Tag Archives: political externalities

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.

Open borders, political externalities, and tipping points

In a comment addressed to David Henderson, Mark Crankshaw makes an interesting argument about the political externalities of immigration, raising the concern that unrestricted immigration may lead to a tipping point toward left-wing populism in the United States:

Here’s a hypothetical: what if, prior to 1989, there was a substantially supported political party in West Germany that favored the establishment of a Communist dictatorship and German re-unification under East German rule? And further that this party received about 45% of the vote (needing only 5% for a majority) and that this party was actively encouraging militant East German citizens and all others sympathetic to communism to immigrate to West Germany to tip the electoral balance in their favor? If you were a West German, would you welcome such immigration?

In my view, this is similar to the conditions in the US today. Admittedly, the Democratic Party may not wish to install a Communist dictatorship at present. However, I do believe that Democrat party policies are sufficiently noxious enough and that these policies will cause me substantial long-term economic and political injury if not sufficiently opposed. This substantially supported party has also proven very adept at building permanent racial-ethnic voting blocks based on a “share-the-wealth” platform.

I agree that immigrants are no threat to “impose” their political will against that of the indigenous population. However, what if the indigenous population is evenly divided ideologically and immigrants could permanently tip the balance in one direction? Wouldn’t immigrants from left-of-center countries side with our indigenous leftists and be quite vulnerable to “share-the-wealth” leftist populism? As one who favors limited government, I certainly see immigration as tilting the ideological balance to my ideological opponents–perhaps permanently. The re-election of Hugo Chavez this past week amply demonstrates that democracy offers no protection from leftist populism and the establishment of semi-permanent leftist rule. If it can happen in Venezuela, why not here?

Crankshaw expressed a similar concern in an earlier comment addressed to Bryan Caplan:

I’ve read your paper summarizing the arguments against open borders (http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/bcaplan/pdfs/whyimmigration.pdf) and your counter-arguments against them. Your argument is persuasive. However, in the back of my mind, I fear that I can still see open borders going very wrong.

My fear of open borders doesn’t center on the immigrants per se, but with the anti-libertarian forces native to the US. Would not these non-libertarian groups attempt to co-opt immigrants and use them to subvert libertarian ideals?

The current presidential election appears, at least to me, that left liberals are able to co-opt recent immigrants much more readily than libertarians. Immigrants may not vote much, and may tend towards the status quo, but it appears that the status quo they lean heavily towards is the anti-libertarian left liberal status quo. Take away the African American vote and the votes of recent immigrants and Obama loses in a humiliating landslide. Does anyone really believe that if Romney were not the candidate opposing Obama, but that the opponent were a libertarian, that these recent immigrants would be voting libertarian? Or would they remain firmly supporting left liberals?

Here’s my framing of Crankshaw’s tipping point-style model:

  • The median American voter holds fairly anti-free market views.
  • The Democratic Party in the United States is moderately more anti-free market than the median American, whereas the Republican Party holds moderately more pro-free market views.
  • Elections are usually a close call between the two parties. If we exclude immigrants, then the Republican Party would win. But the inclusion of immigrants tips the balance partially in favor of the Democratic Party.
  • Slightly more immigration would tip the balance (possibly irreversibly and creating permanent damage) in favor of the anti-free market position of the Democrats.

Before responding, let me say that I have very little knowledge about the specifics of the platforms of the Democratic and Republican Party, and even less knowledge about the nitty-gritties of party politics. That said, I think that Crankshaw’s model is flawed. It is not the case that the political parties have ideologically rigid positions, and that there is a kind of binary decision about which political platform gets adopted based on who gets the majority of the votes. Here’s my model.

  • The median American voter holds fairly anti-free market views.
  • Both parties (the Democrats and the Republicans) use feedback mechanisms such as polling data to gauge where the median American voter lies. Then, they try to carve out niches fairly close to the median position, but that can still be rhetorically distinguished from each other and that extremists can identify with (apropos Hotelling’s law in politics and the median voter theorem). On the issue of free markets, the Democrats have rhetorically chosen a niche slightly more hostile to free markets and the Republicans have chosen a niche slightly less hostile to free markets compared to what the median voter prefers.
  • When there are changes in the nature of the median voter, whether through immigration, generational change, or the publication of an Ayn Rand novel, both parties will move their platforms to stay in the same position relative to the median voter. If the median voter becomes moderately more hostile to free markets, both parties will adopt policy platforms that are moderately more hostile to free markets, though the Democrats will still be relatively more anti-free market and the Republicans relatively less hostile to free markets than the median voter. If the median voter becomes moderately more pro-free market, both parties will shift their platforms to become more free market, but the relative positions will again be unaffected.
  • Switches in the relative position can occur, but these polarization reversals are relatively rare (one of them occurred with respect to race relations and voting blocs in the Southern United States with the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s).

If my model is more accurate, then immigration is unlikely to lead to tipping points. If the immigrants who tend to vote tend to be more hostile to free markets, this will move the needle a bit away from the direction of free markets. But I would not predict a tipping point toward left-wing populism. Both parties will modify their stances toward somewhat higher marginal tax rates, a few more regulations, etc., and the tightness of political races will be largely unaffected.

Is this something for a pro-free market person to worry about? Yes, and I will address the nature of immigrant political views in separate posts (for now, see the links from the political externalities page). But qualitatively, this is different from a “tipping point” concern. I think that the standard framework, that treats such political externalities as a cost of immigration that scales continuously with the amount and type of immigration, is adequate to deal with political externalities.

