Immigration Thought of the Day

Frequent readers will know that I am a strong supporter of open immigration.  I don't disagree with McQ at Q&O when he writes "Open Borders or Welfare State: Pick One," but I don't think that this is the logic of most folks who are anti-immigration.  It may be their public stance, but if more folks really thought this way, there would be serious discussion of tiered citizenship or guest worker models similar to what I have proposed on several occasions.

However, I am tempted to become a close-the-border proponent if the left continue to use numbers skewed by immigration to justify expansions of taxation and the welfare state.  Whether they are illegal or not, whether they should be allowed to stay or not, the fact is that tens of millions of generally poor and unskilled immigrants have entered this country over the last several decades.  These folks dominate the lower quintile of wage earners in this country, and skew all of our traditional economic indicators downwards.  Median wages appear to be stagnating?  Of course the metric looks this way -- as wages have risen, 10 million new folks have been inserted at the bottom.  If you really want to know what the current median wage is on an apples to apples basis back to 1970, take the current reported median wage and count up about 10 million spots, and that should be the number -- and it will be much higher. 

Income distribution numbers are the same way.  I showed in a previous post how these numbers are deceptive, when we compare them to Europe, because though European poor have a higher percentage of the median wage in their country, it is a higher percentage of a lower number.  When you correct for that effect, the US poor look pretty equal.  But immigration exaggerates this effect even more.  Instead of having income distribution numbers comparing, say, a lawyer and a blue collar worker, they are now comparing a lawyer and a non-English-speaking recent unskilled immigrant.  Of course the disparity looks worse!

The folks using these numbers have to be smart enough to understand this issue, so it can only be hugely disingenuous that they simultaneously promote immigration (which I support) while at the same time using immigrant-skewed numbers to say that the average US worker is somehow worse off.  If they keep this tactic up, even I may be tempted to close the borders.


  1. Craig:

    Yeah, join the club!

  2. Josh:

    "Open Borders or Welfare State"? Shouldn't it be "Closed Borders or Welfare State"? I thought the argument was that masses of freeloaders would rush into the country and sign up for public assistance.

  3. dicentra:

    If Open Borders means that if you show up, you're in, I'm not sure that's a good idea. The current flow of illegal immigration comes almost exclusively from one country and the rest come from a country that speaks the same language. We really don't need a linguistic underclass. It's not good for us or for them.

    Furthermore, it's not fair that those who share a border with us should have an advantage over those who don't. There are just as many poor Philippinos, Kenyans, Jordanians, Indians, and Afghanis who are just as willing to work and become part of the American dream as Latinos, but they can't just saunter across the border.

    I would rather see a reform of legal immigration policies to let in more folks but with a better mix from more countries. That would encourage assimilation better (Mexicans have to talk to the Afghanis in English or not talk at all, just as in the last wave of immigration in the 19th century).

    Surely all the sides can agree that the legal immigration process needs to be streamlined! Why not push congress to allocate more funds or whatever they do to make that happen.

    As for guest worker programs, that's fine, too, for those who only want to work here but not become citizens.

    But we can't recreate Ellis Island. In those days, we had no welfare, no Social Security, no food stamps, no health insurance, no auto insurance, no safety net of any kind or insurance obligations. People were taking their chances at finding a job in the cities or farming out in the middle of nowhere. We gave out free land so that people would make it produce, thereby contributing to the common weal. Not so with entitlements.

    At least with Ellis Island they screened people for TB...

  4. John Dewey:


    I don't see how we can establish an "equal opportunity" immigration quota system for all the world. If we need low-skilled workers - which we do - why should we import such workers from halfway around the globe? At least Mexican workers can return to their home and their relatives fairly easily.

    I don't really care at all about what is fair. It is truly not fair that some of us were lucky enough to be born in the U.S. while others were born in Zimbabwe. Life is just not fair.

    We can focus on what is practical. It would be impractical to try and seal off a 2,000 mile border, expect desperate Mexican workers to stay out, and then import equally low-skilled workers from across an ocean.

  5. Craig:

    I'm glad you've acknowledged the "welfare state" aspect of this. I'd be an unlimited immigration sort of guy, too, if the immigrants weren't immediately eligible for Food Stamps, Medicaid and in-state tuition. Rabid libertarians tell me that I should be fighting against the welfare state and not the "illegal" (in quotes because they also tell me that the illegality is artificially created) immigrants. Well. to the extent that I can, I am fighting against the welfare state -- the "illegal" immigrants will just have to stay home, though, until I've won because I don't see how bankrupting ourselves will help them in the end either.

  6. Wulf:

    These folks dominate the lower quintile of wage earners in this country, and skew all of our traditional economic indicators downwards.

    Yeah, competition's a bitch, innit? Damned market forces are screwing up my cushy gig.

  7. faultolerant:


    You say:

    "I don't really care at all about what is fair."

    That, sir, is patently untrue. If it were you'd spend far less time spewing hot air over the plight of some chinese or mexican. You're all for equal outcomes - the ultimate in "fairness".

    "It is truly not fair that some of us were lucky enough to be born in the U.S. while others were born in Zimbabwe."

    It's not fair that some folks were born in a given location? What in Sam Hill does that mean? The location of your birth has absolutely no bearing on fair or unfair. It's a fact, nothing more. Being born in the US is a huge step up from Zimbabwe but there's nothing at all that is fair or unfair about it. Get your useless rhetoric straight, will ya?

    "Life is just not fair."

    Except, of course, if you're one of the pinheads (love that term) who espouse open immigration, the "nobility" if illegals and open hostility towards anyone who disagrees. After all, the goal here (in your world, apparently) is for everyone to have equality (i.e. "fairness") of outcomes regardless of circumstances, effort, ability, et al. I mean, come on, not everyone has a high IQ, or the ability to apply themselves to hard work....that's not "fair", is it?

    Dammit, we should take steps to stamp out "unfair" intellectual differences and "unfair" exertion of effort.....equality is all that matters! Viva Fairness!