Garett Jones responds to my intelligence post

[UPDATE: Check out Nathan’s related post Immigration and Institutions]

In my previous post on intelligence, international development, and immigration, I referenced some of the writings of Garett Jones. I sent an email to Jones asking him for his thoughts on the post, and he replied with the following email:

A very nice, thoughtful post. Thank you for giving my writings a careful reading. Much appreciated.

I’d have one critique of your claim, one that is common to many supporters of freer low-skill immigration.

You claim that institutions are important, something I agree with. And you claim that low IQ populations tend to have bad institutions, partly because of the low IQ population, again something I agree with.

But from there you conclude that low-IQ immigrants should be allowed to come to countries with good institutions. That might be reasonable as a moral case but I’m no expert on morality so I’ll leave that to others.

I would emphasize a different conclusion: That the low-IQ immigrants will tend to worsen the institutions of the higher-IQ countries they move to. Low IQ immigrants will, to some degree, tend to make the country they move to more like the country they came from.

Partly this will be due to MRV and Caplan/Miller reasons: low IQ groups vote for bad policies. Partly it’s because they will tend to elect individuals from their constituencies, which will, on average, tend to lower the average IQ of the legislature. And partly it’s because the bureaucracy will tend to hire individuals from low-skill groups, which will lower government quality.

For these and other reasons, new low IQ citizens impose a tax on the nation’s institutions, and this institutional cost should be counted in a candid cost-benefit analysis.

*Shorter version: Good institutions are rare treasures, and institutions are endogenous with respect to (among other things) citizen IQ. *
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Again, many thanks for drawing attention to my work, much appreciated.

I think Jones is correct, particularly for those aspects of institutions that are determined through electoral political processes (for more on the political externalities arguments made by restrictionists, see political externalities). I should have acknowledged more explicitly in my original post. This concern would have less applicability to market processes or to those aspects of the law that are deeply entrenched and less subject to political change. [UPDATE: Nathan Smith’s comment below reminded me that I should mention the following: even for those of you who consider the political externalities case to be serious, there are keyhole solutions to the problem such as guest worker programs that allow people to migrate to work but don’t given them voting rights. The focus of this post, however, is to consider the strength of the concern per se, not to propose remedies.]

I still stand by the key point of the original post, namely, that sustaining high quality institutions is a lot easier than creating high quality institutions, and even low IQ people would be able to discern that institutions in the country they migrate to are better than institutions in the country they migrated from, which would limit (but not eliminate) their desire to recreate the situation of their source country.

To make my point a little clearer, I’m arguing that it’s a lot harder to improve a country’s poor institutions by importing a lot of high IQ people than it is to sustain a country’s good institutions even allowing low IQ immigration (importing the institutions themselves might work — that’s the hope behind charter cities). In a sense, I’m arguing that institutions have their own inertia. This argument can be thought of as a version of status quo bias, and it has been made by Bryan Caplan in his digest version of the political externalities of open borders, where he writes (emphasis added by me):

2. The political effect of immigrants on markets and liberty is at worst modestly negative. The median American isn’t a libertarian, and the median immigrant isn’t a Stalinist. We’re talking about marginal disagreements between social democrats, nothing more. Immigrants’ low voter turnout and status quo bias further dilute immigrants’ negative political effect.

I’m actually arguing something slightly stronger: institutions have their own inertia, but good institutions have more inertia than poor institutions, even with low IQ populations, because people can see the results and tell the difference, at least when it’s sufficiently dramatic. They may misdiagnose the causes, and may even misjudge minor differences. But they’re unlikely to undo all the gains achieved through improved institutions.

In Jones’ language, my framing of his assertions that “institutions are endogenous to (among other things) a country’s IQ” would be that it is changes in institutions that are endogenous to a country’s IQ.

That said, I do agree with Jones that, viewed solely from the angle of the quality of institutions in the target country, immigration of low IQ people could have a negative impact, or, even if not a direct negative impact, an “opportunity cost” (i.e., institutions don’t improve as rapidly as they otherwise might).

33 thoughts on “Garett Jones responds to my intelligence post”

  1. Jones says that:

    “Partly this will be due to MRV and Caplan/Miller reasons: low IQ groups vote for bad policies. Partly it’s because they will tend to elect individuals from their constituencies, which will, on average, tend to lower the average IQ of the legislature. And partly it’s because the bureaucracy will tend to hire individuals from low-skill groups, which will lower government quality.”

    But this is an argument against permitting and enfranchising immigrants, not against open borders. It’s quite possible to allow anyone to come, but to have a quite different procedure for deciding who gets to vote. In Principles of a Free Society, I propose that immigrants under a new open-borders visa program be subject to surtaxes and mandatory savings for a while, and only be granted citizenship later, after forfeiting a fixed “citizenship threshold” of savings. It’s true that open borders without some arrangement of this sort changes the identity of the median voter in an unfavorable way. It’s even easier to maintain high hiring standards for the bureaucracy, which obviously doesn’t have to, and doesn’t, hire a representative cross-section of the resident population.

