Friday, April 28, 2006

Conventional Wisdom Bogus

The conventional wisdom is that cracking down on illegal immigration is bad politics (short and long term). However, it appears to be one of the few things likely to help the Republican Party.

Rasmussen reports a +12 advantage to Democrats for the 2008 Presidential race. Not good. But the poll also asked the respondents to choose between a Republican, Democrat, and a third party candidate who "promised to build a barrier along the Mexican border and make enforcement of immigration law his top priority." In this three way race, the Dems came up with 31%, the third party candidate with 30%, and the Republican with 21%. I think a tough-but-sensible approach to immigration from a Republican candidate would stand a very good chance at getting elected. McCain would be a prime candidate, but of course he's on the other side of the issue. Frist blew it big time with his "compromise."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Director Urges President Rethink Immigration

An interesting column in the Washtington Times urging the President to re-evaluate his open borders policy. I don't agree with the column on the probability of an actual "Reconquista," but it doesn't have to get that far to damage the country.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Is Sexuality Chosen?

And does it matter?

The conventional wisdom says no sexuality isn't a choice and yes it does matter. The most extreme argument goes something like this: Being gay isn't a choice, it's genetic, just like race. We don't accept racial discrimination and we shouldn't accept discrimination based on sexual orientation.

I accept that sexual preference isn't a "choice." I further accept that sexual preference is at least strongly influenced by genetic factors (twin studies point to this conclusion, at least for males). But I'm not convinced that it should affect one's moral judgment of the behavior. After all, I don't think the people making this argument would only accept those gays found to be genetically gay and reject those who were not. Nor would people abandon objections to rape if scientists found a rape gene.

But maybe there is something to this being one of many points in favor of the morality (or amorality) of homosexuality. But, at the minimum, I think the power of this argument is overstated. In a thread over at The Volokh Conspiracy the comments drifted toward this question. I was less equivocal there, but mostly to get people thinking. Check it out if the debate interests you (link).

Deep Thoughts: Part Two

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been surprised at the number of logical fallacies and blantant misinformation circulating in the pro-immigration camp.

I laughed to myself when I heard William Kristol of the Weekly Standard defend the Administration's policy on FoxNews:

I'm a liberal on immigration.... What damage have they done that's so great in 20 years [since the 1986 amnesty]?... What's happened that's so terrible in the last 20 years? Is the crime rate up in the United States in the last 20 years? Is unemployment up in the United States in the last 20 years?

And they've been contributing to the U.S. economy and not damaging U.S. society. There have been marches with Mexican flags, which conservative talk radio is up in arms about. I mean, are these people serious? Are these people—what, are they going to be traitors to the U.S.?

... I am pro-immigration, and I am even soft on illegal immigration.

For one, crime has increased because of immigration, ceteris paribus. Kristol knows this. He doesn't care. Kristol also knows that immigration has suppressed real wage growth among the unskilled and uneducated. Unless he thinks there is some sort of exception to the laws of supply and demand for immigration.

As well as depressing wages, there is considerable evidence that the recent influx of illegals is driving low-skilled immigrants from the labor force. In 2000, unemployment was 10% for native high school drop-outs. More recently, in 2005, the unemployment rate for this group was 15%. During this same period labor force participation among this group shrunk from 59.1% to 56.3%. while the percent working (out of total population) declined to 48.2% from 53%. Further, immigration has contributed to the rising cost of housing, healthcare, and auto-insurance.

The proper question is not whether America is better off today, but whether America is better off because of illegal immigration. The fact that America is doing reasonably well at the moment (at least if we ignore the population most adversely affected) does not necessarily mean we are doing reasonably well because of illegal immigration. In fact, the truth may be to the contrary--that America has prospered despite massive increases in illegal immigration.

Some links: For a thorough discussion of the effect on native unskilled workers see the excellent CIS backgrounder "Dropping Out." Blogginhead heads discusses immigration and Kristol's comments here.

Lawrence Auster of amnation in a post I don't completely agree with gets one thing very right about Kristol's comments:

He comes right out and says on national television that he couldn’t care less about the mass invasion of this country by illegal aliens. He looks at 500,000 illegals and their co-ethnics demonstrating in Los Angeles,—illegal aliens demanding favors from the government of this country while carrying Mexican flags and signs saying that this continent belongs to them, not to us—and it has no effect on him. He’s pleased to inform us that personally he’s not bothered by it. Even Brit Hume was put off by Kristol’s smiling demeanor.

