Tag Archives: United States

IQ and double counting the harms of immigration

Nathan just published a lengthy and detailed critique of various critics of open borders. I think he gets many things right, but in some ways he underestimates restrictionist arguments. This isn’t entirely Nathan’s fault — restrictionists often don’t frame their arguments cogently and clearly, and it’s extremely hard to understand their arguments without spending considerable time going through them. I want to talk about one particular restrictionist argument — the IQ deficit argument, and what I think an appropriate response to this argument is. This post is not intended to address specific restrictionist critiques of IQ. I’ll do that in subsequent posts. For now, my main goal is to explain my overall position.

Now, some open borders advocates find the entire discussion of IQ off-putting and are quick to make accusations of racism and invoke negative stereotypes for restrictionists. (To take just one example of where this came up, consider the comments section of this blog post where I came under fire for engaging IQ-based arguments in the context of immigration). I do not adopt this approach for multiple reasons, most important of which is that I think some of the basic premises underlying the IQ deficit concern are valid. And, my goal in this blog post is to address IQ-based objections, not to dismiss them.

I’ll state the IQ deficit argument for immigration to the United States, though the general framework is applicable to immigration to other countries as well.

  • IQ is meaningful, measurable, and correlated with a number of real-world performance metrics. Higher IQ people tend to be more cooperative, less criminal, more innovative, better and more informed voters, etc. These correlations hold even after we control for other things such as education levels. A high IQ person without much formal education would tend to be more cooperative than a low IQ person with a similarly low formal education: Basically, I think this is correct. It seems to agree with the Mainstream Science on Intelligence and Intelligence: Known and Unknowns. Recent work by Garett Jones has strengthened economists’ appreciation of the link IQ and cooperation and its role in economic development, something whose implications I considered in this blog post.
  • Adult IQ is fairly stable (though it can go down with head injuries and certain illnesses). It cannot usually be made to go up significantly. Childhood IQ may be malleable, but we don’t quite know how to manipulate it much on the positive side, though probably malnutrition and childhood disease affect it on the negative side. I think this is broadly correct too. This also agrees with the two consensus statements above.
  • Under open borders, the average IQ of immigrants to the United States is lower than the average IQ of current United States residents: International IQ data comparisons are not very solidly established, but the preliminary evidence suggests that this is likely to be true. If Lynn and Vanhanen’s data are to be believed, then the average world IQ is about 2/3 of a standard deviation below average US IQ. I’m not very confident about this, but it’s plausible.
  • The stability of adult IQ means that even after migration, the lower average IQ of immigrants will pull down the average IQ of the United States. This seems fairly plausible to me.

At this point, Nathan jumps in and says, “Ah! Even if correct, this is not as relevant as you think. You’re committing the maximize the average fallacy and refuse to understand the comparative advantage concept.”

Not so fast, restrictionists would say. As Richard Hoste puts it, the comparative advantage argument works in the context of pure economics, but once we bring in crime and political externalities, it starts to falter. If crime rates go up, then your chance of being a crime victim goes up, all else equal (there are caveats to be added, but I’m using a simplistic picture of crime). Comparative advantage doesn’t come to the rescue here. And if low IQ means voting for bad policies (something that’s supported by Caplan’s research) then low IQ immigration would lead to negative political externalities.

So, I don’t think the comparative advantage argument is quite the right way to tackle the IQ deficit concern. So what is? I think we need to step back a bit and be clearer about how IQ matters to the moral and practical considerations that come up with respect to immigration and its effect on natives and immigrants. Does IQ matter in and of itself (as some indication of moral worth or desert), or does it matter because of its correlation with things like crime or political beliefs or social capital or what-have-you? It’s only the rare IQ elitist who argues that IQ is morally significant in and of itself. Most people who believe in the importance of IQ believe in it because it’s correlated with a lot of other things like crime, political beliefs, etc.

This brings me to the crux of my objection to the IQ deficit concern. If lower immigrant IQ raises concerns about higher immigrant crime rates or wrong political beliefs, then that should show up in the evidence on immigrant crime rates and political beliefs. If it does show up there, then great, score a point for restrictionists, and now that we’ve done that, what additional information does immigrants’ IQ deficit give us? By saying that immigrants commit crime and that immigrants have a low IQ which means they would commit more crime, it seems like restrictionists are double counting crime.

