Friday, July 26, 2013

A few immigration things

1. A post by my EPI co-authors and me on high skill immigration is now up at Paul Solman's PBS website. It's a little more polemical than our other paper, but it's what Solman wanted. I wouldn't say I disagree with it, but it emphasizes points that I wouldn't emphasize so much. Ah well - that's what co-authoring and engaging in a public debate comes up with sometimes. The response post, by Vivek Wadhwa, is aggravating. The guy is a real jerk and has been calling us nativists and xenophobes regularly. He's also got weird input like "I'm not aware of any such NCES surveys" even though we discussed our data sources with him weeks ago in private correspondence. He's an odd, bitter guy that I'd personally rather not respond to, but it's a good platform for getting these ideas out.

2. Second, this was a disappointing publication from Alex Nowrasteh (Cato Institute) recently. He argues that if people are worried about immigrant welfare use we should just exclude immigrants from welfare rather than restrict immigration flows. So Nowrasteh is happy to welcome new Americans... as long as we treat them like second class citizens. Nobody would dream of saying that we should have more immigrants but that the police shouldn't respond to their 9-1-1 calls, or that they can come here but they can't use public roads. But you can get away with making that sort of argument about the safety net, and so he does. I think if you want to make an argument against the safety net then nut up and make an argument against the safety net. Don't advocate treating immigrants like they're not part of this community because it's the easy way to make that argument.

3. Speaking of the Cato Institute, they're having an event today called "What Economists Think About Immigration", featuring Madeline Zavodny, Ethan Lewis, and Michael Clemens, with Alex Nowrasteh moderating. It should be streamed online. I'll be there - if you are, say hi!


  1. Speaking about Nowrasteh

    I think there is a substantial difference. Saying, "you can come, but you can't use roads" or "you can come, but you can be raped and murdered with impunity" really is like saying "you can't come". On the other hand, most potential immigrants already live with a thread-bare or even non-existent welfare system, in a country with vastly inferior level of economic opportunity. So letting people in without allowing them access to welfare really is a huge benefit to those people.

    Secondly, there is a very real political reality that people are afraid of the welfare system being overwhelmed by immigrants if we open the borders. I think that's a little crazy, but that's the reality. So if we can alleviate that fear and still provide the huge benefit of immigration without welfare access to several million people, that is great.

    Third, the paper doesn't say "immigrants", it says "noncitizens". Noncitizens are denied all sorts of rights, such as the right to vote, run for office, etc... Should noncitizens really have the exact same rights as citizens in all respects?

  2. Here's what I've been wondering about immigration recently....

    Big silicon valley companies are lobbying for an increase high skills quotas. What nobody seems interested in is the simple question "Why do they care?" In the old days if US companies thought their home state was getting too expensive they would start branches in different states and countries. I work for the Irish branch of a US company which also has branches in many other countries. Why doesn't Zuckerberg just get Facebook to make branches in lots of other countries and pay staff the going rate in those places, which is certain to be less than in the US.

    I think that something hiding behind this whole debate is the "buzz" of silicon valley. Recently start-ups have become very centralized there. Y-combinator (for example) seem to want everyone they invest in to move there no matter where they're from. I have a feeling this fad will disappear.


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