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Unz on Immigration: A Bizarrely Mixed Bag

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Tyler Cowen pointed me to "Immigration, the Republicans, and the End of White America by Ron Unz.  It's one of most bizarrely mixed bags I've ever read.  The piece combines...

1. Wise long-run political advice for Republicans:
In states or regions experiencing heavy waves of non-white immigration, the party's white conservative base tends to grow alarmed, and any particular spark--an economic downturn, a brutal crime widely publicized by the media--can lead to an explosion of racial hostility. At that point, thoughtful Republican candidates are faced with the choice of either following this populist appeal to immediate victory, often attracting the crossover support of large numbers of Democratic or independent voters in the process, or gritting their teeth and opposing it.

If they take the former approach, temporary electoral victories, no matter how sweeping, almost invariably become long-term disasters in political alignment. But if they take the latter stance, they sacrifice the sort of immediate opportunities that tend to figure very high in the minds of most politicians, and even risk losing primaries to harder-line rivals with shorter horizons or fewer scruples.

2. Empirical rejection of many popular complaints about immigrants, like:

The notion that masses of non-white immigrants, legal or not, will turn our cities into violent battlefields or support ethnic separatist movements which shatter national unity are total absurdities, and the people who believe such claims are fools. And as we have seen above from the accumulated voting data of the last couple of decades, after a brief transition period, whites and non-white immigrant groups seem to coexist perfectly well, or at least as well as did the various white ethnic groups on the East Coast 50 or 60 years ago.

3. Admission of the social benefits of population growth, followed by paranoia:

The solvency of our Social Security system is buttressed by such rapid population growth, which increases the number of current workers relative to retirees. The housing sector--which during the peak of the bubble became America's largest industry--is heavily dependent upon population growth to boost demand. But support for immigration based on these arguments amounts to an endorsement of Ponzi schemes in which growth must continue indefinitely in order to maintain the same benefits. And as we have seen in the recent past, Ponzi schemes eventually collapse, usually leaving devastation in their wake.

Simple point: 50-100 years of fiscal and financial benefits of population growth followed by stagnation is a lot better than stagnation right now.  "Ponzi scheme"?  Try: "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."

4. Absurd claims about the ideologies that dominate the major political parties:

The political reality is that both major parties are enormously dependent upon the business interests that greatly benefit from the current system and are also dominated by disparate ideologies--libertarian open-borders and multicultural open-borders--whose positions tend to coincide on this issue.

If Unz claimed that both parties are dominated by ideologies that oppose moving from 95% closed borders to 97% closed borders, he might have a point.  But opposition to additional restrictions and opposition to any restrictions are radically different.  Come on: Open borders is controversial even among full-time libertarian intellectuals!  The real dominant ideologies of both parties are nationalism and social democracy, not libertarianism or multiculturalism. 

5. Two-thirds of the way through Unz's piece, I still couldn't figure out what "problem" he wanted to solve.  And then out of the blue, it turns out that immigration is indeed the problem, and the solution is... a large increase in the minimum wage designed to destroy low-skilled employment:

The automatic rejoinder to proposals for hiking the minimum wage is that "jobs will be lost." But in today's America a huge fraction of jobs at or near the minimum wage are held by immigrants, often illegal ones. Eliminating those jobs is a central goal of the plan, a feature not a bug.

This at a time when the unemployment rate for drop-outs is about 15%.



COMMENTS (19 to date)
shecky writes:

Unz has always been a pretty odd bird, especially over immigrant issues. But that last point just throws me for a loop. I'v re-read it many times wondering if I am somehow misunderstanding his point.

Evan writes:

As soon as I read Unz's proposal I was struck with incredible fear for the livelihoods of my younger brothers and their classmates, who are just entering the workforce. I hope noone tries this idea.

I also don't see how it would reduce illegal immigration, it would logically increase it. The incentive to hire someone who wouldn't have to work at the minimum wage, and was afraid of telling on you, would be higher than ever.

Some other thoughts:
Unz argues convincingly that it is primarily the presence of blacks, rather than ethnic diversity in general, which polarizes whites in an area and makes them vote Republican. I wonder why? A few theories:
-Leftover racism from Jim Crow
-Poor African-American culture, or "black redneck" culture as Thomas Sowell calls it is feared by whites.
-White voters fear black crime far more than immigrant crime.