PS: This post is written from a US-specific perspective, but the basic insights, if correct, should apply in many other countries.

Immigration and institutions

I had the idea of writing one post to respond to Vipul’s last post, “Free speech absolutism versus viewpoint-based immigration restrictions,” and another one to add to Vipul’s response to Ghost of Christmas Past. Then I realized the posts cover some of the same ground. So this post conflates the two putative posts into one.

First, Vipul suggests a plausible rule of thumb which a few paragraphs in my book Principles of a Free Society would contradict:

My thumb rule for blanket denials is: anything that constitutes sufficient reason for blanket denial of migration should also constitute sufficient reason for punitive measures under criminal or civil law in the target country of immigration… The most interesting case is [that] of people holding and espousing viewpoints that are perfectly legal — in compliance with criminal law and unlikely to be successfully litigated against. First Amendment protections in the United States give people wide latitude to say a lot of things as long as these do not constitute libel/slander, infringe on copyrights, trademarks, or patents, or provide direct incitement to violence in a situation where such violence may be carried out. There are various restrictions in the United States on pornography and speech directly related to political candidates, but I’m ignoring these for the moment. In particular, it is perfectly okay from a legal viewpoint to say positive or negative things about century-old religious doctrines, regardless of the truth or falsehood of these. You could praise Christianity or Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism, or condemn these, and no legal action against you would plausibly succeed. It is also perfectly okay from a legal viewpoint to hold and espouse practically any political position from communism to Nazism to anarcho-capitalism.

Going by my thumb rule, then, viewpoint-based immigration restrictions are not morally justified. However, a number of people, even those broadly supportive of open borders, do express some sympathy for the concerns that underlie the advocacy of viewpoint-based immigration restrictions… [An] example is offered by my co-blogger Nathan Smith, who, in his book Principles of a Free Society, carves out a possible viewpoint-based exception to his general advocacy of open borders — the case of Islam.

He then quotes the relevant passage in my book, where I suggest a “moderate approach [that would] screen carefully for known terror suspects and extremists, to keep a close watch on Muslim immigrant communities, and to inquire into the ideology of Muslim DRITI migrants applying for citizenship to make sure they convincingly disavow the death penalty for apostasy and other traditional Islamic beliefs inconsistent with the principles of a free society, perhaps with the help of oaths or signed statements to that effect.” As he says, this is inconsistent with his rule of thumb against view-point based immigration.

First, I’d point out that since Principles of a Free Society advocates a comprehensive open borders policy (albeit with migration taxes), I was eager to make what concessions I thought I justly could to make the policy less frighteningly radical. That wouldn’t be a good excuse, though, if I were advocating a policy that was positively unjust. Is it? At issue here is freedom of conscience, which I covered in another part of the book. This passage is especially relevant: Continue reading “Immigration and institutions” »

A Few Responses to Critics

My co-blogger Vipul Naik is better than I am at reading sources on the other side of the immigration issue. I sometimes like to learn by debating, to know what the other side thinks, and to take their claims and arguments and talking points as a jumping-off point for my own thoughts. Sometimes the other side convinces me and I reverse my views, e.g., on natural rights, which I disbelieved in at the age of 25 but believed in by the time I was 30 or so. But on other issues, including immigration, the truth is more lop-sided, and to read the other side just frustrates me with bad logic and pollutes my brain with false facts. To be fair, I think there are a few needle-in-a-haystack decent arguments on the other side, but to find them I’d have to read so much rubbish that it’s not worth the effort.

So I was glad to read the comments section of Bryan Caplan’s post “Vipul Naik and the Priority of Open Borders,” (a follow-up on Vipul’s post open borders and the libertarian priority list: part 1) because it aggregates a lot of objections to open borders in one place, succinctly stated, and informed by at least some familiarity with Caplan’s arguments. I’ll quote and address them in the order that they appeared. Continue reading “A Few Responses to Critics” »

More on IQ and immigration: Collins, ParaPundit, LGDL

A while back, I blogged about Lynn and Vanhanen’s book Intelligence in a blog post titled intelligence, international development, and immigration. L&V’s earlier books have been important references in many restrictionist arguments based on the alleged IQ deficit of immigrants, so critiquing L&V’s work is crucial to the immigration debate. My basic thesis was that whereas IQ might be quite important in explaining the creation of technology, sustaining and benefiting from technology is less sensitive to IQ, and low IQ people can benefit from new, improved technologies quite well. I asked Garett Jones, a researcher on the nexus of IQ and economics, to comment on my blog post, and I subsequently published another blog post including his response and my further thoughts.

Since then, I’ve discovered some other writings on the web that touch on this issue. I’ll mention them briefly.

  • Immigration externalities, a blog post by Jason Collins where he lays out the key points of contention between competing hypotheses: the intermediating role of institutions, and the debate about whether it is the high IQ fraction or the low IQ fraction that is more predictive. I recall that some of Heiner Rindemann’s results suggest that the high IQ fraction may be more predictive, but I don’t think anything definitive can be said yet.
  • Benthamite Libertarian Collectivists Wrong On Open Borders, a blog post by Randall Parker (for ParaPundit) that offers a number of standard arguments against immigration, including the welfare objection, cheap labor leading to a technological slowdown, crime, and political externalities. The post also links to many other standard restrictionist IQ-based arguments, so it’s worth a read.
  • Smart Fraction Theory II by La Griffe Du Lion, which posits an explanation for how national IQ differences lead to differences in the trajectories of nations.