Scott Sumner  

Intellectual decay

Who Owns the "Right to Recline... Why Do Government Enterprises ...

Tyler Cowen recently linked to a good article by Francis Fukuyama:

The two dominant American political parties have become more ideologically polarized than at any time since the late nineteenth century. There has been a partisan geographic sorting, with virtually the entire South moving from Democratic to Republican and Republicans becoming virtually extinct in the Northeast.
Fukuyama talks a lot about "political decay." Here I'd like to focus on what I see as intellectual decay. At the risk of angering everyone, I'm going to try to be fair and balanced by picking 4 examples from each side. Let's start with the left:

1. In 1987 the New York Times suggested that we abolish the minimum wage. Now the left seems almost totally united in favoring a higher minimum wage. And not just the left. Mitt Romney endorsed a higher minimum wage. Even the Economist magazine called opponents of a higher minimum wage "stingy." One counterargument is that inequality has gotten worse. But the liberals who opposed the minimum wage back in the 1980s and 1990s did so primarily because they believed it hurt the poor. Another argument points to new research that suggests the minimum wage might not reduce employment. But you can find research on both sides of almost any social science question. Certainly Keynesians aren't going to abandon their theories because a study shows fiscal stimulus doesn't work. They think they have a model. But the supply and demand model that predicts minimum wages cause unemployment is far more firmly established that any macroeconomic model, especially Keynesianism. Or here's another example---how many liberals stopped supporting Head Start when studies came in showing no long term effects?

2. Greg Mankiw recently suggested abolishing the corporate income tax. Younger readers might find this hard to believe, but many liberals used to make the same sorts of arguments. Liberals were especially fond of the idea of a progressive consumption tax. They understood that it's pointless to redistribute income; the only way to help the poor was by redistributing consumption. Now they seem to be moving away from support of the progressive consumption tax, and when I read their explanations they aren't even close to being persuasive.

3. Back in the 1980s lots of liberals like Ted Kennedy voted for a cut in the top income tax rate from 50% to 28%, along with closing loopholes. Many foreign countries ruled by the left also slashed their top income tax rates. Now liberals concoct absurd theories to justify high MTRs on the rich, even if those tax rates don't raise any revenue at all. The models they rely on to justify these high rates are no more well established than the Laffer Curve theories they used to ridicule.

4. Back in the 1990s liberals had pretty much given up on fiscal policy, and instead favored using monetary policy. Now fiscal policy is all the rage. Again there is a superficial justification---the zero rate "problem." But when I was in school the idea of a liquidity trap was treated as a big joke. I keep asking for some empirical evidence that would justify a change in the conventional wisdom. The number one money textbook used to say that monetary policy was "highly effective" at the zero bound. Has some new evidence suddenly appeared that shows this is not true? If so, I'd sure like to know what that evidence is. Instead when I ask people to explain their views they typical point to "examples" that don't at all show what they claim.

And now 4 from the right:

1. Back when Reagan was president the right seemed to be supportive of more immigration. Now they have turned against immigration, but I can't see any empirical data that would justify this shift.

2. I recall that when liberals favored lots of "command and control" regulation to address global warming, and conservatives favored a carbon tax. That was the "market solution" comparable to the market-based approach to reducing sulfur emissions from coal-fired power plants. Some conservatives now latch on to "contrarians" in the scientific community. OK, but how come when the shoe was on the other foot conservatives would talk about "scientific consensus." For instance, conservatives used to criticize a lot of the excessive regulation of chemicals in the environment, by pointing to scientific studies that showed many of the pollutants that environmentalists were obsessing about did not have a statistically significant impact on health. When I read the Wall Street Journal in the 1970s it seemed like it was the clear thinking conservatives relying on science vs. the muddy-headed romantic environmentalists.

3. Conservatives used to have much more pragmatic views on health care reform. The plan adopted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts was put together with input from the Heritage Foundation. Now the right seems to think that sort of approach is pure communism.

