Some thoughts about immigration

Similar to my previous post about tariffs, I also notice an asymmetry in the way the media reports it when the U.S. wants to enforce its immigration laws but doesn’t seem to mention how other countries enforce their immigration laws.

This is especially true when the media reports on officials from other countries criticizing the U.S., but doesn’t mention how well the officials’ countries enforce their immigration laws or whether they believe their own countries should be as lenient as the officials suggests the U.S. should be.

I also think it’s strange that folks often come down on the side of not enforcing immigration law, but not nearly as often do they suggest we change immigration law to better suit their preferences.

I personally think we should change the law by raising the limits on how many immigrants are legally allowed to immigrate to the U.S. But, I also do not think it’s bad for countries to enforce their immigration laws.

Most do and it doesn’t seem nearly as controversial as when the U.S. does.


I love it when people point out the blindlingly obvious

While I’m no fan of immigration restrictions, Charles Krauthammer asked a good question of those who don’t believe fences work:

If fences don’t work, why is there one around the White House?

Liberals, conservatives and libertarians

This week’s EconTalk podcast is very timely. It features guest Arnold Kling discussing his three languages of politics. It’s timely because it ties in with the discussion we’ve been having here about noise grenades and rudeness people display to those with opposing political views.

Kling observes that unproductive political discourse may be caused by people in different political camps thinking along different good/evil axes, which causes them to essentially speak different languages.

For liberals the good end of the axis is helping the oppressed, while the oppressors are on the evil end. If you’re not helping the oppressed, then you are an oppressor and evil.

For conservatives, civilization is good, barbarism is evil. If you are eroding the traditional structures and values of society, you’re not good.

For libertarians, freedom is good, coercion is evil. If you must force someone to behave how you’d like, eventually the force will be abused.

A simplified view of the issue of illegal immigration illustrates how to use these three axes.

  • Liberals see illegal immigrants as the oppressed, and people who don’t want illegal immigrants as the oppressors.
  • Libertarians see no reason to force people out of the U.S. or keep them out by force. The more the merrier.

So, liberals and libertarians support the same side in this issue, but for different reasons.

  • Conservatives think illegal immigration violates the rule of law, which risks civilization.

It’s difficult for anybody with one of the three worldviews to even so much as come to understand the others’ positions.

I also doubt that many liberals understand the libertarian view, even though they essentially agree with the end result.

Of course, there are more nuances to this issue. For example, I know conservatives who distinguish between illegal immigrants coming here for the goodies of the welfare state and those seeking opportunity. I know liberals who are concerned that loose border controls may let in criminals. But, I think the three axes does a good job of representing the prevailing views on the issue.

Kling also admits that this isn’t lock tight and doesn’t answer why people think this way — it’s just an observation that may help us come to understand those we disagree with. He also has a Kindle Short on the topic available for $1.99. I am currently reading it and enjoying it.

I recommend listening to the podcast. It’s a great discussion. Kling and Roberts share some interesting personal stories and also comment on Paul Krugman.

Also, as an oversight I had not added Kling’s blog, askblog, to my links in the right margin. His blog subtitle is taking the most charitable view of those who disagree. If more people would adopt that stance, we’d be better off!

Similar to Kling, I’ve been on all at least two of axes in my life and on some issues, will find myself on more than one. More on that to come.

Update: I finished reading Kling’s Kindle Short and I do recommend it. It’s well worth the $1.99.

Open Immigration

I think the biggest problem with immigration is that government limits it.

Good legislation mirrors social norms and the social norms recognize that most illegal immigrants are hard-working people looking for opportunity through value-added work effort rather than value-draining government benefit programs. That’s win-win. We should eliminate government limits on immigration to match what we believe to be true that we generally accept immigrants.

Now, some folks make the case that immigrants attracted by government handouts are a drain on society. However, I think that should be taken as a valid case against government handouts rather than immigration.

Others worry about the cultural impact of open immigration, yet the U.S. has survived many waves of immigrants before. I’m not sure I understand why a current wave should be feared, especially if they are coming here for opportunity.

Update: Here’s a good, related post on Arnold Kling’s askblog. In response to the analogy “Illegal immigrants are to immigration what shoplifters are to shopping,” Kling wrote:

Let me continue with the analogy. We have a store that makes the process of dealing with the sales clerks very complicated, with people having to stand in line at the cash register for years. Maybe we would not have so much shoplifting if we fixed the checkout process–or at least if we offered an “express lane” to people willing to pay a fee of $5,000 or so.

One of Kling’s commenters took it a bit further and wrote:

Illegal immigrants are to immigration what front-of-the-bus riders are to Jim Crow.

George Lopez Agrees With Louis CK

I saw George Lopez live last night.  Very entertaining, though he seemed a bit punch drunk and bitter from a divorce.

A common theme in Lopez’s act was how well we live compared to even just a generation ago, which reminds me of the comedian Louis CK’s “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy.”

He harped on how good our kids have it and showed that he’s a good economics thinker by asserting that we’re raising our kids as dependent wimps and that probably won’t end well.  We are the broken feedback loop.

One story he used to illustrate the point is how he baby-proof our homes to prevent our young children from getting hurt.  This is me, paraphrasing:

We put rubber on the corners, we plug the outlets.  When I was a kid, if we were walking around with a butter knife, adults encouraged us to stick it in the wall socket.  We’d shoot across the room and as we’re lying on the floor recovering the adult would come over and tell us to use our brains.

Kid walks into the kitchen and asks, “Is that pan hot?”  Adult: “You tell me.”

He talked about how we don’t even think twice about spending $30 here and there to buy our kids stuff now.

Back then $30 was a lot of money.  Heck, today it’s a lot of money.  We give our kids so much.  We didn’t have that back then.   We climbed trees, played marbles and doctor!

One line of Lopez’s reminded me of a Tony Blair, and perhaps Churchill quote: “You can take a true measure of a country by looking at the number of people trying to get in and the number trying to get out.”

Lopez:  “America is a great country.  You can tell because a lot people try to sneak in and not very many want to sneak out.”

And, I agree with Lopez on immigration.

Most immigrants come here to work and earn a better life than they had by doing jobs that Americans don’t really want to do.  Let them.

We all benefit from immigrants and most of us are too dumb to realize it.

I think the the biggest immigration problem we have is that our government places artificial limitations on the number of immigrants to admit and it creates other artificial barriers to them becoming legal, like the minimum wage.


Immigration is a cold topic now.  But, in all the debate that took place since the Arizona immigration law first passed, I don’t think very many people got to the root of the cause of illegal immigration.

Illegal immigration is a result of a simple supply-and-demand shortage problem caused by the limits set by Federal government on the number of green cards and visas to admit foreigners to the states.  Eliminate these limits and illegal immigration will not be an issue.

There’s a big demand of people who want to come to the States.

To come here legally, either to work as a resident or to establish residency for eventual citizenship, requires a visa or green card issued by the Department of Homeland Security.  Currently, only so many of these permits are issued each year and the “quotas” or limited number of permits that are issued is far below the demand.

The demand for green cards and visas is red hot product that is sold out (see the backlog totals near the bottom of the linked wikipedia page).  For skilled and unskilled workers (EB3 Visa), 40,000 are issued each year and there’s a 7-9 year backlog.

In fact, the demand is so red hot, the Federal government should look at making issuing these permits a profit center.  Let the market Continue reading