Friday, July 14, 2006

Lies, Immigration and the Wall Street Journal

The editors of the Wall Street Journal recently published an editorial explaining why they support open immigration. Below is a brief critique of part of the editorial along with excerpts.

"The most frequent criticism we hear is that a newspaper called 'The Wall Street Journal' simply wants 'cheap labor' for business. This is an odd charge coming from conservatives who profess to believe in the free market, since it echoes the AFL-CIO and liberals who'd just as soon have government dictate wages.

Our own view is that a philosophy of "free markets and free people" includes flexible labor markets. At a fundamental level, this is a matter of freedom and human dignity. These migrants are freely contracting for their labor, which is a basic human right. Far from selling their labor 'cheap,' they are traveling to the U.S. to sell it more dearly and improve their lives. Like millions of Americans before them, they and certainly their children climb the economic ladder as their skills and education increase."


The Journal professes faith in the "free market" and argues that "flexible labor markets" demand open borders. Moreover, every one of the world’s six-billion-plus members has a "basic human right" to contract their labor right here in the good ole USA.

The rampant individualism on display here echoes former Journal editor Bob Bartley’s assertion that "the nation-state is pretty much finished." It seems that the WSJ can only accommodate fits of nationalism if we’re invading someone else’s country--spreading the “gospel” of freedom, democracy and free-markets to the four corners of the earth.

In any case, does a commitment to open markets and freedom of association necessitate support for open immigration? I was once under the spell of this delusion myself, the lie perpetrated by the Journal and scores of their libertarian friends that the free market is merely a universal abstraction written on the very heart of every man, divorced of ethnic or cultural considerations in any way.

But markets necessarily exist within a social framework, and some degree of ethnic and cultural coherence is almost certainly necessary for a market to function properly. Trust, a necessary ingredient of a free economy, is undermined by mass immigration, but the Journal seems unaware that culture matters. Mass immigration, the replacement of one people by another, necessarily undermines the cultural preconditions that make free markets possible.

The Journal goes on to confidently assure readers that, "Like millions of Americans before them, they and certainly their children climb the economic ladder as their skills and education increase."

Perhaps, though the evidence isn’t exactly overwhelming. But I want to consider something different. The problem with the WSJ’s radical individualism is that it makes no distinctions. I have obligations to some that supersede duties to others. For example, I have responsibilities to my own wife and children that I don’t have to my neighbor. Likewise, I have an obligation to my neighbor that exceeds my responsibilities vis a vis total strangers. Similarly, I should feel a sense of ethnic duty to my own countrymen before being too terribly concerned about the other 6 billion people inhabiting the planet.

As low-skill immigrants have flooded the labor market, opportunities for low-skilled natives among us have markedly decreased, and the most vulnerable Americans have seen their wages decline as a result. Indeed, immigration is responsible for half the decrease observed in the wages of high-school dropouts.

Mention this to Paul Gigot or Daniel Henninger and you are likely to get a shoulder shrug. Some immithusiasts appear to detest their own countrymen and impute to foreigners character traits that we natives are obviously lacking. I'm guessing that the Journal answer to the problem of "displaced workers" is to hand them a voucher so they can obtain vocational training.


"Those migrating here to make a better life for themselves and their families would much prefer to come legally. Give them more legal ways to enter the country, and we are likely to reduce illegal immigration far more effectively than any physical barrier along the Rio Grande ever could. This is not about rewarding bad behavior. It's about bringing immigration policy in line with economic and human reality. And the reality is that the U.S. has a growing demand for workers, while Mexico has both a large supply of such workers and too few jobs at home.

Some conservatives concede this point in theory but then insist that liberal immigration is no longer possible in a modern welfare state, which breeds dependency in a way that the America of a century ago did not. But the immigrants who arrive here come to work, not sit on the dole. And thanks to welfare reform, the welfare rolls have declined despite a surge in illegal immigration in the past decade."


