just making your argument seem more palatable.

Jacob Oost writes:

When were you talking to my dad, Bryan?

JLA writes:

I am strongly in favor of increased immigration. Still, I've had to update my beliefs on open immigration after hearing from native Californians just how much the influx of immigrants has negatively impacted the education system. Perhaps these claims are exaggerated. I have not seen hard statistics. But it strikes me as very plausible that adding many non-English speaking students to a classroom will diminish the quality of everyone's education. Consider the Jackovasaurus episode of South Park as an (extreme) example.

Previously you have argued that the added stress of immigrants on our education/welfare system would force us to rethink and even eliminate public education/welfare. This may be true, but I am extraordinarily doubtful. Political/budget crises almost always lead to decreases in freedom rather than increases in freedom.

David writes:
Framing the debate over "illegal immigration" is a smoke screen.

That may be, but that is how many of the angry Republican types, and I'd assume some others, would see it. I'm sure there are plenty who believe that illegal immigrants should just get in line and come in legally. The lump of labor fallacy comes into play - there are only so many jobs and the immigrants took them all, and that's why limits have to exist.

It's a rough analogy, but one could very easily make the argument more persuasive to an Angry Republican by framing it around gun control, since Angry Republicans generally oppose it.

me: If Arizona had tougher gun control laws, would that make attacks like Loughner's less likely?

AR: Of course not! If he really wants to be armed, he'll find a way, especially if he wants to kill people.

me: Do you think everyone who acquires or possesses one of these banned guns will try to kill people?

AR: Of course not! Most gun owners are peaceful citizens who are exercising their God-given rights to self-defense.

me: The clip on Loughner's Glock 9mm was banned under the assault weapons ban which was in effect from 1994-2004. Do you think the people who owned or acquired those clips from 1994-2004 were less criminal after 2004, or was that just a bad law?

AR: It was a terrible law! Bill Clinton and his liberal cronies put that law into effect, and if there's one thing we can say for Bush it's that he was content and willing to let it expire.

me: So you think that terrible, restrictive laws that can cause otherwise law-abiding citizens to be labeled criminals should be abolished, but that people who actually commit violent crimes should be punished to the full extent of the law?

AR: Absolutely.

me: Good. I'm glad we can agree that we should ease immigration restrictions and refocus resources toward going after actual criminals.

Matt writes:

Brian,

Instead of posting a debate with unreasonable troglodyte, I think its time you debated someone who actually understands this issue and disagrees with you.

Debate Steve Sailer. He disagrees with you and is well informed about the issue. Additionally he has done this sort of thing before, see the slate debate between him and Levitt on the crime abortion question.

You are very effective arguing your position and I want to see you in a real debate on this issue.

Noah Yetter writes:

@Charles R. Williams
One reason to control immigration is to preserve the country's culture. This is perfectly legitimate.

Please cite the Constitution, Article and Section.

Oh that's right, "preserving culture" is NOT one of the powers granted to the Federal government. Nor should it ever be.

fructose writes:

This argument is really weak. The GOP got 40% of the Hispanic vote in 2010, pretty similar to the Bush total in 2004. That was in spite of the fact that most republicans took a solidly anti-immigration stance. Furthermore, McCain was one of the most pro-amnesty, pro-illegal GOP candidates in recent times, and he got slaughtered by Obama in the Hispanic vote.

The clear lesson is that the Hispanic vote tracks the white vote, while staying consistently to the left. If Obama really messes up and loses 80% of the white vote, then probably he'll lose 60% of the Hispanic vote as well.

frankcross writes:

It's too late to preserve the country's culture. All those, you know, Italians and Jews and the like have already changed that.

Dog of Justice writes:

Oh that's right, "preserving culture" is NOT one of the powers granted to the Federal government. Nor should it ever be.

Reasons are not exactly the same thing as powers...

Jacob Oost writes:

I'm sick of this "preserving culture" argument. Cultures change. Laws don't stop cultures from changing. Just ask France how successful they've been at getting people to stop watching Hollywood movies, listen to English-language pop music, or use words like "e-mail."

And just because a person comes from a country with a screwed up government doesn't mean that they will cause our country to have a screwed up government (moreso...).

Urstoff writes:

The acid test:

Counterfactually, if all current policies were set at your choosing and could not change, would you support open borders?

If the answer is no, stop talking to them.

Mr Econotarian writes:

Keep in mind that most Hispanic voters are not illegal aliens, or even recent legal immigrants.

Hispanic citizens do not always support illegal immigration.

But you will find that many Hispanic immigrants legalized by the Reagan amnesty did think he was a great man for doing so.

8 writes:
Framing the debate over "illegal immigration" is a smoke screen. If this were the whole debate, then by definition the laws are already in place, and there's only an enforcement problem: no need for additional regulation. But when the actual policy in question is fence-building and the like, it's clear that we're not worried about enforcing what we've got, but creating tighter controls.
People are talking about a fence because they do not expect enforcement by immigration officials. Ask a conservative what they would do if they had dictatorial powers on immigration, then you have a starting point.
Krishnan writes:

"Preserving Culture" - Ah yes, "American Culture" - Can anyone tell me what it is? A nation of immigrants that has seen Anti Irish, Anti German, Anti Chinese and Anti - (fill-in-blank) sentiments? "Enforce Rules"? Really? There are so many rules and they keep adding rules that everyone of us is a law breaker every day - So, "selective enforcement" then? Who selects?

Immigration (legal or illegal) has never been a problem - economic or otherwise. What passes for "national security" or "national identity" is something we have seen before in the US of A - those that are here decide they want to close the border to anyone else. The economy takes care of immigration - strangle the economy, and you will find that fewer people want to come here - leave their surroundings and make a trek across dangerous territories.

Steamer writes:

Krishnan,
You seem to make implicitly the argument that American culture is difficult to define, unorthodox and unstable so it is not really worth defending it, even if we assume that such a volatile concept can be defended at all.
Good. Let's say I concede to this point. But what about Europe? Are European (predominantly ethnic) cultures unclear, hard to define and not worth defending? Do people really want to see the European ethnic groups pressured and marginalized on their own lands in a manner similar to what happened to Native Americans throughout the continent? Why is this a good thing? Why should it happen?

"Immigration (legal or illegal) has never been a problem - economic or otherwise. "

It might have been the case in the past but this is not necessarily true today. It is one thing to have culturally similar migrants who differ from you primarily in respect to language. The recent waves of Hispanic and (respectively) Muslim immigration to the States and Europe are a "slightly" different phenomenon.

To be clear, Muslim immigration in Europe is clearly a problem in almost every sphere you can think of. The whole assumption that the economy will "take care of it" blatantly disregards the fact that a group of people may derive more "utility" from their culture strangling and crushing others so that it becomes dominant than from non-invasive cooperation.

Kevin H writes:

Will immigrants from dysfunctional [states] move to the [South and the] West, become citizens, then vote to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?

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