David R. Henderson  

Comedian Tackles Immigration

Thank God economists cannot pr... The Equator in Comin, Easterly...

Comedian Steve Gerben has a 30-minute comedy act on immigration.

His idea is brilliant. I had never before thought of reaching people on that touchy subject with comedy, but he does an excellent job.

I won't do my usual comprehensive "go to the x:yz point and watch this" routine because I think that would undercut the way the show builds. But I will highlight a few things.

0:58: How to reduce immigration.
4:40: He makes a big math error. Using George Borjas's estimate, the loss to a high-school dropout who is a minimum wage worker is about $731 a year, not $45 a year.
NOTE: To his credit, Steve, less than 24 hours after I posted my criticism on Don Boudreaux's CafeHayek post, went on YouTube and corrected his error. He has also contacted me to get the math right. Impressive. He explained to me over the phone how he reached his error. Since Borjas didn't say explicitly that the 4.8% loss was a loss in a rate, Steve took it to be a cumulative loss over a period of years and divided by the number of years to get a very tiny annual loss.
7:25: The unintended, but totally predictable, consequences of Alabama's immigration policy.
12:20: Picky criticism because I find economists making this mistake nowadays. If your wage increased to 16 times what it was, you did not get a 1600% increase; you got a 1500% increase.
16:20: Is there, for most people a legal way to come to the United States? And check what he does with that.
18:30: I like what he does with Ann Coulter's views, but I actually think, contrary to Steve, that she's quite pretty.
20:50: He segues to "work the problem." Less humorous but nicely done.
29:30: A moving story to end his piece.

One overall criticism. The first rule of comedy is never to laugh at your own jokes. Never? Well, hardly ever. Gerben is way better at this than the worst comedian on regular TV, Conan O'Brien. That's a low bar. Gergen is actually pretty good. But there's room for improvement.

By the way, the Alabama example above reminds me of an argument I had with my father in the late 1960s. The Canadian government, on a nationalist jag sometime in the 1960s, had changed the tax law so that no Canadian corporation that advertised in a non-Canadian publication could deduct advertising expenses. But Time and Reader's Digest already had set up Canadian versions of their publications. Time had a special 8-page section and Reader's Digest had a special section. They sold advertising to Canadian firms for these sections. So the government, not wanting to disrupt, grandfathered the law to allow Canadian companies to deduct advertising expenses if they advertised in those two publications. Then Pierre Trudeau got rid of that grandfather clause. My father loved his Canadian edition of Time, especially the 8-page section on Canada. He also favored changing the law to benefit Canadian magazines. When the change in the law was being discussed, I told my father that a likely consequence, if the law changed, would be that Time would drop its special Canadian section. Didn't matter. He wanted that change in law. Within months (it might have even been just weeks) of the change in the law, Time did just what I had predicted. My father's reaction? Those bastards. Whom do you think he was referring to? Pierre Trudeau? Guess again.

HT2 Don Boudreaux.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (8 to date)
Kevin Erdmann writes:

On the error, I thought that at first, too. But that loss was over many years. I think he's saying $45 is the loss after one year. Still a little iffy, but I suspect that's how he got there.

Kevin Erdmann writes:

Doh. I guess I should have read the next line before I commented. Geez.

E. Harding writes:

Gerben did a terrible job. I wasn't convinced by any point of his terribly unfunny talk. I'll soon write a blog post on it.

Phil writes:

Hardly ever, indeed.

Harvey Korman and Tim Conway, on the Carol Burnett Show, were at their best when they could not help but laugh at their own skits.

john hare writes:

I'm not sure it is relevant to this post, but humor is a very effective tool for working with people on difficult problems. I do concrete work with a few employees originally from Mexico.

They speak English fairly well and my Spanish is almost non-existent. We speak a mix on the job for a variety of reasons. A measurement will be 44'8" for instance. One of us will call it as quadrenta* four ocho. Accuracy requires that we repeat back the number as we lay out the foundation. So the one repeating will call back forty quatro eight. And many variations. They think it hilarious when they confuse me.

The obvious purpose is to see if you can confuse the other guy. The real purpose is to force a focus on the actual number in such a way as to be a joke if he gets it wrong. We have a lot of fun with the game and have very few mistakes relative to most of the crews I have worked with.

A less relevant game is to speak Spanish at the white and black people and English at the Hispanics on large job sites with many different crews there. Good ice breaker and people tend to cooperate better with people they can laugh with.

* I can't spell in Spanish either.

Dustin writes:

And why is Guatemala unproductive?

Urstoff writes:

Low blow at Conan!

John Fembup writes:

"your wage increased to 16 times what it was, you did not get a 1600% increase; you got a 1500% increase."

Yeh, one of my pet peeves too.

And here's another - of mine, anyway:

"X was eleven times smaller than Y."

Carelessness over the difference between 11 and 1/11 doesn't seem to keep most people from understanding what's meant - but I still shiver when I encounter it.

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