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August 30, 2003

NR & Immigration Reform, Cont'd

National Review writer Rich Lowry is now actually calling for a reduction in legal immigration:

"The real answer is to scale back legal immigration [emphasis mine] and control the nation's borders, so low-income workers don't have to compete against new immigrants, especially people who have no right to be here."

Lowry also wrote:
"Economics 101 says that the more poorly skilled workers there are, the less they will make. Indeed, according to the National Research Council, roughly half of the decline in real wages for native high-school dropouts from 1980 to 1994 was due to immigration."

The NR has been railing against illegal immigration, multiculturalism, and especially immigrants who present a direct national security threat, but has not generally been so hard on legal unskilled immigration. It's good to see the NR taking a tough stance on legal immigration, because any immigration reform that does not include the reduction of legal unskilled immigration is not taking care of the main thrust of our immigration problem--the importation of a persistent[1], dependent, and resentful underclass.

[1] Even notwithstanding Bell Curve-type theories, it is clear that something is tending to hold down some non-white immigrant groups but not others, and that this something is not going away any time soon (for example, second- and third-generation Latino immigrants continue to lag behind native-born whites (on average, of course) in income and education). Given the general success of many non-white and/or previously discriminated against groups (South Asians, many East Asian groups, and Jews), it seems unlikely that the "something(s)" holding down some immigrant groups include white racism or "institutional racism."

Posted by bb at 02:36 PM

What's holding them back is very likely their cultural origins. Many Asians work with great determination to fit into U.S. society, while Latinos do not. Hard work, or lack thereof, is a habit that they bring with them from their countries of origin. Part of the problem for Latinos may also be that there are so many of them that they don't have to work as hard to fit in; they can just live in Latino neighborhoods and carry on their behavioral cultural patterns that do not translate well into the United States.

Apropos to this, anyone paying to FOX news' reporting of Cruz Bustemante's former involvment in the student organization, MECHA? MECHA is a Latino separatist organization that predicts in the future acts of delinquency will become revolutionary acts. Totally nuts, but very popular and well-oiled by federal funds. God bless Fox. All I've seen on CNN is talk of Arnold's Nazi father, as if his father's political affiliations over half a century ago actually matter.

Posted by: Inventor at August 31, 2003 04:24 AM

It is heartening to hear a neocon question the wisdom of unrestricted immigration, although I'm skeptical. When they start talking about an immigration moratorium, the only viable solution IMO, I'll be more convinced.

What Lowry fails to mention in his article is that legal skilled immigration affects the wages of skilled natives also. Peter Brimelow alerts us to this fact in his review of Jorge Borjas' latest work (www.vdare.com).

As I pointed out to godless in the previous thread when he asserted:

Many tech workers don't want competition from immigrant skiled labor (though employers and those employed by immigrants are ok with it), but again it's not in the interests of the consumer to let them stop skilled immigration.

The price the consumer pays is not the only gauge by which we measure national economic vitality. Obviously if immigration, whether skilled or unskilled, drives down wages generally, then the decrease in the price of goods is more than offset by the population's decreased ability to buy goods.

Posted by: RR at August 31, 2003 05:57 AM

I do agree that skilled immigration can lower wages. However, if the numbers are reasonable wages will go down minimally, while our intellectual capital will improve and technological progress will increase, increasing everyone's purchasing power and probably raising high-tech wages. Skilled immigration can also strengthen the tax base, allowing for lower tax rates without budget cuts.

This is very different from unskilled immigration. Unskilled immigration lowers wages, and brings high crime rates, "no go" neighborhoods, and welfare dependence. Unskilled immigration is little more than a highly inefficient corporate welfare program-- it allows for the short-term enrichment of unskilled-labor based businesses at the expense of workers and taxpayers. The WSJ people always complain of a labor shortage, but there's only a shortage because demand has artificially been increased by massive social spending that often far exceeds the wages unskilled immigrants are paid. If the government paid 50 or 75% [1] of the cost of an item, (as it does for unskilled immigration) don't you think there might be a "shortage" of that item due to high demand?

[1] How do I come up with this number? The average Latino immigrant has 3.2 kids, education costs about $7500 per kid per year. That alone is $24,000 per year, probably greater than the salary most unskilled immigrants make right there ($8/hour times 45 hours/week times 50 weeks/year = $18,000/yr, and many unskilled immigrants only make minimum wage or in some cases less). That doesn't even include "free" health care ($10,000+/ yr for a large family?), housing subsidies, food stamps, or cash welfare. With all that an unskilled immigrant could be costing the taxpayer $40K or even $50K a year as his employer pays him $10K, $15K, or $20K a year.

Posted by: hh at August 31, 2003 07:29 AM

The average Latino immigrant has 3.2 kids

The figure for unskilled immigrants in general may be worse than that, b/c (obviously) not all Latinos are unskilled, and because unskilled/uneducated people of all races tend to have more kids than skilled/educated people.

Posted by: hh at August 31, 2003 07:32 AM

Uh, I hesitate to point this out because of the last NR thread, but that is Lowry's sindicated column not an NR column, and as such has nothing at all to do with the publication National Review.

As I said in that previous thread I agree that NR is hard on immigration though. Anyway, and as I also said in the message board, I think Lowry is a twerp. Although I agree with him (and you Matt) in this case it should be noted that until illegal immigration is controlled or ended talk about legal immigration is sort of a waste of time.

