Pure versus applied racialism among restrictionists

Post by Vipul Naik (regular blogger and site founder, launched site and started blogging March 2012). See:

Immigration restrictionists draw upon a diverse collection of arguments against immigration. While some restrictionist arguments stress the number of immigrants, others outline concerns about the characteristics of immigrants (more here). The characteristics-based arguments include IQ deficit, dysfunctional immigrant culture, and skills mismatch. There are other arguments that stress the harms of hetereogeneity per se.

One type of reasoning used in characteristics-based arguments, that has historically been the subject of much controversy, is racialist reasoning. [The topic of race seems to draw strong moral reactions, including accusations of racism and unhelpful stereotypes. I’ll try my best to avoid moralism on the issue in this blog post, though it may not be hard to see where I stand.]

“Racialist” arguments, per my understanding, are arguments that use race as a fundamental unit of analysis in the study of social phenomena, and typically do so in a manner that treats race as something more than a “social construct” but rather as something that has a biological and/or internal cultural component. This is a broad brush definition that may not fit all cases, but it’s a good start. For many people, racialism is the same as racism, while others argue that racism is much narrower than racialism, and it’s possible to be racialist without being racist.

I want to add to this understanding of racialism by distinguishing two types of racialism: pure racialism, where race is treated as a morally salient end in itself, and applied racialism, where race is only used as a proxy, or statistical predictor, of other phenomena. In the context of immigration restrictionism, a pure racialist argument may say, “Immigrants are of the wrong/bad/other race, therefore we should close our borders.” An applied racialist argument may say, “Immigrants are of this race, and we know that this race, statistically, has a lower average IQ or higher crime rate or votes the wrong way or is a drain on the welfare state. Therefore, we should close our borders.”

A small but not insignificant fraction of restrictionist groups and websites employ racialist arguments against immigration. Foremost among these is VDARE, which is focused on making the case against immigration to the US, and uses racialist reasoning, along with many other forms of reasoning, to argue against immigration. The American Renaissance website is focused on racialism and also advocates for immigration restrictions. There are many other websites that use racialist arguments against immigration. Alternative Right is one such website.

In so far as these arguments are applied racialist arguments, they can be addressed more directly by considering both the empirical evidence for the actual harms claimed, as well as keyhole solutions that tackle those harms. Continue reading “Pure versus applied racialism among restrictionists” »

Response on Charter Cities and Extraterritoriality

This post is a response to Tyler Cowen’s recent post on the topic of charter cities and extraterritoriality, prompted by the recent charter city experiment in Honduras (more background on immigration and charter cities here). Cowen is sympathetic to the idea of charter cities, but he has some concerns. Cowen:

It would be a mistake to equate charter cities with extraterritoriality.  For one thing, a charter city has its own laws and governance, possibly enforced by overseas courts, rather than imposing foreign courts upon domestic governance, a’la Shanghai through the early 20th century.  Still, the history of extraterritoriality gives us some sense of what it looks like to have foreign courts operating outside their usual domestic environment.

The problem with extraterritoriality, as I read the literature, is not the Chinese courts had a superior system of commercial or criminal law which was tragically pushed out by inferior Western ideas.  The problem was that the foreign courts were not supported by comparably strong domestic interest groups and there was a clash between the foreign courts, national symbols, fairness perceptions, domestic rents and the like, all in a manner which led to eventual talk of foreign devils and violent overreaction against the influence of outsiders.

The history of extraterritoriality focuses one’s attention on the question of who has an incentive to support the external system of law, when such a system is transplanted abroad.  This question does seem relevant to charter cities and related concepts.

Hong Kong worked because the UK and USA were able to exert enough control at a distance, at least for a long while, and because China was weak.

One vision is that a charter city works because a dominant hegemon — perhaps at a distance — supports the external system of law.

A second vision is that a charter city works because the external system of law serves up some new and especially tasty rents to domestic interest groups.  In the meantime, avoid Tongans.

A related question is what it means for the external legal system to be “invited” in, and how much such an invitation constitutes prima facie evidence of real domestic support.

I would like to see these topics receive more discussion.

