I believe we should all strive to hold some inconvenient views. That is, we should hold views about how the world works that might weaken support for our policy preferences. For instance, I believe that drug legalization would increase the use of narcotics. That view is somewhat inconvenient, as I support drug legalization (for a wide variety of reasons).
A recent comment reminds me of another inconvenient view that I hold. Mark Barbieri suggested:
When I suggest that we could solve the illegal immigration policy by increasing the amount of legal immigration to accommodate most the people that want to come here, suddenly there is another objection.
[I believe he meant, “solve the illegal immigration problem”.]
I’d like to believe that Mark is correct, as I support his policy recommendation. Unfortunately, I do not believe this would solve the illegal immigration problem, for several reasons:
1. A much higher rate of legal immigration would cause the US economy to boom. This would have numerous effects, including a sharp increase in housing construction in places like Texas, Arizona and Florida. This construction would draw in additional immigrants, some of them illegal.
2. Legal immigrants have much better opportunities than illegal immigrants. Thus if we legalized all the illegals, a new wave of illegals would come in to do the jobs that Americans don’t wish to do, such as picking fruits and vegetables in the sweltering heat.
To be clear, I believe a policy of allowing more legal immigration would somewhat reduce illegal immigration, and I favor such a policy for a wide variety of reasons. But I also believe that restrictionists might be a bit disappointed in the ultimate effects. Thus if there are currently 500,000 illegal immigrants each year, then even a policy of allowing an extra 500,000 legal immigrants would not drop that number to zero. There might still be another 200,000 or 300,000 illegals migrating here each year. In other words, total immigration would increase, as the effects would go well beyond just substitution of one type of immigrant for another.
In the long run, it is better to avoid biased reasoning, even if it weakens your argument in the short run. Honesty will make your views seem more credible. Seek the truth and let the chips fall where they may.
PS. David Henderson has a recent post discussing the issue of whether immigration can reduce inflation. I don’t believe it would have much impact on inflation, due to the Fed’s 2% inflation target. (It depends on how the Fed reacts.) Nonetheless, it might have some of the positive effects that people associate with inflation reduction. Thus many people believe a lower inflation rate would boost their real income by making their shopping budget go further. That’s not necessarily true, as lower price inflation caused by monetary policy is often associated with lower nominal wage inflation. But immigration actually can boost the purchasing power of the average consumer by reducing price inflation relative to nominal wage inflation. Thus, while immigration may not reduce inflation, it will likely produce many of the benefits that the average person associates with less inflation. It may not reduce inflation, but it will boost real incomes.
Immigration does hurt some American workers. But in my view, most workers benefit. That is overwhelmingly true here in Orange County, where immigration has significantly boosted living standards.
Feb 8 2023 at 3:19am
I think when Barbieri says, “accommodate most the people that want to come here,” he means now and in the future. So, if allowing 500k more legal immigrants this year leads to 200k-300k more immigrants wanting to come here next year, then allow those people to come to. If “most the people that want to come here” are accommodated, then there will be few people left unaccommodated. Accommodating most of the people that want to move from NY to FL has solved the illegal immigration problem from NY to FL.
Barbieri is not just making some smart-aleck tautology. Lots of people *say* that they are bothered mostly by the law breaking of illegal immigrants: “I’m just against people coming hear(sic) illegally,” as Barbieri quotes. So, Barbieri is just pointing out that proposing a change in immigration laws that stops the law breaking often causes the illegal immigration opponents to start citing other objections. In other words, they object to more than law breaking.
Feb 8 2023 at 5:19pm
If you want “few people left unaccommodated”, you’re getting the numbers wrong. You’re essentially talking about “open borders”: everyone who wants to come, is allowed to come, legally. Presto! No more “illegal” immigration.
But you can’t do that by counting up the current annual flow of illegal immigrants. There may be 500K annual illegal immigrants. With open borders, there would be far greater numbers of new “legal” immigrants.
Feb 8 2023 at 9:12pm
Much discussion here of legal versus illegal immigrants, not much of desirable versus undesirable.
I’ve spent the bulk of my life in NYC where immigrants are 37% of the population, 44% of the labor force, and speak 200 languages — and it’s all been very rewarding for me. So I am generally very pro-immigration.
