Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Thanks for the link, Steve.
Just to be clear about one thing, though: my post about immigration was not intended to lay out my position on the matter. Rather, it was intended to make the case, devil's advocate style, for the President's position on the matter. (Not that I'm suggesting that the President is the devil, you understand.)
Myself, I'm in the mushy middle on immigration, which really isn't my issue.
Reasons I think large-scale immigration is a good idea:
I basically buy my argument below about political stability in Mexico, though I think the immigration "valve" will be insufficient if Mexico doesn't deal swiftly and ruthlessly with its corruption problem. And while there are vast numbers of potential immigrants in China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc., these countries are an ocean away and while we could not completely eliminate illegal human traffic from these countries, limiting that traffic should be much easier than ending migration from Mexico, and the consequences to us of political instability on the other side of the world if the emigration "valve" is shut much less meaningful.
I think all else being equal (which, of course, it never is) immigration is a net positive for the immigrant (for the many obvious reasons), for the world (because the immigrant is more productive in his new situation and productivity is what makes the world go 'round), and for the receiving country (because we garner some of the benefits of that increased productivity, though how much of the benefit it debatable).
I share the romantic notion that America's identity as a nation of immigrants is part of what makes us great; it doesn't trump everything by any means, but it's something I look on positively. I also note that New York City, my home, is profoundly dependent on immigration for its continued vitality, as New York's middle and working class is increasingly imported from abroad.
I don't share much in the romanticism of the egalitarian 1950s; a more stratified, less egalitarian society doesn't especially bother me as such, provided there is a lot of social mobility, the leading classes have a high degree of public spirit, and the truly needy are taken care of.
Reasons I think large-scale immigration, particularly of low-skill workers, is a bad idea:
I don't see any compelling reason why we need to import lots of low-skill workers when we are now a post-industrial economy shedding manufacturing jobs even faster than the rest of the world is. Importing people reduces our incentives to increase productivity (and productivity is what ultimately drives national wealth) and reduces the incentives for the countries where those people currently live to make the most of their comparative advantage (America basically should not have a textile industry any longer, and we certainly shouldn't import people to man it.)
Low-skill immigration is clearly a regressive tax in that the benefits disproportionately accrue to owners of capital and consumers of goods where the costs are born by current citizens who are competing for the same jobs.
America historically devoted a great deal of energy to assimilating newcomers, energy we are no longer willing to expend, and this must affect our assessment of how many such newcomers we can afford to take in before America begins to come apart at the seams.
The enormous current influx is straining certain communities to the breaking point, and while illegal immigration makes this burden much worse, legalizing that flow would only affect the burden at the margins, and, if it resulted in even increased volumes of people coming in, would likely make the strain worse.
There are a variety of reasons to believe that social mobility is slowing (for reasons that have nothing at all to do with President Bush's tax cuts, thank you), and that the influx of low-skilled workers now coming in will find it much more difficult to climb into the middle class than was the case for the immigrants of the turn of the century. If that is the case, then high levels of immigration dominated by unskilled laborers could indeed reproduce Latin American social patterns in the United States, something I definitely would not be happy about.
Most Americans want the overall level of immigration controlled if not outright reduced and illegal immigration ended. That sentiment should count for something.
Anyway, those are the persuasive pro- and con- arguments as I see them.