    Garett knows more about this than I do, but I wonder whether we really know that average IQ (or median) is what affects the quality of institutions. If I were to hypothesize that the maintenance of high-quality institutions depends mainly on the characteristics of an elite, and need not be much affected by adverse changes in the composition of the broad mass of the population, would the evidence that Garett has studied contradict me?

    1. Hi Nathan,

      Thanks for the comment about distinguishing between permitting and enfranchising immigrants. This is of course covered in the guest worker programs section on the site, and would be relevant if one were trying to solve the problem. My goal with the post was more to discuss the extent to which the problem exists, rather than propose solutions. But I’ve added a link to the guest worker programs page in the post now.

      Your comment about the existence of an “elite” is also interesting. In an email exchange two years ago, Jones suggested that existing research points to both average IQ and max IQ mattering but min IQ not mattering so much. I will forward the exchange to you by email; I haven’t asked Jones for permission to post it publicly so I won’t post it here.

    2. ” If I were to hypothesize that the maintenance of high-quality institutions depends mainly on the characteristics of an elite, and need not be much affected by adverse changes in the composition of the broad mass of the population, would the evidence that Garett has studied contradict me?”

      Yes, if we are just referring to the overall demographics of a country. Note that across countries, smart people earn higher incomes as the proportion of smart people rises, not the absolute total.

      Chinese-Singaporeans generate income almost twice as great in mostly Chinese Singapore as the large Chinese-Malaysian minority does in Malaysia (about $70,000 per annum vs about $38,000), even though there are less than 3 million Chinese in Singapore but almost 7 million in Malaysia. But the Chinese make up 75% of Singapore vs 25% of Malaysia.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Singaporean
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Singaporean#Economics
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysian_Chinese

      “Like in much of Southeast Asia, Malaysian Chinese are dominant in both the business and commerce sectors, controlling an estimated 70% of the Malaysian economy.[6] They are also one of the biggest taxpayers contributing to almost 90% of the national income tax and 60% of Malaysia’s national income.”

      There is a Chinese elite, but this isn’t enough to fix the institutions, which have to represent the general population. All this occurred in the context of strong legal discrimination in favor of Malay majority, racialized anti-business sentiment, and big gaps in political views between Chinese and non-Chinese Malaysians. Using the above statistics, if the Chinese-Malaysians could have done as well as Singapore by also seceding from Malaysia into Chinese-dominated countries, total GDP of the region would rise substantially just from letting the Chinese-Malaysians free of the Malaysian electorate, even if incomes back in Malaysia plummeted. But it gets even better: Singapore lets in millions of guest workers from non-Chinese Malaysia, among other places, who send back huge quantities of remittances. Singapore generates more innovations in science and technology with positive spillovers for the rest of the world.

      Basically, patterns like this seem to suggest that total GDP and welfare are much increased by international segregation by IQ and other characteristics contributing to productivity and performance, and that giving every country in the world demographics representative of the world would be devastating.

      “It’s even easier to maintain high hiring standards for the bureaucracy, which obviously doesn’t have to, and doesn’t, hire a representative cross-section of the resident population.”

      Er…bureaucracies and even private firms are required to hire representative cross-sections along several dimensions under affirmative actions and disparate impact standards. And institutions that are seen as unrepresentative take serious reputational penalties, while there are strong political pressures from subgroup activists for equal representation. This is true of the military, which is relevant for the risk of coups or civil wars, federal bureaucrats setting policy, teachers, PhD programs, science funding agencies, medical schools, law schools, university professors and researchers, and more.

      Or look at Malaysia, or India, or South Africa, or Canada, or Lebanon, or many other countries around the world. Such demands for representativeness are routine. I would recommend Amy Chua’s book World on Fire, which discusses the widespread tendency for backlash against market-dominant minorities, with harmful effects on aggregate welfare, when democratization breaks down old regimes which had previously protected unrepresentative elites:

      http://www.amazon.com/World-Fire-Exporting-Democracy-Instability/dp/0385503024

      1. BK, I’m aware of Amy Chua’s book, and though I haven’t read it in full, I have read parts of it. I might read it in full at some later point.

        The point I was making in my post was a little different from Nathan’s point that you critique. My point was about founder effects, path dependency, and status quo bias.

        The proportion-versus-raw-count debate is an interesting one. I think that the preliminary evidence points to *some* variant of a “smart fraction theory” — the fraction of workers above a certain level. Which seems to be roughly your point. If smart fraction theories are correct, though, then letting in an immigrant at the 40th percentile is about the same as letting in an immigrant at the 30th percentile. There are all sorts of complications with heritability and regression to the mean if you want to do a multi-generational analysis. I’ll talk more about this in the future.

        1. “My point was about founder effects, path dependency, and status quo bias.”

          I agree effects are lagging (although I wonder about the implied discount rate: eating the seed corn for future generations isn’t exactly an inspiring slogan). I’m more skeptical about the strength of founder effects and path dependency. The US Constitution as previously interpreted blocked the New Deal, but no constitutional amendment was required to get most of it through, just control of the judicial appointment process for a more years. Even rich countries like France have gone through multiple constitutions and governments in the last century, and it is routine around the world for constitutions to be replaced by electoral majority or revolution. Looking at many of the countries discussed in Chua’s book where democratization put a less economically high performing majority in control over market-dominant minorities institutional decay seems to have been pretty rapid, a matter of years or decades.

