Tag Archives: affirmative action

Place premium versus race premium

Co-blogger John Lee has written an interesting post on the place premium — the extent to which a person’s current location affects that person’s earnings — and how it compares with various estimates for the “gender premium” — the estimates for how much less females earn than males with the same skills and qualifications. John focused on the gender premium, but pretty much the same observations can be made about the “race premium” — for instance, about the wage differences between whites and blacks in the United States with the same skills and qualifications. I was planning to write this current post before I saw John’s, but since he’s already written his, I’ll stick to a few points that I think are important but that I think were not salient in John’s post.

My main point is this: race and gender are intrinsic to a person’s identity. Sex change operations are rare, though not unheard of. Race change isn’t possible — though a person can change the race he/she self-identified with, the person’s race as perceived by others cannot be changed through an act of fiat. This is important in two ways.

Measurement uncertainty

The ideal way to measure a “premium” (place, race, or gender) is to take a fixed person, start that person in one place (respectively race, gender), then change the person’s place (respectively race, gender) and then measure how much this affected that person’s earnings. Now, in the case of race and gender, this type of ideal “controlled experiment” is almost impossible. In the gender case, it’s impossible unless you can persuade people to undergo sex change operations — but people who undergo sex change operations are likely to not be representative either before or after their operations. In the race case, it’s also impossible or nearly so.

There is considerable debate on the gender premium in the United States, for instance, largely because it’s very difficult to figure out what exactly it means for a female and a male to be identical in all respects other than gender. Are we accounting for various unobserved characteristics? Different choices of how to break the data down (by profession, sub-profession, years of experience) yield different estimates. Which of these choices is justified? The Atlantic interview that John linked to from his blog post highlights some of the points of contention. Bryan Caplan, who is skeptical of the existence of a huge gender premium or race premium in the United States, has lecture notes on the key points of contention. Continue reading Place premium versus race premium

An offbeat argument for immigration restriction

I’m always on the lookout for new, innovative arguments against immigration. Restrictionists tend not to disappoint in coming up with creative arguments, but usually these are modest permutations and perturbations of existing arguments. Recently, however, I encountered an honestly creative, offbeat, and mind-blowing argument for immigration restriction. If I had to classify it, it would come under political externalities or under second-order harms. But neither classification does justice to the sheer creativity of the objection. The credit goes to none other than restrictionism’s most creative proponent, Steve Sailer.

Sailer makes the argument in this EconLog comment, which I’ll take the liberty of quoting in full (emphasis mine):

92% of elected Hispanic officials are Democrats. So, self-appointed Hispanic leaders tend to be overwhelmingly liberal. One reason is affirmative action. Most of these self-annointed leaders are affirmative action beneficiaries, and they have two self-interests: preserve ethnic preferences for Hispanics and increase the number of Hispanics in the country to make themselves appear more powerful.

The way out of this trap is for Republicans to eliminate all affirmative action (including disparate impact discrimination lawsuits) for Hispanics and to close the borders. After a period of wailing and gnashing of teeth, new Hispanic leaders will arise who actually represent the interests of Hispanic voters, not of themselves.

I vaguely recall reading a similar argument by Sailer elsewhere, but I can’t find any other link at the moment. Let me abstract Sailer’s framework. Some Hispanics immigrate to the United States. They increase the total number of Hispanics. Sailer is not concerned (in this comment) about whether these particular Hispanics agitate for affirmative action, or for any of the policies Sailer disfavors. He is not complaining about their actions, either in the economic and social realm or through the political channel. His complaint here is that their sheer existence in the United States makes it easy for self-appointed Hispanic representatives (who are often natives, not immigrants) to point to their numbers and make the case for certain policies (such as affirmative action) which Sailer considers harmful to the United States. And note that the people to whom they’re making the case are also usually natives, not immigrants. In other words, the existence of immigrants makes it easier for some natives to convince some other natives of policies that Sailer considers harmful to the United States. This, according to Sailer, is sufficient justification “to close the borders” as Sailer puts it.

Frankly, Sailer’s argument is a trump card, and there really isn’t much I can say in response. If people’s mere existence inside of a border, rather than what they do or don’t do, is sufficient grounds for closing a border, then it’s time for open borders advocates to pack up. Restrictionists win hands down, just as they do when they use pure racialist arguments.