4. Conservatives used to have a pragmatic view of monetary policy. Milton Friedman thought money was too tight just about as often as he thought it was too easy. Now conservatives almost never seem to complain that money is too tight, even in situations where it clearly is, and where Friedman would have complained about tight money. Even worse, they have forgotten that Friedman warned them that low interest rates were not easy money; rather low rates are a sign that money had been tight. This is obviously the issue I have followed most closely, and don't see any justification for conservatives changing their views on monetary policy.

I worry that readers might get the wrong message from this post. I'm not really trying to argue that I'm right about these 8 issues, I freely concede that my opponents might be right on all 8 points. They are complex problems. But that's not the issue I'm raising. Rather I'm claiming that the left and right are moving ever further apart, taking ever more extreme views, without good reasons.

Once again, monetary policy is the issue I know best. What has shocked me about the debate is not so much that people disagreed with my views, but rather that the entire intellectual consensus on macro changed radically after 2007, and no one I talked to was able to provide any sort of intellectual justification. Indeed most people didn't even realize that the previous consensus had collapsed.

A note to commenters. Before you mention some study that has the support of 5% of climate scientists, ask yourself how you'd feel if some massive liberal big government intervention was being proposed on the basis studies that 5% of scientists supported, and 95% thought were nuts. Wouldn't you ridicule the heterodox view? And if you are a liberal, suppose someone as well known as Milton Friedman had claimed that 2013 would be a test of Keynesianism. And suppose the austerity had caused RGDP growth in 2013 to plunge sharply lower, contrary to what Friedman predicted. Do you seriously deny that you would be out there claiming monetarism was totally discredited?

PS. I will be traveling, and may be slow in responding to comments.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (36 to date)
John Hall writes:

You had me until you concede that you could be wrong. Can't you be like Colbert and fully convinced that everyone else is wrong?

vikingvista writes:

"without good reasons"

Recent events have considerably raised Federal government influence and the stakes for holding power. This increases the desired need to win at any cost, intensifying tribalism and turning nearly anyone with a mouthpiece into a party shill.

Of course, the interest of these events also gets people to dwell on them more. And the more people think about what they believe, the more they tend to iron out inconsistencies in their belief systems, whether well founded or not.

It would be interesting to read editorials and campaign speeches from around the time of the Great Depression and see if there wasn't a similar phenomenon. My shallow understanding of that history is that there definitely was.

Steve J writes:

While I usually agree with the left you picked 4 great examples where they leave me scratching my head.

Glen Raphael writes:

If you look into it, I think you'll discover that in climate the definition of "consensus" that is alleged to have "95% agreement" is so vague that nearly all self-declared "skeptics" are on the majority side of the line - they are IN that 95%.

For instance, one of the first such claims was this paper: based on a survey that asked TWO questions of 10k earth scientists. The questions were:

(1) “When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?”

(2) “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”

That survey was sent to ~10,000 earth scientists. ~3000 returned the survey. In this survey the paper authors managed to find a result of "97% agreement" by entirely IGNORING question #1 (rather than requiring the right answer on BOTH questions) and then for question #2 only counting the views of those who self identify as climate scientists AND have published recently AND have had more than 50% of their most recent accepted papers (in the last 5 years) been on the subject of climate.

The additional restrictions meant that out of ~3000 votes received only 79 votes were counted to get the headline figure. 77 out of 79 answered "yes" on question #2, so they could claim that "97% of [very actively publishing] climate scientists" support "the consensus".

But the disagreement between "alarmists" and "skeptics" is almost entirely between people who are WITHIN that particular >90% consensus - groups who would BOTH answer YES to question #2 but are likely to quite reasonably differ on their interpretation of HOW "significant" a contributor it was/is and how certain we can be of this and how MUCH warming we can expect in the future.

Massimo writes:

Two quick comments on the right wing criticisms:

1: Margaret Thatcher, political soul mate of Reagan said, "“Mexicans will be the ruin of America.” That is a completely anti-immigration stance. What empirical data did she use? What empirical data does Israel or Japan use to keep their borders closed?

3: Even Caplan has been negative on the ACA and been very negative on ACA architect Gruber's comments. Former coblogger Kling has been very negative on the ACA as well. ACA may have used some right wing ideas, like some form of mandatory minimum insurance, but much of ACA is really not consistent with limited federal government ideology.

