Monday, January 4, 2016

more thoughts on immigration

Note: the following blog post was prompted by this excellent and provocative Freakanomics podcast on immigration. If I'm boring you with what follows, still make sure to tag this link and check it out at some point!
My most vivid memory about immigration is the first event in my 2006 Congressional campaign. I was speaking at an "anti-illegal immigration" rally in Seymour. Of the three candidates, I had the strongest, practical position on illegal immigration. The problem: it was really difficult to explain why simple solutions were simplistic and to elaborate on nuances in that setting.
(Another complication: I was also the biggest proponent of *legal* immigration.) 

I met all of the attendees. After telling them I would speak later on illegal immigration (and wanting to change the subject and appeal to them on other topics), I asked them whether they were interested in my positions on other issues. Every single one of them simply said "no".

For one thing, this was an outside-the-classroom example of a key tenet in Public Choice economics: "rationally ignorant" voters will tend to focus on one or two issues to spend their vote and their $100 in campaign contributions. 

Second, immigration is a complex and difficult issue. In the classroom, I use an entire class period to talk through the pros and cons, ethically and practically, of legal and illegal immigration-- in its various forms. As such, within politics, immigration is far better suited for demagoguery than policy solutions. 

Over the years, I've blogged on many aspects of immigration: 
-the difficulty of stopping illegal immigration
-the exaggerated connection between immigration and crime
-the Bush/Obama disaster of a macroeconomy and its ironic use in reducing illegal immigration
-the practical and ethical problems with kicking out productive workers
-the limits of "the fence" (even if "virtual"); 
-the problems with the popular Roy Beck videos on the supposed multiplicative problems of immigration
-the connections with Tyler Cowen's book on technological advance and labor markets; and 
-a recent op-ed focusing on the practical and ethical ramifications of immigration (of whatever sort) given connections to mutually beneficial trade (or not-- e.g., if immigrants are on welfare).

But here are some recent resources: 

The aforementioned Freakanomics podcast: CHECK IT OUT!

From the Freakanomics podcast, two articles-- each from the more principled side of the debate: Alex Tabarrok in The Atlantic (on getting rid of borders completely) and Gene Callahan in The American Conservative (with a strong defense of the nation-state).

A really helpful article in First Things by Mark Amstutz for thinking and empathizing about "communitarian" vs. "cosmopolitan" approaches to immigration. In a nutshell, the debate is the extent to which the nation-state or the individual should be preeminent. (And take care that your views here are consistent across other policy issues!)

Also, from the podcast, a terrific (academic but relatively easy-to-read) article on the net gains to *emigration*-- both individually and socially, at least in economic terms. Compared to an expansion of mutually beneficial trade in goods, services and capital, free movement of labor through immigration/emigration would result in far larger gains-- thus the title's reference to "trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk". As a thought experiment, imagine your "productivity" if you were transported to a less-developed country or someone in a less-developed country was transported here.

In National Review, Reihan Salam makes an interesting case for limiting immigration-- at least, within various types of labor-- as appropriate and ethical...for those who immigrate! Salam runs with the usual points about (modestly increased) labor market competition to say that we shouldn't invite so many low-skilled immigrants to compete with each other. This is a novel point, but again the effects are modest and the logic suffers from the "lump of labor fallacy".


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