Happy to oblige! Continue reading “Response on Charter Cities and Extraterritoriality” »

Statistical discrimination: a perverse incentive for high-skilled immigrants to oppose low-skilled immigration from their homeland

There are many reasons for high-skilled immigrants to support immigration (high-skilled and low-skilled) from their homelands. Loyalty to their fellow homelanders, and a greater interest in the welfare of these, might be a good start. However, there are plenty of selfish reasons as well. More immigration from their homeland would likely mean more people who share the same language and culture, making it possible to gossip in the home language or participate in cultural traditions. It increases the likelihood of the availability of homeland-specific cuisine, and lowers the price of such cuisine. Homeland-specific connections might make it easier to get introductions on jobs or find people to bond with in new and unfamiliar situations.

Armed with knowledge of statistical discrimination (see here and here for starters, or here for a more sophisticated discussion) I came to see that there is a perverse incentive in the opposite direction. Namely, immigrants, like many other people, are often judged statistically based on the average qualities of their “group” which in many cases is all people from their homeland. What this means is that if the average skill level of immigrants from their homeland drops, the immigrant is less likely to be judged as skilled, particularly by strangers. Thus, high-skilled immigrants have a reason to oppose low-skilled immigration from their homeland for the simple reason that it would pull the average down. It’s unclear to me whether this disincentive to support low-skilled immigration would cancel out the pluses.

To make the statistical discrimination analogy clear, consider immigration from Mexico and India to the United States. On average, Mexicans are more, not less, skilled than Indians. However, the stereotype in the US for immigrants from Mexico is that of lower skilled immigrants, whereas Indians are stereotyped as brainy high skilled workers (see here for an anecdotal answer comparing a person’s experience of Indians in the United States versus Indians in India). Why? The reason is that immigration from India is far more selective, with very little illegal immigration, and a much narrower fraction being selected from a considerably larger population. In the case of Mexico, considerable illegal immigration, much of it low-skilled, skews the average skill level downward.

Based on my limited knowledge, I am not aware of any empirical evidence that supports high-skilled immigrants specifically opposing low-skilled immigration from their homelands (as opposed to opposing low-skilled immigration in general). I’m not even sure if this issue has been researched. If, as an empirical matter, they do not, then that probably means that the positive effects far outweigh any worries regarding statistical discrimination.

Honduras’s Great Experiment

There’s been a bit of content at this site previously about charter cities. See my posts “Open Borders and Derrida’s Cities of Refuge” and “Hong Kong: City of Immigrants,” as well as this page, with a Bryan Caplan video and several more links. Here’s Bryan Caplan’s open letter to the Gates Foundation on the topic. It also links to this brilliant Michael Strong post, “Gated Communities and Nation States: The Cartel Responsible for Global Poverty.” The same blog (different writer) links to this Guardian article about the project in Honduras. I had heard about this project before, but I thought they were of limited relevance, because I didn’t realize that:

The “model cities” will have their own judiciary, laws, governments and police forces. They also will be empowered to sign international agreements on trade and investment and set their own immigration policy. (my emphasis)

Well, now, that makes things even more interesting. Or shall we say, more relevant, closer to my thinking. Three cheers! Sure, it’s risky, it’s a long shot– but very worthwhile! We should all wish it the utmost success. And while there are plenty of failure scenarios, what’s really striking is that some of the success scenarios are really big success scenarios, and they’re remarkably plausible. As Paul Romer… but let me stop a moment and introduce Paul Romer, because he’s a big player in all this. Here’s Paul Romer in a recent interview. Romer is one of the leading thinkers, possibly the leading thinker, on economic development in the world. His academic work elucidated the way technological innovation adds new non-rival ideas to the endowment of mankind, thus driving long-run economic growth, since ideas accumulate. For the past few years, Romer has been championing the idea of charter cities. The idea of charter cities isn’t, as I see it, directly related to Romer’s distinctive contributions to growth. Romer is, in effect, deferring to the institutionalists here, and attributing development mainly to laws, norms, and social infrastructure. He wants to export good institutions.