          Promises of price controls, confiscating wealth, protectionism, racial spoils systems, make-work jobs, war-mongering, corruption of central banks, nationalization, and similar things can take off quite quickly.

      2. Since you’re not American, are you from the region? I’m not sure how familiar you might be with Southeast Asia, but although the theory is interesting, as a Chinese Malaysian who has lived in Singapore and close family ties to the Philippines, I don’t find it extremely convincing. It might be right, but I don’t think the evidence is anywhere close to a smoking gun.

        I have not read Chua’s book, but I would be very wary of characterising Malaysia as starting out by according rights to the Chinese “market-dominant” minority and later taking them away. The British were always quite explicit in treating the Chinese and Indians as “migrants”, and although this was fine for the many who did in fact behave as “guest workers”, it rankled considerably the many Chinese and Indians who did decide to take up residence in Malaysia. The history of race in colonial Malaysia is generally of the British trying to reconcile their economic need for migrants with a policy goal of discouraging non-Malay immigration, and trying to put down agitation from non-Malay residents. Historians of race in Malaysia generally place significant blame on the British colonial government for introducing racial distinctions which had not existed previously (Chinese have lived in Malaysia for hundreds of years, and some even held positions of importance in Malay society prior to British rule). And as troubling as Malaysia’s racial policies are, I would rate their significance as more symbolic than concrete.

        It’s difficult to pin Singapore’s superior institutions on its being Chinese-dominated, when Chinese-dominated PRC is rife with corruption. I would say Singapore got very lucky, at least economically, by having British institutions to start with, and Lee Kuan Yew at the helm to preserve them. He was strong-willed enough, and pragmatic enough, to mould tiny Singapore in a way that could never have been the case for Malaysia, a country that is geographically larger and more diverse than the UK. (Culturally, one can split Malaysia not only on the lines of race, but also geographically — between West Malaysia and East Malaysia, and within West Malaysia, between urbanised Penang and Selangor and much more rural states.)

        Overall, let’s consider the implications of open borders for Malaysia and Singapore. The borders are actually quite open already, for most intents and purposes — it’s not hard for a Malaysian to live and work in Singapore. Malaysia’s immigration processes are mired in red tape so it may be harder for a Singaporean to get permanent residency in Malaysia, but in practice, if a Singaporean desired to live and work in Malaysia, it’s difficult to imagine things not working out. It’s quite clear in retrospect that separating the two polities was for the best (for those who might not be aware, historically Singapore has always been part of a Malaysian polity, except for a brief interlude post-WWII, and was a state in Malaysia from 1963 to 1965), but keeping the borders open has made life better for millions of people on both sides, as you say. It’s an argument for letting people live and work wherever they choose.

        The fact that Singapore is an extremely rich country with near-open borders with poorer Malaysia, and yet has not been swamped by Malaysian immigration, is ample evidence that the “political externalities” of open borders are over-rated. Many Malaysians live and work in Singapore (roughly half the Malaysian diaspora is there), and there has been little to no direct political impact from that. It’s taken for granted by everyone in both countries as a simple fact of life, and nobody has any problems with it. If Singapore discriminated strongly against Malaysians, it would be a different story, but if it discriminates at all, it does so so subtly that it’s not nearly enough to cause significant discontent. In other words, the solution for the US problem of “illegal” Hispanic immigration is for them to treat Hispanics the way Singapore treats Malaysians. Let them live and work in the US as long as they can find a job.

        The economic impacts of letting people work legally would be vastly positive, and likely wouldn’t attract significantly more migration than currently exists between, say, Mexico and the US. As I’m sure you know, in terms of PPP GDP per capita, the disparity between Singapore and Malaysia is slightly greater than the disparity between the US and Mexico!

        (There are of course very good arguments for distinguishing the Singapore-Malaysia case from the US-Mexico case. The point I’m trying to make is that the restrictionist case is hardly a slam-dunk either. In my view, most concerns about a country being politically or economically swamped by migration have more to do with conjecture than solid empirics.)

        A real interesting thought experiment would be, what if Singapore opened its borders to Thais, Indonesians, and/or Filipinos? In some sense, it already does, but it’s still harder for these people to work in Singapore compared to Malaysians, and they have much fewer rights beyond the right to work. I think Singapore could liberalise its policies here somewhat without significant loss — and in any case, its policies towards these workers already are much more liberal than those in most countries of the world.

        I’ve already written a lot on this topic, so I’ll try and write up some proper blog posts about these ideas in the future. Thanks for the food for thought, keep the comments coming.

        1. I agree that LKY and the British system deserve some of the probabilistic credit, but there is a striking pattern across Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, post-Mao PRC, and the Chinese diaspora around the world. The fact that Mao could take power in preindustrial China by force exploiting support from the Soviet Union and the effects of Japanese invasion certainly counts against, but we could also look to West and East Germany, North and South Korea, North and South Vietnam.

