Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Friday, April 21, 2006
Having been absent for so long, there's just too long a list of things I have wanted to say something about. So the next few posts are going to be in kind of random order.

So here's a random start. I have readers (yes, amazingly enough) - no, seriously: I have readers who periodically ask me why I bother reading, much less linking to, Steve Sailer, either insinuating or asserting that he's an anti-Semite (or, at a minimum, has got "the Jew Thing"). My answer has always been that while Sailer seems willing to remain on friendly terms with people whom I would have to consider anti-Semites (and I've called him on this), I'm convinced that's not a fair characterization to apply to Sailer himself. Moreover, I think a primary function of journalism is to attempt to gore sacred cows. And I think it should be self-evident that there are Jewish-related sacred cows out there, and that a big chunk of the media isn't interested in goring them. When you set out to be deliberately politically-incorrect, as Sailer does, you're inevitably going to be offensive, and you may well be wrong a lot of the time to boot. That shouldn't detract from the fact that, as such, goring sacred cows (if practiced intelligently, of course) is a service to the collective intelligence of mankind. That's why I read, and occasionally link to, Steve Sailer. For those who aren't satisfied with this explanation, note that Matt Yglesias and Mickey Kaus, among others not generally associated with a paleocon sensibility (and both Jewish, I note) seem to read Sailer pretty regularly as well, and link to him occasionally too.

This is by way of prologue to a couple of comments I wanted to make on Sailer's by now somewhat stale cogitations about why Jews seem to be so pro-mass-immigration (as polls indicate they - we - are).

First, there's nothing weird about people's politics being driven by totemic issues rather than bottom-line questions. A rather lot of people died in 17th century Europe over the question of whether wine was blood and bread was flesh. Jonathan Swift found that mordantly funny in retrospect, but it was deadly serious to those engaged in the wars of religion. So I'm not sure why Jewish "nostalgia" on the subject of immigration should be a source of special puzzlement.

Second, I strongly doubt Jews - who, on average, have higher incomes that other American ethnic groups - are voting their pocketbooks by supporting high immigration levels. If that were true, then Jews would also vote consistently for lower upper-bracket income taxes. They in fact do the opposite (on average, of course).

Third, my impression is that immigration-restrictionist sentiment is strongest in areas that either have historically experienced little immigration or that border Mexico. With the exception of Los Angeles itself, my impression is that Jews do not tend to live in these places in large numbers. I bet Jews in Colorado have stronger sentiments against high immigration than do Jews in New York, and I bet white Christians in New York have much stronger sentiments in favor of high immigration than do white Christians in Colorado.

Fourth, I don't agree at all with Matt Yglesias that nationalism has been "bad for the Jews" or that Jews are, in general, post-nationalist in attitude. (I note in passing that this is a far greater slur on the Jewish character than anything I've ever read Sailer write about Jews; it is, in fact, the Old Right's primary anti-Semitic charge against the Jews.) But it is fair to say that many Jews, I would guess most Jews, instinctively believe that cultural diversity is "good for the Jews" because it is good for the Jews not to be a uniquely distinct minority. What this kind of thinking misses, of course, is that outside of the Northeast Corridor, "diversity" is precisely *not* how one would characterize our current age of mass immigration. Immigration anxiety, justified or not, is overwhlemingly centered on the mass immigration from neighboring Mexico. If the desire for diversity is a motivator for Jewish support for high immigration levels, then Jews should support not America's immigration policy, but Canada's (albeit with tougher restrictions on admitting terrorists).

Fifth, I was struck by this paragraph of Sailer's:

By laying the blame for the Holocaust on Congress in 1924 (a year that Hitler spent in jail), they can ignore the extraordinary lack of effort American Jewish leaders made during the 12 years of the Roosevelt Administration (which were coterminous with the Third Reich, 1933-1945) to get European Jews admitted as refugees. FDR was the most politically powerful President in American history and American Jews were, on the whole, wildly enthusiastic for FDR. Even though back then Jews comprised a much larger voting bloc, and one particularly well-situated in big electoral vote states to tip elections, they exerted little effective pressure on their hero to do anything for their co-ethnics. Rather than confront this history, it's so much more enjoyable today to blame it all on Congress in 1924 for not having the foresight to realize that a jailbird in Germany was going to perpetrate the worst crime in history two decades later.

Steve: has it not occurred to you that organizations like ADL and AIPAC, however much you might not like them, are precisely a response to the (partly accurate, I would say) perception of American Jews that the generation of the 1930s and 1940s, in spite of their numerical clout, were unable to save their brethren from the worst disaster in their history because they were unwilling to forcefully press their case, politically, in the media and elsewhere. You can't have it both ways, Steve.

