Tag Archives: Victor Davis Hanson

Response to Paul Collier: Chapter 1

Paul Collier’s Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World is probably the best book on migration from the restrictionist side that currently exists. Though, that is not saying much. It is pretty strong on the economics, and while I find Collier’s ethical attitudes weird, repugnant, and indefensible, they serve as a useful window on the way a lot of people think. Exodus is a refreshing contrast to books like Victor Davis Hanson’s Mexifornia: A State of Becoming. The arguments in Hanson’s book are too thoroughly flawed to be answered. You’d have to rip them to shreds, almost sentence by sentence, to avoid leaving the impression that anything in them is valid. Any reader who would be a worthy interlocutor in a learned conversation would have seen through books like these. My advice to writers like Hanson is to read Collier’s book and spend a couple of weeks contemplating its intellectual merits, and then ask themselves seriously whether they can emulate them sufficiently that their future writings will be net positive contributions to public debate. If Collier sets the standard that future restrictionist writings will be expected to live up to, the quality of public discourse about immigration will be vastly improved.

Interestingly, Exodus is responding in part to open borders as a political cause, even if it’s a cause that his implicit interlocutors don’t usually embrace explicitly. Whereas others will speak loosely of “the open borders lobby” as an epithet to characterize mainstream people who, in fact, want a lot of immigration restriction, Collier is a development economist who has some idea what real open borders would mean, and knows that there is a case for it. He seems to know about the double world GDP literature. So far, the debate has been conducted within the restrictionist end of the spectrum, with advocates of more migration sometimes mistaking themselves for open borders advocates because they’re naïve about how radical open borders really is. Collier thinks about migration in the context of the global struggle against poverty. He doesn’t pretend the rest of the world isn’t there. He doesn’t adopt a principle of moral indifference to the rest of mankind. That’s a big improvement over previous restrictionist literature.

At present, then, Exodus is the argument to beat on the question of open borders. For that reason, I thought it deserved, not just a book review, but a thoroughgoing engagement with the argument. That said, Collier gave me very little reason to change my mind about supporting open borders, though he might have convinced me to shift my position on a few aspects of the question in subtle ways. There are two main reasons that Collier is unconvincing. First, he has the wrong ethics: he knows about “utilitarian universalism” but is constantly engaged in inadequately motivated attempts to substitute manifestly inferior ethical ideas. Second, his policy imagination is very deficient. My greatest regret is that Collier doesn’t engage with DRITI. Again and again, I found myself saying, “Yes, that’s a problem, but DRITI solves it.”

Chapter 1 sets the stage for Collier’s book with a lot of reflections on the peculiar character of the public debate about immigration. For example, he writes that… Continue reading Response to Paul Collier: Chapter 1

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