Bryan Caplan  

Balan on the Immigration Bet

PRINT
Sunstein Backs Down on Liberta... A Small but Significant Step A...
The noble David Balan emailed me the following observations on our immigration bet.  With his kind permission:


I do agree that Bryan has won our bet.  But I will commit the following violation of the Bettor's Oath.

In the blog post that led to the bet, Bryan wrote:

The upshot: When I hear that Obama plans to shield many millions of illegal immigrants from the nation's draconian immigration laws, I'm skeptical.  Such an action requires the very iconoclasm the democratic process ruthlessly screens out.  Bold announcements notwithstanding, I expect him to (a) slash the numbers, (b) cave in to public pressure, and/or (c) fail to effectively deliver what illegal immigrants most crave - permission to legally work.

In the comments, where I accepted the bet, I wrote:

If you're offering, I'll take Nathaniel's side of the bet too. I have no deep insight here, just my sense that Obama would have nothing to gain from saying he's going to do this and then not doing it. If he wasn't committed to seeing it through, he would have just skipped the whole thing.

Bryan's reason for taking his side of the bet was that Obama would not go through with a meaningful shielding of immigrants.  My response was that I didn't see why he would say it if he didn't plan to do it.  What ended up happening was that Obama lost in court, and we will never know what he would have done if he had won.  I didn't offer this as a caveat at the time of the bet simply because I didn't think of it.

Bryan won fair and square; clearly these bets are decided based on whether the specified events happened or not, not on the reasons.  And this is certainly not a claim that I was "really right."  But the issue did end up getting resolved on grounds that were (to a first approximation) unrelated to, and offered no opportunity for the resolution of, the stated basis of our disagreement.

 If I lose my other open bet about the price of gasoline in 2018, which I appear to be on track to do, there will be no such caviling.



My reaction: I actually agree with Balan that Obama "wouldn't say it if he didn't plan to do it."  But this neglects the crucial question: How much did he want to do it?  In the grand scheme of Obama's political ambitions, what was its priority?  If Obama cared about immigration half as much as I do, he would have made amnesty and liberalization his top issue in his first term when his party controlled both Houses of Congress.  Instead, of course, he assigned pride of place to Obamacare.




COMMENTS (4 to date)
William Smit writes:

What is the gasoline bet to which he refers? Couldn't find it with a few different search terms.

HispanicPundit writes:

Also, it could have simply been a political move. Obama may have made the claim knowing that it would have been blocked in court: thereby allowing him to claim pro-immigration, while, effectively, being nothing such.

Obama was, after all, a constitutional lawyer. I doubt this path was absent from his calculations.

MikeP writes:

What Obama did was actually wildly counterproductive if his goal was to maximize the ability of illegal immigrants to work and minimize the harassment they would face.

For long, long decades there was a simple, quiet understanding that if illegal immigrants didn't draw attention to themselves, they could live and work in peace. This ended very unfortunately under George W. Bush when he caved to the security-first conservatives as part of the deal to get comprehensive immigration reform and started making it difficult for people to work -- e.g., by requiring actual social security numbers.

If Barack Obama wanted illegal immigrants to be maximally free to live and work in peace, he would have quietly unwound these exercises of the executive branch. Instead he chose the loud road of political posturing in inventing and issuing work permits under very questionable authority.

It played to his base. But it ultimately and inevitably crashed against the reality of law and separation of powers. Furthermore, it fomented resentment that helped lead to Trump, and indeed could be completely reversed by Trump or anyone else who happened to win the office.

So, yes, Obama was a Constitutional lawyer. But he was a grandstanding politician first. He really didn't care whether it helped immigrants or not -- only that it looked like it helped them.

Jason Bayz writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment and your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top