Immigration policy is the key. Social infrastructure depends on, among other things, having the right people. One needs complex networks of specialization, and it’s unlikely that all the people to fill those niches are now living in Honduras. But if you can let people come in from all over the world, you have huge networks of people to draw on, and you should be able to thrive. Of course, just because you’re able to let them in, doesn’t mean they’ll want to come, even if– a big if– you can offer them good money. There are a lot of local non-tradable or public goods that will be hard to reproduce in a new city being built from scratch, and the absence of which will deter people from coming. Still, the world has a very large population, and even if a lot of them don’t want to move, and many more don’t like Honduras’s climate, and others aren’t adventurous enough to go to such a novel and experimental kind of place, you can probably still find a lot of people willing to come. In many parts of the world there are people that Amy Chua, in her book World on Fire, called “market-dominant minorities.” When I was working for the World Bank in Africa, I saw this phenomenon vividly. Every business in the city operating out of a proper building was run by some kind of foreigner. There were four main groups: Europeans, Chinese, Indians, and Arabs. People from civilizations, as V.S. Naipaul puts it in his book A Bend in the River. Of course, some of these minorities had lived in Africa for two or three generations, so in a sense they could have called themselves “natives,” but they were not at all assimilated to the black Africans they lived among. They didn’t want to be, mostly, but probably couldn’t have even if they tried. The government, meanwhile, was run by black Africans. The market-dominant minorities lived fairly well, at levels comparable to Westerners, albeit with a very different mix of consumption goods. They couldn’t go down the street to the hardward store and buy something they needed: they had to know how make it themselves. On the other hand, they could hire as much labor as they liked for next to nothing, and land was cheap, too. Now, I think it would be easy for a charter city to attract these kinds of people. They know the value of good laws, and they know the nuts-and-bolts of how to get from primitive point A to developed point B. Later on, you could attract Western do-gooders, NGO types, out-of-work academics, and a variety of talented people who fall through the cracks of the global visa regime. You might get Romeo-and-Juliet types, tragically separated by visa regimes, willing to try an adventure in a new place to be together. Maybe you could be a magnet for deportees from the United States. Clever Indians might come too. Missionaries. Dissidents. One can’t really predict it exactly: the idea is too new. And there’s a hugely important expectations game here: early arrivals would be banking on success. There are “multiple equilibria” here, with a vengeance. People like to be around other people, and that gives the whole game an all-or-nothing dynamic. But it could work.

Let me adopt the mode of giving advice to Michael Strong, or whoever the decision-maker is, maybe the first governor of one of the privately-run cities. Even I wouldn’t be so bold as to advocate immediate open borders, or even open-borders-with-migration-taxes. I advocate that for the United States because the US has huge reserves of stability and could manage the flow to its advantage, and because it’s so large that it can buffer some uncertainty in the scale and nature of global for migration that an open borders policy would reveal. Even then I wouldn’t mind the change being gradualized somewhat. In the case of a charter city, I’d recommend a visa policy that is quick and transparent but initially with some room for discretion. Later, you would try to develop rules, and at some point, you might move to a full-fledged open-borders-with-migration-taxes policy.

An early step might be to outsource some visa issuance. That is, you might make deals with corporations that set up shop in the charter city, authorizing them to issue visas. Let’s say Nestle wants to establish a major production facility. You could say, “OK, Nestle, if you invest $20 million and show us plans that will create 6,000 jobs, you can recruit anywhere in the world you want to, and issue visas to whomever you recruit. Just collect a bit of data on them and let us know who you’re letting in.” Or again, I think it would be a great idea to encourage some US universities to set up satellite campuses in the new cities. You could tell them, “Anyone you admit to your Honduras campus, you can write a visa for.” You’d eliminate a lot of uncertainty. You might actually create the only place in the world where certain kinds of teams could be put together quickly and without any risk of adverse visa decisions disrupting your plans. Now, if there were enough demand for migration to the charter cities, agencies might actually have an incentive to seek visa-issuance authorization and then just sell visas. That might be fine: the visa distributers would become a revenue source. Or it might be better to set up a visas-for-taxes scheme and run it through the government.