Ways to test these hypotheses might be to see if white voters react to black immigrants from Africa and the Carribean the same way they do to native-born African Americans. It might also be a good idea to see if this effect decreases as the black-white IQ gap continues to close. It seems to me that racism has gone down significantly in the past few decades, at the same time black IQ has gone up by 1/3 of a Standard deviation, but that's not neccessarily correlated. Still, maybe when the IQ gap is close to closing completely the "black effect" will disappear.

The notion that masses of non-white immigrants, legal or not, will turn our cities into violent battlefields or support ethnic separatist movements which shatter national unity are total absurdities, and the people who believe such claims are fools.
I'm glad Unz isn't buying the claims of those hysterics, just because they support the same party as he does. I'm surprised and proud that he refutes those people so forcefully, especially considering that he referenced some of them rather heavily early on in the article. It's awesome to see that most Republicans still have standards.
...central dilemma faced by today’s Republican leadership. In states or regions experiencing heavy waves of non-white immigration, the party’s white conservative base tends to grow alarmed, and any particular spark—an economic downturn, a brutal crime widely publicized by the media—can lead to an explosion of racial hostility. At that point, thoughtful Republican candidates are faced with the choice of either following this populist appeal to immediate victory, often attracting the crossover support of large numbers of Democratic or independent voters in the process, or gritting their teeth and opposing it.
It seems to me that "gritting their teeth and opposing it" is simply the right thing to do, however bad it may be in the short term. It's better for the Republican party to win more in the future than win a little now. Of course, maybe they could undo some of the damage by being super-concilatory to minority voters.
Finally, we should remember that many of the most militant and ideologically fervent grassroots activists within conservative ranks are vehemently anti-immigration, often largely on racial grounds, and sometimes focus on that one issue to the exclusion of most others....they might make life very uncomfortable for any Republican politician who opposed this plan without providing a realistic alternative in its place.
It seems to me that Republicans could turn this around by turning the disapproval these people have for them into a badge of honor. The majority of Americans, be they liberal or conservative, hate racialists of all stripes, and would probably be glad to see their candidates stand up to them.

I can't say I agree with Unz's claim that our absolute standard of living has stagnated, Arnold's "Diamond Age" posts have convinced me otherwise. Or to be more exact, they've convinced me overpspending on healthcare and education is mainly to blame. Relative standard, I can see that decreasing, but also can't honestly say I care. I try to fight envy like Bryan and David.

I think lastly that Unz fails to account for the welfare of immigrants in this article. Even if they drive down wages slightly, the higher wages they recieve more than balances it out. Americans don't just want to make money, they also want to be good people who make the world a better place. Impoverishing other people to slightly increase their standard of living thwarts that desire. I think that maybe the Republicans should remind their large Christian base that Jesus said "Love thy neighbor as thyself," not "Love thy neighbor as thyself unless they were born in another country, in which case who cares about 'em."

Alex J. writes:

Making low paying jobs illegal would, at the margin, favor hiring illegal immigrants. Breaking two laws is not nearly twice as bad as breaking one.

ThomasL writes:
[A]n economic downturn, a brutal crime widely publicized by the media--can lead to an explosion of racial hostility.
This is either a bold claim or a weaselly claim, depending on how he relies on "can." If it is bold, I'd like to see some a reference to some of these "explosions of racial hostility." And, for what it is worth, finding news clippings where people say things like, "My daughter would still be alive if the government hadn't let him go the last time he committed a crime," falls well short of an "explosion of racial hostility."

In the absence of a reference, he can always fall back on that wonderful qualifier, "can", and say, "Well, I didn't say that it had happened, only that it could."

Jamie_NYC writes:
"... support ethnic separatist movements which shatter national unity are total absurdities, and the people who believe such claims are fools."

And yet, the majority of spectators of the US - Mexico soccer match in Los Angeles cheered for the foreign team. But why do we need facts, when we have ideology.

@ Evan and Alex J.: presumably, he also foresees the enforcement of laws against hiring illegal immigrants being widely enforced (national database etc.).

Noah Yetter writes:

@ThomasL: A small amount of Drug War violence spilled over the border into Arizona, and the next thing you knew Gov. Brewer was signing "papers, please" into law.

kyle8 writes:

Even, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the Republican party would be better off in the long run by being open borders or pandering to any immigrant group.

Immigrants, overwhelmingly vote for the party of handouts, the Democrat. This has been the case since the very beginning of that party.

Increased immigration, particularly illegal immigration from Mexico will eventually result in a period of triumphalism for the Democrats similar to the period between 1932-1968. And this is a much much more radical left wing party than it has ever been.