The lawn man gets cash, you know? STOP! I mow my own ;^)

Posted by: Katy at August 31, 2003 02:48 PM

California's Democrat Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante recently said, "The agenda of the Latino community is much like the agenda of the entire state...The agenda is not just about getting benefits, it's about taking 35 percent of the population and making 35 percent of the responsibility, 35 percent of the solutions, 35 percent of the businesses, and 35 percent of those graduating from college."

"And with immigration...increasing the share of the citizenry that is black and Hispanic, this means an endless ratcheting up of black and Hispanic demands for proportional representation. And, as Unz has pointed out, these demands are invariably met at the expense of white Christians" (Patrick J. Buchanan, "The Dispossession of Christian Americans").

In California proportional representation of Hispanics at the University of California campuses would likely translate into reduced opportunities for Asian American and non-Hispanic white American students.

Source for Bustamante quotes: 
"Bustamante is star of the heartland"
by Mike Zapler.

Posted by: Proborders at August 31, 2003 02:58 PM

I think that if immigration from any other country happened the way immigration from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean happens, we'd see lots of similiar problems. For example, imagine a couple million destitute peasants from China, Vietnam, Malaya, Bengal, etc., or even the Ukraine or Moldava, living in enclaves on the West Coast and doing day labor at minimum wage.

The racial interpretation of American intergroup problems is an accident of history. Native Americans, African-Americans, and Chicanos (I'm being PC just for fun) have two things in common: first, they are racially distinguishable, and second, they became Americans by force rather than voluntarily. (Remember the Mexican war? Most Chicanos live in areas which were Spanish speaking up till then). And in fact, black immigrants from Africa or even the Caribbean, because of their different history and also because of selection, perform differently than American-born African Americans.

Elsewhere in the world ethnic hatreds are arranged otherwise, usually around religion or dialect. Serbs/ Croats, English / Irish, Spaniards / Basques, and so on. (I have heard West Germans speak amazingly harshly about East Germans -- a distinction only 50 years old. I am confident that Beijing, Guangdong, and Shanghai natives have a rich vocabulary for describing the Chinese beggars and day laborers illegally entering their cities.)

During XIX c. US immigration, racial categories were applied to groups we now regard as simply Caucasian, such as Irish, Italians, etc. During the heyday of scientific racism people would even talk about the Polish race, when Poland is basically lines on a map + dialect + Catholicism. (As far as I know no one ever talked about the Belgian or Swiss race, but maybe I'm wrong).

I think that people on this site should put more effort into sorting out class, history, and other "environmental" influences on behavior, instead of simply advocating for race and genetics.

Posted by: zizka at September 1, 2003 09:41 AM

"Obviously if immigration, whether skilled or unskilled, drives down wages generally, then the decrease in the price of goods is more than offset by the population's decreased ability to buy goods."

My power of intuition is not sufficient to see this as "obvious". When faced with questions of this sort, some sustained reasoning and formal modeling is called for.

First, if the Federal Reserve is doing its job, the level of money prices will not be affected by immigration. The population's ability to buy goods is ultimately determined by the population's ability to produce the goods it wants, or to produce some others goods which can be exchanged through trade with other countries to obtain the goods it wants. In other words, by productivity.

So what effect does a burst of immigration on the productivity of the native population? If both natives and immigrants were just homogenuous lumps of labor with the same kind of skills, none at all. The immigrants will consume no more and no less than what they produce. The natives won't notice any change. Note that this result does not require the immigrants be "equally skilled" as the natives, only that their skills be of the "same kind", that is, that their level of productivity relative to natives does not vary between different goods. If immigrants are uniformly less productive than natives, they will simply earn less and consume less.

If we more realistically allow the immigrants to have different types of labor skills from the natives, then they will specialize in the production of those goods in which they have a comparative advantage. The natives will do likewise, and the result is that both groups will produce more and be better off, in aggregate. But of course those natives who had specialized in the production of those goods in which the immigrants now choose to specialize will see their comparative advantage eroded, and they may well be end up worse off than before. So in this case the natives benefit from immigration in aggregate, but there will be some losers. Since the winners' win exceed the losers' loss in aggregate, the losers can be more than fully compensated, and everyone can be made better than before, in theory.

Note that this result does not require the immigrants to be more productive than the natives in producing anything: one can have a absolute disadvantage in everything and still have a comparative advantage in something. A brain surgeon may also happen to be the fastest lawn-mower in the world, but it would still be more efficient for him to hire an unskilled laborer to mown his lawn while he performs brain surgery, even if he could have done the mowing himself in half the time.

So what's the catch? Well, this analysis assumes a free market system (and it leaves out capital and technology, but let's not worry about that for now). Externalities can change the conclusion. Immigrants may impose costs on the natives without paying for them in various ways: by receiving a lot of welfare, by commiting lots of crime, by causing a lot of pollution, or by becoming citizens and then voting for really stupid policies.

My point is really this. There may be a respectable case for restriction, but it is not "They lower wages!" or "They take our jobs!" or "They're unskilled!". You must identify the externality and demonstrate why immigration restriction (as opposed to trying to tackle the externalities directly through, say, welfare reform or a tax on pollution) is the best way of handling it.

Posted by: Daniel Lam at September 2, 2003 04:03 PM

For the record, NR published this column yesterday (Tuesday). I withdraw my "and as such has nothing at all to do with the publication National Review." comment.

Posted by: Katy at September 3, 2003 05:53 AM