Vindictiveness versus indifference in the open borders debate

People on both sides of the open borders debate believe that their opponents often discount, or perhaps give zero weight to, the welfare of certain groups of people:

  • Open borders advocates believe, with some justification, that the citizenist and territorialist perspectives used to justify restrictionism discount the rights and interests of non-citizens (respectively, non-residents) compared to citizens (respectively, residents).
  • Restrictionists believe, again with some justification, that those on the open borders side discount the interests of less fortunate natives who are most hurt by competition from immigrants (see here for more).

Still, there’s something potentially worse than indifference — vindictiveness. Indifference is about placing a zero or small positive weight on the rights, interests, or utility of specific people or groups of people. Vindictiveness is about placing a negative weight on their interests. In other words, it is about deriving positive utility from doing things that hurt or injure those other people.

The vindictiveness analogues of the above claims would be things like:

  • Some open borders advocates believe that a non-negligible minority of restrictionists are motivated by animus or vindictiveness towards current and/or potential immigrants. In most cases, this would not be a “first-principle” animus but rather, would be justified in terms of the immigrant having done something to deserve the animus. For instance, a restrictionist may argue that the bad behavior of certain immigrants (like taking natives’ jobs, going on welfare, or crossing borders illegally) means that they are evil and deserve to be hurt (this and this seem to be interesting blogs/websites that use similar rhetorical styles). Certainly, the claim is not that all restrictionist objections to these behaviors are motivated by animus, but rather, that some people are influenced to take restrictionist positions due to animus and vindictiveness towards immigrants for behavior that they disapprove of.
  • Symmetrically, some restrictionists have argued that open borders advocates are motivated by animus towards low-skilled natives. In one narrative, open borders is a “revenge of the nerds” against the jocks who stole their lunches and bullied them at school. In another narrative, open borders is a way for natives (particularly conservatives) to stick it to low-skilled blacks and low-skilled whites by getting cheaper and more compliant Hispanic labor instead. Another narrative is that people dissatisfied with the status quo (including libertarians, anti-imperialists, anarchists) want to use mass immigration to “heighten the contradictions” in the existing system and destroy it from within to get a blank slate to create a new utopia. (This last claim isn’t necessarily an indication of vindictiveness, but it could be). I believe I’ve encountered variants of these arguments made by Steve Sailer and also by others in EconLog comments, but I can’t locate a comprehensive list of sources. Here is one: Sailer commenting on a Caplan post:

    Dr. Caplan’s views on immigration differ only marginally from those of the editorial boards of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Barack Obama George W. Bush, John McCain, or Ted Kennedy. We should thank him for making explicit the hostility toward the American citizenry that motivates much of today’s conventional wisdom on immigration.

    Here is another:

    Indeed, much of current white conservative support for illegal immigration is a covert way of sticking it to African-Americans and their liberal supporters by importing harder-working Hispanics to drive blacks out of the workforce.

There is a key difference between indifference and vindictiveness. The former leaves a much wider door open for “win-win” keyhole solutions that work out to be Pareto improvements for all sides concerned. Restrictionists who don’t care about non-citizens can find common meeting ground with open borders advocates who are indifferent to the welfare of some subset of natives, by agreeing to a compromise keyhole solution that makes everybody better off. There are of course issues of feasibility and stability, but at least the possibility is there.

If either side is motivated by vindictiveness, however, the situation gets more complicated. Keyhole solutions may still be possible, but they’d be much harder to achieve. Continue reading Vindictiveness versus indifference in the open borders debate

Conversation between Michael Clemens and GiveWell

Charity evaluator GiveWell often carries out conversations with subject matter experts in a number of areas relevant to the philanthropic directions that GiveWell is considering. Notes from some of these conversations get published on GiveWell’s conversations page.

Recently, GiveWell staffer Alexander Berger had a conversation with Michael Clemens. Clemens is in charge of migration and development at the Center for Global Development, a Washington D.C. think tank. A full PDF of the conversation can be found here.

