Bryan Caplan  

Immigration: Reply to Ozimek

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An Economic Insight on an Old ... Fighting With Numbers...
Adam Ozimek uses my own words against me to defend liberaltarianism from my critique:

I disagree with Bryan's presumption that domestic distribution actually encourages that much of a restriction on immigration, or at least that the immigration restrictions we have would go away or significantly loosen if we suddenly abandoned all redistribution policies.

This is because people would oppose immigration pretty much regardless of how much or how little immigrants benefitted from welfare and redistribution policies. How do I know this? Well, because Bryan Caplan told me so. In his excellent book The Myth Of The Voter Bryan identified the anti-foreign bias, which is a "tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of interaction with foreigners". No amount of minimal government is going to do away with this bias, and I don't think it will help reduce it much on the margin either.

Anti-foreign bias is indeed strong and durable.  But this hardly implies that it is invariant to circumstances.  Immigration really was much more free before the welfare state arose.  Welfare state abuse really is one of the most popular arguments against immigration.  And there is good evidence that opposition to the welfare state heavily depends on the perception that out-groups disproportionately benefit from it.  It's no stretch to flip this evidence and say that support for the welfare state heavily depends on the perception that out-groups don't benefit from it.

You know why else I think more immigration is consistent with welfare policies? Because Bryan Caplan told me so. In the slides to the presentation he gave on immigration for the Future of Freedom foundation, Bryan specifically counters the Milton Friedman's claim that "You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state."

[...]

So Bryan is right and immigrants are net tax payers and they help spread the costs of national defense around, then more immigrants should make our welfare state that much easier to maintain.

This depends on the kind of welfare state you've got.  When you've got one like the existing American welfare state that focuses on the old rather than the poor, then the position Ozimek quotes makes sense.  But if we followed the liberaltarian dream to have "wicked-good social insurance," I'm afraid Friedman might be right after all.

In any case, the political economy issue isn't whether immigrants are really a burden on the welfare state, but whether they're perceived as such by voters.  Ozimek seems to get this:

If an anti-foreign bias prevents people from seeing that current immigrants provide us with net economic benefits even with our welfare policies, then it would seem foolish to abolish those welfare policies on the hopes that it will somehow convince people to suddenly abandon the anti-foreign bias that prevents them from seeing that they don't matter in the first place.

But I'm not convinced.  Even in the face of severe anti-foreign bias, "We don't have a welfare state to rip off" is a much easier sell than, "We have a really big welfare state and immigrants make it possible."


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COMMENTS (17 to date)
volatility bounded writes:

This post is very funny. The assumptions required to trust econometric modeling of this sort are big, so they don't meet the burden of proof that anti-immigration types demand to prove an immigrant pulls their weight. For the anti-immigrant types, you'd need clear and convincing evidence on a per head basis that an immigrant as the cash to start a business and create jobs or has the skills to do high-wage work.

The burden of proof to get someone to believe something is low; the burden of proof to get them to actually do something, like make a bet, change their diet, change how they raise their children, etc is way, way higher. Kaplan's arguments don't even come close.

Saracen writes:

"Kaplan's arguments don't even come close."

At least, they don't come close to justifying running his open borders experiment *in America*, where failure could have massive negative consequences. A small nation where, in the event of failure, everyone could leave, would be a far more appropriate venue.

Steve Sailer writes:

"At least, they don't come close to justifying running his open borders experiment *in America*, where failure could have massive negative consequences. A small nation where, in the event of failure, everyone could leave, would be a far more appropriate venue."

Exactly. Bryan should start a campaign to try out his open borders logic in a much smaller country than America. Ideally, it would be a country with a climate and economy much like California, since California is destination #1 for immigrants to America. Bryan's test country should be one with a climate similar to California's and with a similar economy: high tech, agriculture, construction, military, aerospace, and so forth. It would also be ideal if in this small country there are already big ethnic divisions with big gaps on school test scores, much like there are in California.

