David R. Henderson  

Are Latino Immigrants More Anti-Economic Freedom than Native Whites?

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One argument made by many opponents of substantially increasing immigration--and it is one of the few that I have found somewhat persuasive--is that immigrants do not understand the value of economic freedom and will vote away the economic system that made this country such an attractive place to move to. I noticed this in my native Canada, although my evidence was anecdotal. I talked to a number of Brits in the late 1960s who had moved to Canada for economic opportunity and wanted the Canadian governments to adopt the same policies that had helped lead to the results that they were emigrating from.

It's an empirical issue. But one big piece of evidence against the hypothesis happened last week. And it happened with a population that a number of immigration skeptics and outright opponents have worried most about: Latinos.

The setting: Governor Jerry Brown was supporting a bill that had sailed through the California Senate to give a government agency power to drastically reduce the amount of gasoline used. That would have meant rationing or higher prices or both. The Democrats have large majorities in both the Senate and the Assembly and so the only hope for stopping the bill in the Assembly was for a number of Democratic Assembly members to vote with Republicans to stop the bill. And that is what happened. And were these members mainly representatives of upper-income largely white districts?

No, they weren't. Here's the Wall Street Journal editorial page with the relevant facts:

But now his [Jerry Brown's] party has mutinied. Democrats hold near supermajorities in both legislative chambers with 52 of 80 seats in the Assembly. Yet this week 21 Democratic Assembly members representing middle- and low-income communities--including 11 blacks and Latinos--joined Republicans to kill a bill mandating a cut in state greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Democrats also forced Mr. Brown to scrap a measure that would have given the California Air Resources Board plenary authority to reduce statewide oil consumption in vehicles by half by 2030. Imagine the EPA without the accountability. "One of the implications probably would have been higher gas prices," noted Democratic Assemblyman Jim Cooper. "Who does it impact the most? The middle class and low-income folks."




COMMENTS (19 to date)
Nick writes:

Are you saying that they would have voted to remove the provision even if the costs disproportionately fell on the rich?

Seems more likely to me that they voted to remove that provision because it made gas cost more, not because they "understand the value of economic freedom".

E. Harding writes:

Seems to me most Hispanics just don't agree with SWPL environmentalist values. In Nigeria, there were protests against removing fuel subsidies. This is a real compensation issue, not an economic freedom issue. In Venezuela, everyone loves the gasoline subsidies, and would riot at any serious proposal to remove them.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Nick,
Seems more likely to me that they voted to remove that provision because it made gas cost more, not because they "understand the value of economic freedom".
Those are related. They understood in this case that restricting economic freedom further would restrict the supply of gasoline and, thereby, make it more expensive.

E. Harding writes:

@David R. Henderson

-No, they're not. How many of them would vote for fuel subsidies if California had a large oil production windfall?

Nick writes:

@David R. Henderson

Or to add onto what E. Harding said, how many of them would vote for subsidizing gas if gas prices rose sharply due to supply issues?

Opposing policies which raise the price of gas isn't pro-market.

Imagine if we were somehow able to extend property rights in such a way so that carbon emissions were no longer an externality and gas buyers had to pay extra to compensate others for the pollution. Do you suppose these politicians would support or oppose such an innovation?

Flipside writes:

I think the argument is that the average immigrant from south of the border is probably coming from a low-trust culture and will likely bring that culture with them. Essentially, they will, in the long run, undermine high-trust civic norms and institutions on which the relative success of countries like the US ultimately depends.

Because people from low-trust societies tend to exploit public welfare and goods, they will tend to align with the political left insofar as the left increases the provision of exploitable resources. However, they will not follow the left down every ideological rabbit trail, especially when it appears to conflict with their own interests.

Now, given the premises, this argument is clearly plausible. I suppose the relevant question is whether countervailing forces or offsetting benefits ultimately render this argument unimportant.

ColoComment writes:

"They understood in this case that restricting economic freedom further would restrict the supply of gasoline and, thereby, make it more expensive."

No one has implied that immigrants are too stupid to recognize that restricting supply of a good (however achieved) will result in its higher price. Which in this case would directly affect anyone who drives or rides a gasoline-powered vehicle, and those with lower incomes would be affected to a greater extent than those with greater disposable income.

I believe that the concern with growing the numbers of low-skilled, low-income immigrants is, rather, that were the scenario altered so as to provide a discount from that higher gas price for those who live in a "middle- and low-income communities," to be balanced by an even higher price paid by those in luxury zip codes, you likely would have had a different vote outcome.

As a great economist once said, "Nobody spends somebody else's money as wisely as he spends his own."

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Probably Yes.

The individual motivations of "immigrants' (new people- not the pols) were formed in different circumstances from those of longer term residents.

Those different motivations generate differing responses to what occurs politically and economically.

Some politicians are attuned to that; some thrive on it.

ThomasH writes:

Makes sense. Unlike a carbon tax that can be rebated to low income people cap and trade plans are more likely to be regressive. Brown is wrong to create a redistribution-externality reducing trade-off where none need exist.

