Posts tagged ‘Immigration’

No Sh*t!

Via the Arizona Republic, from a deposition by Sheriff Joe Arpaio:

Arpaio says he was not well versed on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, or its counterpart in the Arizona Constitution, which prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures.

Yeah, no kidding.  This is just kind of bizarre.  I get the whole ghost-writer thing, but at least Obama actually seems to have read the book that was ghost-written for him:

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has not read the book he co-authored in 2008, which includes information on Arpaio's philosophy on America's immigration problem and how to cope with the nation's porous borders.

Arpaio's lack of familiarity with the book, "Joe's Law - America's Toughest Sheriff Takes on Illegal Immigration, Drugs and Everything Else That Threatens America," was among the revelations to emerge from a nine-hour deposition the sheriff gave as part of a racial-profiling lawsuit filed against the Sheriff's Office.

Update: There is a spin in the article that Sheriff Joe is just a delegator, like any good corporate executive.  I am generally considered to be far more comfortable with delegation than average, and even I know a lot more about my business than Sheriff Joe does about his.    Part of the reason is likely that I don't spend 95% of my time on media and PR events to boost my name recognition at public expense.  And you can be dang sure that I know certain pieces of legislation that are important to my business, like the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Service Contract Act, better than my lawyers.

Another Great Argument for Open Immigration

Via Tyler Cowen:

Female migrants should on average be prettier, ceteris paribus, than those who stay in the old country.

Do Your Care About Brackets, or People?

A lot of the lefty sites are gearing up the "poor aren't sharing in the benefits" bandwagon again.  This is usually brought out of the garage whenever someone wants to put a really progressive soak-the-successful tax plan on the table.  So get ready.

The key to parsing their argument is to understand the following distinction:  Do you care about quintiles, or individuals?  Because if you care about quintiles, then there is no doubt that the real median income of the lowest income quintile has not advanced much over the last 15-20 years.  But quintiles are not individuals, and the evidence is that individuals are still doing well, whatever bracket they begin in.  Because you see, while the average for the bottom quintile may not be much higher than the average for that bracket a decade ago, the fact is that the people in that bracket have changed.   As Mark Perry writes:

A common misperception is that the top or bottom income quintiles, or the top or bottom X% by income, are static, closed, private clubs with very little turnover - once you get into a top or bottom quintile, or a certain income percent, you stay there for life, making it difficult for people to move to a different group. But reality is very different - people move up and down the income quintiles and percentage groups throughout their careers and lives. The top or bottom 1/5/10%, just like the top or bottom quintiles, are never the same people from year to year, there is constant turnover as we move up and down the quintiles.

He quotes some stats from Jeffrey Jones and Daniel Heil:

How much income mobility exists in America? Research consistently affirms that there is substantial upward income mobility in the United States, with the lowest income earners typically showing the strongest results. A Treasury Department study of the 1996"“2005 period used IRS income tax data to discern considerable mobility: more than 55% of taxpayers moved to a different income quintile. More than half the people in the lowest fifth of earners moved to a higher quintile over this period (29% to the second, 14% to the third, 10% to the fourth, and 5% to the highest).

Moreover, there is a great deal of movement in and out of the top income groups. The Treasury data show that 57% "of households in the top 1% in 2005 were not there nine years earlier." The rich sometimes get richer, but they get poorer as well. The study also reveals that income mobility has increased, not decreased, during the past twenty years. For example, 47.3% of those in the lowest income quintile in 1987 saw their incomes increase by at least 100% by 1996. That number jumped to 53.5% from 1996 to 2005.

The Pew Economic Mobility Project tried to track actual people, and not brackets, from tax returns.  This is an imperfect science, but the only real way to look at income mobility.  They found that 90% of white children and 73% of black children whose parents were in the lowest income quartile in the base period were later to be found in higher income quartiles.  But this chart, from the same study, is really telling:

6a00d834518ccc69e201157116e822970b-800wi(click to enlarge)

That is a pretty amazing picture, marred only by something apparently bad occurring with the kids of middle class African Americans.

So how can there be so much income gain everywhere without the averages for the lower quintile increasing.  I would offer at least two explanations:

  1. Immigration. As people gain skills and seniority, they progress to higher income brackets and out of the lower quintile.  However, there is a constant stream of low-skill immigrants moving to this country to fill in the bottom quintile.  It we were to do a quintile analysis apples to apples leaving out new immigrants in the period, I guarantee you would see the median income for the lower quintile increase.  As I wrote before:

    Frequent readers will know that I am a strong supporter of open immigration....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.

    By the way, even for these immigrants, their position in the lower quintile represents upward mobility for them.  Being in the middle of the lower quintile probably is a huge improvement over where they were in their home country - almost by definition, or they would not be working so hard to get here.

  2. Safety Net. Some large portion of the bottom quintile are supported by the US government's safety net.  And there are pretty good fiscal reasons why the typical real incomes generated by that safety net have not increased over the last 20 years.  And even beyond the fiscal issues, there are incentives issues as well -- at some point, increasing how lucrative the safety net is can reduce the incentive to get off the safety net and find a job.  Just ask the Swedes.  There is a delicate balance between humanity and sustaining folks vs. killing their motivation.In some ways the left's use of the lack of lower quintile progress as an indictment of American capitalism is wildly ironic.  Basically what they are saying is that the 80% of people who support themselves through capitalist endeavor are doing progressively better but the 20% of the people supported by the government are stagnating -- and therefore we need to increase the role of government.

Fugitive Slave Law

I often discuss government actions in terms of one's theory of government.   Here is a good example:  What does one's theory of government have to be to justify this:

The American Jobs Creation act of 2004, passed by the Republican-controlled government, amended section 877 of the Internal Revenue Code. Under the new law, any individual who has a net worth of $2 million or an average income-tax liability of $127,000 who renounces his or her citizenship and leaves the country is automatically assumed to have done so for tax avoidance reasons and is subject to some rather unbelievable tax laws.

Any individual who is declared to have expatriated for tax reasons is forced to pay US income taxes on all US based income for 10 years following expatriation, regardless of the country in which the individual resides. Additionally, in the 10 years following expatriation, if a qualifying individual spends 30 days in the United States during any year, he or she is taxed as a US citizen on all income derived from any place in the world. To make matters worse, if an individual happens to die in a year in which he or she spent at least 30 days in the United States, the entire estate is subject to US income tax law.

The only relationship I can think of that justifies this is master to slave.   When slaves run away, the master feels that he has suffered a financial loss that deserves recompense.  I guess it is somewhat comforting to see Republicans consistent on this issue -- they typically  are strong supporters of having to get government permission to enter this country, so I guess it is no suprise they want to assert government rights on individuals when they exit as well.

Why, Yes They Do

A reader wrote me and asked why, given my dislike for Sheriff Joe Arpaio, I had not blogged on the request by a number of members of the US Congress to investigate Arpaio, particularly regarding his crime sweeps of neighborhoods that seem to result in the arrest of mainly those of Mexican ethnicity.  Heck, he has pulled more Hispanics out of some tony suburbs than I thought could even exist in the area, much less have probable cause for arrest.

I guess I haven't blogged on it because I am busy, and besides I am not sure a political stunt by some Congressmen will really amount to much of an investigation.

But I do have a reaction to the blog post that the reader sent me.  The blog is called MaxRedline and comments thus on the investigation:

This is interesting; it's unclear exactly where in the Founding documents of our nation that illegal aliens are granted civil rights.

This is a mistake I think many conservatives make.  Because, in fact, immigrants, no matter what licenses and permissions they have or don't have from the US government, have the same rights as everyone else.  Because rights don't flow from the government, they flow from the fact of being human.  Government is not the source of rights, it is their protector.  I can bring the founding fathers into the matter as well:

Like the founders of this country, I believe that our individual rights exist by the very fact of our existence as thinking human beings, and that these rights are not the gift of kings or congressmen.  Rights do not flow to us from government, but in fact governments are formed by men as an artificial construct to help us protect those rights, and well-constructed governments, like ours, are carefully limited in their powers to avoid stifling the rights we have inherently as human beings.

Do you see where this is going?  The individual rights we hold dear are our rights as human beings, NOT as citizens.  They flow from our very existence, not from our government. As human beings, we have the right to assemble with whomever we want and to speak our minds.  We have the right to live free of force or physical coercion from other men.  We have the right to make mutually beneficial arrangements with other men, arrangements that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing shelter, or paying another man an agreed upon rate for his work.  We have these rights and more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form governments not to be the source of these rights (for they already existed in advance of governments) but to provide protection of these rights against other men who might try to violate these rights through force or fraud....

These rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property shouldn't, therefore, be contingent on "citizenship".

For the same reasons, we owe the same due process to the civilian we snatched off the streets of Kabul and dumped into Guantanamo as to the housewife from Peoria.   The exception to this is things like voting and running for office, but these are just process issues associated with the artificial construct called government.  And welfare and the New Deal screws a lot of this up, but that is discussed at my post linked above.