So hard-working immigrants aren't on the dole, according to the WSJ. Methinks a few facts are in order. According to Steven Camarota, the 1996 welfare reform failed to cut overall immigrant welfare use. According Camarota, state governments spend an estimated $11 billion to $22 billion to provide welfare to immigrants. Camarota finds, not surprisingly, that welfare use remains high over time; immigrants in the country for more than 20 years still use the welfare system at significantly higher rates than natives. Similarly, Ed Rubenstein says that because of the social costs of importing poverty in the form of low-skilled workers, immigrants cost state, local, and federal governments some $25 billion dollars per annum in payments for welfare, Medicaid and a panoply of other social programs.

"The real claims that illegals make on public services are education, which can't be withheld because of a 1982 Supreme Court ruling (Plyer v. Doe), and health care, especially emergency rooms. Since denying urgent medical treatment is immoral, the answer again is to legalize cross-border labor flows and remove government obstacles to affordable health insurance. As for education, even illegals pay for public schools through the indirect property taxes they pay in rent. Overall, immigrants contribute far more to our economy than they extract in public benefits."

The Journal doesn’t see fit to deny that there are actual costs to immigration. However, they assert that "immigrants contribute more to our economy than they extract in public benefits." No evidence supporting that claim is proffered by the Journal. Instead, readers are asked to believe on faith that immigration adds substantial benefit to the economy.

Actually, immigration adds precious little wealth to the American economy. In Heaven’s Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy, George Borjas, America’s foremost expert on the economics of immigrations, says, "All the available estimates suggest that the annual net gain is astoundingly small, less than .1% of GDP." In real terms, that translates into approximately $10 billion dollars added to the overall economy, just $30 per person. It has also been estimated that between $6-$10 billion dollars is remitted to Mexico by immigrants working in the U.S.

There are also displacement costs impacting native-born workers. Illegals make up about 3.5 percent of the labor force. According to Borjas, "every 1 percent rise in U.S. labor force due to immigration reduces native-born wages by about 0.35 percent."

One consequence of the reduction in wages for natives is that government coffers aren’t quite as full. Ed Rubenstein says, "it follows, then, that illegal immigrant workers reduce wages of U.S.-born workers by approximately 1.2 percent (3.5X0.35). If politicians don’t care, they should. Assuming native-born federal, state, and local tax payments fall by the same percent, native workers cough up $26 billion less taxes due to unfair competition from illegal alien workers."

Furthermore, much of the health insurance crisis, and spiraling medical costs, is also driven by mass immigration. The WSJ says that all we must do is "remove government obstacles to affordable health insurance" and everything will be dandy. Heck, just give everyone crossing the border their own portable Health Savings Account and all of our problems will be over!

Unfortunately, the Journal "solution" leaves much to be desired. According to a report by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, one out of every four uninsured Americans is an immigrant. Furthermore, 1/2 of immigrants have no insurance or have it provided at taxpayer expense. Unfortunately, the problem of uninsured immigrants is on the rise. According to FAIR, immigrants (legal and illegal) who arrived between 1994 and 1998 and their children accounted for 59 percent of the growth in the size of the uninsured population in the last ten years.

Likewise, immigration is causing school overcrowding and states are speeding $7.4 billion annually to educate illegal immigrants--which doesn't account for the massive expenditures undertaken to educate the children of legal immigrants.

Unlike Journal editors, I’m not a proponent of what Pat Buchanan has called "Big Rock Candy Mountain Conservatism," and I don’t by the myth of economic man--that individuals effectively do little more than respond to economic incentives. An economic cost/benefit analysis should not drive immigration policy. However, the WSJ is presupposing without any proof that immigration produces economic benefits in excess of its costs. That seems a dubious proposition at best.

I am more concerned about the cultural and political costs, but the WSJ informs me that no such costs exist.

"But the good news is that these newcomers by and large aren't listening to the left-wingers pushing identity politics. Mexican immigrants, like their European predecessors, are assimilating. Their children learn English and by the end of high school prefer it to their parents' native tongue. They also marry people they meet here. Second-generation Latinos earn less than white Americans but more than blacks and 50% more than first-generation Latinos."

