In a short post, Steve Sailer manages to both make a potentially true and not really relevant point about how some people respond to the “lack of success” among immigrants (Vipul Naik blogged about another of Sailer’s comments that were also along these lines). Sailer points out an article that argues that even high performing schools fail Latino students. Though he doesn’t explicitly mention immigration there is a point that can be made here. Namely, when do we stop saying that the problem is a native institution and the problem is the immigrant? Surely saying that immigrants have no agency in their own success or failure and are only shaped by institutions is wrong. After all, Asian students, many of whom are immigrants or the children of immigrants themselves and coming from linguistic and cultural backgrounds that are more distant than the average Hispanic child, do very well.
Of course, the problem could be a system set up that is specifically designed to fail Latinos but not Asians. That would depend upon the specific policies of the school. But even then a point could be made that redesigning the best schools for Latinos benefit could ruin what works for the rest of the student population. Thus if even the best schools fail to pull Latinos up the problem may not primarily be on the side of native institutions. This relates to a broader problem of natives being blamed for the lack of immigrant success.
There are a few points I’d make in this regard. First off, to those saying that if immigrants or their children don’t achieve parity with natives that there is a major problem, I think that view suffers from a problem my co-blogger Nathan Smith has discussed, the use of borders as a blindfold. Specifically, comparing immigrant success to native success is the wrong metric to use. Most low-skill immigrants come from countries and backgrounds which produce far poorer results in terms of education and income (even crime though immigrants may not under perform natives in that category). The real metric to use isn’t a comparison to natives, against whom they will likely under-perform for a variety of reasons beyond the failure of natives to accommodate, but a comparison to the outcomes they were achieving in their home country. Results here tend to show immigrants far exceed what results they might have gotten in their native countries.
This complaint is ultimately a problem of local inequality aversion and territorialism. The fact that individuals are better off than they were before and that global inequality is reduced is already a huge benefit to the world. This is related to the problem of compositional effects, where the average success of both sending and receiving countries can conceivably drop while still achieving a Pareto-improving outcome. We don’t need immigrants to match natives in results to make the world a far better place through immigration. As I’ve posted about before, we shouldn’t make local equality with natives a precondition for enabling people to make their lives better.
Can local inequality cause dissent? Potentially yes, though such issues are not so terrible as to necessitate banning immigrants from a country. Riots such as those that happened recently in Sweden may in part be due to local inequality (the fundamental causes still cause some dispute), but if so this may relate more to a change in inequality than absolute inequality as Sweden has had large increases in income inequality recently, but remains far more equal than most OECD countries. If the varying levels of skill and productivity immigrants and their descendants bring does cause some unrest, that is likely to be transitory. For instance, the United States didn’t see increasing violent crime in general during the major late 19th century immigration waves, and if anything immigration seems to be a factor in decreasing crime rates. If immigrant-induced inequality causes unmanageable amounts of discontent we should notice this is overall crime not simply in big flashy riots.
So no, the complaint that we need even our best schools to bend over backwards to create local equality isn’t a necessary idea for open borders. Outright hostility to immigrants isn’t justified (and that would be something to legitimately blame natives for doing), but at the same time if immigrant groups simply have less skills, productivity, or academic achievement that should not be automatically assumed to be the fault of natives. But will some groups still denounce natives if immigrants fail to match native outcomes without unfair discrimination being a major cause? Quite probably. For me however, I have to respond with a big “so what”? If such statements make a native upset, it is ridiculously easy to avoid in the modern media environment. Indeed, avoiding alternative view points might be something of a problem nowadays, but it does mean that it’s easier to avoid unfair complaints. However, to the extent people can’t avoid this though the effect might even be beneficial from Steve’s point of view. The end result may be average natives finding those who blame them for immigrant problems (or “problems” considering the gain immigrants get compared to where they came from) to be distasteful and oppose their policy prescriptions more.
Social integration isn’t a bad thing when it happens, and ideally natives shouldn’t deliberately act to exclude immigrants from society. And it can be unfortunate when the second and third generations of immigrant families feel excluded or like they don’t measure up. But I doubt even in the worst cases of feeling excluded many would wish their families still lived in poverty in the developing world. Even when adjusting for inequality, one of the most unequal countries in the OECD, the United States, is still a healthier, wealthier place to be than any major immigrant sending country. If the angst of not being fully integrated into a broader society is less than ideal, it’s also much better than being in a Starving Marvin situation. Not to mention that one of the beauties of open borders is a greater chance for everyone to find the kind of culture or society that works for them.