Bryan Caplan  

Sanandaji on the Political Externalities of Immigration

The Morality of Fractional Res... Appearances...
I think the political externalities of immigration are greatly overblown.  This piece by Chicago Public Policy Ph.D. student Tino Sanandaji presents the other side more effectively than anyone else I've read.  I'm too busy to reply for a while, but enjoy.  The heart of the piece:
...Berggren and other libertarians and liberals who rely on the Alesina-Glaeser theory are substantively wrong. Ethnic diversity overall tends to expand the welfare state, not reduce it. While the research only focuses on one effect of unskilled immigration (reduced fellowship), there are at least three effects that go the other way. Here are the main effects of increasing the share of low income minorities:

1. Solidarity is diminished and social ties are wakened, so that the majority population becomes less willing to pay taxes to help "the other". This limits the size of government. The ethnic-diversity-and-redistribution-literature has almost entirely focused on this sole effect.

2. Increasing the share of low income individuals increases the welfare state through a mechanic effect. This means even if you don't vote any changes to the welfare state, the use of preexisting welfare programs such as unemployment insurance and public health care increases...

More disadvantaged citizens increases the need for a welfare state. To the extent that the welfare state reflects a desire to reduce social problems, having more deprived individuals increases the demand for more government to solve problems...

4. Though ignored by proponents of the ethnic-diversity-and-redistribution, minorities also get to vote, and they vote overwhelmingly for the left. This effect is dominant when we are discussing free migration, because with open borders in a world where 700 million people have told Gallup they would like to migrate right now, sooner or later the immigrants will become the majority of voters and make the political preferences of the natives irrelevant.


The proponents of the Alesina-Glaeser theory tend to focus entirely on point one and ignore points 2, 3 and 4.
HT: Dan Klein

COMMENTS (8 to date)
Evan writes:

My main objection to the "immigrants use too much welfare" type arguments isn't necessarily whether or not they do. It's that using such arguments is a slippery slope that can lead to all sorts of horrible socialist interventions. If you start restricting and regulating a group of people because they place a greater than average burden on social services, where are you going to stop? What conservatives and libertarians fail to realize, when they make these political externalities arguments, is that the left uses these exact same arguments to justify all sorts of awful restrictions on our freedoms.

Smoking bans? The left justifies them by arguing that smoking causes political externalities. Banning fast food restaurants? The left justifies it by arguing that fat people cause political externalities. Soda taxes? Again, the left justifies it by arguing that fat people cause political externalities. Forcing people to buy health care? The left justifies them by arguing that uninsured people cause political externalities. Onerous safety regulations? The left justifies them by arguing that injuries cause political externalities. And the worst example of all that I found was a (luckily unsuccessful) attempt by a faction in the Dutch Parliament to tax stay-at-home moms because since they're not working they're not returning the "investment" the government made in their educations.

So I've decided, as a matter of principle, to unilaterally reject all "political externality" based arguments for restricting people's freedom, whether it's restricting immigration, or restricting fatty foods. The slippery slope it leads down is just too dangerous.

I reject "Overlord Arguments" for the same reason, most conservatives and libertarians who use them as a justification for immigration restriction fail to realize that such arguments can and have been used by the far Left to justify every single social engineering scheme they want to force on us.

Grant Gould writes:

Point 4 -- "Immigrants vote for the Left" -- seems to me to suffer a massive confounding problem that parties of the right in pretty much every country overwhelmingly loathe immigrants. If they want to attract immigrant votes the path is not exactly hard, particularly considering the extreme social conservatism of many would-be immigrants. To lay the failings of the political right at the feet of immigrants is perverse in the extreme.

And that's even assuming that the political right favors free markets, which is only barely true at the margin in the US and outright false in many developed countries.

Evan writes:

I didn't notice this when I made my first post because I only read the first blog post Bryan linked to, not the other ones in the series. Reading more of them, I have realized Sanandaji pulled a trick that I feel stupid for falling for because people have done it to me before. He shifted the debate from being about having immigrants coming here to work to being about granting immigrants citizenship.