Bryan, I think you should get a big committee of economists together and make a commitment to each other: to find the small foreign country that is most like California on these measures and then, whichever that country turns out to be, to relentlessly publicly advocate that that country, whatever it may be, owes a debt to humanity by making itself the world's guinea pig in your experiment over whether Open Borders are as superb an idea as you think they are.

MernaMoose writes:

Anti-foreign bias is indeed strong and durable.

A recommendation for you Bryan, if I may -- take a hard and serious look at where "anti-foreign bias" really comes from.

There is a lot more to it than just "Gee I'm afraid of yellow and brown people." The "bias" has some valid and entirely rational concerns underneath it.

I wouldn't give a plug nickel for the odds that you're ever going to persuade the mainstream your position is right (in good part because I think you're wrong).

But you and those like you, who are trying to sell the idea of Wide Open Borders, might ought to pay attention to the fact that "anti-foreign bias" does not reduce to a simple distillation of vague and undefined irrational "fears". There are some quite rational bases down in there.

Evan writes:
Exactly. Bryan should start a campaign to try out his open borders logic in a much smaller country than America. Ideally, it would be a country with a climate and economy much like California, since California is destination #1 for immigrants to America. Bryan's test country should be one with a climate similar to California's and with a similar economy: high tech, agriculture, construction, military, aerospace, and so forth. It would also be ideal if in this small country there are already big ethnic divisions with big gaps on school test scores, much like there are in California.
We already sort of have that experiment in the form of the various states that make up the USA. Each of these has had open borders with the other states for years. America has also had ethnic divisions with big gaps on test scores.

Open borders between the states of the US has definitely been a big success. It's allowed free trade and free migration from place to place, and the African Americans who emigrated from the South to work in northern cities seriously improve their lives, just as Bryan claims allowing immigration between nation-states will. It seems likely that worldwide open borders will be just as big a success as the Wide Open Borders policies the USA already has between its states.

Steve Sailer, if you found yourself transported to an alternate universe where the Constitution had never included provisions for open borders between states, would you support opening them, or would you want to keep them closed?

There is a lot more to it than just "Gee I'm afraid of yellow and brown people." The "bias" has some valid and entirely rational concerns underneath it.
A bias is a systematically mistaken belief. If a belief is rational it tautologically isn't a bias. If there is a rational component to fear of immigration, that is separate from the anti-foreign bias.

I can tell you that the anti-foreign bias does seem to be part of the human brain structure, simply from the fact that people with abnormal brains often seem to lack it. Tyler Cowen pointed out in his book, Create Your Own Economy, that autistics, who are born with, among other things, a lessened tendency to strongly identify with groups, tend to evaluate issues involving foreigners more rationally and objectively than the average person.

Steve Sailer writes:

So, why don't you start a campaign to get the small country that looks most like California to try Open Borders and see how popular it makes you?

MernaMoose writes:

I can tell you that the anti-foreign bias does seem to be part of the human brain structure...

No arguments on that front. Call it natural, if you will.

But while the natural tendency is not always right, it's also not always wrong, which I can tell you from first hand experience.

Mixing a whole bunch of people with drastically different cultural backgrounds together is not an unquestionable good when you're conducting business transactions. Just the opposite, people in this environment don't trust each other because they have little to no sense of the boundaries they can expect on the behaviors of people from drastically different cultures.

We can assimilate some rate of foreigner influx. But the assimilation capacity is not unlimited and there comes a point where things are going to start breaking down.

High level business transactions demand high levels of trust. Diluting our society to the point that trust is hard to come by, is not going to be good for the US. Unless you think we'll get by just fine economically, by reducing all our business transactions to the level of negotiating landscaping deals for our back yards.