          “but I would be very wary of characterising Malaysia as starting out by according rights to the Chinese “market-dominant” minority and later taking them away.”
          I may have given an inaccurately narrow impression of the scope of the book by mentioning that element (which I intended more to discuss cases of a region with a former market-dominant majority receiving a new electoral majority of low-skill migrants, as might happen to rich countries implementing open borders with political rights, not to describe the case in Malaysia). She covers and is especially interested in cases thus described due to their association with violence and sudden change, but also covers economically laden ethnic tensions and economic performance differences more widely. I don’t think she misrepresents the history of Malaysia in the way you suggest.

          “Historians of race in Malaysia generally place significant blame on the British colonial government for introducing racial distinctions ”

          There are many different reasons offered for conflict between market-dominant minorities (or majorities) and their counterparts in many different regions, but there is a very strong if not absolute tendency for some reasons to develop, e.g. Chinese diaspora treatment in Indonesia or Africa has not been good. In many cases blaming now-gone colonial powers is a very attractive story to tell: it fits with political predispositions of Western historians, and it helps to support racial harmony in the formerly colonized regions by blaming racial conflict on outsiders rather than one another. Factors such as religious differences, or the favoring of minorities as clients of dictators, exacerbate tensions while their absence helps to calm. I do recommend Chua’s book on these points.

          “Overall, let’s consider the implications of open borders for Malaysia and Singapore. The borders are actually quite open already, for most intents and purposes — it’s not hard for a Malaysian to live and work in Singapore.”

          But not for low-skill workers with work permits, but not the higher-end employment passes, to become citizens, no?

          All my arguments above are about political integration, or schemes with a sizable risk of moving down a slippery slope to political integration. Indeed, I praised and praise Singaporean openness to non-voting foreign workers, and citizenship for skilled workers. My point is that it would likely have been terrible by comparison if Singapore had remained politically part of Malaysia, losing its policy autonomy without drastically changing the internal politics of Malaysia.

          “In other words, the solution for the US problem of “illegal” Hispanic immigration is for them to treat Hispanics the way Singapore treats Malaysians.”

          That would be a clear win, if it could be done stably. However, unlike Singapore, the current political situation in the US seems very close to blanket legalization and citizenship followed by mass family sponsorship. There have been several attempts at this in the last few years, and likely another in Obama’s second term (just as Bush II proposed one in his second term). A system like Singapore’s or the Red Card scheme does not seem to be the default, or first-line approach for “comprehensive immigration reform.”

          Singapore (particularly its elites, but also the people to a meaningful degree) is hard-headed and local-inequality-tolerant enough to accept large numbers of poorer guest workers with fewer benefits and to enforce the “leave if one can no longer find employment or would be a burden on the public fisc” part. The US presently has a lot of difficulty with that.

          1. BK,

            Though I haven’t read Chua’s book, the ideas you describe don’t seem surprising to me; they’re quite intuitive, from my experience as a Malaysian, even if they might not fit all the historical facts in the specific Malaysian case. The difficulty I have with applying the lessons from here to the question of immigration is that I think sudden changes in political governance like those unleashed by decolonisation or the toppling of dictatorships are not immediately obvious analogues to immigration.

            I think we are actually extremely close on our positions re political rights for immigrants. I have a minor problem with how Singaporean policy is to segregate working-class immigrants altogether (e.g. requiring non-Malaysian low-skilled workers to be housed in segregated areas, and refusing to provide any path, however tenuous, for working class immigrants to assimilate into Singaporean society), and I don’t think it is terribly feasible in polities larger than a city-state. Germany tried this with Turkish immigrants and wound up having to grant amnesties of one kind or another when entire generations of Turkish-Germans spent their whole lives living in Germany without German citizenship.

            My preferred immigration policy as far as political rights goes is to provide a path to citizenship. It shouldn’t be guaranteed, and it can be arduous, but the important thing is to allow everyone who might want to assimilate and integrate, to do so. It just doesn’t seem feasible to let people to immigrate for economic reasons on the assumption that all of them won’t mind going home some day — there will always be some people who find life more amenable in their destination and decide to settle there. You can impose strict residence requirements, or limit citizenship to the next generation, but it hardly seems just to bar people from living in a country or acquiring citizenship in perpetuity just because they are descended from working-class immigrants.

            With respect to the US in particular, I think the sensible policy would be to combine aspects of pro-immigration forces’ desired policies (e.g. amnesty) with the Red Card programme. It’s simply not feasible to declare that all who have ever immigrated unlawfully can never be residents or citizens, when many of them have long lived in the US, or who immigrated when they were so young that their national identity has ever been American. Some kind of amnesty is all but forgone as part of a comprehensive US policy reform. I say “some kind” because “voting rights for all unauthorised immigrants” is not the only possible amnesty. One could, for instance, bar all people who have ever immigrated unlawfully past the age of 18 from attaining citizenship, but grant them green cards.

