Scott Sumner  

What has Syria ever done for us?

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The Detroit area is a magnet for Muslim immigrants, who are helping to revitalize the city. Here is The Economist:

For [Detroit] Mayor Duggan, even a slowdown in his city's depopulation is good news; and he owes it entirely to immigrants. From 2010 to 2014, Detroit lost 36,000 residents who had been born in America. It gained 4,400 new immigrants--not enough to offset the population loss, but a significant increase in the share of immigrants in the city's population. . . .

Immigrants create businesses at triple the rate of American-born residents. Between 2011 and 2015, 63% of adult immigrants to Michigan had a college degree. Immigrants still represent only 6% of the state's population, but 33% of high-tech firms created there between 1990 and 2005 have at least one immigrant founder. Many of them set up shop in newly trendy downtown Detroit.

Signs abound that Detroit has turned the corner, at least in the downtown and midtown neighbourhoods. Opposite Cadillac Place are the offices and workshop of Shinola, a trendy maker of expensive watches and bikes, which Tom Kartsotis started with ten employees five years ago and now employs more than 350 in Detroit. In January the last of the city's 65,000 new streetlights was switched on. A light-rail line is being built, and the city has put 80 new buses on the roads. Some 10,800 blighted houses have been torn down since 2014; another 2,500 will be removed soon. The rate of payment of property taxes has increased from just 68% during the city's bankruptcy to 82%, in part thanks to a fairer assessment of the tax burden.

How do Michiganders feel about President Donald Trump's effort to ban travellers from seven countries with predominantly Muslim populations? Mr Snyder says, diplomatically, that it opens a debate. But in several Michigan cities, especially Detroit, protests erupted. After hesitating, the chairman and chief executive of Ford released a statement saying they did not support it. But the ban, combined with newly stringent raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency charged with deporting undocumented workers, is sowing fear among immigrants, says Mr Tobocman. Such fear is the last thing Detroit needs, as it tries to lure them in.


And Syrians play a big role in healthcare:

Two weeks ago, a group of physicians at Massachusetts General wrote an opinion piece in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), denouncing President Trump's initial immigration ban from seven majority-Muslim countries . . . The nation relies heavily on foreign-born doctors, who make up 42 percent of office visits in rural America, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. And currently, nearly 3,500 doctors from Syria are working in the U.S., according to Medicus Firm, a physician-staffing service.
And I heard that this guy's son made a contribution to America's economy:
Steve Jobs's biological father, Abdulfattah "John" Jandali (b. 1931), was born into a Muslim household and grew up in Homs, Syria.

We hear so much about terrorism (a danger right up there with lightning and slippery bathtubs), so it's useful to occasionally take time to consider the benefits of immigration from Syria.

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COMMENTS (16 to date)
Yaakov Schatz writes:

When I was a kid, we would pray in synagogue for the Jews of Syria, who were not allowed to leave their country. Later on they were allowed to leave, on condition that they do not move to Israel, at least that is the rumor I heard. I understand most of them immigrated to the US and were very successful in business.

David R. Henderson writes:

Excellent post, Scott! I would love to make a joke about Shinola, but I know the rules.

Scott Sumner writes:

Thanks David. I guess I'm out of the loop; that's the first I had heard of that brand.

Victor writes:

[Comment removed. Please consult our comment policies and check your email for explanation.--Econlib Ed.]

E. Harding writes:

If you're trying to find skilled workers, looking through the Syrian population for them is probably one of the worst ideas you can have:

http://www.unz.com/isteve/timss-test-scores-would-germany-get-more-talented-workers-from-syria-or-hungary/

There is, however, a clearly worse idea: looking through the Yemeni population for them.

Syria gave us Yasser Seirawan, a strong candidate for the title of "Sweetest Man On The Planet."

Pretty decent chess player too. ;)

Lorenzo from Oz writes:

There may be some selection effects :)

Hazel Meade writes:

The funny thing is is that I really think the opposition to immigration is all about competition for jobs, but the people who are opposed to it don't want to admit that (mostly). So instead this rationale is concocted in which immigrants are threat to America's culture.

The problem with this is that the one culture that is really different (Islam) - we don't get that many immigrants from. And the place that we get most of our immigrants from (Latin America) isn't that different. We don't get nearly enough Arab-Muslims for there to be any risk of them outnumbering white Christians or even Asians.

