Tag Archives: political externalities

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. *
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).