Republicans can be "Nice" to immigrants all they want, but there is no way the ostensibly fiscally conservative party can out give the hand out party.

ThomasL writes:

@Noah

Your timeline, while technically accurate, is a little misleading. The bill had already passed the Senate in February and was destined for the governor's desk anyway when Krentz was murdered in March. That naturally got a lot of media play, but the process was pretty far along before the "brutal crime" occurred.

Using AZ also runs the risk of "proving too much." If supporting the AZ law is in itself an "explosion of racial hostility", then a majority of people in the entire US must be exploding in racial hostility, since it was popular nationwide--a big country where most people never heard of Krentz or his dog. That is possible, I won't deny that. I do have my doubts that it is true, though.

The problem I have with this line of argument in general is that it is basically name calling, that looks on any opponent as unreasonable and beneath contempt, and therefore unworthy to engage with reasonably. It is very much in line with the standard "racism" charge that can be trotted out against any objection to any progressive policy since the 1950s. Don't like welfare? "RAACIST! You don't care if black kids starve." Don't like Obamacare? "You just can't stand to see a black man as president. You're a RAAACIST!"

Now we have -- Object to illegal immigration? "You're exploding with racial hostility against brown people aren't you? RAACIST!"

Maybe, just maybe, people could object to welfare without caring what color the recipient is, Obamacare without caring if Obama is black, and illegal immigration without caring what color the alien is.

PrometheeFeu writes:

"Those most recently arrived, especially illegal ones with weak language or job skills, would probably lose their jobs, especially since many of these individuals are already forced to work (illegally) for sub-minimum wages."

The argument contains the empirical underpinnings of its defeat... What is Unz expecting to be the reaction of the employers of illegal immigrants? "Oh no! I used to hire you illegally and at a wage 5 dollars under the minimum wage, but now I have to let you go because I would have to be hiring you at 7 dollars under the minimum wage!" Changing the minimum wage will clearly not affect people who are already paid bellow the current minimum wage...

The Anti-Gnostic writes:
after a brief transition period, whites and non-white immigrant groups seem to coexist perfectly well, or at least as well as did the various white ethnic groups on the East Coast 50 or 60 years ago.

Are we sure about this? The Italians took quite some beating down before they finally gave up their Mafia. Now we've got MS-13. And Russian and Albanian gangs. And kidnappings in Phoenix and San Diego. This transition period is brief, right?

Also, 50 to 60 years ago, there was Operation Wetback, and before that there was a long period of immigration restriction, and there were no welfare and civil rights laws for immigrants and their patrons to socialize the costs of mass trans-national movement of peoples. Under the present legal regime, all the incentive is to maintain aggrieved and insular minority status.

There is also no small amount of uber-elitism on Unz's part. Basically, he is giving up on American blacks as too violent, too stupid and too expensive, and urging the rest of us to go along with the asset-owning class's importation of passive Meso-Americans to pick the cotton.

G.L.Piggy writes:


None other than Michael Dukakis wrote about this in an op-ed for NYT.

I think Unz's proposal is much more of a "think outside the box" mental exercise than anything else. He's playing each ideology off of the other. In politics, such shrewdities may be the only thing that works.

Reihan Salam also has a good piece at The Daily where he points out that wages are a bigger magnet than the welfare state.

Matt writes:
The argument contains the empirical underpinnings of its defeat... What is Unz expecting to be the reaction of the employers of illegal immigrants?

Presumably there would be workplace enforcement...Unz's idea rests on the sense that going after established entities--businesses--is more effective than going after illegals themselves. For one, there are fewer targets, also they have more to lose. Where I think Unz goes wrong is in blithely assuming that the business interests who defeat immigration restriction because they want cheap labor will just go along with the minimum wage increase that is intended to eliminate cheap labor.

Also, 50 to 60 years ago, there was Operation Wetback, and before that there was a long period of immigration restriction, and there were no welfare and civil rights laws for immigrants and their patrons to socialize the costs of mass trans-national movement of peoples. Under the present legal regime, all the incentive is to maintain aggrieved and insular minority status.

Don't forget also that there was a concerted effort to assimilate all the Europeans and subsume the differences into an overall American identity. As one pertinent example, speaking a foreign language was generally not tolerated...these days if you insist the Hispanics speak English you'll get nothing but racism slanders for your trouble, and not from the Hispanics.

Peter Schaeffer writes:

A few points.

