Immigration

Cato Unbound Symposium on "Immigration and Institutions"

The symposium includes contributions by Ben Powell, Peter Skerry, Eric Kaufman, and me.

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The Statue of Liberty

 

This month, the Cato Unbound website is hosting an online symposium on "Immigration and Institutions." The lead essay by economist Benjamin Powell is here. It is based, in large part, on his excellent book Wretched Refuse: The Political Economy of Immigration and Institutions (coauthored with Alex Nowrasteh). In my view, theirs is the best and most sophisticated analysis of this important issue.

My response essay was posted earlier today. Here is an excerpt:

There are many possible justifications for immigration restrictions. But perhaps the most potent is the fear that too much immigration of the wrong kind might kill the goose that laid the golden eggs that make a nation attractive to migrants in the first place. Immigrants who do not value liberal democratic institutions or do not understand them might end up destroying them…. In the worst-case scenario, immigrants from nations with horrendous governments might simply replicate those same regimes in their new homes.

Alex Nowrasteh and Benjamin Powell's book Wretched Refuse? The Political Economy of Immigration and Institutions is the most thorough and compelling refutation of such fears to date. As the authors painstakingly show, far from damaging the institutions of free societies, immigration poses little threat to them, and sometimes it makes them stronger.

I agree with nearly all of their major points and analysis. So I will focus on two important related issues that the authors largely leave out. First, Nowrasteh and Powell's book focuses almost entirely on possible negative effects caused by the immigrants themselves. But it is also possible that institutional damage can be inflicted by natives' reactions to immigration, even if those reactions are irrational or unnecessary. Thus, some argue that we need to restrict immigration not to protect natives from immigrants, but to protect natives against themselves.

Second, what if Nowrasteh and Powell are wrong, at least in some cases, and immigration does damage political institutions after all? Even in that worst-case scenario, immigration restrictions still might be unjustified. Instead, we should first consider whether the problem can be alleviated by less draconian measures.

I discuss many of the issues covered in this response essay in greater detail in Chapter 6 of my book Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration and Political Freedom.

Cato Unbound will also soon post response essays by Prof. Peter Skerry of Boston College, and  Prof. Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck College, University of London. Benjamin Powell will then respond to the commentators, and the discussion will continue over the next two or three weeks.

 

NEXT: Conclusion: Social Media as Common Carriers?

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  1. n Becket’s unanimous win today in InterVarsity v. University of Iowa, the federal court for the Eighth Circuit told University officials it was “hard-pressed to find a clearer example of viewpoint discrimination” than their discrimination against religious student groups, marking the third time religious groups successfully prevailed against discriminatory university administrators in recent months.

    https://www.becketlaw.org/media/three-for-three-student-clubs-prevail-against-religious-discrimination/

  2. Will anyone ask how a particularly troubled subset of Americans can ever join the labor force when much less troubled foreign nationals are allowed in to take the jobs?

    And is it really, really great for American communities to thereby have a hopelessly unemployed and unemployable (due to immigration) underclass living amongst them?

    Immigration helps rich law professors get foreign tuition and inexpensive domestic help, so I guess the permanent exile of some struggling Americans from gainful employment won’t matter too much in the discussion.

    1. Immigrant-bashing right-wing losers are among my favorite culture war casualties. These losers can’t be replaced fast enough.

    2. Will anyone ask how a particularly troubled subset of Americans can ever join the labor force when much less troubled foreign nationals are allowed in to take the jobs?

      As if you care about such people except as a way to attack immigrants.

      For one thing, your premise is not established. Lump of Labor theory is a fallacy.

      hopelessly unemployed and unemployable (due to immigration) underclass
      And THIS is just bullshit.

      Immigration helps rich law professors get foreign tuition and inexpensive domestic help
      You realize that apart from being based on nothing, this sentence contradicts your position above, unless you think there is a huge demand for domestic help that is the key to raising up this permanent underclass you conjured.

      1. We saw that convicted felons and former addicts and others with little to recommend ever hiring them were getting jobs in 2019 when unemployment was at historic lows and the competition from border-crossers was low. It was their chance, the best chance some of them had ever had, to get past their problems and become productive contributors like everyone else. Employers needed people and everyone without those sorts of problems already had a job.

        They lost that chance to the pandemic and now Biden is going to give it to someone from south of the border.

        And some of these people will never be able to out-compete others on paper due to their past mistakes, so they have no hope now that Biden is here.

        But they will still be in your community with nothing productive to do all day, every day. Law professors living in gated communities won’t see them very often. Policy wonks will only look at the GDP numbers, which count the jobs of the border-crossers but not the people they displace who may never be employed again. “Lump of labor fallacy” those wonks will say, driving obliviously past the people who briefly saw hope in 2019.

        Rich law professors were never going to hire former addicts or felons as domestic help at any price.

          1. You think the main issue for ex-felons getting jobs is illegals?

            And then you just go into story time speculation.

            1. Illegals are the reason there will always be someone more desirable to hire.

              The main issue is that these Americans have huge problems that put them at the bottom of the hiring stack. Add a big number of illegals to the stack and the Americans with the most problems can never get jobs.

              Biden also sacrificed a huge number of American jobs to the environmentalist religion, but that’s a different topic.

            2. And it’s not a story that these people who can never get jobs will be in your community with nothing productive to do all day, every day. Some are likely to get into more trouble and people will get hurt.

              But policy wonks won’t care to make the connection because finger-pointing matters to them and helping Americans doesn’t.

              1. I could come at you with just as many stories of great immigrants, both legal and illegal. Or about victims of climate change. Or whatever.

                But anecdotes are everywhere in support of every position. That is why we don’t make policy based on anecdotes.

                And it’s also why you can’t stop appealing to anecdotes, even speculative ones. Because you want some facts to your narrative, but not actual truth such that that you might have to change your narrative.

                1. Zero anecdotes in anything I said.

  3. The study should have looked at the case of Sweden. Sweden had a highly successful welfare state. Sweden was traditionally very friendly to immigrants (I myself was an immigrant to Sweden in the 80s). The immigrants, who were a small fraction of the total population were happy to integrate.

    But later on, Sweden went overboard with immigration. Now they have nearly 15% of the population are refugees. That excess wrecked the social welfare system, the schools, the public health system, and it flipped the political system from homogeneity to divisiveness. Today’s refugees don’t want to learn the language, and they don’t want jobs, and they don’t accept Swedish culture or laws.

    It is a great case study for the case of too much of a good thing brings a bad result.

  4. “Second, what if Nowrasteh and Powell are wrong, at least in some cases, and immigration does damage political institutions after all? ”

    Devil is in the details, as always. Who gets to define “damage?”

    In the last 60 years California has gone from an 80% white Republican stronghold to a 35% white Democratic stronghold. Government spending and control have expanded greatly, driven at least in some part by arrivals from south of the border where government largess is more popular that it used to be here.

    Some libertarians might consider this a form of damage…

    1. “Some libertarians might consider this a form of damage…”

      Referring to the government spending and control, of course. Would be a different segment unhappy about the demographic change.

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