But serious problems can result from too much of the undesirable kind even when legal. Once again, see Sweden and its near-open immigration policy…
On an emotional level, this is what many if not most opponents of immigration are afraid of. Their fears may usually be excessive, but are not entirely unfounded. An inconvenient view to keep in mind when discussing the matter with them.
Feb 10 2023 at 9:38pm
Why the rate of undesirable to desirable has to be higher among immigrants?
The desirable undesirable debate also applies to “locals”, right?
Feb 8 2023 at 3:43am
“I also believe that restrictionists might be a bit disappointed in the ultimate effects.”
That might be true about die-hard restrictionists, but I’m not so sure about immigration centrists. Consider two scenarios.
Scenario 1: Anti-immigrant politician A points to illegal immigrant B and says, “Even though B may not have caused much trouble since arriving here, the fact is that he came here illegally, skipping the line over other people waiting patiently. We need to enforce the law and deport him.”
Scenario 2: Barbieri’s proposal has been implemented. Exact same politician A points to exact same now legal immigrant B and says, “Even though B may not have caused much trouble since arriving here, the fact is that Barbieri’s law has resulted in far more immigration than before. We need to get immigration levels back down to pre-change levels. We need to revoke B’s legal immigration status and deport him.”
It seems quite likely to me that politician A would receive much more political support from immigration centrists in Scenario 1 than in Scenario 2. So, immigration centrists that currently say that they are opposed mainly to illegal immigration might end up pleased if Barbieri’s proposal were enacted.
Feb 8 2023 at 7:43am
Here’s a potential approach to the immigration problem I don’t believe I’ve seen proposed before. Let’s do a Canadian-style points system, but as an add-on, not a replacement for current immigration policies. And because it’s an optional add-on, we can make it even more stringent. To be accepted, a candidate would need to demonstrate a very high degree of English fluency and a very high level of familiarity with American culture, government, and history (think something along the lines of the citizenship test). You might call this something like the ‘American before they get here’ program. And then, of course, there would be the usual requirements for employability, lack of criminal history, etc.
A large number of people in the anlgosphere would already qualify, as would many northern Europeans, Indians, Singaporeans, etc. For others, this would strongly select in favor of younger, more ambitious, smarter, better educated, and more pro-American immigrants. And I think even the creation of prep programs to qualify people for this would have a salutatory effect in those foreign countries, boosting English capabilities and ability to work remotely for American companies.
The idea is a program that could overcome the objection of anti-immigration nationalists. I’m thinking in particular of Jonathan Haidt’s take on what causes opposition from cultural conservatives and how it might be overcome:
When immigrants seem eager to embrace the language, values, and customs of their new land, it affirms nationalists’ sense of pride that their nation is good, valuable, and attractive to foreigners. But whenever a country has historically high levels of immigration, from countries with very different moralities, and without a strong and successful assimilationist program, it is virtually certain that there will be an authoritarian counter-reaction, and you can expect many status quo conservatives to support it.
So bring in the people who have a demonstrable eagerness to embrace the language, values, and customs of the U.S. The difficulty of qualifying would make it a strong signal.
Feb 8 2023 at 5:38pm
I believe ambition and work ethic is a better target for immigrants than education or fluency. I happen to know quite a few immigrants that are living the American dream and are a net gain for this country. Many of them didn’t complete elementary school.
Feb 10 2023 at 3:47pm
I believe ambition and work ethic is a better target for immigrants than education or fluency.
I agree with you. But the point of allowing an immigration route for those with very language and American cultural fluency, is to reduce the level and intensity of immigration opposition among American conservatives. If the new immigrants were effectively American in language, knowledge and outlook before they got here and could step into their new American lives seamlessly, who (except actual racists or xenophobes) would object?
Feb 9 2023 at 1:44pm
My slightly different version of that is to let everyone in, require them to pay taxes and not be criminals to stay, and offer citizenship to those who stay long enough and demonstrate valuable citizenship.
I also think citizenship should not be automatic for people born here and it should be revocable.