A Fine Court

I can't help but read this article on a capital case in the Supreme Court by Dahlia Lithwick and think that we have a far better Court than we did 20 or 30 years ago.

Interesting case, I hope it gives us some useful insight into Roberts and Alito.

Gotta love Scalia (warning: punchline is better if you read the entire article first):

She offers (Doppler radar warns of horrible metaphor storms) a curious example of a wealthy woman hoping to "donate a million dollars to Yale Law School." Scalia cracks up the room by asking, "Is that an aggravating circumstance?"

Bad News, Bush

Looks like your strawman of an argument, "massive deportation is unrealistic" isn't going to resonate with the American public.

A Pew Poll finds that Americans are already wise to the appropriate tool--fines against employers. 49% think penalizing employers is the best way to go, followed by 33% who think border patrol is the way to go, and 9% for building more fences.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Deep Thoughts

As I become more immersed in the immigration debate, I have noticed something. So many pro-immigration proponents just don't know what they're talking about. Many of these individuals are highly intelligent and usually well informed. But they just haven't educated themselves on the debate. Here's a "deep thought" from Jane Galt:

The question then becomes: should we want to help these low-skilled workers at the expense of immigrants? Especially when the immigrants are hard-working people born into a rotten economic environment, while the American low-skilled workers get that way by virtue of personal decisions like dropping out of high school?

Say what? Around 50% of illegal immigrants have no high school diploma! Though one could argue many of these individuals dropped out because of economic necessity, while Americans dropped out because of laziness, it fails yet another empirical test--Hispanic graduation rates in America. In Los Angeles, only 38% of Latinos are graduating in four years. The overall drop out rate is around 24% for Hispanics (some data puts it closer to 30%); which is 2 times the black rate and more than 3 times the white rate.

Thus, apparently, we must continually replenish the stock of people we want to help because the people we help end up birthing people we don't want to help. Err, or something like that.

Negative Charity?

Tyler Cowen links to a report on a case of "negative charity." That is, the charitable action ends up hurting more than helping. On a parachuting charity in Britain:

They found that the injury rate was 11% and the serious injury rate 7%. Minor injuries cost the National Health Service £3751 on average and serious injuries £5781. As the average parachutist raised all of £30 (this is just a day out after all) each pound raised for charity cost the NHS £13.75. Every one of the charitable types who feels terribly virtuous raising money for charity in this way is actually preventing the health service treating the sick.

Must Read On Roe

A must read by Ramesh Ponnuru on Roe. I have long held to my Republican friends that overturning Roe would not be the political disaster so many believe. Ramesh is right on in his analysis. The points I usually make (and he makes a lot of these too) are:

-Americans falsely believe overturning Roe means criminalizing abortion (which makes sense intuitively; if a liberal court legalized it, wouldn't a conservative court criminalize it?).

-Americans do not understand the extent of abortion protection under Roe. It is, essentially, abortion on demand throughout pregnancy (the primary limitation being availability of willing doctors in late pregnancy). Americans do not comprehend the extent of Roe's protection. Many people operate under the false assumption that abortion can only be obtained in the first trimester.

-A state-by-state solution is bound to appease many people on both sides of the issue. I believe the issue would recede from importance over time. The democratic process is cathartic. People just want to have a say in what they view to be an important moral issue.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Minimum Wage

Gregory Mankiw with a good post on the effect of minimum wage laws.


President Bush breaks out the "massive deportations won't work" mantra. The problem with this argument is that it's a strawman. Nobody is suggesting massive deportations as the answer, though increased non-criminal deportations is part of the solution. To my mind, the key attribute of reducing our illegal population and discouraging future would-be illegals is to actually enforce the law at the borders and within the interior. Specifically, we should enforce the law against those who employ illegals. Turn off the job magnet and illegals will return home on their own or be discouraged from entering in the first place.

Bush also uses the "we need these workers" meme. No, we don't. The overall unemployment rate may be 4.5% but the unemployment among the unskilled is quite high (15% among high school drop outs). Further, many unskilled workers have left the work force entirely and aren't even counted in unemployment figures. There are millions and millions of workers ready to fill these positions at American--rather than illegal alien--wages.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Another Harvard Plagiarist

At least this one is still a student.