Sixth, and somewhat tangentially, I wanted to point out the following. Sailer has often pointed out that opposition to bi-lingualism and illegal immigration are winning issues for Republicans among most Americans, and that the Hispanic vote is a lot smaller than people think. Therefore, he argues, Pete Wilson's support of Proposition 187 did not, in fact, hurt Republicans in California; what hurt Republicans in California was the internal migration of Republican-leaning whites to neighboring, less-expensive states. That may all be true, but this leaves an important element out. The Hispanic vote may not be as big as is often estimated, and may not have swung decisively in reaction to perceptions of GOP "nativism." But the Asian-American population, while much smaller than the Hispanic population nationally and in California, has much higher percentage levels of voter participation, and did swing *decisively* against the GOP *precisely* because of perceived GOP "nativism." Asians used to be described as natural GOP voters: socially conservative, small-business owners, anti-Communist. All true, and they used to split roughly 50-50 between the parties based partly on historical party affiliation (Japanese tended to be Democrats, whereas Vietnamese tended to be Republicans) and partly on economic status (poorer Chinese tended to be Democrats while richer Chinese tended to be Republicans). By the late 1990s, in California especially, Asians were voting overwhelmingly for the Democrats, to the point where they are now almost comparable to Jews in their voting patterns. So just as Jews might be happy to live among more Asians, and hence wind up supporting Mexican immigration that has totally different characteristics, Republicans running against Mexican immigration have wound up driving Asians out of the GOP coalition, contributing to the collapse of the GOP in California. I'm quite sure that the people actually charged with winning elections for the GOP are aware of this.

Seventh, and even more tangentially, in his original post on the "Jerusalem Syndrome" Sailer spends a bit of time ranting about convicted traitor Jonathan Pollard. I think it would be appropriate, in the context of such ranting, to point out that, prominently but by no means exclusively among Jewish officials, Senator Joe Lieberman has been extremely firm in his conviction that Pollard deserves his sentence and should not receive clemency, nor should he be "traded" to Israel until, at a minimum, Israel reveals everything that Pollard stole and on to whom the Israeli government subsequently passed it. That's exactly the right conclusion, and it would be nice if the paleocon Right, who disagree with Lieberman about so much, gave him credit for it, especially when the subject comes up in its more usual context.

Finally, I thought I should mention my own views on immigration. All else being equal, immigration should be a net-positive transaction for the world as a whole, and also a net-positive transaction for the receiving country. The reasoning, in a nutshell, is as follows: one can presume that an immigrant will be more productive in his new country than in the country he left, and that the benefits of this jump in his productivity will be shared between himself and his new country. This is the basic economic argument for relatively open borders, and it is the reason why it is not correct to say that immigration is *purely* a matter of redistrbution (unlike trade, which produces win-win situations).

But this basic economic argument for immigration is not the whole story. Selection effects, positive and negative, can be extremely important in the distribution of gains and losses due to immigration. A country that deliberately exports criminals is clearly going to benefit itself to the detriment of the receiving country. A country that deliberately imports highly skilled workers is clearly going to benefit itself to the detriment of the country from whom those highly skilled workers come. Welfare policies can profoundly shape the incentives for immigration, with consequences that may invalidate the assumption that immigrants will be more productive in their new country than they were in the old.

Moreover, there are externalities associated with immigration, some unquestionably negative (the transaction costs of schooling children in a new language are collectively born) and some debatably negative (is cultural diversity a good or a bad thing? there are two sides to that particular coin). And, just as with free trade but to a far greater degree, both the positive and negative externalities will be unevenly distributed. A country that imports lots of low-wage workers will produce gains, in terms of higher profits and lower consumer prices, that accrue disproportionately to those with assets and disposable income, while the costs, in terms of depressed wages and higher housing costs, will be born disproportionately by those at the lower end of the income spectrum.

What's the bottom line? I think America would benefit from a far more selective immigration policy, one that provided generous asylum for truly politically oppressed people and, otherwise, focused on bringing in people with specific skills that the economy needs at a particular time. Anyone who has dealt with the immigration system in the United States knows that it makes it extraordinarily difficult for precisely the people you think we would want here, and I don't see how that serves anyone's interests.

By the same token, I don't think it is wise for the country to be importing a large class of unskilled laborers, precisely because today's economy, unlike that of the late 19th century, is not generating such enormous demand for these workers that wages are rising rapidly even as the supply of labor grows. I'm one of the people who benefits from this influx, but I don't think it serves the country's long-term interests.

I think it is quite problematic for any country not to have proper control over its borders. I think a guestworker program is simply a mirage if we retain birthright citizenship, and I think it would be wise for us to retain birthright citizenship. Unfortunately, I suspect that solving the illegal immigration problem will require a national ID of the sort that Americans have historically rejected, and that therefore significant illegal immigration will continue.

Commentators on the question of immigration, particularly on the restrictionist side, reflect surprisingly infrequently on the unique position of the United States, in that we are the only major rich nation with a long border with a vastly poorer nation whose population exploded over the past generation. This may have something to do with the fact that America uniquely has a big illegal immigration problem, and it may mean that the problem is a tougher one to solve than restrictionists let on.

Politically, I think immigration is not going to get any traction in the near term because of the contradictions within each party on the issue.