Interestingly, most Conservatives would say that they agree with this proposition, that rights flow from our humanity and not from the government.  They would also generally oppose government licensing of all sorts of activities.  But here we have a case where conservatives are arguing that not only some limited commerce rights, but the full package of civil rights, are lost without a certain piece of paper from the government.

Many more immigration posts here.

More Cool Charts

Immigration Explorer at the NY Times.  Dynamic map of US immigration and sources of immigration over the last 120 years.

Bending Over Backwards to Try to Show Wage Stagnation

The media is really bending over backwards to find ways to twist earnings data for average Americans to try to make the point that real income for many folks has stagnated or dropped.  They are doing this to support a two-pronged legislative strategy in the next Obama administration:

  1. Use the power of the government to further tilt the balance towards unions and against employers in wage negotiations  (this strategy having worked out so well to create prosperity in the automobile and airline industries)
  2. Further modify the income and Social Security tax structures to make them even more regressive than they are today.

They are firing on all cylinders behind this strategy.  They are even mobilizing the neo-Keynesians to make the pitch that the Great Depression and the current financial crisis were caused by a shift in wealth from laborers to the capital classes, and that the only way to prevent future crises and depressions is to, wait for it, increase the power of unions and institute more wealth redistribution  (Example here, via Kevin Drum).

I was going to do a post fisking the James Livingston article linked above on Kevin Drum's site, but Livingston's hypothesis was such a mess that it was just going to take too much of my day.  But in doing some research, I found this chart from a couple of years ago in the NY Times that really caught my attention:


Talk about chutzpuh -- look at the lede on the chart and then look at the chart itself.  Yes, the lede is correct, but only if you choose the totally meaningless number of "cash wages" rather than total compensation.  If one looks at total compensation (or what they call "overall" compensation), the entire argument falls apart.   Workers have maintained about their same "share" of the economy.

Sure, a large percentage of that is now in health care benefits, but that's a choice workers have made (and the government has encouraged through tax policy).  In fact, this compensation mix has been driven in large part by the Left's beloved unions, so on what basis can folks say that these other benefits somehow "don't count?"  Certainly, they cost their employers equally, whether it is cash or health care.  Corporate profits are up a bit, but in line with their normal historical levels in the 1950s and 1960s, the golden age of the US economy, according to the Left.  (By the way, the pattern of falling wage shares and rising profit shares after recessions is a well-documented one.  Wage-earners do best at the end of an economic cycle, employers more towards the beginning.  The chart cut off after 1997 would look about the same as the last several years).

I will tell you right now that every time you hear someone bemoaning the stagnation of wages, they will never, ever, ever be talking about total compensation per individual.  Having, through government policy and union activity pushed the compensation mix to non-cash elements, they then play a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose game of not giving any credit for those compensation elements.

Other games that are played to try to make the case that real earnings have stagnated include:

  • Time frame selection. Everyone making this argument will choose 2000 as a starting point.  They justify it by saying it is the beginning of the Bush years, but 2000 is really selected because it is a pre-recession peak, and they have to measure peak-to-trough of the economic cycle to try to make their point.  Just as an example, if you look at the household income numbers below, you can see there is very typically a 5-year drop after a recession followed by net gains.  If we chose, say, the first Clinton term we could play the same game, showing a peak-to-trough drop in real incomes.
  • Household income game. The household income numbers are fraught with peril, because companies don't pay households, they pay individuals.  And household makeups are changing simultaneous to income changes.  For example, imagine the economy was just my household.  If my wife were to get fed up with my shtick and divorce me tomorrow, average household income would drop by 50% in one day (as our total income stays the same but we go from one to two households).  If my wife were to go back to her high-paying pre-kids job tomorrow (if only it were so!) our household income would go way up, in part because the labor department does not capture the value of the labor she provides at home.Mark Perry has a lot more on the household income numbers here, but he shows that the household size number has been changing a lot, causing the metric to understate income changes per individual:


  • Individuals matter. Median income looks at the middle person on the ranked list of US incomes.  So, for example, if there are 100 million income earners, the median income is the income of number 50 million on this list.  But whoever the person is at spot 50 million is almost certainly not the same person who was at spot 50 million last year.  They might have fallen on the list, but the odds are they moved up.  As folks age and gain experience and/or seniority, they tend to increase income faster than inflation.  Most minimum wage earners, for example, tend to be under 25.  The number of families supporting three kids on minimum wage (at least of the primary bread-winner) at the age of 45 is really, really low, despite the anecdotes we are bombarded with in the media.


  • Immigration has a huge effect. The total number of foreign born people in the labor force is estimated around 21 million, of which perhaps 6.3 million are illegal immigrants.  Positing that at least 10 million of these arrived in the last two decades, and that many of these folks began at relatively low, below-median incomes, means that median incomes are hugely affected by immigration.  Leaving immigrants out so the comparison is close to apples and apples, to find the true median income gain over the last 20 years one would have to count up 10 million or so spots on the list.  Again, as in the previous point, most individuals can be better off even if the median stagnates  (presumably immigrants coming in at the bottom are also better off, even at the bottom, than where they were before, or they would not have come.  We often forget that much of our bottom quartile of income in this country would be upper middle class in many other nations).  This is a classic mix problem that most people, and the media, almost always get wrong.  In a situation with a changing mix of multiple groups, each of the groups can be improving on some metric, but the overall metric can go down.  You can see the income stats by race here.  Every race group has increasing median income, but since the Hispanic group has grown 8x faster than the anglo population in the US, the total results are mixed downwards.Here is a quick example.  Group A has values of 5,6,6,7.  Group B has values of 1,2,3.  Ten years later Group A is the same size and has values of 6,7,7,8.  Group B has doubled in size, and now has values of 2,3,4,2,3,4.  In these examples, every single individual has a higher value.  Also, Group A's median has increased from 6 to 7, and Group B's has increased from 2 to 3.  But the median for the whole combined group A+B has dropped from 5 to 4.  Both medians (and averages) can do funny things when mix is shifting.
  • Even the NY Times. The NY Times actually makes two of these points for me in another article, arguing that historic median income drops were concentrated in areas of high immigration, and reported drops were due to the choice of the economic peak as a starting point.  WOW?  Is this the same NY Times I began this post criticizing.  Yes it is, the only difference is that this article ran in 2001, when they were reporting on the economy during a Democratic administration.
  • Income taxes are already wildly progressive.  While I would love to be in that top 1% group, I don't really begrudge them their success.  Besides, who can look at the chart below, again from Mark Perry, and come to the conclusion that the top 1% are being treated unfairly generously.


  • Every country that has implemented this plan (government-backed unions and wildly progressive tax policy), including most of Western Europe, is demonstrable worse off than the US on absolute measures.  This is both the median, but also in every quintile, including the poorest.  While it is true the poorest quintile has a bigger gap from the riches in the US vs. France for example, on an absolute basis our poorest are at least as well off  (particularly when differences in immigration policy are taken into account).

Immigration and Welfare

Well, I should be skiing right this moment, but my son woke up barfing this morning, making it a perfect 15 of the last 15 family trips where one of my kids has gotten sick. 

But the ski lodge is nice, and the wireless works great, and Q&O has a very interesting post on immigration and welfare.

High unemployment among immigrants is of course not confined to just
Sweden or Scandinavia. Throughout Europe, governments have found that
well-intentioned social insurance policies can lead to lasting welfare
dependence, especially among immigrants. Belgium is the European
country with the highest difference in employment rates between the
foreign-born and natives. The images of burning cars in the suburbs of
Paris that were broadcast around the world illustrate the kind of
social and economic problems France is facing with its restive
immigrant population.

Given the high barriers to entry, many
immigrants in Europe no longer start accumulating essential language
and labor market skills. This is in stark contrast with the situation
across the Atlantic. For example, in 2000, Iranians in the U.S. had a
family income that was 42% above the U.S. average. The income of
Iranian immigrants in Sweden, however, was 39% below the country's

Lots of interesting stuff there.  Which reminds me of something I wrote years ago:

In the 1930's, and continuing to this day, something changed
radically in the theory of government in this country that would cause
immigration to be severely limited and that would lead to much of the
current immigration debate.  With the New Deal, and later with the
Great Society and many other intervening pieces of legislation, we
began creating what I call non-right rights.  These newly described
"rights" were different from the ones I enumerated above.  Rather than
existing prior to government, and requiring at most the protection of
government, these new rights sprang forth from the government itself
and could only exist in the context of having a government.  These
non-right rights have multiplied throughout the years, and include
things like the "right" to a minimum wage, to health care, to a
pension, to education, to leisure time, to paid family leave, to
affordable housing, to public transportation, to cheap gasoline, etc.
etc. ad infinitum....