What if restrictionists are unsuccessful in demonstrating higher immigrant crime? That does seem to be the case with current levels of immigration to the United States. As things stand today, the foreign-born have lower crime rates than natives both in total and for every ethnicity and for every combination of ethnicity and high school graduation status.

Some restrictionists look these data in the eye and say, “Immigrants have lower IQ, therefore they must be committing more crime, no matter what the data say.” I think the data on crime rates aren’t wrong, so let me engage restrictionists by offering alternative explanations within their explanatory framework of low IQ being correlated with higher crime rates. The first possibility is that the restrictionists may be wrong about their claim of lower IQ of current immigrants to the United States. The second possibility is that there may be certain other differences between the foreign-born and native-born Americans that compensate for the lower average IQ to push the overall averages in the other direction. Those differences may be in terms of the culture or in terms of the structural incentives and constraints faced by the foreign-born relative to natives. But whatever the story, I think that when restrictionists find that a particular predicted ill-effect of low immigrant IQ fails to materialize, then they should give up on that and concentrate on the other claimed bad effects. And, perhaps, also double-check their claim of lower immigrant IQ while they’re at it.

So my overall claim is that restrictionists who think the IQ framework is a good overarching framework within which to fit their objections can certainly offer this framework. But they should not double count harms by both including the harm itself and the IQ deficit channel for the harm as separate harms. And if a harm predicted by IQ deficit fails to materialize, they should sportingly concede the point and move on. Which means that IQ deficit ultimately serves only as a framework, not as an argument in and of itself.

I will now address a few possible objections that restrictionists might raise to what I’ve said above. Continue reading IQ and double counting the harms of immigration

Crime in the US under open borders

Crime is a common concern regarding immigration among US restrictionists. The statistics on immigration and crime in the United States show pretty clearly that as things stand today, the foreign-born have lower crime rates than natives both in total and for every ethnicity and for every combination of ethnicity and high school graduation status. Nathan recently blogged about how immigration might also indirectly reduce native crime rates. So, restrictionists need not be worried about immigrant crime under the status quo.

But there’s still the concern about radical open borders to contend with: even if restrictionist concerns about immigrant crime are misplaced at current rates of migration, the concern may still be valid for truly open borders. Is it? It’s hard to say anything definitive, so if you believe in the precautionary principle, this is a slam dunk argument against open borders. However, I will try to argue in this post that there is no strong reason to believe that open borders would lead to a significant upward trend in US crime rates. In fact, I would say that the odds of crime rates going up versus down are about even, and they almost certainly will not explode.

The first point I will make is that even under the current highly restrictive immigration laws, there is some immigration, including “low-skilled” immigration, to the United States from all parts of the world. While border-crossing from Mexico forms the lion’s share of “low-skilled” immigration to the United States, there are also a few low-skilled work visas and, more importantly, a diversity visa that is not designed to pick out high-skilled workers but rather favors countries that send few immigrants to the United States. Thus, the current data on immigration and crime in the United States does shed some light on what might happen under a radically freer migration regime.

However, I will, for the moment, set this point aside. Assume for the moment that current immigration from a country is completely unrepresentative of what immigration from the country would look like under open borders. What method can we then use to approximate crime rates for immigration from that country? We could look at average crime rates in the sending country. I would argue that this would overestimate their crime rates in the United States for three reasons: Continue reading Crime in the US under open borders

Victor Davis Hanson

I made the following comment about Victor Davis Hanson at EconLog, in response to David Henderson’s recent post:

Hanson’s argument seems to consist entirely of anecdotal evidence. Well, here’s my anecdotal evidence. I moved out to the Central Valley of California a year ago. I lived for a little while in southeast Fresno, then in Sanger, a small town a little east, very near orange orchards, and now I’m in central Fresno. I haven’t had any encounters with crime. I once hired a guy who was a member of the Bulldog gang (inactive) to fix my car (didn’t know he was a gangster till he got to talking– very talkative guy). He had a lot of resentment towards the cops, and if I recall correctly his dad (we were at his parents’ house) was behind on the rent, but he was nice enough to me. I often leave my door unlocked at night. That’s dumb and it’s just my forgetfulness, but it’s indicative that I don’t feel a lot of fear. Basically, life is normal. If you look at crime statistics– see here: http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/cacrime.htm– property crimes are down, murders are down, forcible rape is down, burglaries are down by MORE THAN HALF since 1986, when Reagan’s amnesty passed. But “no one calls the sheriff anymore,” says Hanson. Well, surely they’d call the sheriff about MURDER, and that’s fallen sharply. Really, shouldn’t Hanson give us some evidence? Not just personal anecdotes but solid, statistical evidence? By his account, central California sounds like it’s descending into anarchy. Who am I to believe, him or my own lying eyes? As someone who lives here, his account just doesn’t ring true.