"Which brings us to the politics. Contrary to what you hear on talk radio and cable news, polls continue to show that the conservative silent majority is pro-immigration, and that it supports a guest-worker program as the only practical and humane way to moderate the foreign labor flow.

According to the most recent Tarrance Group survey, 75% of likely GOP voters support immigration reform that combines increased border and workplace enforcement with a guest-worker system for newcomers and a multiyear path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here--provided that they meet certain requirements like living crime free, learning English and paying taxes. 'Support for this plan,' the poll found, "is strong even among base Republican voter demographics like strong Republicans (77%), very conservative Republicans (72%), white conservative Christians (76%), and those who listen to news talk radio on a daily basis (72%).'"


I’ve dealt with the political consequences unleashed by the demographic tsunami of the past three decades. Here, here, and here, Steve Sailer has discussed the various ways that polling data related to immigration is contorted.

What of assimilation? Writing about Hispanic immigration, Samuel Huntington expresses concern that Mexican immigration differs markedly from prior immigrant waves:

"Mexican immigration differs from past immigration and most other contemporary immigration due to a combination of six factors: contiguity, scale, illegality, regional concentration [in the American Southwest], persistence, and historical presence... Demographically, socially, and culturally, the reconquista (re-conquest) of the Southwest United States by Mexican immigrants is well underway."

Critiquing Huntington, the always Pollyannaish Michael Barone says, "I believe the likelihood is strong that Latinos will eventually become interwoven into American life. With luck, it will take less than 100 years." Oh, 100 years, huh? Is that supposed to be the good news?

Reviewing Huntington in the New Republic, Daniel Drezner pooh poohs Huntington’s concern about growing bilingualism. "According to Richard Alba and Victor Nee's Remaking the American Mainstream," writes Drezner, "60 percent of third-generation Mexican-American children speak only English at home. A 1990 Census study showed that only 5 percent of first-generation Mexican immigrants spoke English at home. Another study showed that 30 percent of second-generation Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles spoke English at home." More good news?

Over time, the immithusiasts claim, the English-speaking, U.S.-born descendents of today’s Mexican immigrants will blend seamlessly into the mainstream. But commenting on a 2005 Public Policy of California report entitled "Second-Generation Immigrants in California," Rubenstein says there is "a widening gap in the academic, economic, and linguistic achievement of second- and even third- generation Latinos and the overall population."

While there is some progress between the first and second generations, children of Latino immigrants have lost ground relative to other immigrant children. Moreover, college graduates among Hispanics are sparse across the board. By the third generation, just 11% of Hispanics graduate from college. Crime and illegitimacy rates among Latinos also remain stubbornly high.

The demographic transformation of the United States has no historic parallel. Conservatives should prudently consider the wisdom of permanently changing the face of the nation. But the Wall Street Journal and chorus of Neoconservatives that populate its op-ed page are not conservatives. They are radicals.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fine post -- I must've missed it, otherwise I would've commented.

Now I will say one thing: Having lived in California (I no longer do, but for a number of reasons) all I can is...It is a real shame what is happening to America. The 2000 census showed that one of every three adults in the San Francisco Bay Area were born in another country. A dramatic demographic change that occurred over the last 30 years or so -- you could see it happening. For me, it got to the point where the area really did not look or feel like home anymore.

And that is sad. Because something irretrievable of America is being lost.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Darrell said...

Thanks, though I think the post could use an editing job.

I've been to California twice. Once, while staying in Long Beach, I was getting around using public transportation--I wasn't really free to get out much, thankfully.

In any case, I was amazed by how, well, strange everything felt. Sitting on a bus in that part of the country is a strange thing in many respects. Conversations going on in various languages, street and business signs written in Spanish...all very strange.

Perhaps a harbinger of what awaits our children--if John McCain gets his way.

7:52 AM  

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