The part that interested me most in the conversation was the section on migration from Haiti to America:

After the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, the United States strengthened its naval blockade of Haiti to prevent Haitians from moving to the US. Together with others, Clemens worked to loosen the restrictions on a US visa program to allow more Haitians to move to the US legally as a part of the post earthquake relief and recovery effort.

For historical reasons, before 2012 Haitians were not eligible for H-­‐2 visas. After the earthquake, Clemens and his collaborators made a very substantial effort to make Haitians eligible for H-­‐2 visas.

  • They pointed out that if 2,000 Haitians were to get H–2 visas every year,over the course of 10 years, the total amount earned by the migrant workers would be more than $400m, a total exceeding the US relief emergency assistance after the earthquake.
  • They had meetings with the staff from both Florida senators and several Florida Representatives, with the office of John Kerry, with the White House, the State Dept., with several nongovernmental organizations and with the Haitian ambassador.
  • In the end, they were able to get bipartisan support for the proposed policy change. Bill Nelson (a Democratic Senator from Florida) and Marco Rubio (a Republican Senator from Florida) jointly signed a letter to Janet Napolitano (United States Secretary of Homeland Security) requesting that she make Haiti eligible for H–2 visas, and she implemented the change.
  • Last year 58 Haitians obtained H–2 visas. as. The reason that more didn’t obtain visas is the fact that there exists no mechanism to match US employers who need Haitian labor to Haitian workers willing to come to the US on an H–2 visa. No H–2 recruiters are currently active in Haiti, and none has yet been willing to become the first mover.

The next section is about the “Potential for scale-up” of this successful advocacy: Continue reading Conversation between Michael Clemens and GiveWell

US Republicans should not give up on immigrants

Bryan Caplan at EconLog recently pondered why it is that Asians in the US lean Democratic. I suggested in the comments of Bryan’s post that his view — that Asians don’t feel Republicans respect them — seems right, at least to me. I met Bryan for lunch recently, where the topic came up again, and co-blogger Vipul has urged me to elaborate on the subject here.

The important question here, from an open borders standpoint, is how far do immigrants holding undesirable political opinions justify restrictions on their liberty. Secondarily, whether or not undesirable opinions justify immigration restrictions, how much of an actual concern is this for natives, such as political activists hoping to win the votes of immigrants? Specifically, in the US context, is it worthwhile for Republicans to become more “immigrant-friendly”?

We’ve addressed the first question — do undesirable opinions justify immigration restrictions — a fair bit on this site, and we’ll return to it in the future. But for the second, with regard to the US context, my answer is: if Republicans toned down their rhetoric on immigration, and more generally, embraced a less fundamentally white vision of America, they would be much more competitive than they are now.

Bryan’s question about Asian-Americans particularly is interesting because the Republicans quite concretely favour more Asian (high-skilled) immigration, and back policies, such as extension of the H1-B visa, that promote Asian immigration. One hypothesis is that Asian immigrants, who are very well-educated on average, disdain the Republican party’s seeming anti-intellectual/anti-science bent. This seem plausible to me, but I think it’s overlooking the even simpler explanation that Asians feel Republicans don’t fundamentally see them as part of America.

At this point Republicans are up in arms, protesting that they’re not racist. I agree, most Republicans aren’t. I think even Republicans who say insensitive things probably don’t actually harbour much, if any, meaningful prejudice towards the people they’ve insulted (unintentionally in some cases). But the difference between Republicans and Democrats, I think, is not that one group is necessarily less prejudiced than the other. You can be perfectly unprejudiced towards somebody and still see that person as outside your fundamental community or constituency. That, I daresay, is the Republicans’ problem.

It’s difficult to vote for someone whom you believe doesn’t see you as part of their constituency or community. Even if you understand they don’t dislike you on a personal level, that’s a far cry from embracing you and your community as someone to serve, as someone whose interests they care about. In the comments on Bryan’s post, I referred others to this fantastic piece by Muslim baseball blogger Rany Jazyerli, one that starts:

Almost before I knew that I was an American, and almost before I knew that I was a Muslim, I knew that I was a Republican.

