July 02, 2008

Immigration at AEI

This afternoon, I attended an AIE forum on Mark Krikorian?s excellent new book, The New Case Against Immiagration: Both Legal and Illegal.

Krikorian?s argument is summed up in the first two sentences of the volume: ?It?s not the immigrants?it?s us. What?s different about immigration today as opposed to a century ago is not the characteristics of the newcomers but the characteristics of our society.?

That is, immigrants into America are still mostly unskilled, mostly undereducated, and coming from under-developed parts of the world, as they were in the past. And Krikorian believes that they are just as assimilable as the Irish and Italians of the 19th century. What?s changed is modern society. And here Krikorian paints a picture of a perfect storm of factors that make mass immigration?both legal and illegal?a very bad thing.

? There?s the welfare state and its programs, which close to half of Mexicans immigrants are drawing from.
? There?s our modern economy, with growing technology and cerebral sectors on top and a glut of cheap labor on the bottom, which more immigrants are only making worse.
? There?s our educational system, with its emphasis on multi-lingualism, multiculturalism, and group rights.
? There?s healthcare, there?s? well, everything

In Krikorian?s mind, mass immigration is much like the settling of the frontier?a historical phase which we?ve now outgrown.

On an emotional issue, Krikorian remains level-headed and, thankfully, reality-based. There was one thing about his presentation that did bother me, however: in choosing this line of argumentation, Krikorian seems to be implying, ?We shouldn?t let too many immigrants into the country because they?ll overtax the welfare state and perhaps even push it towards collapse.?

One can certainly say this and still be an advocate of limited government (after all, no one wants political breakdown and chaos.) The problem is that this argument presumes that the welfare state operates with a fixed amount of resources that it can doll out, and if, say, too many goodies are given to too many illegals, then there won?t be enough for the rest of us. But this is obviously false. The government can?t afford the new immigrants, you say? Well, when as not being able to afford something stopped Washington in the past!?!

I think that Peter Brimelow is on the right track with his concept of immigration as the ?Viagra of the State?:

[Immigration] has reinvigorated the state, when it was otherwise losing its powers because of collapse of socialism and the triumph of classical liberalism. It?s an aspect of what should be called neosocialism?the statists? argument for government control of society, not in the interests of efficiency?not because government can prevent another Great Depression etc.?but in the interests of equity, rooting out discrimination, racism and so on.

Milton Friedman might actually have been wrong when he said ?It’s just obvious that you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state.? To the contrary, the two might actually re-enforce one another.

Instead of claiming to be protecting the welfare state, we should be arguing that we?ll only be able to limit government once we?ve gotten immigration under control.

This criticism aside, The New Case Against Immigration is a must-read. 

* * *

One pleasant surprise this afternoon was the inclusion of Harvard doctoral candidate and AEI visting fellow Jason Richwine on the panel. This young scholar was actually brave enough to broach the topic of the intersection of race, genetic differences in intelligence (IQ), and immigration. Richwine generally agreed with Krikorian?s conclusions but took him to task over the idea that ?it?s not the immigrants?it?s us? and that there are no fundamental differences between the immigrants of yesteryear and those of today. 

One DC-based immigration reformer (ahem, Marcus Epstein) asked Richwine to comment on one of Pat Buchanan?s more provocative moments, when in 1991 he asked whether 1 million Zulus or 1 million Englishmen would more quickly and easily assimilate into American culture if each group washed up onto our shores. Richwine turned this into a counterfactual, asking whether if millions of Zulus immigrated to America in lieu of the Irish, they?d be as indistinguishable from the native population as your average McGregor or McCarthy.

Measurements of cognitive ability can be integrated into policy in surprising ways. For instance, when another questioner brought up the issue of the ?brain drain? (that is, the most well-educated and highly skilled of the Third World leaving for America), Richwine suggested that American immigration policy focus on bringing in younger, more cognitively talented immigrants, regardless of their skill or education levels, and allowing trained doctors, lawyers, and scientists remain in their home countries where they?re needed.     


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