Alex Nowrasteh writes:

Anti-immigration posters on here like to harp on California, but they totally ignore Texas. Both experienced high levels of immigration from mostly the same source countries but have radically different outcomes in terms of tax burden, size of welfare state, and fiscal problems today. Economic problems have significantly more to do with the institutions of government than immigration, and the later is not so impacting on the former.

Steve Sailer writes:

"Anti-immigration posters on here like to harp on California, but they totally ignore Texas"

No, actually, at the 2000 Census, 26% of California's population was foreign born vs. 14% of Texas's. The parts of Texas with large indigenous Mexican-American populations like the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio had relatively little immigration, just as New Mexico, with 400 years of Hispanic culture, enjoyed little immigration from Mexico?

Now, why could that be?

Evan writes:
No, actually, at the 2000 Census, 26% of California's population was foreign born vs. 14% of Texas's. The parts of Texas with large indigenous Mexican-American populations like the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio had relatively little immigration, just as New Mexico, with 400 years of Hispanic culture, enjoyed little immigration from Mexico?

Now, why could that be?

Two obvious reasons come to mind. One is that California has a higher absolute population than Texas and New Mexico (in fact, I believe it has a larger population than both states combined) so there are more people there to hire you, and therefore more job opportunities.

The second is that California has a lot of ports, so a lot of non-Mexican foreign-born people (Chinese, Indians, etc) are easily able to come there, augmenting the Mexican-foreign-born population. This is backed up by census data, which shows that California has a much larger percentage of Asians than New Mexico or Texas.

Of course, if I was afflicted by the anti-foreign bias I'd probably say the reason had something to do with California's welfare state, but luckily my mind is free of such things.

Steve Sailer writes:

Keep working on it!

Why doesn't the Rio Grande Valley, both in Texas and New Mexico, with hundreds of years of Hispanic culture, attract many Hispanic immigrants?

Because culturally Hispanic areas don't create a lot of jobs.

Evan writes:

I just looked checked the Rio Grande Valley census data at the US Census Bureau American Factfinder (or to be more specific I check the census data for Starr, Cameron, Willacy, and Hidalgo counties). Three of the counties composing it have 25-30% foreign born population, while Willacy county, the outlier, has a 15% foreign-born population. Of that population, approximately 70-75% were not citizens, while the remainder was naturalized.

Now this data was from the 2005-2009 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates while yours was from the 2000 census. I thought at first that maybe something had changed, maybe Hispanic culture had magically gotten better at creating jobs in the last couple decades, so I checked to see if the data from the 2000 Census was different.

The results: nearly identical, except that Willacy County had 2% less and Starr had about 10% more. In general though, in both recent census data, and in 2000 census data, the amount of foreign born people in the Rio Grande Valley was around 25%, about the same as California. Where did you get that data?

I also remembered you mentioned San Antonio in your first post. That had numbers more along the Texas average of around 14%. So you got one right. But the Rio Grand Valley data completely contradicts what you said in your first post, and, if what you said about "hundreds of years of Hispanic culture" is correct, pretty much torpedoes your thesis.

Steve Sailer writes:

What's the poverty rate in the Rio Grande Valley?

How's the Upper Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico doing? Why did New Mexico attract only a fraction of the immigrants that Arizona did over the last decade?

hacs writes:

"In millions of simulated evolutionary histories, the populations emerging after thousands
of generations of selection tend to be either tolerant and selfish, with little warfare, or parochial and altruistic with frequent and lethal
encounters with other groups. Occasional
transitions occur between the selfish peaceful
states and the warring altruistic states. But neither altruism nor parochialism ever proliferate
singly; they share a common fate with war, the
elixir of their success."

Conflict: Altruism’s midwife
Generosity and solidarity towards one’s own may have emerged only in combination with hostility towards outsiders, says Samuel Bowles

NATURE|Vol 456|20 November 2008

http://tuvalu.santafe.edu/~bowles/ConflictAltruismMidwife.pdf

Steamer writes:
Of course, if I was afflicted by the anti-foreign bias I'd probably say the reason had something to do with California's welfare state, but luckily my mind is free of such things.