These non-right rights all share one thing in common:  They require
the coercive power of the government to work.  They require that the
government take the product of one person's labor and give it to
someone else.  They require that the government force individuals to
make decisions in certain ways that they might not have of their own
free will. 

And since these non-right rights spring form and depend on
government, suddenly citizenship matters in the provision of these
rights.  The government already bankrupts itself trying to provide all
these non-right rights to its citizens  -- just as a practical matter,
it can't afford to provide them to an unlimited number of new
entrants.  It was as if for 150 years we had been running a very
successful party, attracting more and more guests each year.  The party
had a cash bar, so everyone had to pay their own way, and some people
had to go home thirsty but most had a good time.  Then, suddenly, for
whatever reasons, the long-time party guests decided they didn't like
the cash bar and banned it, making all drinks free.  But they quickly
learned that they had to lock the front doors, because they couldn't
afford to give free drinks to everyone who showed up.  After a while,
with the door locked and all the same people at the party, the whole
thing suddenly got kind of dull.

Unbundling Citizenship

Those who oppose more open immigration generally have three arguments, to which I have varying levels of sympathy:

  • It's illegal!  Illegal immigration violates the rule of law.  I have always thought this argument weak and circular.  If the only problem is that immigrants are violating the law, then the law can be changed and its now all legal.  Since this is not the proposed solution, presumably there are other factors that make more open immigration bad beyond just the fact of its illegality.  I am positive I could come up with hundreds of bad laws that if I asked a conservative, "should I aggressively enforce this bad law or should I change it," the answer would be the latter.
  • We will be corrupting our culture.  I am never fully sure what these arguments mean, and they always seem to carry a touch of racism, even if that is not what is intended.  So I will rewrite this complaint in a way I find more compelling:  "We are worried that in the name of liberty and freedom, we will admit immigrants who, because of their background and culture, will vote against liberty and freedom when they join our democracy."  I am somewhat sympathetic to this fear, though I think the horse may already be out of the barn on this one.  Our current US citizens already seem quite able to vote for restrictions on liberties without any outside help.  If I were really worried about this, I might wall off Canada before Mexico.
  • Open Immigration or Welfare State:  Pick One.  I find this the most compelling argument for immigration restrictions.  Historically, immigration has been about taking a risk to make a better life.  I have been reading a biography of Andrew Carnegie, which describes the real risks his family took, and knew they were taking, in coming to America.  But in America today, we aren't comfortable letting people bear the full risk of their failure.  We insist that the government step in with our tax money and provide people a soft landing for their bad decisions (see:  Mortgage bailout) and even provide them with a minimum income that in many cases dwarfs what they were making in their home country. 

My problem with conservatives is that they are too fast to yell "game over" after making these arguments, particularly the third.  There are some very real reasons why conservatives, in particular, should not so easily give up on finding a way to allow more free immigration.  Consider these questions:

  • Should the US government have the right and the power to dictate who I can and cannot hire to work for me in my business?
  • Should the US government have the right and the power to dictate who can and cannot take up residence on my property (say as tenants)?

My guess is that many conservatives would answer both these questions in the negative, but in reality this is what citizenship has become:  A government license to work and live in the boundaries of this nation.

I can't accept that.  As I wrote here:

The individual rights we hold dear are our rights as human beings, NOT
as citizens.  They flow from our very existence, not from our
government. As human beings, we have the right to assemble with
whomever we want and to speak our minds.  We have the right to live
free of force or physical coercion from other men.  We have the right
to make mutually beneficial arrangements with other men, arrangements
that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing shelter, or paying
another man an agreed upon rate for his work.  We have these rights and
more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form governments not to be
the source of these rights (for they already existed in advance of
governments) but to provide protection of these rights against other
men who might try to violate these rights through force or fraud....

These rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property
shouldn't, therefore, be contingent on "citizenship".  I should be
able, equally, to contract for service from David in New Jersey or Lars
in Sweden.  David or Lars, who are equally human beings,  have the
equal right to buy my property, if we can agree to terms.  If he wants
to get away from cold winters in Sweden, Lars can contract with a
private airline to fly here, contract with another person to rent an
apartment or buy housing, contract with a third person to provide his
services in exchange for wages.  But Lars can't do all these things
today, and is excluded from these transactions just because he was born
over some geographic line?  To say that Lars or any other "foreign"
resident has less of a right to engage in these decisions, behaviors,
and transactions than a person born in the US is to imply that the US
government is somehow the source of the right to pursue these
activities, WHICH IT IS NOT...

I can accept that there can be some
minimum residence requirements to vote in elections and perform certain
government duties, but again these are functions associated with this
artificial construct called "government".  There should not be, nor is
there any particular philosophical basis for, limiting the rights of
association, speech, or commerce based on residency or citizenship,
since these rights pre-date the government and the formation of borders.

I have advocated for years that the concept of citizenship needs to be unbundled (and here, on the Roman term Latin Rights).   Kerry Howley makes a similar argument today:

Citizenships are club memberships you happen to be born with. Some
clubs, like the Norway club, have truly awesome benefits. Others, like
the Malawi club, offer next to none. Membership in each club is kept
limited by club members, who understandably worry about the drain on
resources that new members might represent. Wishing the U.S. would
extend more memberships in 2008 isn't going to get you very far.   

for whatever reason, most of us are in a place where we think labor
market access and citizenships ought to be bundled. A Malawian can't
come work here, we think, without the promise of a club membership,
which is nearly impossible to get. This is an incredibly damaging
assumption for two reasons: (1) memberships are essentially fixed in
wealthy democratic societies (2) uneven labor market access is a major
cause of global inequality. Decoupling the two leads to massive gains,
as we see in Singapore, without the need to up memberships.   

another way to think about it: Clubs have positive duties toward their
members, including those of the welfare state. But the negative duty
not to harm outsiders exists prior to clubs, and denying people the
ability to cooperate with one another violates their rights in a very
basic way. Our current policy is one of coercively preventing
cooperation. In saying "we can't let people into this country unless we
confer upon them all the rights and duties of citizenship," you are
saying that we need to violate their right to move freely and cooperate
unless we can give them welfare benefits. But that's backwards.

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.

Jane Galt on Immigration

Jane Galt takes on some of the more common anti-immigration talking points.  Just for example:

5. There were ethnic newspapers, but nothing like today's ethnic media.

This is just ridiculous. Immigrants in 1900 could get all the
entertainment that was then available in their own language; for
example, by 1918, New York City boasted 20 Yiddish theaters.
The idea that Latin American immigrants are somehow uniquely unable to
assimilate because they can now watch soap operas and the Venezuelan
version of Eurovision in their very own language seems to me
self-evidently absurd; an immigrant at home watching television in
Spanish is immersed in her own culture no more thoroughly than was the
typical resident of an ethnic neighbourhood who shopped, worked, went
to services, and partied entirely with their compatriots.

I am working on some research right now -- immigration opponents are claiming that "yes, immigration may have been OK in the past, but its different now."  I am in the process of putting together anti-immigration quotes from the late 19th and early 20th century that cover all of the same ground -- they're lazy, they breed too fast, they have disease, they don't integrate, they have divided loyalties -- but aimed at Irish and Italians.

Are Republican Immigration Hawks Socialist?

From Fred Thompson, via Insty:

But he received his biggest applause for blasting the bipartisan plan
for immigration reform, which he called unworkable. "We are a nation of
compassion, a nation of immigrants," he said. "But this is our home . .
. and we get to decide who comes into our home."

Isn't this an essentially socialist view of property, that the whole country is essentially owned by all of us collectively and it is our government's responsibility to administer access to this community property?

I am just completing a course on the history of Rome from the Teaching Company (whose products have been universally excellent in my experience).  One of the interesting things that contributed substantially to Rome's strength, at least through the BC years, was their flexibility and success in absorbing many different peoples into the state.  They actually had various grades of citizenship, including such things as Latin Rights where certain peoples could get access to some aspects of citizenship (e.g. ability to conduct commerce and access to the judicial system) while being denied others (e.g. voting). 

Can't we figure out something similar?  Shouldn't it be possible to allow fairly open access to being present and conducting commerce in this country, while still having much tougher and tighter standards for voting and getting government handouts?  The taxes immigrants pay easily cover things like emergency services and extra load on the courts, but fall short of covering extra welfare and education. 

Unfortunately, the debate seems to be dominated either by Lou Dobbs racists who see Mexicans as spreading leprosy or by Marxists who see poor immigrants as a wedge to push socialism.  The problem is again traceable to a President who tries to lead on divisive issues without trying to clearly communicate a moral high ground.  For example, I would have first tried to establish one simple principle that has the virtue of being consistent with most of America's history:   

"The US should allow easy access to our country for immigrants, but immigrants should expect that immigration involves financial risks which they, not current Americans, will need to bear.  Over time, they will have access to full citizenship but the bar for such rights will be set high."