It ends:

I look forward to the day, hopefully in the near future, when I once again vote for a Republican candidate… But first, the Republicans have to stop insinuating that I’m alien to this nation. They have to stop implying that I support terrorists. They have to stop accusing me of being anti-American. And they need to denounce anyone in their ranks who does those things. That, I’m afraid, is not negotiable.

Read the whole thing. Rany’s story may be specific to the Muslim community, but to me personally, I think it’s also the story of why Asian and Latino support for the GOP is at pretty much an all-time low. The Asian vote flipped from 48% for Bob Dole in 1996 (versus 43% for Bill Clinton) to 73% for Barack Obama in 2012. Rany cites research by CAIR (a Muslim activist group) which found that Muslim support flipped from 70% for George W. Bush in 2000 to 4% for Mitt Romney in 2012.

Over lunch, Bryan Caplan mentioned that his father’s vision of America includes people like me — people who, as Bryan put it, “dress normally, don’t wear ethnic dress, work at a bank, fit into white society”. The senior Caplan’s vision strikes me as the vision of the Republican party as well. If that’s how you see the US, then of course it’s fine to be suspicious of Muslims’ and other minorities’ loyalties to the US. Of course it’s fine to suspect the sincerity of Barack Obama’s or Nikki Haley’s religious beliefs, and of course it’s fine to joke about them being “ragheads”. Of course it’s fine to make fun of the names these weird people give their children, just as former Virginia governor George “Macaca, or whatever his name is” Allen did.

Republicans at this point rightly retort that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden make their fair share of racial gaffes too. But I have a hard time believing that a poorly-timed joke about Gandhi segueing directly into lofty praise for the man is at all comparable to calling someone a raghead, or making fun of someone’s culture or name. If the best defence Republicans can muster is that “Democrats are racist too,” that hardly debunks the case that Republicans should be doing more to reach out to immigrant ethnic groups. If anything, it means Republicans could easily stop making insensitive comments and clearly differentiate themselves from Democrats in this regard.

Just compare and contrast the entrenched “give no ground; show no quarter” approach to dealing with Latino-Americans and other immigrants that a current strand of Republican thinking espouses with the approach George W. Bush promoted when he ran for governor of Texas:

Bush has pointedly refused to sign on to his party’s immigrant-bashing agenda. He opposed Wilson over Proposition 187, which withdrew health and public education benefits from illegal immigrants and their children in California.

He’s a strong supporter of Mexico, and he says his warm relations with that country’s leaders have helped him with Hispanic voters. “I’ve talked to a lot of friends who’ll go down to Mexico and they’ll come back and say, ‘God, Bush, you’re really popular in Mexico City,’ ” he says.

Bush gives qualified support to bilingual education, which Wilson and Republican conservatives in Congress have attempted to outlaw. Bilingual education is fine, Bush says, as long as students can pass the state tests he is promoting.

Bush is a vocal opponent of conservative Republican efforts to make English the official language, calling that “a powerful negative message” that repels Hispanic voters.

The natural retort is “And fat lot of good that did George W.” But according to the Pew Research Center, Bush in 2000 cut the Democratic advantage with Latinos from 51 percentage points in 1996 to 27%. In 2004, he reduced it further to 18%. Simply by aggressively building a friendly image with Latinos, George W. Bush reduced the Republican vote deficit among Latinos by 2/3rds. For various reasons, Hispanics may never be a natural stronghold for Republicans, but that doesn’t mean Barack Obama’s mind-blowing 71% of the Hispanic vote in 2012 is the historical norm.

I am not sure if Republicans should hope to return to the halcyon days when they were winning 70% of the Asian or Muslim vote. Certainly I don’t dare claim they can be extremely competitive in the race for the Hispanic vote. There are far too many other confounding issues, such as fundamental policy preferences. But at the same time, it’s difficult to say how competitive the Republicans can be with these ethnic groups when, honestly, George W. Bush aside, they haven’t even been trying.