            And that doesn’t mean the only imaginable outcome is amnesty + looser citizenship requirements for future immigrants. My impression from the rhetoric of pro-immigration rights’ activists is that they don’t place a high priority on giving voting rights to any old person who crosses the border. Amnesty + Red Cards is an equally plausible political solution.

            1. John, I must disagree here a bit on what immigrant rights groups want. The Immigration Policy Center wrote a stinging piece on Red Cards. Note that Red Cards did not include amnesty, but did not forbid amnesty either: it was simply dealing with freedom to move and work, and explicitly stayed away from the issue of paths to citizenship. That the IPC opposed this plan virulently tells us something about their attitude.

              Even if you support a path to citizenship, that is no reason to oppose a bill that improves the freedom of migration while leaving the path to citizenship at the status quo.

              I’ve said more about IPC and other immigrant rights groups in the blog post Are immigrant rights activists friends of open borders?

          2. John,

            “I have a minor problem with how Singaporean policy is to segregate working-class immigrants altogether (e.g. requiring non-Malaysian low-skilled workers to be housed in segregated areas,”

            My sense is that this isolation from migrant neighborhood externalities is related to the comparatively low levels of grumbling on the part of Singaporeans about the number of foreign workers, and thus the high number present. What would be the largest cut in the number of migrants accepted you would be willing to trade for changing the housing policy?

            “and refusing to provide any path, however tenuous, for working class immigrants to assimilate into Singaporean society)”

            If even a tenuous route is sufficient, one could used saved earnings to get an education and come in as foreign talent or marry a Singaporean, no? It seems to me that the citizenship restriction is the most critical feature in making Singaporean institutions stable while accommodating so many low-skill workers to mutual benefit.

            “Germany tried this with Turkish immigrants and wound up having to grant amnesties of one kind or another when entire generations of Turkish-Germans spent their whole lives living in Germany without German citizenship…I don’t think it is terribly feasible in polities larger than a city-state”

            Germany didn’t use an efficient national ID system, didn’t require a share of workers’ earnings to be held in accounts that could only be claimed upon departure, didn’t prevent foreign workers from having kids in Germany (that Germany would then be responsible for), and lacked the political will to deport those who defied the system or penalize employers who did so..

            Singapore does all those things, and is able to bring in millions of people for profitable commercial interactions, with migrants numbering on the same scale as the native population. If Germany or the United States did those things they would also be able to operate enormous scale foreign worker programs, this time to the benefit of hundreds of millions of foreign low-skill workers. I don’t see how country size is important at all.

            “but it hardly seems just to bar people from living in a country or acquiring citizenship in perpetuity just because they are descended from working-class immigrants.”

            Surely descent wouldn’t be a bar to qualifying as a high-skill immigrant oneself? “Finish that math or engineering degree, pass a test of knowledge, and you too can become an American!”

  2. There is a phrase attributed to Antonio Gramsci which is apt here, I think: “the long march through the institutions”. It meant that instead of violent revolution, the West would become socialist by convincing Western minds — which would be achieved by infiltrating the institutions. Gramsci wrote in the thirties and by 1960 the Soviet Union had the following goals written down, in relation to American institutions:

    – overload the Welfare System (to cause a crisis);
    – obtain “peace through disarmament”;
    – make America give foreign aid to its own enemies;
    – make America support the UN;
    – put Leftist judges on the Supreme Court;
    – present homosexuality as normal;
    – place Leftist professors in the universities;
    – allow the media to be infiltrated;
    – promote pornography;
    – prevent children from saying grace in schools;
    – promote gun control;
    – use radical environmentalism to destroy US industry;
    – distort Biblical Christianity.

    This was all layed out by the Soviets in the early ’60s and they have done marvelously well.

    There is no “inertia” when there are agents working behind the scenes to undermine American institutions.

    1. From where do you get this list, Artur? Much of it resembles items from Cleon Skousen’s book “The Naked Communist,” and while I haven’t read the book, I have my doubts that Skousen was a reliable authority on the Soviets’ secret written goals.

  3. Vipul,

    “John, I must disagree here a bit on what immigrant rights groups want. The Immigration Policy Center wrote a stinging piece on Red Cards. Note that Red Cards did not include amnesty, but did not forbid amnesty either: it was simply dealing with freedom to move and work, and explicitly stayed away from the issue of paths to citizenship. That the IPC opposed this plan virulently tells us something about their attitude.”

    Actually the IPC piece you link to suggests that they would be amenable to Red Cards + some amnesty. Their main concern, it sounds like, is that Red Cards are being used as a political figleaf to avoid any amnesty (which, it sounds, is something that BK would find desirable). I never said that Red Cards would be a desired policy of groups like the IPC; like you, I think they are quite lukewarm, at best, on true open borders.

    My point is that since moderate restrictionists are actually amenable to Red Cards, and immigrants’ rights activists want some kind of amnesty, it’s logical that both oppose what the other desires, and also plausible that both sides can compromise a bit on what they want to get to a solution that we, the open borders advocates, would find acceptable.

    “Even if you support a path to citizenship, that is no reason to oppose a bill that improves the freedom of migration while leaving the path to citizenship at the status quo.”