Feb 8 2023 at 9:29am
I think the worst part of the argument open border supporters make is to conflate illegal immigrant vs legal immigrant populations. These are not the same groups of people, though there would be an overlap. My parents came here and had to prove they could be self sufficient and that they had no legal problems at home. Illegal immigrants skip the vetting process. I also believe more immigrants would be in our best interest, but the Canadian or Australian models work better.
Feb 8 2023 at 10:59am
Replacing our immigration system with a Canadian/Australian approach would mean a tough (probably unwinnable) political fight. Adding a such a program on top as a way of allowing in more especially suitable immigrants might be more manageable. Who would object, and what would their objections be?
Feb 8 2023 at 10:04am
BC, Those are reasonable points. And just to be clear, I support the idea and believe it would reduce the problem of illegal immigration. Just perhaps not as much as some might hope.
Thomas Lee Hutcheson
Feb 8 2023 at 11:01am
I think it is more important to try not to have a “side” in some existing ideological divide and on any issue to suppose that both “sides” are wrong if in different ways and even if one “side” may be less wrong than the other.
Feb 8 2023 at 5:01pm
Yes, commenters often conflate legal and illegal immigration. This reflects erroneous thinking.
But other commenters argue as if they were trade-offs. But as Sumner argues–persuasively–this ALSO reflects erroneous thinking.
Immigration is largely driven by the disparities of living/employment opportunities on either side of a border. So long as those disparities remain, if there are legal limits on immigration–almost without regard to the magnitude of those limits–you will have illegal immigration. The primary thing that has reduced illegal immigration in the US is reducing the disparities (most typically, by the US going into a recession, thereby eliminating the kinds of opportunities that might otherwise await a new immigrant).
This leads me to a grim (“inconvenient”) conclusion: The only effective way to enforce borders is torture–that is, knowingly making/leaving living standards for undocumented immigrants sufficiently bad that people will stop choosing to come. Otherwise, well, people will continue to come. And if you help the poor undocumented immigrants escape their crappy circumstances, others will come to take their place. As in Ursula LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” the suffering of the poor within our borders is a necessary part of the system. When we choose to limit immigration, we choose suffering.
Feb 9 2023 at 4:34am
Depends on the scale of liberalized legal immigration. In the 1950s, the Bracero Program greatly reduced Mexican illegal immigration and it was far, far less free immigration.
Feb 9 2023 at 6:09pm
Good point, but (as I recall) that’s a special type of legal immigration, where workers were restricted to certain types of jobs. You would have had a different result with a program granting citizenship.
Feb 9 2023 at 6:42am
“I believe that drug legalization would increase the use of narcotics. That view is somewhat inconvenient.”
That view is “inconvenient” only if one assumes that increased use of narcotics is automatically a bad thing. On what basis is that assumption made? Many people use and have used narcotics while still being productive members of society, famously including the founder of Johns Hopkins, William Stewart Halsted.
As for the main focus of the column, the author seems to be very concerned about whether a particular immigrant is “legal” or “illegal”. I have no such concerns; I welcome anyone into the country who has come to perform honest work, whatever government thugs say about the matter.
Knut P. Heen
Feb 9 2023 at 10:42am
The point about legalization of drugs is that it is wrong to use violence (police & prison) against people for using drugs. It is their body. It is completely different if someone puts an unwanted needle in my body (even a vaccine). In that case it is moral to use violence against the offender (self-defense). It is my body.
The fact that the threat of violence may stop some people from using drugs and make some people take vaccines is irrelevant. It is not inconvenient to admit that the threat of violence may force people to do something they otherwise would not do. It is just a fact. I would turn it around. It is inconvenient to admit that you have to use the threat of violence to get your way because you failed to put forth a convincing argument for your case.
Feb 9 2023 at 11:00am
I guess I don’t understand what you mean by “inconvenient views.” The example you give of drug legalization seems more about benefits exceeding costs than an inconvenient view. Will you please elaborate on what you mean?
Feb 9 2023 at 12:31pm
Anything that challenges your priors.
Feb 9 2023 at 6:11pm
I mean an empirical estimate that weakens the argument for the policy that you prefer.
Feb 9 2023 at 6:17pm
Ah, thank you. That makes sense
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