OK, it needs to be shorter and pithier, but you get the idea.  Reagan was fabulous at this, and Clinton was pretty good in his own way.  Bush sucks at it.

Immigration and Trespass

If I invite an illegal immigrant to come stay in my house, is he trespassing?  My Arizona legislators think so:

State Representative Jonathan Paton, a Republican, ... added that he
would prefer to detain smuggled immigrants under trespassing laws, a
move lawmakers are considering under a package of bills intended to
crack down on illegal immigration.

Wikipedia describes trespass as "criminal act of going into somebody else's land or property without permission of the owner or lessee." 

The only way one can define an illegal immigrant at my house as "trespassing" is if one accepts some kind of statist-socialist view of property, that the state has effective ownership of my property.  I have asked this before, but do Republicans, who once upon a time were at least nominally the defenders of private property, have any idea what they are doing?

Free Speech and Immigration

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am a strong supporter of open immigration, and have substantial problems with how we are effectively criminalizing poor people looking for work. 

However, it is perhaps most important to defend the free speech of people with whom one disagrees.  A while back, my employee accidentally sent a private email from his private account expressing opinions about stronger defense of the border and enforcement of immigration laws (opinions that run counter to my own) to a government employee with whom we interact fairly frequently.  The government employee's first impulse was to threaten that our company may be liable under anti-discrimination laws for such speech, but to their credit quickly agreed that it was inappropriate for a federal employee to take any action based on private speech.  But that first, initial reaction was interesting.

It seems a professor here in the Phoenix area is facing sanction for similar reasons.

The case involves Walter Kehowski, a math professor at Glendale
Community College"”part of the Maricopa County Community College
District (MCCCD) system"”who e-mailed a single Thanksgiving message to
the entire MCCCD community. On the day before Thanksgiving, Kehowski
sent an e-mail
containing the text of George Washington's "Thanksgiving Day
Proclamation of 1789" over the district's "announcements" listserv.
Kehowski had found the Proclamation on Pat Buchanan's blog, and included a link to that webpage in his e-mail. That citation would have dire consequences.
Within weeks, five MCCCD employees complained that Kehowski's
e-mail was "derogatory" and "hostile" because the link he'd included"”if
you decided to open it"”led to a page where Buchanan also posted his
opinions of immigration. MCCCD soon held an Initial Assessment
of the complaints, and decided that since Kehowski's e-mail was not
work-related but rather expressed a "social comment," he had violated
MCCCD's e-mail policies, which limit e-mails to work-related
information. MCCCD reacted on March 9 by forcing Kehowski to cease
teaching, placing him on immediate administrative leave, and
recommending that he be terminated....

MCCCD has also found Kehowski guilty of violating the Equal Employment Opportunity policy.

Again we have government sanctioning speech based on its content, a definite no no, particularly since there was a pretty clear precedent for other people using the email system ant that particular listserv to pass on social commentary without sanction.  Its clear, though, that many in the college's community found the speech somehow in violation of discrimination laws.

However, this is the irony I find amazing:  State, Federal, and Maricopa County law require that businesses discriminate against undocumented aliens.  I can be fined and sent to jail for not discriminating against them.  Maricopa county, which runs this particular community college, employs a sheriff that revels in anti-immigrant rhetoric that probably runs more extreme than even Pat Buchanan and who prides himself on how many illegal immigrants he has rounded up this week (he.  In this context, how can it be illegal to advocate for enforcement of current law?  How can it be illegal to advocate for policies aggressively pursued by your own employer? 

Any viewpoint in speech needs to be tolerated, but I find it especially odd that government institutions are unable to tolerate speech that upholds what is essentially the official position of the government.

Interesting Data on Immigration

Via Kevin Drum, the results from a couple of studies in California:

A study released Tuesday by the Public Policy Institute
of California found that immigrants who arrived in the state between
1990 and 2004 increased wages for native workers by an average 4%.

UC Davis economist Giovanni Peri, who conducted the study, said the
benefits were shared by all native-born workers, from high school
dropouts to college graduates....

Another study released Monday by the Washington-based Immigration
Policy Center showed that immigrant men ages 18 to 39 had an
incarceration rate five times lower than native-born citizens in every
ethnic group examined. Among men of Mexican descent, for instance, 0.7%
of those foreign-born were incarcerated compared to 5.9% of
native-born, according to the study, co-written by UC Irvine
sociologist Ruben G. Rumbaut.

This is great stuff, I hope we see more of it, because it takes on two of the more common arguments against immigration.  In particular, its good to see someone taking on the crime angle, an issue I have suspected all along of being more about racial prejudices than true statistics.  This is a particularly telling table:


I previously took on the the meme that immigration causes crime here.  My case for open immigration is here and here.  My proposed plan is here.  Note that I really try to stay away from arguing immigration within the "who is going to pick the lettuce" framework.  I think free movement across borders of people, goods, and services is a basic human right, irrespective of the effect it has on wages or lettuce.

Oddly enough, Drum didn't focus much on the positive results on wages, as he has way too much invested in the whole "erosion of the middle class" thing to acknowledge that immigration might not hurt wages (since if immigration does not hurt wages, neither does free trade or outsourcing).  Mr. Drum says he wants to think about the study.  My prediction is that he will decide the crime study is a good one but the wage study was flawed.

Immigration and Statism

Dale Franks at QandO, quoting some from John Derbyshire, raise a key question that certainly has always concerned me as a pro-immigration libertarian:

As to why I think libertarians are nuts to favor mass uncontrolled
immigration from the third world: I think they are nuts because their
enthusiasm on this matter is suicidal to their cause. Their ideological
passion is blinding them to a rather obvious fact: that libertarianism
is a peculiarly American doctrine, with very little appeal to the
huddled masses of the third world. If libertarianism implies mass
third-world immigration, then it is self-destroying. Libertarianism is
simply not attractive either to illiterate peasants from mercantilist
Latin American states, or to East Asians with traditions of
imperial-bureaucratic paternalism, or to the products of Middle Eastern
Muslim theocracies.

In other words, by open immigration, are we letting in waves of people from statist traditions that will drive the US further away from an open, liberal society.  This worries me from time to time, enough that I don't have a fully crafted response that I consider definitive.  However, I want to offer some initial thoughts.  Before I do, here are two background points:

  1. I think the freedom to move to another country, take a job there, buy property, live there, etc. is a basic individual right that should not be limited to the accident of not having been born originally in that country.  Freedom of association is a right of all human beings, not merely a result of citizenship.  I go into these arguments in much more detail here.
  2. Note that immigrant status and citizen status are two different things.  Immigrant means that you are present in a country but not a citizen.  As an immigrant, I believe you should be able to own property, accept employment, and most of the other things you and I do every day.  However, immigrants don't vote.  Only the narrow class of people called citizens may vote, and there is some process where over time immigrants can meet some hurdles and become citizens.  The key problem for a libertarian, which I think Dale Franks would agree with, is "which status must you be to get government handouts?"  My view is that only citizens should get most handouts, like welfare and food stamps and such, though immigrants should have access to things like infrastructure (highways) and emergency services.  It is when one argues that any immigrant should have access to all this stuff that the whole immigration picture becomes a total mess.

With those couple of things in mind, here are my thoughts on the issue Franks raises:

  • The US is not made up primarily of Scots and Dutch, two areas that can legitimately claim to have strong liberal traditions.  Most of our past immigration has come from Ireland and Germany and Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.  None of these areas particularly have a liberal tradition, and many were nationalistic-militaristic-paternalistic governments.  Also, we may forget it today, but when countries like Ireland where a large source of our immigration in the 19th century, they were a third world country at the time.  Just look at Vietnam -- it has one of the worst traditions I can think of, but as a class Vietnamese immigrants tend to be capitalist tigers.
  • Depending on how one counts it, US citizens are already 65%-85% statist anyway, so I am not sure immigration is going to change the mix negatively.  In other words, the statist train has already sailed.  In fact, statism has flourished in this country from 1930-1980 during exactly the same period of time we were most restrictionist in immigration.  Sure, correlation is not causation, but certainly you can't prove to me that restrictionist immigration slows statism in any way. 
  • Much of the statist economic policies in this country were launched by Wilson and Roosevelt, from two of the more blue-blooded families in America.  Now this may not mean much.  What I don't know, because I don't know enough history of the period, is this:  Did support for New Deal (and more extreme socialist NRA-type policies) come disproportionately from new immigrants?  My sense is exactly the opposite, that in fact some New Deal policies like the minimum wage were aimed by nativists at circumscribing the opportunities of immigrants.
  • In effect, the author is advocating that we limit the freedom of movement and property ownership of people not born in the US because we are afraid that these new entrants into our country will bring political pressure to undermine individual rights.  I think that is a legitimate fear, but if I accept that argument, I don't know why I would not also have to accept the argument that we should take away the freedom of speech from people who argue for limitations of individual rights.  In both cases, we are giving political access to people who want to undermine our basic liberties.  My conclusion:  I can't go there in either case.  I refuse to put a political test on the exercise of individual rights, even for people with really bad politics.
  • A well-crafted welfare regime would make the problem a lot better.  I am not so unrealistic to expect the welfare state to go away tomorrow, but I do think that the political will can be mustered to deny substantial benefits to new non-citizen immigrants.  Which way we go on this will decide whether we can open up immigration.  If welfare handouts to immigrants are limited, then new immigrants will tend to self-select towards those looking to work hard and take risks to make it on their own.  This will mitigate the author's concern, and is in fact how we have maintained our culture of liberality through a history that was dominated mostly by open rather than closed immigration.  If welfare handouts are generous to new immigrants, then immigrants will self-select to people looking to live off the state.  If we insist on the latter, then I guess I will agree that immigration needs to be limited (though there is an even better reason for doing so in that we will, in that case, surely bankrupt ourselves.)