Now, it’s true that central California is sort of rural and backward compared to the East Coast metropolises where I lived for the previous ten years. One misses the charm of Georgetown, the buzz of sophisticated conversation in a corner Starbucks, the intelligentsia. But making the immigrants go away won’t make the intelligentsia come. On the contrary. The agricultural industry here is heavily dependent on immigrant labor. A lot of the economy around here, as far as I can tell, would just unravel without it.

I listened to a little of Hanson’s book, Mexifornia. He commits every fallacy in the book, again and again. I’ll concede that median and average incomes are probably a bit lower in the Central Valley than they would be without the immigration. That’s not inconsistent with immigration being beneficial to most immigrants and most natives, or even to it being Pareto-superior to closed borders. “Pareto-superior,” of course, is a concept far too sophisticated for the likes of Hanson to understand. Which is why he shouldn’t be taken seriously on this issue.

Henderson responded:

@Nathan Smith,
Wonderfully put, Nathan.
Until the last two sentences. I know Victor a little. As I mentioned, we are both Hoover fellows and so I occasionally talk to him in the special coffee room at Hoover. Don’t sell him short. I bet he can understand “Pareto superior.” And even people who can’t understand have views on the issue that we should take seriously. I did take him seriously, which is why I bothered responding. If we don’t take people’s concerns seriously, we get nowhere.

Well,  OK. Let me take Hanson seriously by responding to the introduction to his book Mexifornia on Google Books. It will soon become clear why I’m reluctant to respond to the whole thing. I may also make clear my impatience with Hanson on the topic of immigration. (I understand that Hanson is an excellent historian of ancient Greece. A while back, I listened to a brilliant course on ancient Greece from Yale by Donald Kagan, who repeatedly stressed his admiration for Victor Davis Hanson. But good specialists often make bad public intellectuals. I’m also probably closer to Hanson on foreign policy than Henderson is.) Mexifornia begins by pointing out that public opinion and policy have moved in Hanson’s direction since 2003. Hanson is partly right, though he exaggerates: Continue reading Victor Davis Hanson

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.

Unlawful Presence Waivers Are Not Amnesty

The post was originally published at the Cato@Liberty blog here and is reproduced with permission from the author.

Under current law unauthorized immigrant spouses or children of U.S. citizens can gain lawful permanent residency (LPR) status if they return to their home country to apply at a U.S. consulate or embassy. The Catch-22 is that unauthorized immigrants who have lived here are barred from returning for up to ten years once they leave the U.S. The immigrant has to apply for an unlawful presence waiver to remove the bar, a process that could take up to 28 months, including appeals, separating the immigrant from his U.S. family in the mean time. Consequently, many unauthorized immigrants who could regularize their status do not take this opportunity.

The government is now asking for comments on a proposed rule change that would close part of that administrative Catch-22. Under the proposed rule an unauthorized immigrant could apply for and adjudicate the waiver before departing for interviews in consulates abroad, shortening the separation time between the immigrant and his family. Half of waivers are approved in seven days at the American consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The other half can take years.

The waiver removes the bar on returning if the immigrant can show that “being separated from their U.S. citizen spouse or parent would cause that U.S. citizen relative extreme hardship.” Extreme hardship only applies to the migrant’s U.S. citizen spouse or parent, not to the immigrant himself or his U.S.-citizen children. Extreme hardship is determined by USCIS bureaucrats where relevant factors include the intensity of family ties, health, age, financial impact, and country conditions. Financial problems and the normal hardship of familial separations are not, by themselves, sufficient reasons to grant a waiver.

Even with those strict legal requirements, thousands of people could have their immigration status legalized. Continue reading Unlawful Presence Waivers Are Not Amnesty