Kevin Erdmann writes:

I was surprised to be reminded recently that none other than Robert Reich published a book as recently as 2007 calling for an end to corporate income taxes.

The scariest thing to me is the stuff that a plurality on both sides now seem to agree on. Any sign of prosperity now is written off as a bubble - the proof being NGDP growth above 4% and the prices in a couple asset classes differing from the observer ' s expectation.

"Since we have this economic inequality / all these immigrants / etc. we can't support a growing middle class anymore, so we just prop the system up with these bubbles."

Kevin Erdmann writes:

Sorry for the double post....but just think about the absurdity of it. One of the "bubbles" that defines this idea of the troubled 2000s was the stock market bubble of the late nineties. Why did we have a speculative boom? Because we invented the freaking internet! The most amazing innovation in history - just another bubble propping up this failing economy. And the only reason most of these complainers have an audience is because they make their arguments on...the internet!

Jeff writes:

Scott, I'd be curious to know what you think is driving this intellectual decay. vikingvista has a plausible story, although I suspect there's more to it than that.

Nick writes:

Maybe this is professor sumner's point, but I don't think there is necessarily much difference between the political decay and the intellectual.
Plenty of the hacks out there would tell you that they are thinking very deeply about what positions make sense on these issues, but that their job is to cynically calulate which opening positions on will end up generating the final political compromise they want. And many would go a step further and talk about long term bargaining strategy.
I know liberals who feel many of their more intellectually bankrupt positions are a direct response to a well articulated long term game strategy on the right: 'starve the beast' + 'deficits don't matter' when in power. They think that over time, responding in good faith to their opposition will leave them in a tiny box, unable to accomplish their goals.
So when conservatives seem to be demanding unreasonably high concessions for something like an EITC expansion, minimum wage hikes become a political tool of discipline. It is unfortunate that 'raise the minimum wage' polls so well ... but it is natural for political movements to demand a kind of rent in exchange for being 'reasonable' on these issues where the public seems to be making a genuine mistake. Liberals feel conservatives have not paid the rent on these issues for quite some time, and that electoral defeats do not change their calculus. They need to deal policy defeats to enforce discipline.

RPLong writes:

Your liberal examples 1, 3, and 4 are all evidence-based changes, even though I disagree with them. Daniel Kuehn can point you to the relevant minimum wage literature. 3 and 4 were precipitated by the Great Recession. You can argue that they came to the wrong conclusions, but you can't argue that they had no reason for doing so.

Your criticisms of conservatives seem too colored by your own personal opinions on those issues. 4, specifically, is your well-known hobby-horse. 3 extrapolates the opinions of Massachusetts Republicans to the rest of the country, which is obviously erroneous. 2 ignores the recent 15 years of divergence from the best climate change models, suggesting a revision of priors is in order. And I don't remember Reaganites being particularly open to immigration, but I was very young back then.

ColoComment writes:

You are making simplistic assertions (see below re: Reagan and immigration) and unwarranted generalizing from the specific (See RPL re: MA Republicans & healthcare.)

I thought that one of the concurrent and retrospective criticisms of Reagan was his "bracero" program that legalized illegal immigrants in trade for the Democrats' promise, never fulfilled, to secure the southern border.

My understanding now is that that bit of history is one very strong reason why Republicans are reluctant to support a similarly-constructed immigration law. A "Fool me once..., fool me twice..." sort of thing.

I know I'll be corrected if my understanding of that Reagan episode is wrong. :-)

Yancey Ward writes:

I think you will find the more support for immigrants of a higher economic class among Republicans/conservatives, so you paint with too broad a brush (this also applies to the other issues, too, but this is the one I want to address). Indeed, with Democrats/Liberals, you will find the exact opposite- they are the party most opposed to things like increases in H1B visas, but more open to increasing the flow of lower economic class immigrants. The reason for great increase in polarization on this issue, and how it breaks down today is that it is really about increasing political power which, as Vikingvista points out, has increasing stakes as time goes on.

Thomas Sewell writes:

I agree with much of what has been posted above, but some of this is also impacted by framing effects and the available choice of positions at the time.

