Talking to Mark Krikorian
By Bryan Caplan
At last night’s debate, I finally got to talk to the Center for Immigration Studies’ Mark Krikorian. Some thoughts:
1. Mark has good manners and radiates little anger. Immigration opponents would be more influential if they emulated him.
2. Fortunately, such emulation is highly unlikely to happen. The Occupy Wall Street people would rather alienate receptive audiences than wear suits and cut their hair. Anti-immigration people would rather alienate receptive audiences than be polite and control their tempers.
3. Lawyers’ classic strategy is, “When the facts are against you, argue the law. When the law is against you, argue the facts. When the facts and the law are against you, change the subject.” Mark argues like a lawyer.
Exhibit A: I made strong claims about the likely effect of open borders on total production and average living standards. Mark never disputed my claims. But neither did he say anything like, “The overall economic benefits of immigration are indeed astronomically positive. But the downsides are even more astronomical.”
Exhibit B: Mark began by claiming that open borders would clearly and massively expand the size of government. But when I raised the view – voiced by many leftist European social scientists – that immigration undermines the welfare state by reducing social cohesion, Mark did not demur. Instead, he said that reducing social cohesion is very bad.
Exhibit C: Mark rightly rejected the “Jobs Americans Won’t Do” (JAWD) argument. I agreed, then pointed out how to repair the argument. Namely: While sufficiently high wages could indeed persuade Americans to do virtually any job, employers respond to higher wages by hiring fewer workers. Call this the “Jobs that Won’t Be Done At All if Only Americans Can Do Them” (JTWBDAAIOACDT) argument. If nannies earned $30,000 a year, for example, most families that now have nannies would do without. Mark’s response was basically, “Who cares if upper-middle class families have nannies?”
Exhibit D: Mark pointed to California to demonstrate that high immigration leads to a bloated welfare state. When I asked about high-immigration, low-welfare Texas, he didn’t respond.
4. Can I honestly say I’m any less lawyerly? Yea. I’m happy to admit that the evidence on the immigration-welfare state connection is mixed. I’m happy to point out the flaws in the JAWD argument. Indeed, I’m happy to deliver an opening statement that I know most Americans would find unpersuasive, if not frightening. Why? Because I think my opening statement is true. Getting people to the right conclusion for the wrong reasons is not good enough for me – and getting anyone to the right conclusion for the right reasons is good in itself.
5. I would like to have lunch with Mark and one of the illegal immigrants I know. I’d open the conversation with, “Why do you want the government to force this person to leave the country?” Would Mark really tell him, “Sorry, your presence undermines our patriotic solidarity, so you have to go”? Or what?
6. If Mark brought me to lunch with an unemployed low-skilled native, I really would tell him, “Sorry you lost your job, but foreigners have as much a right to work as you do.” It needs to be said.
7. The debate would have been better if we cross-examined each other instead of delivering opening statements. Some questions I wish I’d had time to ask:
a. How much would open borders have to raise living standards before you’d reconsider? Doubling GDP clearly doesn’t impress you. What about tripling? A ten-fold increase?
b. Suppose the U.S. had a lot more patriotic solidarity. In what specific ways would it be better to live here?
c. Aren’t there any practical ways you could unilaterally adopt to realize their benefits? Are you using them?
d. Do you really think low-immigration parts of the U.S. are nicer places to live? If so, why aren’t more natives going there? Why don’t you?
e. Doesn’t patriotic solidarity often lead people to unify around bad ideas? Think about the Vietnam War or Iraq War II. If so, why are you so confident that we need more patriotic solidarity rather than less?
f. I’m sincerely puzzled. How exactly is discriminating against blacks worse than discriminating against foreigners?
g. Suppose you were debating a white nationalist who said, “I agree completely with Mark, except I value racial solidarity rather than patriotic solidarity.” What would you say to change his mind? Would you consider him evil if he didn’t?
h. Suppose you can either save one American or x foreigners. How big does x have to be before you save the foreigners?
i. In what sense is letting an American employer hire a foreigner is an act of charity?
j. Suppose the U.S. decided to increase patriotic solidarity by refusing to admit Americans’ foreign spouses: “Americans should marry other Americans.” Would that be wrong?
8. Mark denies being “anti-immigrant.” We wouldn’t call a morbidly obese man “anti-food” for going on a diet. Why is he “anti-immigrant” because he wants fewer immigrants?
Simple: Because we subject complaints about human beings to stricter scrutiny than complaints about inanimate objects. If someone said there were “too many” blacks, Jews, or gays in America, everyone would identify them as anti-black, anti-Semitic, or homophobic. When Mark says there are too many immigrants, we rightly label him as anti-immigrant.
9. Though anti-immigrant, I doubt Mark actively hates them. What I sense, rather, is strong yet polite distaste for foreigners. He’s like a husband who makes nice with his mother-in-law, yet groans whenever he finds out she’s visiting. The key difference: Mark is hypersensitive. The husband feels fine once his mother-in-law is out of his house, but Mark’s distaste for foreigners is so intense that he wants them out of his entire country.