"Shortage" in Agricultural Workers, An Alternative Explanation

Inspired by Dean Baker's taking to task of the media on the misunderstanding of a "shortage," I set out to see what I could find. I found a couple of articles that report on a "shortage" of labor in the agricultural sector around December of 2005.

Well, let's start with what we know. We know that illegal immigration has increased dramatically over the last decade and continues to rise (much of this is fueled by anticipation of an amnesty and increasingly lax enforcement within the interior). Why, then, the claimed shortage of labor in the agricultural sector?

It's probably because it's becoming easier and easier for illegal immigrants to get permanent jobs that are preferrable to poorly paid, seasonal agricultural work. It's not that there is a lack of unskilled illegal immigrants (quite the contrary), it's just that there is a shortage of illegals willing to do that work for the same wage as years past. Well under 10% of illegals work in agriculture. It looks as though that 1o% may have figured out what a good deal the other 90% have.

Maybe I am wrong, but it seems farmers may have something to gain on a crackdown on illegal immigration. It's my understanding that agriculture is one of the areas where the US government has traditionally turned a blind eye even when it enforced laws elsewhere, so pushing workers out of construction, maintenance, and care-giving may in fact push them back into the shadows of the underground agricultural economy. The ease of which illegals can now take up residence and find employment has, perhaps, hurt farmers because it has given so many a preferrable alternative.

I say we could take it a step further if ag is such a concern. Why not crack down on illegal immigration but state that the agricultural sector is not a priority for the moment? That gives what is supposedly the most vulnerable sector of the economy some breathing room while the illegal population is attrited.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Great New Economics Blog

I stumbled upon an outstanding new economics blog, Beat the Press, by Dean Baker. The blog is only a month or so old, but seems to me very promising on a number of fronts.

His several posts on immigration are very sensible and explain several common fallacies associated with media coverage and the public debate generally (here and here).

Dean Baker explains why it's wrong to claim America "needs" low-skilled labor:

One of the great absurdities in the debate over immigration policy is the frequently repeated claim that the U.S. economy is generating more “low wage” jobs than can be filled by the domestic workforce. This line has been endlessly repeated in news stories on the issue.

Quick trip back to econ 101: recall the concepts “supply” and “demand.” What makes a job a “low wage” job? In econ 101 world, a job will be a “low wage” job if the supply is high relative to the demand. When there is insufficient supply, then the wage rises. My students didn’t pass the course if they couldn’t get this one right. Econ 101 tells us that there is not a shortage of workers for low wage jobs; it tells us that there are employers who want to keep the wages for these jobs from rising.

Immigration has been one of the tools that have been used to depress wages for less-skilled workers over the last quarter century. Many of the “low-wage” jobs that cannot be filled today, such as jobs in construction and meat-packing, were not “low-wage” jobs thirty years ago. Thirty years ago, these were often high-paying union jobs that plenty of native born workers would have been happy to fill. These jobs have become hard to fill because the wages in these jobs have drifted down towards a minimum wage that is 30 percent lower than its 1970s level.

He also has another related post on why illegal immigration is low-skilled (hint: it's not because we "need" these jobs):

My point is that we don’t have open borders; instead we have very serious limitations on immigration. Immigration is restricted both by the danger of the border crossing and the prospect of deportation due to a random encounter with law enforcement (e.g. a traffic ticket). These threats ensure that most immigrants will not be well-educated, since well-educated people in the developing world will not take these risks to work in the United States.

This means that less-skilled workers in the United States have to worry about competition from undocumented workers, while the people who design and debate immigration policy (economists, lawyers, reporters) don’t have to worry about professionals from developing countries slipping over the borders and undercutting their wages. The implication of the current immigration policy is that the people who design and debate it are largely its beneficiaries, since they can get low cost home repairs, bargain restaurant prices, and cheap nannies.

We can debate whether this is good immigration policy, but we first have to acknowledge the policy in place. The reason that most immigrants are less educated is not because of any shortage of more educated workers willing to immigrate to the United States, it’s because our policy acts to exclude them.

Judicial Mischief

Eugene Volokh is rightly outraged at another Ninth Circuit fiasco.

This is a very bad ruling, I think. It's a dangerous retreat from our tradition that the First Amendment is viewpoint-neutral. It's an opening to a First Amendment limited by rights to be free from offensive viewpoints. It's a tool for suppression of one side of public debates (about same-sex marriage, about Islam, quite likely about illegal immigration, and more) while the other side remains constitutionally protected and even encouraged by the government.