To take one example, if the political choice for Republicans is between accepting a single-government-payer health care system, or pushing the alternative of a somewhat market based MA exchanges system, then they're going to pick the latter.

If the political choice is between an MA exchanges system and the pre-Obamacare muddle of government regulations/distortions, they're going to pick the latter.

If the political choice is between the pre-Obamacare muddle of government regulations/distortions and a free market health care system, you may lose some Republicans at that point, but at least the libertarian wing is still going to be picking the latter.

Seen this way, the choices are all consistent with each other, even while "choosing" to support options in one situation they wouldn't support in another.

I do wish folks like heritage would might argue farther down that path would at least include a disclaimer that they still support as better the more "extreme" view which is the source of their principles, but perhaps they either did and were ignored, or else it was thought that would undermine their arguments in the fight at hand.

Popular opinion shifts and retaining power would seem to explain much of the other seeming contradictions, though.

One very odd thing I've noticed about conservatives and immigration: Conservatives seem to be more willing to accept immigrants when there's a Republican President. It's almost as though immigration were regarded as a government program instead as the results of individual decisions. I can't figure it out either.

Dan C writes:

Joseph Hertzlinger, I don't think you are correct. The last republican president was rather pro-immigration yet his guest worker program was not implemented nor, as I recall, was it much supported by the public or by many politicians on either side.

vikingvista writes:

"Conservatives seem to be more willing to accept immigrants when there's a Republican President."

It seems common to me that for the exact same action, people tend to be more tolerant of the party to which they are aligned.

Scott Sumner writes:

Only have time for a few points:

I am opposed to the ACA. My point was that conservatives like those at Heritage seem to have moved away from anything along the lines of the Mass plan, not that the Mass plan was identical to the ACA.

I don't know what caused the move of both sides toward more extremism. Maybe political polarization leads to increased cognitive bias.

The GOP was definitely more pro-immigration under Reagan, and even Bush II, until the last two years.

I don't see any rational reason why the Great Recession should have caused people to change their minds on macro issues.

Glen Raphael writes:

Regarding the Great Recession, I assume what happened there is the inverse of the "Something" fallacy. To wit:

(1) This recession is horrible.
(2) Something must be blamed!
(3) *this* (current macro policy) is something.
(4) Therefore, *this* must be blamed!

If one starts out with the assumption that macro policy does (or should) make large recessions impossible, then notice that we had a large recession, the logical conclusion is that our macro policy is wrong. And it seems apparent that the vast majority of the public does hold that assumption; we constantly see claims that there shouldn't have been a recession, shouldn't have been a stock market crash, shouldn't have been a housing crash if the economists knew what they were doing.

(Mostly we see those claims from people who aren't in power. When republicans are in office, democrats claim "if WE were running economic policy, [bad thing] wouldn't have happened!" and vice-versa. Since such claims are unfalsifiable, they can retain plausibility even when promulgated by hacks who in reality have no better idea what to do.)

Lorenzo from Oz writes:

Polarisation and intellectual decay go together.

First, because cognitive conformity is bad for decision-making. Cass Sunstein's Why Societies Need Dissent is good on the social science of this.

Signalling cultural placement also becomes more important, which weakens ability to assess evidence even without echo chamber effects.


Flocccina writes:

The PPACA would be fine if they got rid of all the employer mandates and mandates for insurance to cover low cost care like birth control pills.
It could be better yet if they allowed much higher deductibles, say up to $50,000/year.

Thomas writes:

I have a hard time seeing that Republicans have turned against immigration. The most recent Republican president favored a comprehensive immigration reform largely consistent with that favored by the current Democratic president. Immigration levels haven't been reduced by Republican congresses. What makes you think that Republicans have turned against immigration? Is there actual evidence for that view? Or is this colored by too much time on twitter?

The arguments I see from the right on climate change are largely that the benefits aren't worth the burdens, accepting the validity of the argument for the benefits. That is, they are still the sort of arguments one would have seen a generation ago on similar environmental issues.

The Republican party's most recent nominee was Mitt Romney, who enacted and presided over the Massachusetts law. I'd be surprised to find that most Republican primary voters thought him some sort of Communist.