More Anti-Immigration Scare Stats

A while back, I pointed out that immigration opponents seemed to be depending on American's having poor match skills and a pathetic knowledge of history.  Today in this post from Captain's Quarters we find more statistical funny business.  Captain Ed, like many conservatives, have been stumping for the US to build a big honking fence at the border, nominally as part of the war on terrorism.

Of course according to supporters it is only about security, not xenophobia, which explains why the fence proposal in Congress covers both our northern and southern borders since both are equally porous to terrorists.  Oh, wait, the law only covers the southern border?  Oh.  Well, I hope terrorists can't read a map and don't notice that the northern border is three times as long and in many cases more unpopulated and unguarded than the southern border.

Anyway, another "security" argument by immigration foes is that hordes of criminals are apparently pouring across the border, and walls are proposed as a way to stop them.  The Captain quotes Bill Frist:

One of the most important and most effective ways that we can stop
illegal immigration is through the construction and proper maintenance
of physical fences along the highest trafficked, most commonly violated
sections of our border with Mexico.

Take the case of San Diego. According to the FBI Crime Index, crime
in San Diego County dropped 56.3% between 1989 and 2000, after a fence
stretching from the Ocean to the mountains near San Diego was
substantially completed. And, according to numbers provided by the San
Diego Sector Border Patrol in February 2004, apprehensions decreased
from 531,689 in 1993 to 111,515 in 2003.

Whoa. That sounds impressive.  But, remember what I often say on this site -- correlation is not causation.  Indeed, it is not just random chance that he picked the years 1989 - 2000.  Those were the years that nearly every part of the US saw a huge drop in its crime rate.  Using this data for these years, and presuming Frist is using the crime rate index per 100,000 people, which is the stat that makes the most sense, here are some figures for 1989 - 2000:

Crime Rate Change, 1989-2000:
US :  - 28%
Arizona:  -28%
California: - 45%
New York: -51%

Wow!  The border fence in San Diego even had a similarly large effect on crime in New York State!  That thing is amazing.  Oh, and note these are state figures.  My understanding is that the figures for large metropolitan areas is even more dramatic.  So what happened in 1989 to 2000 is every state and in particular every large metropolitan area in the country saw huge double digit drops in crime, and San Diego was no exception.   But Frist tries to give credit to the border fence.

In case you want to believe that Frist does not know what he is doing with these stats (ie that he wasn't intentionally trying to give credit for a national demographic trend to a border fence in San Diego) notice that 1989 was the US crime rate peak and 2000 was the US crime rate low point.  So with data for the years up to 2005 available, he just happens to end his period at 2000.  Oh, and the new style fences he wants to emulate were actually only started in 1996 (and here, search for "triple fence"), AFTER most of these crime gains had been made.  Correlation definitely does not equal causation when the proposed cause occurred after the effect.

For all of you who always wanted to live in Soviet East Berlin, you may soon get a good taste of that experience:

The first fence, 10 feet high, is made of welded metal panels. The
second fence, 15 feet high, consists of steel mesh, and the top is
angled inward to make it harder to climb over. Finally, in high-traffic
areas, there's also a smaller chain-link fence. In between the two main
fences is 150 feet of "no man's land," an area that the Border Patrol
sweeps with flood lights and trucks, and soon, surveillance cameras.

Below are views of Nogales, AZ and Berlin.  Nothing alike.  Nope.  Totally different.

Nogaleswall_1 Berlinwall

Finally, I will give the last word to Frist, bold added.

That's why I strongly support the Secure Fence Act of 2006 "¦ and that's
why I'm bringing this crucial legislation to the floor of the Senate
this week for an up-or-down vote. By authorizing the construction of
over 700 miles of two-layered reinforced fencing along our southwest
border and by mandating the use of cameras, ground sensors, UAVs and
other forms of hi-tech surveillance, this legislation would help us
gain control over every inch of our borders "“ once and for all.

"gain control over every inch of our borders," except, or course, for those 3000 5525 miles (350 million inches) to the north where the people on the other side have the courtesy not to speak a foreign language.  But its hard to demagogue well about a threat from Canadians, since they are mostly WASPs like we mostly are, or at least it has been for the last 100 years or so.  54-40 or fight!

Update: Here is that terrifying Canadian border barrier (from this site).  This demonstrates why our terrorist security dollars need to all be invested on the southern border, since this one is already locked down tight.  Heck, there is one of these babies (below) every mile!  Beware terrorists!


And don't forget these terrorist-proof border checkpoints along our northern frontier:


But it's not about race.

Update 2:  Yes, my emailers are correct.  I did not actually give Frist the last word like I said I would.  Gosh, I feel so bad about that.

Update 3:  Welcome to readers of my favorite site, Reason's Hit and Run.  It looks like Texas may soon consider a border fence, though with Louisiana instead of Mexico.

Immigration Opponents Depend on Bad Public Schools

I have been spammed several times with messages breathlessly telling me I have to watch this video about why the free flow of people from poorer nations into the US looking for opportunity is so disastrous.  I had nothing else to do in my hotel room, so I watched a bit.

The video clearly relies on the fact that American students have had crappy education into US history.  He uses the period of 1925-1965 as his base period, to show how much higher immigration rates are today than in these years.  To try to make current immigration seem out of line, he gives us the first real whopper of the video - he actually calls 1925-1965 the "golden age of American immigration", implying it was an era of free and open immigration and representative of a high rate of immigration.  Anyone with any sort of history education should be able to smell a rat - after all, wasn't the late 19th and early 20th century the real period of immigration into this country? 

In fact, 1925-1965 was, on the metric of immigration as a percentage of US population (the correct way to index the number) the LOWEST and most restrictionist period of immigration in our entire history.  In fact, 1925-1965 was the golden age of xenophobic restriction laws (aimed mainly at that time at southern and eastern Europeans).

So, after the lecturer began his talk by saying that white is black, I was obviously not really interested in the rest  (not to mention the fact that he for some reason reminded me of across between Rutger Hauer and Crispin Glover playing a creepy takeover-the-world villain).  He tries to take an environmental approach, I guess to try to lure the Left into the nativist camp.  I will say his upward sloping population charts are pretty funny, given that they have absolutely no relationship to any credible forecast.  He seems to take the global warming modeler's approach to shifting assumptions to get that big hockey stick.  His argument is ridiculous, though.  If you believe that a unit of population brings with it a measure of environmental harm, then immigration doesn't really change the net harm to the globe, it only moves its effects around.  And I would argue that the US with its wealth and attention to environmental matters is in a far better position to mitigate these effects than say Mexico.  I addressed this conservative retread of Paul Ehrlich population bomb panic here.

WSJ on Immigration

I was happy to see the Wall Street Journal come forward with an editorial favoring open immigration (this one is in their non-subscription area).  I am even happier to see that they lead with the issue of fundamental human rights, not with the weak argument of who is to pick the lettuce.

own view is that a philosophy of "free markets and free people"
includes flexible labor markets. At a fundamental level, this is a
matter of freedom and human dignity. These migrants are freely
contracting for their labor, which is a basic human right. Far from
selling their labor "cheap," they are traveling to the U.S. to sell it
more dearly and improve their lives. Like millions of Americans before
them, they and certainly their children climb the economic ladder as
their skills and education increase.

realize that critics are not inventing the manifold problems that can
arise from illegal immigration: Trespassing, violent crime, overcrowded
hospital emergency rooms, document counterfeiting, human smuggling,
corpses in the Arizona desert, and a sense that the government has lost
control of the border. But all of these result, ultimately, from too
many immigrants chasing too few U.S. visas.

migrating here to make a better life for themselves and their families
would much prefer to come legally. Give them more legal ways to enter
the country, and we are likely to reduce illegal immigration far more
effectively than any physical barrier along the Rio Grande ever could.
This is not about rewarding bad behavior. It's about bringing
immigration policy in line with economic and human reality. And the
reality is that the U.S. has a growing demand for workers, while Mexico
has both a large supply of such workers and too few jobs at home.