    Completely agree. I think, however, that the problem is that there is no path to citizenship at all for most who have previously immigrated unlawfully to the US, even if they have lived there a long time. And even those who might have an arduous path to legal residence face considerable uncertainty in doing so; see this article on Obama’s “amnesty” for instance, which points out few are taking advantage of it because the uncertainty and risk surrounding the decision to pursue amnesty are just too high: http://www.vcstar.com/news/2012/oct/30/navarrette-immigrants-dream-disappears/?opinion=1

    For people already living in the US, it’s understandable that living life nearly like a Jew hiding from the Nazis would make them want to prioritise some kind of amnesty over Red Cards — especially if they fear that the public’s or policymakers’ attention-span for immigration is limited. If we can only get the US government to change one thing about its immigration policy, and the choice is between implementing Red Cards or amnesty for unauthorised immigrants, it’s a very tough call to make. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I can see why immigrants’ rights groups would be concerned.

    1. If pro-amnesty groups and pro-Red Card groups are both halfway between open borders advocates and restrictionists along different dimensions, they could compromise in one of two ways: compromise to the restrictionist position, or compromise to the open borders position. It seems that in practice, both groups prefer to compromise toward the restrictionist position. This may be more a feature of status quo bias and political gridlock. But I think more fundamentally it is because of the priorities of both these half-way-point groups.

      I have a blog post I plan to publish soon that goes into the typology in more detail — check in an hour or so. [UPDATE: It’s here]

      1. “It seems that in practice, both groups prefer to compromise toward the restrictionist position. This may be more a feature of status quo bias and political gridlock. But I think more fundamentally it is because of the priorities of both these half-way-point groups.”

        I agree with your analysis. I wouldn’t chalk *all* of their resistance up to those nativist priorities, however, even if those priorities are the main reason. As I’ve hinted, I believe status quo bias and political gridlock play a role too. There are undoubtedly restrictionists who haven’t thought about an open borders keyhole solution-style compromise because of status quo bias or reluctance to contemplate political compromise — just as there are immigrants’ rights groups in the same boat. I’m confident there are some people in both groups who, on reflection, would be persuaded by a keyhole solution approach, even if these people don’t constitute a majority of them.

  4. BK,

    “My sense is that this isolation from migrant neighborhood externalities is related to the comparatively low levels of grumbling on the part of Singaporeans about the number of foreign workers, and thus the high number present. What would be the largest cut in the number of migrants accepted you would be willing to trade for changing the housing policy?”

    I think the costs of such a policy for a country like Singapore are low. It’s a city-state with a unique bureaucracy. Such a housing policy at the national level would be totally unrealistic in larger countries. I also don’t know how much I believe this policy has been actually beneficial in terms of social cohesion. Singapore does all sorts of funky things with its housing policy (e.g. trying to ensure a racially diverse population in its HDB flats — if there’s been an immediate benefit from this, it’s not obvious). It’s not clear to me that this policy is effective (immigrants still interact with society at large, even if they don’t live in Singaporeans’ immediate vicinity), or even if it were, that it would be effective in a country larger than a city-state.

    “If even a tenuous route is sufficient, one could used saved earnings to get an education and come in as foreign talent or marry a Singaporean, no?”

    Anecdotal evidence indicates even foreign nationals from developed countries who marry Singaporeans have significant difficulty getting residency in Singapore. And by law, blue collar workers require Singapore’s government’s permission to marry a Singaporean citizen. It’s not plausible to me that a Thai construction worker who, against the odds, falls in love with and marries a Singaporean woman and decides to settle in Singapore, would actually be able to do so. I also don’t think being a white-collar worker should be a prerequisite for citizenship, so making citizenship available to foreign talent, while a good idea, is not sufficient without some mechanism for blue-collar workers who do decide to make their destination their new home.

    To be clear, I’m not sure if changing these citizenship policies would make a difference for Singapore because of how unique it is. It’s implausible that a lot of people in the world would want to permanently settle in Singapore, especially blue-collar workers, so although I’m sure Singapore’s policies harm some people, they don’t harm many. The policies of a larger country, like Australia for instance, are where things like this can make a meaningful difference.

    “It seems to me that the citizenship restriction is the most critical feature in making Singaporean institutions stable while accommodating so many low-skill workers to mutual benefit.”

    Well, yes, I agree citizenship is probably not something a state should be handing out to every Tom, Dick, and Harry. That doesn’t mean the only choices are “no citizenship for blue-collar workers” and “everyone who immigrates here gets to become a citizen”. Again, in Singapore’s case, the former extreme is both more enforceable and less harmful because it’s a tiny city-state and it’s difficult to settle more people in there, especially blue-collar workers. That doesn’t mean this policy is ideal, or workable in larger countries. A policy like “all guest workers who have been resident continuously for 10 years can apply for permanent residency” doesn’t seem, prima facie, to be a bad one to me. If someone likes your country enough to live there for 10 years, they probably like your society enough to want to assimilate to it.