Eugene is right that this is a disturbing case, but I think the meddling in the adminstration of education was a mistake in the first place. But, if the Court is to enforce the First Amendment within the schoolhouse gate, it should do so from a viewpoint neutral paradigm. Lots of lively discussion in the comments.

Update: Dale Carpenter has a thoughtful post on the case as well.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Britain's Immigration Problem

Mean Mr. Mustard links to an excellent post on immigration in Britain by Peter Hitchens. It seems that the inability to discuss or deal with the problem constructively by the nation's primary parties is finally bubbling over:

And people are so sick of them and their lies, and so sick of being called ‘racists’ when they are not, that when they see the BNP called the same rude names that they have been called, they think the BNP must be on their side. Sadly for them, the BNP is on nobody's side but its own. It seeks power on their votes but heaven forbid it should ever get any power. It is not fit to run a toy train set, let alone a town hall or a country.

Why has this happened? How did we get into this fix? Mass immigration has suited governments of left and right for many years, not just in Britain but in North America and continental Europe as well. Why? It creates a semi-legal underclass of people who will work for low wages and avoid the strict minimum wage, health and safety and other regulations which have been imposed on employers by governments paying debts to trade union supporters or obeying EU regulations.

I'm aware of no American analog to the BNP that would pose a problem of radicalization, which is good news; elements of the Republican and Democratic parties have begun to deal with the issue openly and honestly, and I find myself having a least measured optimism because of it. Hitchens goes on to describe the British immigration problem, and it could just as well describe the Ameican problem:

Yet it does not stop or pause. It just seems to go on and on, and the expansion of the European Union to the East means that it is likely to become still more intense. Who can blame young people in search of a better future for coming here if they can? The real question is, is this policy wise for Britain? It may suit business. It may suit governments whose economic policies need endless growth. It may suit the rich who like the wider range of cuisine. It may suit those who have no long-term concern for this as a functioning, unselfish community. There is such a thing as society, but the thoughtless supporters of mass migration do not seem to think so.

Read the whole thing.

Enforcement Farce

I was more than skeptical about the recent immigration raid representing an actual change in government policy. In fact, the overtly political move made me even angrier when I saw the actual numbers, which have been in serious decline under Bush. Immigration enforcement seems to have gone from lax under Clinton to non-existent under Bush. One would think that an exaggeration, but, sadly, it is not. In 2004 there was the grand total of 159 worksite arrests and a whopping 3 intents to fine issued (link). Contrast that with 1997 (17,000+ arrests, 865 notices of intent to fine). What are all the ICE and INS employees doing? Seriously. As the border patrol was marginally boosted for PR reasons, the administration gutted any attempt to meaningfully enforce the law within the interior.

Upon hearing of this raid, I thought the raid was a pitiful and transparent attempt to put up a front of get-tough enforcement. But I hadn't realized the raid also (and probably more importantly) has the effect of mobilizing the business lobby in support of illegal immigration. Mickey Kaus quotes a lawyer interviewed on NPR to support this angle, "I think it's a clear message to employers that you better pick up the phone and start calling your Congressional and Senate representatives because we need immigration reform badly."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Immigration & Wages

Drezner approvingly links to a sloppy NYT's piece on immigration. The article contends that "there is scant evidence that illegal immigrants have caused any significant damage to the wages of American workers." Citing as evidence for this proposition, which flies in the face of basic economic principles, Eduardo Porter compares changes in Ohio and California wages over the last 25 years, noting that the fall of Ohio's average wage for high school dropouts was 14 percent higher in Ohio than in California(decline of 31% versus 17%).

As Steve Sailer points out, the selection of Ohio is a cherry-picked data point (Ohio was largely unionized in the past whereas California was not; thus, with the decline of unions, Ohio's unskilled workers were hurt more than California's). The misuse of this data is even more apparent once Sailer notes that while the nominal wage is about the same for high school dropouts in each state, the real wage (adjusted for inflation) is 150% higher in Ohio. Which means that high school dropouts are a lot worse off in California than Ohio. But that wouldn't be any indication that illegals lower wages for the unskilled, would it?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

An Amnesty By Any Other Name

An amnesty is defined by as "a general pardon granted by a government." A pardon is defined as "To release (a person) from punishment; exempt from penalty."