Again, you write as if you are not affected by "pro-foreign bias" (for starters). Really, why are you trying to claim for yourself some sort of high ground? Why is it that you try to establish your position as some sort of impartial, rational one when there are good reasons (evolutionary ones) to believe that it is not?

Evan writes:

@Steve Sailer

What's the poverty rate in the Rio Grande Valley?

Obviously less than Mexico's, or a lot less Mexicans would have moved there. Either the Hispanics there have become more naturalized than you thought, or American institutions are so awesome that they create wealth regardless of culture (or maybe it's a mix of the two).

How's the Upper Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico doing? Why did New Mexico attract only a fraction of the immigrants that Arizona did over the last decade?
New Mexico has a ~10% foreign-born population, while Arizona has a ~15% foreign born population (according to the 2005-2009 Census Community Survey). So Arizona has about half-again as much, percentage-wise (on absolute terms it has a lot more, since it's population is more than three times larger than New Mexico's). That's hardly "only a fraction."

Looking at their economies, it looks like Arizona has a larger agricultural sector than New Mexico. That likely means more unskilled workers from Mexico would come there because there'd be more unskilled jobs.

And you never answered my question about where your claim about the Rio Grande Valley's immigration rates came from. You claimed it had a lot less than California, but actually it has about the same.

@Steamer

Why is it that you try to establish your position as some sort of impartial, rational one when there are good reasons (evolutionary ones) to believe that it is not?

Are you kidding me? You're really going to invoke evolution? Do you know what the Naturalistic Fallacy is? It's the belief that because something is natural, it must also be good.

Natural things are usually bad, not good. Civilization is all about overcoming our evil natural desires and replacing them with good, unnatural ones. Do you want to know what else evolution programmed into us? Adultery has strong evolutionary reasons to exist because it for the man it increases the chances his genes will be passed on, and for the woman it means her children will have a more diverse gene pool. Rape might have evolved for similar reasons. Genocide, war, theft, all of those things have good evolutionary reasons for existing. Are you really going to argue in favor of all of them.

I believe the saying goes: "Nature is what we were put on earth to rise above." The reason my position is more impartial is because I am trying to rise above my nature.

@hacs

Conflict: Altruism’s midwife
Generosity and solidarity towards one’s own may have emerged only in combination with hostility towards outsiders, says Samuel Bowles

So conflict with outsiders might have helped altruism evolve in the past. That doesn't mean it's still good today. Natural does not equal good.

Steamer writes:

[Sorry for the off-topic]

Do you know what the Naturalistic Fallacy is? It's the belief that because something is natural, it must also be good.

But by defending your position you are commiting a similar fallacy by assuming that your socially constructed ideals are better than the things that have spontaneously evolved. On a related note, I am thoroughly stunned how often people who self-identify as libertarians are hostile to ideas that are results of spontaneous order developments.

Natural things are usually bad, not good. Civilization is all about overcoming our evil natural desires and replacing them with good, unnatural ones.

Please, spare me the Proto-Freudian nonsense. Again, you are evoking moral notions as an argument. Again, I tell you that I don't care about them because they lack any meaningful real substance.

All in all, you are contradicting yourself. First, you say:

Genocide, war, theft, all of those things have good evolutionary reasons for existing. Are you really going to argue in favor of all of them.

which is essentially a moral argument designed to appeal to emotional motivations that are natural (making that argument alone compromises the integrity of your thesis). Then you say that:

The reason my position is more impartial is because I am trying to rise above my nature.

How do you make an impartial argument when at the core of your idea are basic moral sentiments that already are partial?
And let's just mention the fact that an impartial observer is certain to care not about socially constructed dogmas but is most likely to "value" natural outcomes (evolution) because they will be the only ones that actually make logical sense and have any real basis(they exist - unlike morality).


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