1. Unz notwithstanding, there isn't any evidence that Republican support for immigration restriction impacts Hispanic voting over the medium term, much less the long-term. By contrast, there is overwhelming evidence the demographic change is devastating to Republican / Libertarian prospects. See "The Politics of Arizona's Immigration Law"

2. There is vast evidence that immigration is undermining American society, across a long list of dimensions. The absence of violence doesn't disprove this point. The list of "epic fails" is almost endless. We can start with floundering education, rising crime, unaffordable housing, unemployment, gridlock, illegitimacy, family instability, rising taxes, inequality, declining social cohesion, and political polarization.

The decline of America via mass immigration isn't even controversial anymore. See

"End State - Is California finished?"

"At the gathering, held in a plush conference room, one of the experts projected tables and graphs comparing various states. It was there that I had my own "AHA!" moment. The states with thriving educational systems were generally northern, predominately white, and with relatively few immigrants: the New England states, North Dakota, and Minnesota. That bore out the late Senator Patrick Moynihan's quip that the strongest factor in predicting SAT scores was proximity to the Canadian border. The states grouped with California on the lower end of the bar graph were Deep South states like Mississippi and Alabama with a legacy of racism and with a relative absence of new-economy jobs; states like West Virginia that have relatively few jobs for college grads; and states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Hawaii that have huge numbers of non-English-speaking, downscale immigrants whose children are entering the schools. California clearly falls into the last group, suggesting that California's poor performance since the 1960s may not have been due to an influx of bad teachers, or the rise of teachers' unions, but to the growth of the state's immigrant population after the 1965 federal legislation on immigration
opened the gates."

and

"Innovation and education won't save our economy - The truth that China's dictatorship and America's multinational corporations don't want you to know"

"The overall PISA scores of American students are lowered by the poor results for blacks and Latinos, who make up 35 percent of America’s
K-12 student population. Asian-American students have an average score of 541, similar to those of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. The non-Hispanic white American student average of 525 is comparable to the averages of Canada (524), New Zealand (521), and Australia (515). In contrast, the average PISA readings score of Latino students is 446 and black students is 441."

3. Immigration can't save Social Security. Sorry folks. Why? First all the numbers don't work. See "Is the United States Bankrupt?" by the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

"Second, it is mistake to think that immigration can significantly alleviate the nation’s fiscal problem. The reality is that immigrants aren’t cheap. They require public goods and services. And they become eligible for transfer payments. While most immigrants pay taxes, these taxes barely cover the extra costs they engender. This, at least, is the conclusion reached by Auerbach and Oreopoulos (2000) in a careful generational accounting analysis of this issue."

However, that's the good news. The reality is that low-skill, Hispanic immigration is a disaster for Social Security. Why? Social Security is a progressive system. Low income workers get much more from it, than they put in. The reverse is true for higher income recipients. Of course, higher life expectancy adversely impacts the economics of they system. Given that Hispanics have low incomes and high life expectancy, they are obviously not going to save the system.

Of course, a more detailed analysis yields even worse results. See "The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to State and Local Taxpayers"

"In 2004, there were 4.54 million low-skill immigrant households. The average net fiscal deficit per household for federal, state and local spending combined was $19,588. This means that the total annual fiscal deficit (total benefits received minus total taxes paid) for all 4.54 million low-skill immigrant households together equaled $89.1 billion."

"In FY 2004, the average low skill immigrant household received $30,160 in direct benefits, means-tested benefits, education, and population-based services from all levels of government. By contrast, low-skill immigrant households paid only $10,573 in taxes in FY 2004. A household's net fiscal deficit equals the cost of benefits and services received minus taxes paid. The average low-skill household had a fiscal deficit of $19,588 (expenditures of $30,160 minus $10,573 in taxes)."

4. It is obvious to virtually everyone that current immigration policy is driven by cheap labor corporate interests and racial special interest groups. To deny this is very weird. It is also the norm of U.S. history. Samuel Gompers once said

"America must not be overwhelmed.

"Every effort to enact immigration legislation must expect to meet a number of hostile forces and, in particular, two hostile forces of considerable strength.

"One of these is composed of corporation employers who desire to employ physical strength (broad backs) at the lowest possible wage and who prefer a rapidly revolving labor supply at low wages to a regular supply of American wage earners at fair wages.

"The other is composed of racial roups in the United States who oppose all restrictive legislation because they want the doors left open for an influx of their countrymen regardless of the menace to the people of their adopted country.'