Meanwhile, Hispanics are Spanish-speaking Catholics who basically share a Western European cultural heritage, similar to the Italians and Irish. They're culturally more closely related to us than Greeks and Russians. Which means "culture" has to be a code word for "race" - Hispanics have Native American blood, Greeks and Italians are (according to most definitions) "white".

And then there's a final argument that Hispanics are going to vote for socialism - which happens to be a western European idea as well, shared by, well, much of Western Europe and white America. So we're supposed to keep out Hispanics on the grounds that their culture is so different they're going to vote for policies that 50% of Americans favor. Which means we have to vote for a populist authoritarian to save our liberty!

I would laugh if I wasn't crying.


Andrew Blackmer writes:

E. Harding,

My wife is from Yemen (so skilled she makes more money than I do), and if you look for skilled Yemenis inside Sana'a or Aden, you'll find plenty. Out in the Hadramaut? Probably less likely.

Derrick writes:

"We hear so much about terrorism (a danger right up there with lightning and slippery bathtubs), so it's useful to occasionally take time to consider the benefits of immigration from Syria."

Occasionally? If there is a posting on this site, it rarely has to do with the costs of immigration or a useful solution to deal with the concerns that people have about our immigration levels.

Rich Berger writes:

Scott -

There are a number of problems with the article you quote:

  • The order is not a ban - it is a temporary stop until we can determine just who is coming in from these 7 countries. My understanding is that these are unstable countries with poor systems in place for verification of identity. In fact, most Muslim majority countries are unaffected. I have seen an estimate that there are 49 MM countries and those affected by the order represent only 12% of the population of MM countries.
  • The article conflates legal and illegal immigrants. One can be opposed to illegal immigration and well disposed to legal immigration and immigrants.
  • How do Michiganers feel about the "ban" - one person is quoted and protests are noted - seems like cherry picking. Don't forgot that Trump won the state and he made no secret of his intentions.
  • The article notes that 3,500 Syrian doctors are working in the US and tries to give the impression that they are refugees, but there is no evidence of that (one anecdote is given about one doctor).
  • Was Steve Jobs father an illegal immigrant or a refugee? I don't think so - that was a red herring.

Sorry for the bullet hierarchy - couldn't figure out what was wrong.

[The trick is to end each html thing you start. I fixed it for you.--Econlib Ed.]

Andrew_FL writes:
And then there's a final argument that Hispanics are going to vote for socialism - which happens to be a western European idea as well, shared by, well, much of Western Europe and white America. So we're supposed to keep out Hispanics on the grounds that their culture is so different they're going to vote for policies that 50% of Americans favor.

59% of white voters in 2012 voted for Mitt Romney. Black Americans voted more than 15 to 1 for Barack Obama. Hispanic Americans almost 3 to 1 for Barack Obama. It's simply not true that "white people vote for socialism too."

Which means we have to vote for a populist authoritarian to save our liberty!

And comments like this are why Trump needed to lose. Too bad Hillary Clinton was just that bad of a candidate.

TMC writes:

I have Syrian friends whose parents came over. They are all great additions to America. But, as Rich Berger above states, this is a temporary ban on countries where we cannot vet incoming people. Once a vetting process is in place, immigration will continue. You'd have to be unusually partisan or obtuse for a 90 day ban of such counties no to make sense.

ChrisA writes:

Harding I was born in Yemen, but don't worry I have no plans to immigrate to the US. I do like to think of myself as a wealth creator though having set up numerous multi-million dollar businesses.

Scott -i think the case for immigration from muslim countries is probably better made as a moral one, naking a practical empirical case is quite difficult as the numbers are so small on the overall US economy you have to say why bother.

Hazel Meade writes:

59% of white voters in 2012 voted for Mitt Romney. Black Americans voted more than 15 to 1 for Barack Obama. Hispanic Americans almost 3 to 1 for Barack Obama. It's simply not true that "white people vote for socialism too."

According to your own numbers, 41% of white people voted for socialism. So yes, they do. And in 1964 59% of whites voted for LBJ. FDR won by 57% of the total vote count. White people have been voting for socialism for a century.


mico writes:

By all accounts Jobs was a highly intelligent and capable sociopath. A useful sociopath, granted, but the US was very lucky that he was not brought up by his biological parents, and therefore had US-compatible goals.

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