Friday, May 10, 2013

If you like "merit-based" immigration policy then you're in the DeMint/Richwine/Heritage camp

Sorry. The truth hurts sometimes.

DeMint writes that: "A properly structured lawful immigration system would help our economy. This is why Heritage and conservatives have long argued for reforming the legal immigration system to make the process more efficient, more merit-based. We need an immigration process that attracts high-skilled workers and encourages patriotic assimilation to unite new immigrants with America’s vibrant civil society."

Commenter Hume argues that there's a cognitive difference between people who say "I don't want the people I think are dumber" (Richwine, for example) and the people who say "I only want the people I think are smarter" (DeMint, for example). I think in a lot of this cases this is probably right. When Noah Smith takes this position, for example, I do not think there are any underlying Richwinesque sentiments driving it. That's just my impression from what I know of Noah. But in a lot of cases I think the DeMint position is just a more politically aware version of the Richwine position.

And when people say they want to grease the tracks for high skill immigrants because that's what they can get done, they're basically taking the same negotiating position with guys like Jim DeMint that Obama took with the GOP on the budget - in other words, trying to meet them halfway but ending up meeting them 95% of the way because you know DeMint isn't going to budge.


We shouldn't just assume that we should make decisions on the basis of national borders. The people on the other side of the border are just as human as the people on this side. But if national borders mean anything, they identify a community of people that have built a set of national institutions together - which is not a minor point. If we want to make policy to maintain the fundamental composition of that institution-building community we might want to regulate inflow across the border: we might want to make immigration policy, in other words. That's not an entirely unreasonable position. But when we make immigration policy, it seems to me the question should be "do the migrants want to be a part of this institution-building community?", not "what is their IQ?" or "can they program in Java?".


  1. "do the migrants want to be a part of this institution-building community?" is a valid question. Sadly the answer is not likely to be what you want to hear.

    Patriotic assimilation has been in decline for decades. Indeed, the very word assimilation is now regarded as "repressive, racist, bigoted, etc.".

    For some actual data, take a look at "Patriotic assimilation By Mike Gonzalez / Heritage Foundation"

    Read the actual statistics in the article. They should tell you a lot.

    1. I'm not so sure about "assimilation". I'm happy to have the country change too. Doesn't immigrant culture/characteristics enrich us?

      I guess I'm not thinking quite so specifically about population homogenization.

    2. "Doesn't immigrant culture/characteristics enrich us?"

      What does "enrich us" mean to you? Something other than ethnic food hopefully. My question is not meant as a joke or to be sarcastic. Clearly you are not referring to economics (nor in many cases am I). What does "enrich us" mean?

    3. People with different experiences and outlooks looking at problems differently.

      The food is nice too, but I'd actually probably like American Chinese food rather than Chinese Chinese food. That was not really what I had in mind.

  2. Also take a look at "The Boston Globe - The downside of diversity - A Harvard political scientist finds that diversity hurts civic life. What happens when a liberal scholar unearths an inconvenient truth?"

    "IT HAS BECOME increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger.

    But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam -- famous for "Bowling Alone," his 2000 book on declining civic engagement -- has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

    "The extent of the effect is shocking," says Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist."

    1. I don't generally trust IVs, but I'd like to see an IV for this... which kind of shows how skeptical I am of the relation he's really unearthing.

    2. Instrumental variable... I'm skeptical that you're an economist!

      I highly doubt the interesting descriptive findings from Putnam have quite the causal mechanism you're implying.

    3. " I'm skeptical that you're an economist!"

      Correct. My actual background is in chemistry. My career has been almost entirely in technology with some business development.

    4. DK,

      Putnam's paper is online. See "E Pluribus Unum : Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture".

      Note that Putnam is arguing against interest. He is unambiguously an advocate of diversity, immigration, etc. He is also honest enough to admit that his research doesn't support his beliefs. Note that he suppressed his own research for at least 5 years because of how much he disliked the results.

  3. Two closely related notes. There is vast evidence that low-skill immigrant children and the children of low-skill immigrants perform poorly in our schools and the underperformance persists for at least 4 generations. Indeed, the left and right agree on this (they don't agree on why). Does it really make sense to allow the overall skill level of America to decline via immigration? California once had (supposedly) the best public schools in America. Now they compete with Mississippi for the worst. What's changed? Immigration.

    The second point is that other countries (notably Canada) implement the immigration system Richwine proposes. In Canada, immigrant children (slightly) outperform the natives. Is Canada some horrible racist place we should all be afraid of? To answer the obvious question, Canada draws its immigrants from Asia (mostly) and not Latin America. See

  4. It seems to me that the current state of immigrants and immigration, as well as the form and substance of the entire debate, is overwhelming evidence of the increasing failure of our government to perform in face of the challenges before it.

    The original plan for America was wide open immigration. Everyone was going to get rich selling land to immigrants. Most all the Founding Fathers were or became land speculators, selling land through foreign offices. The French Revolution mucked up the business plan.

    There is a strong case to be made, based on immigration from Cuba, that we should follow this policy, now. The first wave of Cuba immigrants had the resources and skills to buy homes and well all know the rest of the story.

    Carter's boat people---too many went straight to jail, do not pass go, etc.

    Anyway, Heritage gives new meaning to the pot calling the kettle black

    The Heritage report is an implicit blackmail threat. We have the political power to assure this undesirable outcome and we will do whatever it takes to make this happen


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