My guess is that there will initially be a big role for the governor in negotiating with private businesses, building confidence, coordinating. Some businesses might want to invest only if others did. Thus, Verizon might be willing to set up a cell phone network if a garment manufacturer is going to build a factory, so that there will be sufficient demand. There’s a snowball effect here, or positive externalities if you prefer. You might assemble a portfolio of provisional deals, and then sign them all when it is clear you have critical mass. One important business to establish early, I think, is university campuses. This is the age of human capital. Education pays like never before. Institutionally, it’s one of the hardest things to replicate. So I would go after US universities early, and encourage them to set up satellite campuses in Honduras. Why would a US university want to risk its reputation on a campus in Honduras? Well, for one thing, even if most wouldn’t, there are a lot of US universities, so some might. Universities might have a charitable motive, to try to promote global development. But from a business point of view, it allows them to recruit globally. They do that anyway, but student visas can be a headache. There are a lot of students who might not come because they can’t get visas, others who don’t apply because they’re not sure they can get visas, others who don’t come because even if they can get visas, their family members can’t, or they can get student visas but can’t work. University satellite campuses would attract crucial high-quality personnel. You could probably find a lot of unemployed American academics who would go to Honduras for the sake of an academic position. Of course, Hondurans will have automatic access to the charter cities, which should hopefully allay their concerns about ceding sovereignty.

TRUST Act Breaks Through in California

This post was originally published as an op-ed for the Huffington Post here. It is reproduced with permission from the author.

Last Friday the California State Assembly passed the TRUST Act. Also called the "anti-Arizona immigration law" by some, it would limit California law enforcement’s cooperation with the federal Secure Communities program (SCOMM). The bill is now on its way to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk where he is expected to sign it into law. The TRUST Act is good news for California budgets, residents, and police departments, for three main reasons:

First, it would limit immigration detainers to unauthorized immigrants convicted or currently charged with a serious or violent felony. If SCOMM must exist, it should exist for violent or property offenders and not otherwise peaceful unauthorized immigrants.

This limitation is essential to continuing California cities’ successful use of community policing strategies that rely on informant and witness cooperation with police, even if they are unauthorized immigrants. If the possibility of deportation is increased with SCOMM, fewer unauthorized immigrants and their legal families will go out on a limb to help police solve real crime. The TRUST Act limits the growing distrust between immigrants and police.

Second, the TRUST Act would lower the cost for local governments who object to shouldering the high cost of detaining suspected unauthorized immigrants. A recent report found that detention costs for SCOMM currently run over $26 million a year for Los Angeles county and $65 million a year for the entire state. Food, guards, prisons, beds, and other amenities that need to be provided to suspected unauthorized immigrants are too expensive for many jurisdictions.

Third, the TRUST Act frees those who haven’t been convicted of violent or serious felonies and would prevent imprisonment of American citizens like James Makowski. He was wrongly accused of being an unauthorized immigrant and held in detention for two months before the government admitted its mistake and released him. After his release, Makowski said, "Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mine . . . But if the government can detain a U.S. citizen without justification, that’s pretty outrageous. There have to be safeguards in place." (Markowski is suing the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security for his two-month detention.)

SCOMM was started by a pilot project in 14 police jurisdictions by the Bush administration in October 2008. SCOMM is now active in over 3,000 jurisdictions in the United States, roughly a 21,429 percent increase in jurisdictional reach since Obama took office, and will be going nationwide shortly.

Beyond the TRUST Act, SCOMM should be discontinued. SCOMM is a federal immigration enforcement program that links fingerprint records with government immigration and criminal databases. If Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) suspects an arrestee is an unauthorized immigrant, it issues a detainer to hold the arrestee so that ICE is notified when the arrestee is to be released, often delaying the arrestee’s release until ICE is ready–on merely a suspicion that the arrestee is an unauthorized immigrant. ICE then detains the arrestee, verifies he is unauthorized (occasionally they deport American citizens by accident), and deports him. Meanwhile, local police departments hold these suspected unauthorized immigrants past their release dates.

States and localities originally volunteered to cooperate with ICE in this program, but some states like New York and Illinois want to drop out. The government’s response to their requests was to declare SCOMM mandatory despite earlier agreements and statements to the contrary.

ICE officials have previously stated in their SCOMM agreement with California that the program would only target those "convicted of serious offenses." Recently obtained government documents show that SCOMM issues detainers for people who are not suspected of any criminal conduct. Some are detained by SCOMM because they were unable to identify themselves satisfactorily at drivers’ license checkpoints or because they were arrested for identification purposes. Merely being arrested for non-serious offenses should not subject an arrestee to SCOMM.

SCOMM has lost credibility with the public, imposes heavy incarceration costs on states, and diverts the resources that should be used to deport unauthorized immigrants convicted of violent or serious felonies. The TRUST Act will build a wall around the worst parts of SCOMM in California and help restore confidence between police and immigrants.

Parts of this op-ed are based on an earlier blog post written here.