The 4 Boneheaded Biases of Stupid
Most of Bryan Caplan’s points (“The 4 Boneheaded Biases of Stupid Voters,” October) are well-taken. But I am a bit perplexed by his lumping of anti–free-trade views and anti-immigration views into a single “anti-foreign bias.”
I am well aware of the economic arguments in favor of free trade between nations, and I regard them as wholly persuasive. But immigration is another matter. My U.S. citizenship is a valuable asset. Without going into all the ways this particular asset has value, I will just say that I am fairly certain I could get a good price for it if I could sell it, and I am also sure that it would have no value at all if everyone on Earth could have it for the asking.
Large-scale immigration and naturalization is a policy of
expropriating that asset by dilution. My desire not to surrender
part of this asset to anyone who might like to have it may be
termed a “bias,” I suppose, but I don’t think it is irrational.
Certainly not from an economic standpoint.
Bryan Caplan says that an immigrant who moves from Mexico City to New York and spends all of his earnings in his new homeland does not change the balance of trade and is, therefore, unworthy of our prejudice. That’s true. But many illegal immigrants remit a great deal of their U.S. earnings to the families they left behind in their countries of origin. That certainly does alter adversely the balance of trade.
I agree with Bryan Caplan’s conclusions, at least on a theoretical level. But I did want to address some of his points on the bias in favor of “make-work” programs.
A reduction in the demand for labor is great for the economy. Increased productivity reduces inflation and increases wages. And as Caplan mentioned, it allows individuals to pursue other forms of labor. He cited the example of the reduced need for farm labor that allowed more workers to enter manufacturing.
But Caplan failed to address the barriers to entering other fields. These barriers often are not a question of education level. These barriers can be as simple as geography. Or they can be more complex: Our economy has become so specialized that most firms desire a level of experience that can come only from working in a specific field for several years. On-the-job training no longer exists.
Even technology has created barriers. Online application processes have impersonalized the hiring process. In order to even get a chance at having their applications reviewed, candidates must have the right keywords on their résumés or in their letters. Often managers will rely on inside hires rather than trust a résumé that appears from the Internet.
The ultimate result is that “creative destruction” proves more
destructive than creative for the job seeker. The answer to labor
displacement lies neither in “make-work” projects nor in an
unfettered free market. Only through public-private partnerships
will there be a solution.
I’d like to suggest another bias that Caplan doesn’t seem to have considered in his article. This fifth bias is the bias against having your life turned upside down for either executive enrichment or abstract economic good, or to pay off the debts incurred in a leveraged buyout you had nothing to do with. There is something to be said for stable communities. It helps the annoyingly nonproductive elderly, for whom we perversely care; gives cultural continuity to the (also nonproductive, thanks to intrusive child labor laws) young; and encourages the production of delicious artisanal breads and cheeses. Which people like me, driving in from Los Angeles, can then enjoy.
Los Angeles, CA
I was pleased to read that Trout Unlimited recognizes that purchasing water rights in Wasson Creek is not the long-term solution for resource use conflicts (“Gone Fishin’,” October). The real issue is not how the market might be used to secure water rights but rather how society chooses to allow a property owner to use natural resources.
Simply put, what if the property owner didn’t have the right to remove enough water to damage the stream? In the case described in the article, the Mannix Brothers Ranch was using the stream’s water to irrigate grass for the purpose of feeding cattle. This depleted or eliminated summer stream flows. In return for the release of water during late summer and the corresponding loss of grazing, a deal was worked out under which the ranch received cash payments from Trout Unlimited.
Current resource law states that landowners can use their land and the water which flows next to or over it in ways for which it is not suited (long-term grazing and irrigation) with no fear of legal consequence if the activity fits within the current “reasonable use” standard. This favors more intensive uses of land and water over less intensive uses, such as boating, fishing, and preserving healthy ecosystems. More important, it implies that landowners do not have an affirmative duty to protect their neighbors, the fish, the riparian habitat, the native grasses, the water quality, or the soils of the lands they depend on for financial existence unless and until someone pays them to do so.
The questions that might be useful to ask of our policy makers
are: Should property owners be subject to reasonable use
limitations or a stricter standard? Do the fish and natural
ecosystems involved have a right of any sort to a minimal amount of
water necessary to maintain their functions? Does the state
government have a moral or legal obligation to either protect those
rights or the right of the public to a healthy ecosystem? And
should a landowner have any right at all to use his land or water
in a manner for which it is not suited?
Ann Arbor, MI
Tuning Out the World
David Weigel cites many cases of protectionism in politics in “Tuning Out the World” (October) but neglects to make clear the general principle: the tradeoff between the level of prices and the standard of living. Every time you cut a price you raise the standard of living, whether it’s the price of an import or the price of an immigrant. That benefits us all. And every time you protect a price you hurt us all—except, of course, the special interest that benefits from it.
Let’s All Give Money to the Rich Man
Cartoonist Peter Bagge’s “Let’s All Give Money to the Rich Man” (June) was a home run! Too many sports team owners count on favorable eminent domain rulings, along with corporate welfare handouts in the form of direct government funding, public infrastructure improvements, low-interest loans, and long-term tax exemptions. The final price tag to the public is still unknown.
It is impossible to judge the amount of new economic activities these so-called public benefits will generate. Between selling the stadium name, season sky boxes and reserve seating, television and radio revenues, concession refreshment and souvenir sales, and rental income for other sports, rock concerts, and other commercial events, it is hard to believe that owners can’t finance their new stadiums by themselves. Barclays Bank of London last year paid New York Nets owner Bruce Ratner $400 million dollars for rights to the stadium name.
Professional sports is not an essential service and shouldn’t
qualify for government subsidy.
Great Neck, NY
We’re very happy to announce a new website, reason.tv, featuring videos devoted to free minds and free markets. The recurring features include a series of short films in which comedian Drew Carey tackles issues ranging from traffic congestion to eminent domain to the drug war; clips of Reason staffers appearing on The O’Reilly Factor, NOW With Bill Moyers, and other TV programs; and the reason.tv video blog, Rough Cut.