Now, I am all for letting infinity plus one immigrants come here to work, but granting them citizenship is another matter entirely.

If you go back and read another of Sanandaji's posts, he inserts the assumption explicitly:

For me the choice is simple, I prefer Democracy to Open Borders. If a country decides to take immigrants, they have to be included 100% with full rights, and not permanent second-class citizens.
I call BS on this. If you're interested in actually helping people, letting a lot of them come here to work and not granting them citizenship and voting rights is morally superior to only letting a few of them in, but letting those few vote. The first option simply enriches more people.

Opposing "second-class citizens" is a red herring because you're going to have second-class citizens either way. If you don't let immigrants in they'll still be permanent second-class citizens, the only difference is that they'll be ultra-poor second-class citizens on the other side of the border instead of slightly poor second-class citizens on your side of the border.

Sanandaji also criticizes other libertarians for being so nonchalant about welfare state expansion:

Swedish Libertarians such as Johan Norberg, Mattias Svenssson and Henrik Alexandersson by contrast support open borders combined with keeping or if need be expanding the welfare state. Thus Norberg, Svensson, Alexandersson and others in the "Frihetsfronten" who for decades fought to abolish tax financed health care and schools for Swedish citizens supported the recent decision to grant the same services to illegal immigrants. Mattias Svensson's comment on this historic expansion of the Swedish welfare state in scope to potentially the entire planet was "This is what solidarity is about".. ....being pro-immigration has become so important for Swedish libertarian identity that they are cheering expanded welfare state services for illegal immigrants. If you wanted to be unkind, a suitable name for this novel ideology would be Libertarian-Socialism.

However, if you view immigration restrictions as a huge restriction on freedom, and the welfare state as a smaller one, than open borders+welfare state is a net gain for freedom over closed borders+no welfare state, so their actions are ideologically consistent. You should also consider that freedom is only one of many values, and that it might be acceptable to impinge on it in exchange for an increase in wealth. To use a thought experiment, if aliens said they'd cure cancer in exchange for imposing a few weird zoning restrictions on people's houses, I'd go for it without hesitation.

I think that a massive guest worker program is the best program because it avoids the majority of the risks of mass immigration+citizenship, while greatly benefiting both the immigrants, and the natives. It's also the most practical program because it's easier to get people in favor of guest workers than it is to get them in favor of new citizens. (Others might argue that anchor-babies would subvert such a program in the US, but as far as I can determine anchor-babies are extremely rare outside of conservative political nightmares.)

David C writes:

In response to point 4, I'd just like to say that supporting the left tends to reduce budget gaps. See here, here, here, and here.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

With immigration, we should consider the long-term as well as the short-term results.

Ronald Reagan, no leftist, descended from poor Irish Catholic immigrants.

In the long-term, the descendent of immigrants are likely to become more and more prosperous, and will move away from extreme left positions.

But let us be clear, most social spending in the US is on the middle class and elderly, not poor recent immigrants.

mg writes:
In the long-term, the descendent of immigrants are likely to become more and more prosperous, and will move away from extreme left positions.

The extent depends on the race of the immigrants.

Jacob Oost writes:

I eagerly await your reply, Dr. C. I generally favor open immigration but am concerned about the 2, 3, and 4 that are often ignored by open-immigration proponents.

Evan writes:

I don't know what Bryan will argue, but I think you could make a good case by using "shut up and multiply" type arguments. I.E., immigration restrictions are such a horrible violation of ethics and liberty that they're worth putting up with other violations in order to stop them.

I personally know that if I had a choice between the USA as it currently is, or a USA with no welfare state, but closed borders between states or counties, I'd pick the status quo. In fact, if I was forced to choose between doubling the size of the welfare state, or closed borders between states and counties, I'd probably pick the former. That indicates to me that closed borders are a monstrous injustice, and the only reason people don't realize it is scope insensitivity, or by being lucky enough to not have personally been harmed by them.

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