Bryan Caplan  

Immigration and the Welfare State

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I still looking for the time to respond to Tino Sanandaji.  In the meanwhile, though, here's Henry Farrell on a new APSR paper on the political economy of the welfare state:
[T]hey argue that if one tries to hold racial and ethnic cleavages constant, the key factor determining redistribution is the income gap between middle income voters and lower income voters. Where this gap is low, middle class people... are more likely to support income redistribution because they feel that the poor are in some sense, 'like them.' When the gap is high, middle class people will have a much weaker sense of solidarity with the poor, and hence be less supportive of redistribution. Lupu and Pontussen suggest that the US is an outlier, with weaker solidarity than the structure of US inequality would suggest. They argue that the explanation for this is straightforward - "it is clearly attributable to the high-concentration of racial-ethnic minorities in the bottom of the income distribution." More bluntly put - middle class Americans feel less solidarity with the very poor because the very poor are more likely to be black.
If you're a pro-immigration leftist, these findings will probably fill you with dismay: It sure sounds like low-skill immigration undermines middle-class support for the welfare state.  Yet if, like me, you love immigration and loathe the welfare state, it's good news.  You might recoil, "It's 'good news' that freedom depends on bigotry?!"  But there's a big difference between "less solidarity" and "bigotry."  And solidarity is a very mixed bag.  Despite its surface appeal, solidarity is the #1 cause of self-righteous injustice against out-groups and naysayers.  It would be a better world if we could just admit that our "fellow citizens" are not our brothers and sisters, but strangers.

HT: Tyler



COMMENTS (10 to date)
Ted writes:

Defining your sense of "solidarity" along racial lines sound a lot like bigotry. Solidarity is defined, at least in the context of use here, as a unity of interests and sympathies between members of a group of people. Once you define the "members of a group of people" along racial lines, you are damn close to racism - if not already there. And solidarity isn't what causes injustice against out-groups. Solidarity makes bigotry and injustice against them easier to commit because certain groups are united in their support against others. The injustice comes down to bigotry and hatred.

I don't think it would be a good thing to think of fellow citizens as strangers per-say. Obviously, they are strangers, but I don't think that's the right way to think about our obligations to them. I personally believe we do have obligations to others - though not as "fellow citizens" but as "fellow people." I don't support the welfare state, in the sense of forcibly redistributing wealth, but I believe we have an obligation to help others voluntarily (not only would this be a more moral system since no force is involved, but it would probably be more efficient). The term "stranger" is loaded and evokes ideas of distrust and suspicion. I don't think we should think about other people in those terms.

Also, the paper doesn't necessarily suggest low-skill immigrants undermine support for the welfare state. You can't just have an understanding of our society, radically change it by allowing massive low-skill immigration, and assuming only the response of one variable (the degree of the welfare state) will change. A radical policy shift of that nature would first require a radical shift in political opinion which already makes your analysis invalid, but indeed let's assume open immigration was imposed exogenously. Still, the massive increase in low-skill immigrants would dramatic alter people's perception of the low-skill and poor, as well as a whole host of other economic and social variables. Who knows what the result would be for support of the welfare state. You are committing the fallacy by assuming your static partial equilibrium analysis holds in a dynamic general equilibrium.

david nh writes:
Clay writes:

Bryan's strong belief on the importance and significance of genetics in determining long run human outcomes seems completely at odds with his enthusiasm for mass-scale unselective immigration.

Usually, people who believe that genetics have such a strong casual relationship with so many of the outcomes of society that we care about want to shape the genetic character of the population for the greater good of society. And the only crude tactic we currently have for shaping the genetic character of the nation is immigration policy.

In this post, Bryan is beginning to reveal his subversive intent regarding immigration. I would like to hear more along these lines.

MikeP writes:

Usually, people who believe that genetics have such a strong casual relationship with so many of the outcomes of individuals that we care about don't want to use force to shape the genetic character of the population for the greater good of society.

Fixed that for you.

Nathan Smith writes:

re: "It would be a better world if we could just admit that our 'fellow citizens' are not our brothers and sisters, but strangers."

If, instead, we took the Christian view that strangers are our brothers and sisters, it gets you the same result on immigration policy.

The Man Who Was . . . writes:

It sure sounds like low-skill immigration undermines middle-class support for the welfare state.

Up to a point, Lord Copper.

But after awhile the sheer numbers of poor, unskilled voters simply overwhelm middle class anti-welfare state voters. See California.

The Man Who Was . . . writes:

"It would be a better world if we could just admit that our "fellow citizens" are not our brothers and sisters, but strangers."

Would it?
http://www.amazon.com/Trust-Social-Virtues-Creation-Prosperity/dp/0684825252

Ben writes:

Ted,

Not bigotry but disinterest.

Evan writes:

I think a major reason why so much opposition to immigration comes from welfare-state based arguments is that, for some bizarre reason, they think that the welfare state is a monstrous moral evil, while immigration restrictions are totally reasonable. This is incorrect, immigration restrictions are a moral evil on the scale of Apartheid and Jim Crow, while the welfare-state is unpleasant, but not super-evil.

If someone in the 1950s were to defend Jim Crow, on the grounds that blacks are more likely to make use of the welfare state and vote for the welfare state than whites, they'd be factually correct. But I think everyone here would agree that Jim Crow was so horrible that the risk of an enhanced welfare state would be worth it to get rid of it. Ditto for Apartheid, it was so horrible that any problems caused by its abolition were well worth it.

@Clay

Bryan's strong belief on the importance and significance of genetics in determining long run human outcomes seems completely at odds with his enthusiasm for mass-scale unselective immigration.

Bryan believes that genetics is important for determining long-term outcomes between people within nations. He believes (correctly) that the nation you live in is far more important for life outcomes, overall. To him, the fact that people with decent genetics are forced to live in countries where they can't put them to good use is a titanic injustice.

Usually, people who believe that genetics have such a strong casual relationship with so many of the outcomes of society that we care about want to shape the genetic character of the population for the greater good of society. And the only crude tactic we currently have for shaping the genetic character of the nation is immigration policy.
In our globalized world, society consists of everyone on Earth. So the genetic character of the population will be the same regardless of who lives where. It goes back to the question of "where would you prefer poor people be poor?"

@MikeP
Good job on catching that error.

@The Man Who Was

But after awhile the sheer numbers of poor, unskilled voters simply overwhelm middle class anti-welfare state voters. See California.
Public employee unions are far more responsible for Calfornia's budget problems. Immigrants are mainly just a scapegoat.

Nick Bradley writes:

To everyone who is using the example of California to oppose immigration, I think you're way off base. California was changed more by the migration of New York and other East Coast leftists in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s than by Mexicans.

I imagine most people who blame Mexican immigrants for California's woes have never been there. Being a Californian by birth, middle and lower class latinos out-produce their white Oakie counterparts hands down.

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