It does seem that some conservatives changed their view on monetary policy. Inflation is politically unpopular (see, e.g, Democrats railing against inflation in the summer of 2008). Most probably never had a fully thought out view of monetary policy. To criticize those who did for not being Friedman is a bit churlish. To respond in kind: maybe they'd get it right, if you were more like Friedman. (Of course, there was only one Friedman, and we could have used him these last few years. You've done quite well as his proxy.)

Sam Gardner writes:

Real intellectual decay: history did not start in the seventies and eighties. Presenting it that way lays the burden of "changing your mind"on the current generation of politicians, while the generation of the seventies was just reckless.

The Zeitgeist in the seventies and eighties just abandoned every lesson from history, the thirties and before, to move to a "this time is different" policy debate. Deregulation was never established as a scientific consensus, only as an article of faith.

What we see as a result is the current mess: the political system is locked and the current elites cannot be replaced as you need their money to get elected.

A society with entrenched elites loses its dynamism.

Sam Gardner writes:

Real intellectual decay: history did not start in the seventies and eighties. Presenting it that way lays the burden of "changing your mind"on the current generation of politicians, while the generation of the seventies was just reckless.

The Zeitgeist in the seventies and eighties just abandoned every lesson from history, the thirties and before, to move to a "this time is different" policy debate. Deregulation was never established as a scientific consensus, only as an article of faith.

What we see as a result is the current mess: the political system is locked and the current elites cannot be replaced as you need their money to get elected.

A society with entrenched elites loses its dynamism.

breaks writes:

They understood that it's pointless to redistribute income; the only way to help the poor was by redistributing consumption.

What does this mean?

Also, you said the ACA wasn't identical to the Mass plan, but in what ways was it so different as to be considered its own thing? I know there were issues with it coming from a state, as opposed to the federal government, but aside from that, what are you referring to?

SG writes:


Income = what you earn, and consumption = what you spend, but I suspect you already knew that.

The best way to think about the difference between income and consumption is to read Steven Landsburg's classic essay on Ebenezer Scrooge

The upshot is that "in this whole world, there is nobody more generous than the miser—the man who could deplete the world's resources but chooses not to." Pre-enlightenment Scrooge was actually generous to everyone by providing perpetual capital for investment and job creation through his savings.

And the difference matters, because you want to be able to tell from a public policy standpoint who you're helping and who you're hurting with whatever policy you choose. Scott has also expounded on this idea by noting that it's impossible to tax a man who (like Warren Buffet, still living in his modest Omaha home) doesn't consume his income and/or wealth. In Buffet's case, it doesn't matter if you tax his income, his capital gains, his dividends, the income of the corporations he owns, or what have you, NONE of those taxes will change his consumption choices. At the margin, the only thing that will change is the money given to the Gates Foundation. And since changes in consumption are the best indicators of tax incidence, it makes sense to just tax consumption (just remember that the best tax-avoiders, like Buffet can evade even this tax by simply refusing to consume at all.

Piot RM writes:

Well maybe those thinkers are just prescribing palliative care for a lost cause.

Jay writes:

Liberals support immigration because it gives them voters whose political interest is limited to the question of income redistribution. Country-club Republicans support immigration because it suppresses wages. (Even the Economist has recently noted that the law of supply and demand does apply even to the supply of labor.) Ironically, the people most hurt by immigration, which is mostly low-skilled, are the blacks, who have gone for Obama by 99 to 1.

But the main problem with immigration is that it changes the culture and values of America. California becomes more like Mexico, Minnesota with Somalian immigration becomes more like Africa.

The great mistake of both libertarians and liberals is that they see human beings as value-free and interchangeable units. They are not. There are deep, persistent cultural consistencies among the various tribes of humanity. This goes against the grain of American optimism. Except that this "optimism" that we can somehow integrate millions of immigrants from Africa or South America or elsewhere in the third world is colored by the greed for political power on the left and greed for money (moah customers, moah workers!) on the "right". As Puritan ethics drain away from America, its economic growth will also be influenced, and not in a positive way.

Uzhas Kakoi writes:

Good points, Scott!