There is at least, then, a plausible defense to the "it's not an amnesty" argument if some of the conditions are actual punishments. The proposed legislation required immigrants receiving the pardon/amnesty to pay a $2,000 fine, remain employed for six years, undergo a background check, and refrain from criminal activity. These criteria are not materially different than the criteria which legal imigrants face on the path to citizenship, save for the $2,000 fine; therefore it's difficult to define the proposal as anything other than amnesty. In other words, illegals get to jump in front of the law-abiding and gain American citizenship for the price of a plasma TV. American citizenship for $2,000! Who wouldn't jump at that opportunity?

Russel Wardlow brilliantly summed up the deterrent effect of the meager $2,000 fine:

So here's a good rule of thumb: if a particular "penalty" (presumably meant to dissuade people from enagaging in the undesired conduct) is viewed by every member of its intended audience as the best bargain of their lives, it's probably not useful to consider it a penalty.

Beyond the relative political advantages and disadvantages of the word amnesty (the American people are supposedly viscerally opposed to any amnesty), the proposal's label doesn't matter, its likely effects do. If it looks, sounds, and smells like amnesty, it's amensty. How isn't the proposal a reward for breaking our immigration laws? And in my mind more importantly, how isn't this proposal a slap in the face to those stupid enough to obey our immigration laws? Doesn't the proposal encourage future illegal immigration? Mickey Kaus powerfully explained the unfairness of the proposal:

Right, but, again, those in foreign countries "hoping to come to the United State through legal channels" wouldn't have the advantage of working in the U.S. while they waited! Illegals would have that advantage. They wouldn't need to "jump ahead" because they're already getting most of what those waiting in line are waiting for! So they'd still receive a huge reward for having broken the law, compared with those who played by the rules--enough to encourage others, now living abroad, to make the same trip across the border. ... It's like the difference between a) waiting for a restaurant table in the restaurant, eating, and b) waiting outside in the cold. ... How long before the MSM catches on to this?

Call it what you want, but the proposal is subject to the same underlying problems as an outright amensty. The punishment of a $2,000 fine is a sick joke, an insult to every potential immigrant that has been stupid enough to play by the rules. The proposal will, like the last amnesty, encourage immigrants to illegally enter our country rather than follow the legal path.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Self Interest & Immigration

There is a double standard operating in the immigration debate, one set of rules exists for those who support porous borders and a different set exists for those who are against them.

On the one hand, we have illegal immigrants themselves, corporations, and politicians vying for the future Latino vote. Each of these parties is obviously and unapologetically pursuing their self interest. Illegal immigrants want to live and work in the US and make a better life for themselves and their families. Corporations want cheap labor and a higher profit margin. And politicians want to ingratiate themselves to the growing Latino vote.

On the other hand, we have those concerned about the costs of illegal immigration (and there are many: potential balkanization of American society, crowded and lower quality schools, rising medical costs, uninsured drivers, increased crime, lower wages, high unemployment among the unskilled) who cannot advocate their self interest without being labeled a racist, xenophobe, nativist, bigot, or a 21st century "know-nothing yahoo." This is the sort of debate most often practiced by the left, but that last epithet was hurled by no other than William Kristol of the Weekly Standard. Argument by ad hominem is the preferred method of the open borders lobby for good reason--massive illegal immigration is not in the national interest. It's high time that the Kristols in this debate recognize that those hurt by illegal immigration also have a right to be heard and considered, without being maligned as irrational xenophobes.

A low-skilled worker who wants to restrict illegal immigration because he believes it lowers his wage and ability to support his family is a xenophobe and racist. But an illegal immigrant breaking our laws and demanding amnesty is merely pursuing the American dream. A mother who opposes illegal immigration because the local schools are flooded with students who need additional help at the expense of native children is a racist yahoo, whereas an illegal promoting the interests of her children is, again, just pursuing the American dream. A corporation that seeks to maximize its profit and ensure a steady supply of cheap, compliant workers is business-as-usual, but anybody concerned about illegals driving up the price and availability of healthcare is an insentive nativist. Monetary interest is sufficient for corporations, but how dare taxpayers resent the burden illegals place on local, state, and federal government. How dare they pursue their economic interest as vigorously as Big Business!

My advice to those opposed to amnesty and lax enforcement is to pursue your perceived self-interest as vigorously and unapologetically as those promoting open borders do. The American dream is for Americans, too, right?