A Curiously Uncurious Interview: The Nation, Unz, the Minimum Wage, and Immigration
By Bryan Caplan
You just mentioned undocumented migrants in the context of
your minimum wage proposal. You’ve been accused of being anti-immigrant
in the past–you successfully pushed a California initiative to roll back
bilingual education, attracting a lot of ire in the process–and you’ve
certainly framed your minimum wage proposal as being something that
could deter illegal immigration by creating more of an incentive for
legal residents to take low-end jobs. Are you anti-immigrant?
The immigration issue destroyed the Republican Party in California;
it wasn’t a good thing to be the anti-immigrant party in a state where
half of the population is made up of immigrants and their children. I
have a very pro-immigrant orientation, but I do think it’s important
that America shift back to the ideology of the melting pot and away from
ethno-separatist policies that we pursued over the last ten or twenty
Abramsky’s follow-up question:
Beyond the impact on illegal immigration, talk about what else raising the minimum wage would achieve.
The minimum wage is a much more effective means of solving many of
these economic problems in our society than many of the proposals that
have been more popular on the liberal and progressive side in the last
few years. Take social spending: a lot of social welfare programs tend
to be leaky buckets. One reason people don’t want their taxes to be
increased is they have a sense a lot of the money will be burned up in
the system and will never really go to the beneficiaries. Well, with the
minimum wage the money goes straight to the person who has a paycheck.
At a stroke, so many workers are no longer so poor they no longer
qualify for anti-poverty programs–which makes conservatives much
happier. The minimum wage is basically people working at their jobs.
We’re talking about raising income by $5,000 for an individual and
$10,000 for a couple.
The follow-up questions I would have been itching to ask Unz:
1. You favor a higher minimum wage in order to increase unemployment for illegal immigrants, leading them to self-deport or stay home in the first place. Isn’t this a reason for cosmopolitan progressives to oppose raising the minimum wage?
2. If raising the minimum wage is bad for illegal immigrants, wouldn’t abolishing the minimum wage be good for them?
3. If raising the minimum wage will sharply increase unemployment of illegal immigrants, why won’t it at least noticeably increase unemployment of natives?
4. If raising the minimum wage will noticeably increase unemployment of natives, why on earth are you so confident that raising the minimum wage will reduce social welfare spending? Sure, raising the minimum wage modestly reduces social welfare spending on the folks who keep their jobs. But it sharply increases social welfare spending on the folks who lose their jobs. No?!
Returning to the actual interview:
Why did you, a self-proclaimed conservative libertarian, end
up championing what would be the nation’s highest state-level minimum
My background is in the sciences. I’m a physicist by training. I tend to look at issues on a case-by-case basis.
If I’d been the interviewer, this would have been my “gotcha” moment. What I would have said:
I’ve got a copy of your Intelligence Squared debate transcript right here. In it, you say:
Now, you know, I’m laboring under a disadvantage in this debate because
not only am I not a trained economist, I’ve never even taken a class in
I’ve never even opened an economics textbook. I
personally don’t claim to really understand most economics. I’m not
convinced everybody else understands economics that well either.
Ron Unz, is that what you learn in physics? To pontificate on subjects before you even open the textbook?!
I’m pleased to hear that Unz is abandoning his initiative for lack of funds. I would have been overjoyed, however, if Unz abandoned his initiative because he finally got around to reading an econ textbook.