Unz on Immigration: A Bizarrely Mixed Bag
By Bryan Caplan
Tyler Cowen pointed me to “Immigration, the Republicans, and the End of White America by Ron Unz. It’s one of most bizarrely mixed bags I’ve ever read. The piece combines…
1. Wise long-run political advice for Republicans:
In states or regions experiencing heavy waves of
non-white immigration, the party’s white conservative base tends to
grow alarmed, and any particular spark–an economic downturn, a brutal
crime widely publicized by the media–can lead to an explosion of racial
hostility. At that point, thoughtful Republican candidates are faced
with the choice of either following this populist appeal to immediate
victory, often attracting the crossover support of large numbers of
Democratic or independent voters in the process, or gritting their
teeth and opposing it.
If they take the former approach, temporary electoral victories, no
matter how sweeping, almost invariably become long-term disasters in
political alignment. But if they take the latter stance, they sacrifice
the sort of immediate opportunities that tend to figure very high in
the minds of most politicians, and even risk losing primaries to
harder-line rivals with shorter horizons or fewer scruples.
2. Empirical rejection of many popular complaints about immigrants, like:
The notion that masses of non-white immigrants, legal or not, will turn
our cities into violent battlefields or support ethnic separatist
movements which shatter national unity are total absurdities, and the
people who believe such claims are fools. And as we have seen above
from the accumulated voting data of the last couple of decades, after a
brief transition period, whites and non-white immigrant groups seem to
coexist perfectly well, or at least as well as did the various white
ethnic groups on the East Coast 50 or 60 years ago.
3. Admission of the social benefits of population growth, followed by paranoia:
The solvency of our Social Security system is buttressed by such rapid
population growth, which increases the number of current workers
relative to retirees. The housing sector–which during the peak of the
bubble became America’s largest industry–is heavily dependent upon
population growth to boost demand. But support for immigration based on
these arguments amounts to an endorsement of Ponzi schemes in which
growth must continue indefinitely in order to maintain the same
benefits. And as we have seen in the recent past, Ponzi schemes
eventually collapse, usually leaving devastation in their wake.
Simple point: 50-100 years of fiscal and financial benefits of population growth followed by stagnation is a lot better than stagnation right now. “Ponzi scheme”? Try: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
4. Absurd claims about the ideologies that dominate the major political parties:
The political reality is that both major parties are enormously
dependent upon the business interests that greatly benefit from the
current system and are also dominated by disparate
ideologies–libertarian open-borders and multicultural
open-borders–whose positions tend to coincide on this issue.
If Unz claimed that both parties are dominated by ideologies that oppose moving from 95% closed borders to 97% closed borders, he might have a point. But opposition to additional restrictions and opposition to any restrictions are radically different. Come on: Open borders is controversial even among full-time libertarian intellectuals! The real dominant ideologies of both parties are nationalism and social democracy, not libertarianism or multiculturalism.
5. Two-thirds of the way through Unz’s piece, I still couldn’t figure out what “problem” he wanted to solve. And then out of the blue, it turns out that immigration is indeed the problem, and the solution is… a large increase in the minimum wage designed to destroy low-skilled employment:
The automatic rejoinder to proposals for hiking the minimum wage is
that “jobs will be lost.” But in today’s America a huge fraction of
jobs at or near the minimum wage are held by immigrants, often illegal
ones. Eliminating those jobs is a central goal of the plan, a feature
not a bug.
This at a time when the unemployment rate for drop-outs is about 15%.