The WSJ argues that polls show that most conservatives are similar-minded.  I'm am not a conservative and don't speak for them, but from the flavor of my email on my pro-immigration posts and from reading various conservative blogs, I have trouble believing it.

I have a number of posts on immigration, but you should start with this one.

Immigration and Terrorism

For a while now I have meant to write a post on immigration and terrorism, specifically to refute the argument made by anti-immigration folks that cracking down on immigration is an important part of the war on terror.  Now, I tend to agree that we are too slow in kicking out visitors who commit crimes.  I've always thought in fact that if Mexico found itself send millions of productive workers to the US only to get back a stream of the small percentage who were thugs and criminals they might finally address the root causes of why their own country can't offer productive people any opportunity.

But the guard-the-border folks go further than this, arguing we must stop all immigration with troops and "minutemen" at the border as part of the effort to defend ourselves from terrorism.  I've always thought that this was a fabricated argument, since its so easy to prove that fear of terrorism is not their real motive for troops at the border (if it were, then why are all the troops going to the Mexican border - shouldn't the long stretches of empty land on the Canadian border be just as vulnerable to terrorists?  In fact, it is Canada and not Mexico where Islamic terrorist cells have been found in the last month).

Open and legal immigration would make finding illegal entry of terrorists much easier.  Right now, by pushing Mexican immigrants out into desert, rather than marked border crossings, one gives terrorists a very large haystack to hide in.  Terrorists with violent intent must somehow be sorted out from millions of perfectly peaceful immigrants looking for work.  Arizona Watch quotes James Valliant:

If every person who wanted into America in order to find work was legally
permitted into America, I'll bet they'd be happy to stop by the front gate, show
some i.d., get checked against a terrorist watch-list, etc. Only those with
criminal records, or reasons to flee justice, those with contagious diseases,
and, well"¦ terrorists would have any reason to "jump the gate" at all.

This would concentrate our resources on those who actually posed a threat to
the country. Thousands of border patrol agents would, then, not be going after
thousands "“ ultimately, accumulated millions "“ of people everyday, but just a
few hundred "“ ultimately, a few thousands. I, personally, prefer those odds when
it comes to catching terrorists and mass-murders.

The Connection Between Paul Ehrlich and Immigration Opponents

Reason's Hit and Run points to this article by Chirstopher Hayes that helps connect the dots.  The founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and NumbersUSA, both prominent conservative anti-immigration groups, is John Tanton.  Apparently, Tanton's roots are in Ehrlich style population bomb limits-to-growth zero-sum fearmongering.

In 1968, a Stanford biologist named Paul Ehrlich made these ideas mainstream
with his book, The Population Bomb. With terrifying certainty, Ehrlich
argued that the exponential growth in population and the incremental growth in
food could only mean one thing: mass famine. "The battle to feed all of humanity
is over," the book begins. "In the 1970s "¦ hundreds of millions of people are
going to starve to death."

It was an instant sensation, turning "overpopulation" into a hot topic and
landing Ehrlich repeatedly on "The Tonight Show." Tanton had been ahead of the
curve. As early as the '50s, he avidly read reports from the Population
Reference Bureau, and by the time Ehrlich's book was published, he and Mary Lou
had already started work on the first Northern Michigan chapter of Planned
Parenthood. "I believed in the multiplication tables," says Tanton. "Since I was
a physician and could do something about birth control, it struck me that this
was where I could make my contribution to the conservation movement."...

Tanton, whose worldview was forged in this intellectual milieu, is haunted by
the spectre of an apocalypse just over the horizon, and the thought that he is
one of a select few who see it coming. Sitting at his desk during one of our
interviews, he reaches into a drawer, withdraws an electric metronome and flicks
it on. As the device pulses at 135 beats per minute, he explains that each beat
is a new birth (at the 1969 rate), and each new birth requires resources: food,
clothing, education. It's a trick he used when he gave talks on population in
the '70s, and it's effective. His voice barely rises over the percussive
onslaught, and after just 30 seconds you want to yell: "Make it stop!"

I never really realized this connection or Tanton's roots (for reasons outlined below, his public message has moved on from environmentalism and overpopulation).  Tanton's real reason for being anti-immigration is this:

He explains that reducing immigration will force countries like Mexico to
confront their own population growth rates. "Each country," he says, "ought to
try to match its population to its resource base."

Whatever the hell that means*, since the amount of population the
world's "resource base" is able to support has grown exponentially over
the last 100 years.  But the really, really nutty part, the part that
separates him from the just-plain-wrong Ehrlich types, is the fact the
he thinks this resource matching has to proceed country by country.  No
global markets for this guy, I guess.  Somehow people crossing an
immaginary line in the Sonoran desert makes the population less
sustainable?  On the south side, things are OK, but move 100 miles
north and suddenly the world is doomed? 

In fact, the reality is just the opposite, for the same reasons that
Ehrlich's population bomb theory went bust -- which is that increasing
wealth and technology always tend to lower birth rates.  So I would
argue that immigration from Mexico to the US, with the wealth creation
potential that provides the immigrants, is  likely to result in a net
reduction of world birth rates.

Of course, Tanton has moved on, because the immigration movement could
not get excited about his environmental message and environmental
groups couldn't make heads or tails of his immigration message.

Crisscrossing the country, Tanton found little interest in his
conservation-based arguments for reduced immigration, but kept hearing the same
complaint. ""ËœI tell you what pisses me off,'" Tanton recalls people saying.
""ËœIt's going into a ballot box and finding a ballot in a language I can't read.'
So it became clear that the language question had a lot more emotional power
than the immigration question."

Tanton tried to persuade FAIR to harness this "emotional power," but the
board declined. So in 1983, Tanton sent out a fundraising letter on behalf of a
new group he created called U.S. English. Typically, Tanton says, direct mail
garners a contribution from around 1 percent of recipients. "The very first
mailing we ever did for U.S. English got almost a 10 percent return," he says.
"That's unheard of." John Tanton had discovered the power of the culture

The success of U.S. English taught Tanton a crucial lesson. If the
immigration restriction movement was to succeed, it would have to be rooted in
an emotional appeal to those who felt that their country, their language, their
very identity was under assault. "Feelings," Tanton says in a tone reminiscent
of Spock sharing some hard-won insight on human behavior, "trump facts."

I have never, ever understood why Americans get so unbelievably bent out of shape when they encounter a language other than English, but unfortunately this bizarre brand of xenophobia is fairly prevalent in this country, and Tanton has taken to tapping into it.  The article continues on to describe how Tanton has been very successful in making common cause with a broad range of people, from liberal activists to outright racists.

I found the article interesting as much for the descriptions of all the tactics and campaigns that failed to motivate the anti-immigration base in the past.  My sense from the article is that Tanton understands full-well that if the illegal immigrants were actually 12 million Canadian English-speaking Anglos, he would not be having near the success in getting people riled up about immigration.

* its amazing how many people talk about the world approaching some resource limit, but in fact no one has ever offered any shred of evidence as to where the world's population is vis-a-vis some mythical "carrying capacity".  Every prediction that we are approaching the limits of growth have been wrongJulian Simon pointed out that the only resource that matters is the human mind, and it never runs short.  He used commodities prices to prove his point, and beat Ehrlich in his famous bet. 

One Last Immigration Post

I really wasn't going to post again on immigration - I've said what I have to say and I want to move on before I get too tedious on the subject.  However, I was reading several conservative blogs over the last several days that had a lot of fun pointing out odd signs and screwball supporters of immigration in the recent immigration marches, as a way to mock the those who support immigration (example here).

I agree that immigration supporters have adopted some fellow travellers that they would do better without, particularly the hard-core Marxist remnants who not accidently chose the traditional Marxist-Soviet May Day holiday for their march.

However, I guess two can play at this game.  I would like to walk through some of the key points from a recent emailer to this site.  Below I will address a few of the best passages, but I have included the email in its entirety in the extended post, per the email's instructions.  Really, I encourage you to read the whole thing.  Every paragraph is priceless.

Being born with our rights is fine, HOWEVER the right to live in a PARTICULAR country within a FORMED AND STRUCTURED society of laws that protects those rights IS STRICTLY for THE "CITIZENS" who built that society TO DECIDE who may join them.!

I will call this the nation-as-country-club theory of government.  Basically he is saying that the US is a big country club where most of us get our memberships by inheritance, and we all get to chose the few new members we take in each year.  Of all the theories of government, this is, um, cetainly one of them.  If anything, it reminds me a little of Heinlin in "Starship Troopers" with a society where only those who completed military service are full citizens. 

This is, however, not the theory of government that our country was built on.  In fact, we didn't have any real immigration restrictions in this country for over 100 years after the Contitution was passed.  This model actually has strongly socialist implications.   I will demonstrate that next...