But you should have began with definitions. The world "liberal," means different things in the USA and the rest of the world. As a matter of fact the meaning in the USA changed too. If you peel off the camouflage, you'll see that modern day American "liberals" are nothing else but what the rest of the world has always been branding as leftists.

Hence the difference.

stan writes:

The vast majority of academic studies are badly flawed. And daily journalism is worse. When the quality of information is this bad, how can anyone expect the quality of thought to be any better?

Note also the rise in arrogance and decline in humility. Wisdom requires an acknowledgement of ignorance. Instead, we are awash in dart-throwing chimps (see Tetlock, Philip).

Bad data and smug 'experts' -- not exactly a recipe for success. "It ain't what we don't know what gets us in trouble. It's what we know that ain't so."

Hubris is getting its comeuppance.

Michael Barry writes:

I agree with all but the "right wing" issues 1 and 2. On 1, immigration, I changed my mind when there was a huge march in LA in which the marchers carried the Mexican flag. I concede all the economic arguments (perhaps reserving on the social spending as immigration magnet one -- with what seems to me to be an increase in social spending). My concern is non-economic (I think). We need time to turn the current cohort of immigrants into Americans. Multi-culturalism, a post- Reagan development, has crippled that effort.
On 2, I believe that since the 1980s the liberals' long march through the institutions has corrupted science -- corrupted the journals, corrupted the universities (what's the politics of the academy -- something like 85% Democrat -- that sounds low). Their takeover of the media goes hand in hand with this. So -- my working hypothesis is that global warming is a fable being used to steal money from the rest of us for environmental feel good causes. Otherwise, the global warmers would be focused on India and China.

Aaron writes:

Besides increasing stakes of political power, I see a couple other potential causes of increased polarization:

1. A razor-thin margin of victory between the parties makes politicians more desperate and thus more willing to fall back to tribalism. The resulting Othering makes voters on both sides less able to see or incorporate valid perspectives of the other side.

2. Both left and right feel that their priorities are being ignored by those in power, and arguably both are correct. Hence the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. Even areas where left and right agree and possess broad popular support they've lost (ending Too Big To Fail for example). They then fight harder to salvage some sort of policy win.

MC writes:

"Back when Reagan was president the right seemed to be supportive of more immigration."

Reagan himself wrote in his diary about the 1986 amnesty/border bill: "It’s high time we regained control of our borders and this bill will do this."

"Now they have turned against immigration, but I can't see any empirical data that would justify this shift."

Some empirical data: Romney got the same percentage of white votes as Bush in 1988, but instead of a landslide victory he lost solidly.

Seems relevant to Republican opinion.

Peter Schaeffer writes:

Why have some conservatives (and liberals) turned against immigration?

Keynes (allegedly) said "When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?"

The substantive question is what is likely to be the impact of low-skill immigrants on our nation. This topic has been extensively researched and the results are highly negative. A number of references make this point all to clearly.

1. The 1997 National Academy of Sciences study found that each low-skilled immigrant costs $89,000 over the course of his/her lifetime. Of course, the numbers would be much higher now (thanks in part to Obamacare).

“The NRC estimates indicated that the average immigrant without a high school education imposes a net fiscal burden on public coffers of $89,000 during the course of his or her lifetime. The average immigrant with only a high school education creates a lifetime fiscal burden of $31,000.”

2. There is little evidence that the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of illegals will do much better. Samuel Huntington looked at this subject in his book, “Who Are We”. See Table 9.1 on page 234. The bottom line is that educational attainment rises from the first to the second generation and then plateaus at levels far below the national average. For example, even by the fourth generation only 9.6% of Mexican-Americans have a post-high school degree.

3. The Heritage foundation found that low-skill immigrant households impose huge tax costs on Americans. See “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer”. The summary is

“In 2010, the average unlawful immigrant household received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while paying some $10,334 in taxes. This generated an average annual fiscal deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of around $14,387 per household. This cost had to be borne by U.S. taxpayers. Amnesty would provide unlawful households with access to over 80 means-tested welfare programs, Obamacare, Social Security, and Medicare. The fiscal deficit for each household would soar.

