Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for June 2007

Five billion migrants

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One of the weaker restrictionist arguments I’ve heard in the immigration debate is the one about the huge number of people who are poorer than the US average. I’ve encountered this line of reasoning specifically in response to the position I hold on the issue, namely that immigration is at heart an economic phenomenon, and the best way to handle the “problem” is to legalize that which has hitherto been against the law: non-familial Latino economic migration.

Anyway, I often hear theĀ  countervailing argument phrased in a manner similar to the following comment that appeared recently on a Becker-Posner thread:

“If we were to just grant the “right” to immigrate to every Tom, Dick, Harry and Juanita; the Nation would be overwhelmed.”

Um, but such a proposal is not on offer.

We have a large “problem” with illegal immigration from Mexico because of three facts: a) the large wealth gap between the two countries; b) the fact that our southern neighbor shares a land border with us; and, c) the fact that this land border is very long.

If you changed any of the three above, you’d have a much smaller inflow of illegal immigrants. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), the US can’t really do much about these facts, and hence it will continue to receive large numbers of immigrants from south of the border. The only question is whether or not America decides to provide a legal means for this migration to take place. But these facts are not observable with respect to other places, so, I think it’s safe to say, despite the warnings of the restrictionists, we won’t soon be overwhelmed with illegal immigrants from Indonesia or Mozambique.

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June 10, 2007 at 1:39 am

Stopping roofers and landcapers

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I base much of my argument on how to deal with illegal immigration on feasibility. I simply don’t think it’s feasible to stop illegal immigration via an enforcement only approach, and thus far the evidence overwhelmingly says I’m correct. I therefore prefer to bring some order to the situation. I take the same position with respect to other economics-driven phenomena like drugs: legalization, regulation and taxation is the way to go. I’m not a big fan of black markets.

The evidence suggests there’s a simple imbalance of supply and demand with respect to our labor markets: natural population growth and legal immigration undersupply America’s needs by a half million or so mostly low-skilled workers a year. The market naturally meets this need, despite the law’s lack of recognition. If one is concerned as I am about national security, one is convinced the most sensible approach is to screen, fingerprint, bond, background check and credential these workers — and spend our finite border security dollars trying to stop terrorists. Stopping roofers and landscapers just isn’t a high priority for me.

I’m also candidly disdainful of the arguments of the Samuel Huntingtons of the world. The country has many problems to be sure, but I just don’t see what any of them have to do with immigration, legal or not. The big picture is that the immigration boom — especially that over the last quarter century — has coincided with an economic boom, with America’s victory in the Cold War, and with markedly improved socioeconomic indicis (falling crime, increased educational attainment, a leveling off of drug use, decreases in out of wedlock births, environmental improvements, urban renewal, etc.). About the only problem that is even tangentially related to immigration is wage stagnation, and even Borjas concedes the evidence at best (or worst) points to an extremely modest dampening of wages for an extremely modest portion of the workforce.

I simply continue to be unable to grasp the “crisis” that others seem to be convinced has been visited upon us by all those brown people. And I therefore naturally turn a very skeptical eye toward — and demand rigorous cost benefit analysis — of any scheme designed to stop illegal immigration via an enforcement only approach. Especially when there are only so many dollars to go around, and especially when there exist, you know, actual terrorists who undoubtedly would like to violate our borders to commit actual murder.

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June 7, 2007 at 8:20 pm

Domestic policy, Republican-style

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Matt Yglesias is skeptical of Karl Rove’s view that the Ebay economy will help cement GOP power in the years ahead. Matt writes:

I’d say the fact that it’s now more feasible for people to “run their own business, become a sole proprietor or an entrepreneur” means people are more interested in seeing the development of a policy agenda — federal guarantees of health insurance, elder care, and basic child services — that facilitate that sort of lifestyle.


Technological and economic trends give lots of Americans unparalleled opportunities and freedoms — but they at least seem to be accompanied by greater risk. Today’s Republicans can no more embrace raising taxes than the Democrats can endorse outlawing abortion. Unfortunately for today’s Republicans, even the most innovative, market-friendly and well thought out safety-net enhancements cost money, which is why the GOP is increasingly a no-show in domestic policy debates.

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June 2, 2007 at 11:40 am

In support of open borders

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I know I’m spitting in the wind here, but, can we all please dispense with the term “open borders?” It’s really one of my pet peeves. Who of us doesn’t want to be able to leave the country for a Caribbean vacation? Who of us doesn’t want a nice family from Ontario to be able to drive down to New York to see the sights? Who of us doesn’t want goods and services to be able to flow back and forth across our frontiers? Don’t these things require that our borders be open? Would y’all prefer the borders to be closed as Stalinist Russia?

Now, I realize a lot of people use the term to refer to an insecure border, but all I’m asking for is a little precision in language. Because the thing is, absolutely NOBODY wants the fucking border to be insecure. I strongly suspect even the most whackily post-modern, leftist, downtown Manhattan dwelling, moonbat crazy America hating intellectual doesn’t want, say, an al-Qaeda operative smuggling in a nuclear weapon that might well vaporize his very own apartment building in Tribeca. I repeat: exactly nobody wants insecure borders.

What there is a debate about is how to go about best securing the border and what role, if any, immigration policy plays in this process. There’s also what should be the utterly unrelated debate about immigration itself (how much, what kind, etc.), and how to go about stopping or reducing the illegal variety.

Strangely, the further 9/11/01 recedes into the past, the less we seem to worry about the national security aspects of border control, and the more we seem to worry about, er, overcrowded Northern Virginia boarding houses. Funny, that.

Stopping a nuclear terrorist ought to generate a lot more national heat and fury (and absorb a lot more intellectual and financial resources) than stopping construction workers and dishwashers. This, perhaps more than anything else, is why I’ve come to loathe the new restrictionists: their quest for a chimerical cultural and racial purity is endangering the country, and I resent the hell out of them because of it.

Written by Jasper

June 1, 2007 at 11:51 pm