      Liberal Democrats AND SO CALLED LIBERTARIANS (who are really
displaced commis)  will come to be known as the morons who killed the
goose trying to get the gold faster!!!!

Wow!  All along I thought I was a libertarian anarco-capitalist and come to find out I am a displaced commie!  Who knew? 

Let's take an example.  Lets say a person from Mexico wants to rent my house and then go to work for me in my business here in Phoenix.  I believe that I should be able to rent my house to whomever I want and employ whomever I want without government interferance.  The emailer presumably believes that the government should be able to dictate who I can and can't rent my property to, and whom I can and can't employ in my business.  Who is the real socialist here?  I want to let people go wherever they want, and the emailer presumably wants checkpoints demanding to see your paperwork.  Which model looks more like Soviet Russia?

Recently the Arizona state goverment has discussed making it a crime of trespassing for a foreignor to be found anywhere in Arizona without the proper government paperwork.  This law would dictate that if I have a such a foreignor on my property, he is trespassing.  But he has my permission to be on my property, so how is he trespassing?  The only way he can be trespassing is if one assumes that the government, and not me, ultimately own my property.

Of course, half the emails I get still say "but they are illegal - they don't have rights."  OK, here is my counter-example.  Tomorrow, Congress passes a law that says "No one is allowed to criticize any sitting member of Congress for any reason."  What would you do?  I would run to my blog and immediately start posting "Trent Lott sucks;  John McCain sucks;  Hillary Clinton sucks" etc. etc.  Why -- because I still have the right to free speech, even if Congress makes it technically illegal.  Laws and acts of Congress don't change rights.  And if you believe that your rights do flow from Congress, then, well, we better all hold on because we are screwed.

America and the culture it has developed breeds predominantly decent people, these decent people have died to make America (and the world) a better place to live and little by little the world has learned from us and has begun to change for the better.
   Now very silly people act like all the filth sickeness and desease of the world should be welcomed into america?    No No No!!!!

    American society and its culture of law abiding decency must not be overcome by the selfish unwashed unlawful hordes who would come here and destroy what has taken so long for so many to build!!!

This whole cultural assimilation thing always rings hollow for me.  The very timeframe that folks like this get misty-eyed about when this country was built was a time of massive and nearly unfettered immigration.  If you really are concerned about preserving America's traditions and culture (assuming "culture" isn't being used just as a code word to keep non-WASPs out) then I would think you would be strongly pro-immigration.  Immigration is the norm in this country's history, and the current policies are the aberation.  If you really want to live in a country where the government actively defines its role as maintaining the country's culture intact, then you should go to France.

My family, which came over early in this century, was poor, unskilled, and German.  What could be worse from a "cultural" standpoint?  Surely few could argue that for the period from 1875 to 1945 the Germans had one of the top 3 most destructive cultures in the world.  Why would we ever want poor unskilled workers from a militaristic totalitarian culture?  But my family was accepted none-the-less.

By the way, the corruption of our rights and freedoms and government is not coming from the outside - because we already did it to ourselves.  In our original Constitutional framework, government was extremely limited and there was little it could do to influence lives.  In the last 70 years, we have corrupted this framework, trashing Constitutional protections and limitations on government and replacing them with a tyranny of the majority, where 51% can do unto the other 49% in any way they please.  We shot ourselves in the foot before most any current illegal immigrant was even born.

Latinos must be stupid since they dont even have the sense to adopt america!!  Illegals still want to be known as mexicans!!! You know those silly stupid gutless mexicans who allow corruption and filth to be a way of life in mexico??

We fought and died to eliminate that in America but you want to let it back in here??

Wow, I am getting emails from people who have already died!  Anyway, have you ever been to Boston on St. Patricks Day?  The Irish still show a lot of pride in their mother country but they still also consider themselves Americans.  The Irish are a great example -- Easterners in the 19th century rioted in protest of unskilled Irish immigration, but today they are part of the backbone of that American culture you get so misty-eyed about. 

Mexican culture and traditions are one of the things that make Arizona great.  Cinco de Mayo, for example, is a lot more fun than many of our American holidays and many of us anglos have adopted it in the same way most non-Irish have adopted St. Patricks Day.   I am not particularly religeous, but for you conservatives out there I will offer that Mexicans are far more religious than your average American outside of the South.

Oh, and by the way, aren't these "stupid, gutless" Mexicans you don't like actually risking life and limb and arrest to escape the corruption of their home country?

I hope the first victim of a desease from aN ILLEGAL mexican who was never vaccinated is someone you CARE ABOUT!!! jerk!!!!!   

Whoa, you say.  This guy doesn't represent me!  Well, I'll tell you.  I have watched over the last several weeks as conservative blogs have spent a good amount of time picking out the most extreme and unbalanced immigration supporters and using them to mock the pro-immigration position as a whole.  Turn about is fair play.

Update:  I got a second email substantially similar to this one (but with slight variations) from a different email address today, so this is either copied from another source or part of some campaign.   It could even be a mis-direction campaign by immigration supporters, though I doubt it because it is so dead on the tone and content of many other emails and comments I get.

Continue reading ‘One Last Immigration Post’ »

My Immigration Reform Plan

More than any subject on Coyote Blog, my immigration posts have engendered more disapproving comments than anything else I have written.  I won't repeat my position except to say that I don't care if immigration is currently illegal, because my point is that it should be legal.  In short, my stance has been that our rights do not flow from the government but from our basic humanity, and therefore activities like association, employment decision-making, and property purchase should not be contingent on citizenship.  Its one of those arguments where I wish many on my side of the argument would shut up -- If the best argument you can muster for immigration is 'who will pick the lettuce', you are not helping very much. 

For the first 150 years of this country's history, our country was basically wide-open to immigration.  Sure, there were those opposed (the riots in NYC in the 19th century come to mind) but the opposition was confined mainly to xenophobes and those whose job skills were so minimal that unskilled immigrants who could not speak English were perceived as a threat.   It was only the redistributionist socialism-lite of the New Deal and later the Great Society that began to make unfettered immigration unpopular with a majority of Americans, who rightly did not wish to see the world's poor migrate to the US seeking an indolent life of living off of government handouts.

But, as Congress debates a series of immigration plans that make not sense and don't seem internally consistent, I will propose my own.  I hope that this plan will appeal to those who to date have opposed immigration because of the government handout problem.  I am sure it will continue to be unappealing to those who fear competition in the job market or who don't like to be near people who don't speak English very well.  This is an elaboration of the plan from this post:

  1. Anyone may enter or reside in the US. The government may prevent entry of a very short list of terrorists and criminals at the border, but everyone else is welcome to come and stay as long as they want for whatever reason.  Anyone may buy property in the US, regardless or citizenship or residency.  Anyone in the US may trade with anyone in the world on the same terms they trade with their next door neighbor.
  2. The US government is obligated to protect the individual rights, particularly those in the Bill of Rights, of all people physically present in our borders, citizen or not.  Anyone, regardless of citizenship status, may buy property, own a business, or seek employment in the United States without any legal distinction vs. US "citizens"
  3. Certain government functions, including voting and holding office, may require formal "citizenship".  Citizenship should be easier to achieve, based mainly on some minimum residency period, and can be denied after this residency only for a few limited reasons (e.g. convicted of a felony).  The government may set no quotas or numerical limits on new citizenships.
  4. All people present in the US pay the same taxes in the same way.  A non-citizen or even a short term visitor pays sales taxes on purchases and income taxes on income earned while present in the US just like anyone else.  Immigrants will pay property taxes just like long-term residents, either directly or via their rent payments.
  5. Pure government handouts, like Welfare, food stamps, the EITC, farm subsidies, and public housing, will only be available to those with full US citizenship.  Vagrancy and squatting on public or private lands without permission will not be tolerated.
  6. Most government services and fee-based activities, including emergency services, public education, transportation, access to public recreation, etc. will be open to all people within the US borders, regardless of citizenship status, assuming relevant fees are paid.
  7. Social Security is a tough beast to classify - I would put it in the "Citizen" category as currently structured (but would gladly put it in the "available to everyone" category if SS could be restructured to better match contributions with benefits, as in a private account system).  But, as currently configured, I would propose that only citizens can accrue and receive SS benefits.  To equalize the system, the nearly 8% employee and 8% employer social security contributions will still be paid by non-citizens working in the US, but these funds can be distributed differently.  I would suggest the funds be split 50/50 between state and local governments to offset any disproportionate use of services by new immigrants.  The federal portion could go towards social security solvency, while the state and local portion to things like schools and medical programs.

With this plan, we return to the America of our founding fathers, welcoming all immigrants who are willing to take the risk of coming here.  We would end the failed experiment of turning citizenship from a voting right into a comprehensive license that is required to work, own property, or even associate and be present within the US border.  Since immigrants today who are "illegal" pay no income or social security taxes into the system today (they do pay sales and, via rent, property tax), this plan would increase tax revenues while reducing some welfare state burdens.