At the end of the interim period (after the Amnesty is complete), unlawful immigrants would become eligible for means-tested welfare and medical subsidies under Obamacare. Average benefits would rise to $43,900 per household; tax payments would remain around $16,000; the average fiscal deficit (benefits minus taxes) would be about $28,000 per household.

Amnesty would also raise retirement costs by making unlawful immigrants eligible for Social Security and Medicare, resulting in a net fiscal deficit of around $22,700 per retired amnesty recipient per year.”

4. Heather MacDonald has written extensively on the bleak realities of mass unskilled immigration. I recommend “Seeing Today’s Immigrants Straight”. Key quote

“If someone proposed a program to boost the number of Americans who lack a high school diploma, have children out of wedlock, sell drugs, steal, or use welfare, he’d be deemed mad. Yet liberalized immigration rules would do just that. The illegitimacy rate among Hispanics is high and rising faster than that of other ethnic groups; their dropout rate is the highest in the country; Hispanic children are joining gangs at younger and younger ages. Academic achievement is abysmal.”

5. Edward P. Lazear’s (CEA / Harvard Economics) paper “Mexican Assimilation in the United States” has a wealth of statistics showing the raw deal from south of the border. Summary quote.

“By almost any measure, immigrants from Mexico have performed worse and become assimilated more slowly than immigrants from other countries. Still, Mexico is a huge country, with many high ability people who could fare very well in the United States. Why have Mexicans done so badly? The answer is primarily immigration policy.”

See also “Lazear on Immigration”. Money quote

“Immigrants from Mexico do far worse when they migrate to the United States than do immigrants from other countries. Those difficulties are more a reflection of U.S. immigration policy than they are of underlying cultural differences. The following facts from the 2000 U.S. Census reveal that Mexican immigrants do not move into mainstream American society as rapidly as do other immigrants.”

Peter Schaeffer writes:

For a specific explanation of why some conservatives and liberals have turned away from immigration, you might well read "International Migration in the Long-Run: Positive Selection, Negative Selection and Policy" by Timothy J. Hatton Australian National University and Jeffrey G. Williamson Harvard University. Abstract

"Most labor scarce overseas countries moved decisively to restrict their immigration during the first third of the 20th century. This autarchic retreat from unrestricted and even publicly-subsidized immigration in the first global century before World War I to the quotas and bans introduced afterwards was the result of a combination of factors: public hostility towards new immigrants of lower quality, public assessment of the impact of those immigrants on a deteriorating labor market, political participation of those impacted, and, as a triggering mechanism, the sudden shocks to the labor market delivered by the 1890s depression , the Great War, postwar adjustment and the great depression. The paper documents the secular drift from very positive to much more negative immigrant selection which took place in the first global century after 1820 and in the second global century after 1950, and seeks explanations for it. It then explores the political economy of immigrant restriction in the past and seeks historical lessons for the present."

The authors demonstrate that declining immigrant quality (skills) has consistently provoked rising opposition to immigration. Why should the United States since Reagan be any exception?

AS writes:

Sumners: "the left and right are moving ever further apart, taking ever more extreme views, without good reasons."

This is not a surprise given that political beliefs are rarely formed from reason, but emotion.

ThomasH writes:

I think the arguments are not quite right on several of these.

I do not think "Liberals" deny that a higher minimum wage will cause some people to lose/not attain jobs but that a minimum wage will, on balance, transfer money from middle and upper income people to poorer people and that it's an easier sell than an equivalent increase in the EITC (as demonstrated by Republicans not supporting it as an alternative).

Which Liberal has changed her position from favoring a progressive consumption tax to a progressive income tax? The issue is thought to be the leisure/work decision, not the consumption/saving decision at the modest changes in marginal tax rates being discussed.
[And today's "Conservatives" do not object to high marginal tax rates so much as to increased progressivity per se.]

My recollection of 1960's macro debate was that the ZLB was just not discussed. Monetary (and fiscal) policy were assumed to be effective enough that the ZLB -- pushing on a string -- situation did not arise. The "vogue" for fiscal policy arises from seeing monetary authorities act as if they are constrained by the ZLB regardless of whether they "really" are or not.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top