John Thacker writes:

The whitest states in the country are Maine, Vermont, and West Virginia. They all seem pretty far from being paragons of economic liberty (regardless of party preferences.) New Hampshire, the fourth state, does much better, but I still think that the overall trend shows little to negative effect.

There are many voters who prefer government action in favor of "their side" who fall back to limited government only as a compromise position when the zeitgeist is against them.

David R. Henderson writes:

@John Thacker,
Good evidence. Thanks.

Ted Craig writes:

Two of the states John Thacker mentions moved to the left due to migration.
"Beginning in the 1960s, Vermont’s population began to grow dramatically. Chittenden County experienced the greatest increase, but small towns with ski areas were also affected. By 1980 Vermont’s population had grown by almost fifty percent."
http://www.freedomandunity.org/vt_transition/flat_wood.html

Ali Bertarian writes:

@John Thacker

The whitest states in the country are Maine, Vermont, and West Virginia.

That just means that the distribution of conservatives/libertarians, or those who identify as Republican, and leftists, or those who identify as Democrats, are not geographically homogenous. We do know, however, from polling that whites are more likely to be conservative/libertarian than are both minorities and immigrants.

Ali Bertarian writes:

It's an empirical issue. But one big piece of evidence against the hypothesis happened last week. And it happened with a population that a number of immigration skeptics and outright opponents have worried most about: Latinos.

That is not a good piece of empirical evidence concerning Latinos, so much as it is a good piece of evidence concerning those whom they vote for: Democrats. That evidence is that only a minority of those Democrats are willing to acknowledge the importance of economic freedom in the California legislature, as measured by the gasoline bill, while the majority still does not.

As for evidence concerning Latinos, why don't we just ask them directly?

Support for hate-speech laws: 49% of Hispanics; 32% of whites; 51% of liberals (The Economist/YouGov poll, 2014)


"Nearly half of Latinos in a recent Pew Research Center poll said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing 'always' or 'most of the time.' Just 20% of white respondents felt that way. And two-thirds of Latinos believed the federal government should ensure that everyone has access to health insurance, a 2012 Latino Decisions survey found." (LA Times, 3/31/2013)

In an April-May, 2012, Gallup poll, the gap between the rich and the poor was judged the most important issue to 16% of Hispanic registered voters, while 11% viewed the federal budget deficit most important. The gap between rich and poor was the most important issue to 15% for all registered voters, while 21%, a plurality, believed that the federal budget deficit was the most important issue.

Whites have a 30% favorable, 48% unfavorable view of Obamacare, while Hispanics have a 48% favorable, 19% unfavorable view. (L.A. Times, March 31, 2013)

When asked the question, "Would you rather have a smaller government providing fewer services or a bigger government providing more services?” 75% of all Hispanics want bigger government, 19% want smaller. General population: 41% want bigger government, 48% want smaller. (Pew Research Center, 2011)

First generation Hispanics leaning Democrat and Republican, respectively: 63 v. 16.
Second generation Hispanics leaning Democrat and Republican, respectively: 71 v. 19.
http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/02/07/second-generation-americans/

ThomasH writes:

@NIck

We do have such a way of internalizing the negative externalities of CO2 emissions: a carbon tax. Whether these politicians would support it or not might depend on how the revenues were returned to taxpayers.

Trip-K Mafia Moon writes:

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John Thacker writes:

"Two of the states John Thacker mentions moved to the left due to migration. "

Perhaps, but even if so due to migration of whites, mostly from elsewhere in the United States. So perhaps there's more points for consistency among immigration restrictionists if they also want to ban Western Europeans and Canadians, I guess?

"We do know, however, from polling that whites are more likely to be conservative/libertarian than are both minorities and immigrants."

We also know from experience, polling, and research that whites are more likely to be conservative/libertarian when there are more minorities and immigrants around. Hard to say how the effects net out, but surely WV, VT, and ME are data points.

Trump is the ultimate rebuke to your position. Listen to his policy positions (such as they are), and they're perfectly progressive when it comes to economics. His supporters are people who want economic redistribution so long as it doesn't go to immigrants.

Jeffrey Singer writes:

John,

This is a good post with additional polling data on Hispanics:

http://spawktalk.blogspot.com/2015/09/do-hispanics-value-economic-freedom.html

In addition, Trump's positions are not "progressive" -- he's an old-fashioned economic nationalist which means that he's not very ideological and he certainly is not libertarian. But I think I Trump presidency would be better for personal liberty in the long-run because it will be better for America's demographics.

Ali Bertarian writes:

@John Thacker

So perhaps there's more points for consistency among immigration restrictionists if they also want to ban Western Europeans and Canadians, I guess?

Since 1970, immigrants have voted for Democrats by an 8 to 2 ratio. If immigrants from W. Europe and Canadians are among those that predominantly vote for Democrats, and more government control of our lives, then yes, cut back on immigrants from those countries too.

We shouldn't be surprised that the US is an oasis of individual freedom-loving people surrounded by most of the rest of the world's people who don't have such respect for individual rights.

I don't want the US to turn into just another banana republic nor just another European socialist paradise.

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