5. If we raised the minimum wage and deported the illegals, unemployment would go down and wages would rise. It would be the end of the world as we know it. The unimaginable horror.

Peter Schaeffer writes:

It may be worth noting that Alex Tabarrok has strongly endorsed Unz's idea. He doesn't like it of course.

See "How to Unemploy Immigrants" by Alex Tabarrok

"In a shocking op-ed in the NYTimes two well known liberals, Michael Dukakis and Daniel Mitchell (a former price-control Czar), acknowledge that the minimum wage creates unemployment. Nevertheless, they are in favor of raising the minimum wage. Why? Because it will create even more unemployment among immigrants than among natives.

The mean-spirited, Machiavellian nature of their op-ed is chilling but I will give Dukakis and Mitchell this, their logic is impeccable."

Impeccable no less.

Peter Schaeffer writes:

I sure don't agree with Unz about everything. However, he nails it with the following

"But if we take a step back and ask ourselves to consider the current outcome of all these interlocked policies, we discover a very sorry situation. The massive immigration of the last couple of decades is certainly not the sole or even the leading cause, but it is an important contributing factor. Endless foreign wars, partly made possible by the availability of pliant immigrant cannon fodder, have ruined America’s worldwide reputation and its finances. A gigantic housing bubble, inflated by heavy immigration-driven population growth, has collapsed, wrecking the American economy and endangering our financial system. And the extremes of American wealth and poverty have reached levels never previously seen in our society."

Peter Schaeffer writes:

The title of Unz's article is quite revealing

"Will mass immigration destroy the GOP—and our middle-class society?"

Indeed.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

"And yet, the majority of spectators of the US - Mexico soccer match in Los Angeles cheered for the foreign team."

You also see a lot of German flags at the Von Steuben Parade in Chicago...and these are people with immigrant ancestors from over 100 years ago (before we began dramatic reductions in legal immigration quotas in the 1920s).

Peter Schaeffer writes:

Mr. E,

Just like German-Americans. See below.

"Mexican-American soccer fans boo the U.S. team in Gold Cup? Not nice, los estúpidos"

"Nice comeback win by Mexico to beat the U.S., 4-2, at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in Pasadena on Saturday. But Mexican fans, did you have to boo the U.S. team? I mean, you live here and everything. You’re U.S. citizens, presumably. No one’s saying you have to root for the U.S. soccer team … pulling for Mexico in this game was completely understandable. But booing the team, and other acts of hooliganism directed at the U.S.? Unless you believe that all of those folks traveled north from Mexico just for the game — and I don’t — then it’s obvious that people living and working in the U.S. booed and disrespected the American team. You took it too far, los salvajes."

It gets better.

" Other than a column in the Los Angeles Times, the atmosphere at Saturday’s game was hardly noted. When it was, the crowd was called enthusiastic or impassioned.

How about boorish?

Certainly not all 93,420 fans, but enough to leave you wondering just what the U.S. did to get Mexico so enthusiastic and impassioned.

The antics weren’t anything new. In a 2005 World Cup qualifier, the Mexican crowd booed the U.S. national anthem and some fans chanted “Osama! Osama!” during the game. Two years ago fans threw containers holding urine and vomit at Landon Donovan.

If American fans had done that to Javier Hernandez on Saturday, there would be a national manhunt. But almost any criticism of Mexican fans is viewed as intolerant, if bit downright racist.

The question is: How much must we tolerate?"

German-American fans toss urine and vomit? I am sure they do it everyday.

Peter Schaeffer writes:

"Admission of the social benefits of population growth, followed by paranoia"

It's "paranoia" to recognize that Ponzi schemes end badly?

Is it any wonder that the economics profession has so little credibility?

Of course, Social Security is a vast loser from low-skilled immigration. See "Is Social Security Progressive?" by the CBO. I quote

"For people with lower than average earnings, the
ratio of the lifetime benefits they receive from Social Security to the lifetime payroll taxes they pay for the program is higher than it is for people with higher average earnings. In that sense, the Social Security system is progressive. For people in the bottom fifth of the earnings distribution, the ratio of benefits to taxes is almost three times as high as it is for those in the top fifth."

Note that workers in the bottom quintile collect twice what they put in. Workers in the top quintile get 60% of what they put in.

Of course, that's all the good news. Low-skill immigrant families are a stunning local, state, and Federal burden from the moment they arrive. Roughly they pay $10K in taxes and collect $30K in welfare.

I guess if you can't come up with any legitimate arguments for mass immigration, you can...

Just make stuff up!

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