I think if you asked many prospective immigrants, they would agree to this deal - no handouts, just a fair chance to make a living and a life.  However, immigrant advocacy organizations are hugely unlikely to accept this plan, as most seem today to have been co-opted by various Marxist organizations who are opposed to anyone opting out of the welfare state (it is no coincidence that the recent immigration policy protests all occurred on May Day, the traditional Soviet-Marxist holiday).

Finally, I would like to offer one thought to all those who worry about "absorbing" ten or fifteen million new immigrants.  First, I would argue that we have adopted many more immigrants than this successfully in this country's history, including my grandparents and probably yours.  Second, I would observe that as recently as the last several decades, we managed to absorb 40 million new workers quite successfully, as I wrote here:

Check this data out, from the BLS:

  • In 1968, the unemployment rate was 3.8%.  22.9 million women were employed in non-farm jobs, accounting for 34% of the work force.
  • In 2000, the unemployment rate was 4.0%.  62.7 million women were employed in the work force, accounting for 48% of the total
  • In these years, the number of women employed increased every single year.  Even in the recession years of 1981-1983 when employment of men dropped by 2.5 million, women gained 400,000 jobs

This is phenomenal.  After years of being stay-at-home moms or whatever, women in America decided it was time to go to work.  This was roughly the equivalent of having 40,000,000 immigrants show up on our shores one day looking for work.  And you know what? The American economy found jobs for all of them, despite oil embargos and stagflation and wars and "outsourcing".

Don't Fix Immigration, Fix the Welfare State

Brian Doherty of Reason observes:

The solution to the legal crisis immigration represents won't come through
immigration law itself, which again and again has proven itself useless at
fully stemming the irresistible tides of human desire for a better life. No
matter how much money is spent or how the law is jiggered, it is not immigration
policy that has created unnecessary tears and strains in America's social
order. Rather, the welfare state is at the root of any legitimate claim that
immigration (legal or illegal) is an assault on the American nation. (There
are plenty of illegitimate complaints, based merely on distaste for
the often-imaginary hell of running into Spanish-speaking people in
day-to-day life or seeing some flag not of your nation, but such complaints
are not worthy of consideration.)...

The free market, as it usually does, has created a system of mutually
satisfactory interdependence, all of us serving each other and helping each
other get what we want. The welfare state, in all its manifestations from
medical care to schooling to pure giveaways, creates a negative sum game in
which resources are forcibly redistributed making some a problem, or a
perceived potential problem, to others, and allowing demagogues to obsess
over precious "public" resources scarfed up by the invading Other.

As long as that system is around to breed resentment and anger"”as well
as counter-resentment and counter-anger such as that seen in the streets of
L.A. of late"”immigration will continue as a political crisis, no matter
how many repeat cycles of jiggering with immigration law, or protesting it,
we go through.

Proposition 187,
attempting to limit the provision of government services to illegal
immigrants, was indeed, whatever the motives of its supporters, in spirit on
the right track to a world where any immigrant ought to be, and can be,
welcome; one where they are pure contributors at the same time to their own
well-being and to everyone else's as well. It's the only permanent and just
solution to the immigration conundrum. But it involves a significant
reduction in federal power, money, and authority, rather than an expansion
of it. Strangely, it's a no-go in today's Washington.

I wrote a similar essay on how the New Deal changed our views on immigration.

Immigration and the "Legality" Issue

I know some may be bored with my immigration posts, so if you are, that's cool, you can ignore the rest.  I have done something of late I normally don't do:  I have tuned into conservative talk radio for bits and pieces of time over the last several days to get the gist of their arguments to limit immigration.  The main arguments I have heard are:

  1. Illegal immigrants are breaking the law
  2. We should not reward law-breaking with amnesty.  We need to round these folks up that are breaking the law and teach them a lesson.  Or put them in concentration camps if that were logistically feasible
  3. We don't like first generation Mexican immigrants carrying the Mexican flag in parades. (though we love it when 4th generation Irish carry Irish flags in parades)

A recent commenter on my post defending open immigration, which is superseded by this pro-immigration post I like better, had this related insight:

6-10000000 YOU ARE ILLEGAL



It sure is comforting that us "leagal migrants" have to pass a basic English test, or we might come off as idiots when we post comments online.  But you get the gist.  My first thought is that this is certainly a circular argument.  To answer my premise that "immigration should be legal for everyone" with the statement that "it is illegal" certainly seems to miss the point (it kind of reminds me of the king of swamp castle giving instructions to his guards in Monty Python and the Holy Grail) The marginally more sophisticated statement that "it is illegal and making it legal would only reward lawbreakers" would seem to preclude any future relaxation of any government regulation.

Many people writing on this topic today lapse into pragmatic arguments ala "well, how would we pick the lettuce without them?"  Frequent readers of this site will notice I seldom if ever resort to this type argument (except perhaps when I argued that immigration might be a solution to the demographic bomb in medicare and social security).  My argument is simpler but I hear it discussed much less frequently:  By what right are these folks "illegal"?

What does it mean to be living in this country?  Well, immigrants have to live somewhere, which presupposes they rent or buy living space from me or one of my neighbors.  Does the government have the right to tell me who I can and can't transact with?  Most conservatives would (rightly) say "no,"  except what they really seem to mean is "no, as long as that person you are leasing a room to was born within some arbitrary lines on the map.  The same argument goes for immigrants contracting their labor (ie getting a job).  Normally, most conservatives would (rightly again) say that the government can't tell you who you can and can't hire.   And by the way, note exactly what is being criminalized here - the illegal activity these folks are guilty of is making a life for their family and looking for work.  Do you really want to go down the path of making these activities illegal?  Or check out the comment again above.  She/he implies that immigrants without the proper government papers don't even have speech rights, rights that even convicted felons have in this country. 

By the way, I understand that voting and welfare type handouts complicate this and can't be given day 1 to everyone who crosses the border -- I dealt in particular with the issue of New Deal social services killing immigration here.

Our rights to association and commerce and free movement and speech flow from our humanity, not from the government.  As I wrote before:

Like the founders of this country, I believe that our individual
rights exist by the very fact of our existance as thinking human
beings, and that these rights are not the gift of kings or
congressmen.  Rights do not flow to us from government, but in fact
governments are formed by men as an artificial construct to help us
protect those rights, and well-constructed governments, like ours, are
carefully limited in their powers to avoid stifling the rights we have
inherently as human beings.

Do you see where this is going?  The individual rights we hold dear
are our rights as human beings, NOT as citizens.  They flow from our
very existence, not from our government. As human beings, we have the
right to assemble with whomever we want and to speak our minds.  We
have the right to live free of force or physical coercion from other
men.  We have the right to make mutually beneficial arrangements with
other men, arrangements that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing
shelter, or paying another man an agreed upon rate for his work.  We
have these rights and more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form
governments not to be the source of these rights (for they already
existed in advance of governments) but to provide protection of these
rights against other men who might try to violate these rights through
force or fraud.

rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property shouldn't,
therefore, be contingent on "citizenship".  I should be able, equally,
to contract for service from David in New Jersey or Lars in Sweden.
David or Lars, who are equally human beings,  have the equal right to
buy my property, if we can agree to terms.  If he wants to get away
from cold winters in Sweden, Lars can contract with a private airline
to fly here, contract with another person to rent an apartment or buy
housing, contract with a third person to provide his services in
exchange for wages.  But Lars can't do all these things today, and is
excluded from these transactions just because he was born over some
geographic line?  To say that Lars or any other "foreign" resident has
less of a right to engage in these decisions, behaviors, and
transactions than a person born in the US is to imply that the US
government is somehow the source of the right to pursue these
activities, WHICH IT IS NOT.

Disclosure:  A number of my great-grandparents were immigrants from Germany.  When they came over, most were poor, uneducated, unskilled and could not speak English.  Several never learned to speak English.  Many came over and initially took agricultural jobs and other low-skilled work.  Because the new country was intimidating to them, they tended to gather together in heavily German neighborhoods and small towns.  Now, of course, this description makes them totally different from most immigrants today that we want to shut the door on, because, uh... Help me out, because why?

PS - And please don't give me the "government's job is defend the borders" argument.  Government's job is to defend its people, which only occasionally in cases of direct attack involves defending the borders.  I am sick of the rhetorical trick of taking people like the "minutemen" and describing them as patriots defending the border, when this nomenclature just serves to hide the fact that these folks are bravely stopping unarmed human beings from seeking employment or reuniting with their families.  And I will absolutely guarantee that the borders will be easier to patrol against real criminals and terrorists sneaking in when the background noise of millions of peaceful and non-threatening people are removed from the picture and routed through legal border crossings.