    “If Germany or the United States did those things they would also be able to operate enormous scale foreign worker programs, this time to the benefit of hundreds of millions of foreign low-skill workers. I don’t see how country size is important at all.”

    Country size is relevant to the question of naturalisation/settlement policy because:

    1. A city can enforce much more paternalist policies (e.g. Bloomberg’s banning large soft drink cups, Singapore’s requiring government approval for marriages between blue-collar immigrants and Singaporean nationals) than most national governments;
    2. Blue-collar workers are going to find it less realistic to settle permanently in a city-state than in other countries, which feature much more pockets of diversity (it wouldn’t be realistic for many Thais or Indonesians to settle in Singapore, but it would actually be pretty realistic for them to do this in Malaysia, or even the Philippines, because there are more economic and cultural niches they can fill there)

    “Surely descent wouldn’t be a bar to qualifying as a high-skill immigrant oneself? “Finish that math or engineering degree, pass a test of knowledge, and you too can become an American!””

    This doesn’t pass my personal sniff test of justice, because this requirement is being applied only to people unlucky enough to have not been born American citizens. If every person who wanted to be American, including those born to American citizens, had to meet these qualifications, I would find it odd, but much more defensible.

    One important mechanism of immigration is that it benefits not just the migrant, but in the case of the migrant who settles, the migrant’s children. I think Nathan may have made this point elsewhere already, but blue-collar workers can and do have children capable of much more intellectually-demanding work. Many times, people make the decision to settle somewhere new for their children’s benefit (in fact, this is what drove most of my family’s decisions to move somewhere new).

    If we keep out the Indian labourer because he’s not smart enough to settle in our country, we’re also keeping out his son or daughter who could be the next Bose or Ramanujan. Given the state of the education system in most developing countries, it’s quite plausible that Bose or Ramanujan Jr. will never see their talents develop beyond, say, primary school level. Few people are opposed in principle to immigration for tertiary education — but the same principles underlying that seem to me just as applicable to parents who want to give their children a better primary or secondary education.

    1. To expand on my last point about equity in the granting of citizenship, I recognise that at some point countries have to differentiate between birthright citizens (whether by jus soli or jus sanguinis) and naturalised citizens. But requiring a very specialised test of knowledge such as a STEM degree strikes me as going too far; it’s obviously designed to prevent all but above-average IQ people from ever attaining citizenship.

      I don’t think most people would define their nationality or citizenship by a level of IQ. These things are defined by shared values, ideas, experiences. To me, a test of residency or cultural assimilation makes much more sense for naturalisation requirements. A STEM degree, on the other hand, does not seem prima facie justifiable.

    2. “1. A city can enforce much more paternalist policies (e.g. Bloomberg’s banning large soft drink cups, Singapore’s requiring government approval for marriages between blue-collar immigrants and Singaporean nationals) than most national governments;”

      I don’t understand this point, and I don’t have a sense of any such empirical trend. National governments have lots of paternalist policies, and other small states aren’t obviously more paternalist than their neighbors: consider New Zealand, San Marino, Andorra, Iceland, Hong Kong, Malta…

      “Blue-collar workers are going to find it less realistic to settle permanently in a city-state than in other countries, which feature much more pockets of diversity”

      Do you think Singapore would be unable to enforce its policies if there were more such sites? My sense is that it would still do fine. Holding earnings in accounts for departure is a pretty good incentive, and the logistics of deportation and employer enforcement are not that forbidding for a country willing to use them like Singapore.

      Along the lines of your suggestion, however, uniformly expensive Singaporean land/housing does surely have a repulsive effect on migrants (as local exclusive housing and environmental policies in the US do the same).

      1. “I don’t understand this point, and I don’t have a sense of any such empirical trend. National governments have lots of paternalist policies, and other small states aren’t obviously more paternalist than their neighbors: consider New Zealand, San Marino, Andorra, Iceland, Hong Kong, Malta…”

        I think the operative word in my sentence was *can*; I didn’t say small countries *must* necessarily *do* such things. If the national government of Iceland wanted to adopt Singaporean-style paternalist policies, it would be much more feasible for them to do it (good luck getting say, the French government to successfully enforce a law requiring government approval for all marriages to blue-collar immigrants). Large countries can pretend they are capable of enforcing paternalist policies, but I have yet to see a large democratic country where the force of will of the national government alone was the prime mover in preventing or creating immense social change. To be successful, paternalist policies in democracies rely on local enforcement (whether by local authorities, local culture, or both) — in fact, this is largely why US immigration policy has failed to keep out “illegals”, because it’s patently unenforceable.

        “Do you think Singapore would be unable to enforce its policies if there were more such sites?”

        If Singapore were to suddenly govern the territory of Malaysia as well, let’s say (and I think not a few Malaysians and Singaporeans have contemplated this scenario), I certainly don’t think its policies as they are presently constituted would be enforceable. Malaysia has large populations of migrant workers from the rest of Southeast Asia, and it has native populations which are culturally close to other parts of Southeast Asia (e.g. northern Malaysians are quite close to Southern Thais, and Indonesians from Sumatra quite easily pass as Malays). Enforcing the current Singaporean restrictions on mingling between migrant workers and the native population would be impossible.

        Beyond cultural policies, simply enforcing deportation would be a larger challenge because it’s much likelier that an Indonesian from Sumatra or a Thai from the south of Thailand can find a community in Malaysia that would accept them and which they would like to settle in. Without local consent, enforcing deportations against these migrants would not be practical without an unrealistic expansion of the state (by unrealistic, I mean creating a literal East German-style police state). Beyond that, it’s not clear to me why it would be desirable to deport someone who is willing to embrace local norms in order to settle in the country. (The reason I think Singapore’s policy works is because few blue-collar migrants would be willing to embrace local norms in order to settle. This has been accomplished partly by operation of a cultural policy that would be difficult to implement on a very large scale, and partly by the simple economics of a city-state. If you actually had many blue-collar migrants in Singapore who decided to make it their home and adopt local norms, but couldn’t find a legal way to stay, it would be a different story.)

        In short, I think Singapore’s policy has been successful because in a small state, you can prevent foreigners from mingling with natives, and thereby prevent them from latching on to local culture (or vice-versa). It’s also much more difficult for manual labourers to find a permanent economic niche in a very service-sector-oriented city. Implementing this policy in a state the size of, say, Malaysia would be much more challenging because your geographically larger and culturally diverse country would present many more economic and cultural niches for manual labourers, and once these people latch on to a community that accepts them economically and culturally, it will be difficult as a practical matter to dislodge them by simple force of law.

        To be clear, I don’t think this means lessons from Singaporean policy should be discarded altogether. I do think it’s inappropriate to conclude from the Singaporean case that, say, banning marriages between blue-collar immigrants and locals without express government approval would be a feasible policy, if only national governments had the will to enforce this. You can accomplish the goals of Singaporean policy without such blunt instruments, and in any case, the goals of most countries will differ somewhat from Singapore’s. The choice is not limited to “citizenship for anyone who fills out a form” or “citizenship only for STEM degree holders” — there are points in between these two extremes, and it’s not obvious to me why “citizenship for those who show a clear commitment to adopting local norms” would be a problematic policy.

        1. Would you agree with this as a paraphrase of your view?

          ‘Large countries have more local governments and communities. Even if the large country has the same overall ratios of political attitudes, ethnicities, etc, as the small country, the large country has more variance. Because of that variance there will be places that are outliers in openness to migration or other behaviors, and if the activities are mobile they will cluster in those outlier regions.’

          “Malaysia would be much more challenging because your geographically larger and culturally diverse country”

          Singapore is also fairly diverse though, albeit with different proportions. If Malaysia’s land area had the same population mix as Singapore, scaled up, I don’t see how cultural diversity as such would be an issue at the margin.

  5. A couple points:

    1. On a micro level low IQ people are more productive in higher IQ societies because they are being supervised by higher IQ people. As more low IQ people join a society there are proportionally fewer higher IQ people to go round and provide the necessary level of supervision. This applies to both to working private business, and to society in general, where the supervisors include police, court officials, bureaucrats etc.

    2. RE: “people can see the results and tell the difference, at least when it’s sufficiently dramatic”

    Doesn’t Caplan’s work on democracy completely contradict this? The people at large have no idea what makes for good institutions.

    1. On 2, no, Caplan’s work does not contradict this. Caplan’s work is about whether people can successfully identify linkages from politicians’ platforms and policies to their effects on the economy, not about whether they can make out whether one economy is more prosperous than the other. Further, the “rational irrationality” mechanism identified by Caplan is likely most applicable in situations such as voting, where the probability of influencing the outcome is so low that the cost of cognitive error is near-zero.

      What I’m saying is that immigrants will not have a particular desire to re-create the conditions of their homeland which is clearly less prosperous. That said, they may be likely to favor some policies at the margin that are similar to those in their homeland, but that they don’t link to the failure of their homeland. However, in this respect, they are not too different from economically illiterate natives. The point here is that just because a certain policy is used in the home country of the immigrant, does not mean they are more likely to support that bad policy. Some of them may actually oppose the policy more because of their experience living its consequences, others may support it because it feels familiar, but my guess is these effects even out.

      [Some empirical ways to test this prediction might be to look at specific policies, like universal health care, price ceilings, price floors, etc. and see if a migrant’s source country predicts the migrant’s view on these issues, further to check if the relationship holds after controlling for other indicators]

      Setting aside the immigration issue for a moment, in cases that politicians have implemented populist and highly disastrous policies like price controls, the backlash has been quite overwhelming. Even if the public failed to connect the dots from price controls to shortages, their greater dislike of shortages compared to their desire for price controls means that politicians have an incentive to ignore voters’ demand for price controls.

  6. “sustaining high quality institutions is a lot easier than creating high quality institutions”

    Assuming this is a robust tendency, at best it gets you to the place where we should have somewhat more immigration. Since more low IQ immigration will degrade institutions, however slightly, and you can’t keep that up forever. Even with institutional inertia, eventually you will reach a point where they _will_ degrade until they are not much better than the home country of the low IQ immigrants.

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