Friday, September 21, 2012

A better immigration policy than all this gaming of the skills distribution

Why don't we just do a bunch of lotteries: permanent resident with family sponsor lottery, permanent resident without family sponsor lottery, five year temporary lottery, one year temporary lottery, and student lottery.

Shift the numbers in each as they are over or under subscribed and as the electorate deems appropriate (as with capital flows, I am generally in favor of open labor flows but 'm still sympathtic to people who worry about big discontinuous flows that the system may have trouble accomodating in the short run).

This has no valuation of people who happen to have lots of education over those who have little or who make lots of money vs. little money. My family never would have made it in if they had that sort of standard between the 1630s and the 1890s (the expanse of time when we arrived), and I feel like we've made some valuable contributions since then. Plus it just doesn't feel like that's the way we should be doing things in this country.

This one just came to mind.

There are surely other better ones.

It seems to me immigration policy ought to be welcoming, universalist, and able to distinguish between people who come here for different reasons (in other worrds, I recognize that just as we shouldn't distinguish based on skill level we also shouldn't only cater to permanent residents or only cater to temporary workers). Policymakers should not try to shape the composition of the American people. That's our business.


  1. I said that if you are to have a welfare state, then no immigration policy can be non-arbitrary. Do you agree with this statement? Perhaps you disagree upon the extent, but surely you agree with the sentiment of the sentence.

    If you do agree, then I must ask you: how does making the arbitrariness of immigration policy even more arbitrary help matters?

    1. I think you and I have a different opinion on what amounts to an "arbitrary" immigration policy.

      The government picking which immigrants it wants seems like a more arbitrary exercise of power than market forces determining who seeks out immigration. It's true, a lottery makes it more random. But it's still less arbitrary because the expected value of the composition of the immigrant inflow is determined by decentralized, voluntary decision making.

      There are plenty of areas where I think government action can improve the situation.

      I see no good reason why this is one of those areas.

  2. That sounds vaguely better than the current approach. But how about instead just say: if you show that you can support yourself in the United States (showing a job offer, a person with sufficient means pledging to support you, yourself posting a bond or whatever...) you can come in? I understand those who say that they don't want to pay for every poor person out there through the welfare state. But I just don't see a good justification for not letting in people who are able to support themselves. (or have other people willing and able to support them)

    1. As a pragmatic matter, I'm practically a complete open borders guy. But I don't see - as a matter of principle - why people have a right to come here. There are a lot of benefits that the U.S. government provides simply by presiding over this territory. It's not clear to me why it's the birthright of everyone on the planet to benefit from that. So it seems fair to leave that up to a vote.

      But I would like to see that, personally.

      We have a long tradition of being exceptionally open, so I'm not too worried on that margin. I'm more concerned about the risk of using immigration policy as a way for the government to shape domestic labor markets.

  3. I proposed a new immigration policy here.
    I really don't understand why we have "family unification". That doesn't seem to serve any interest of American citizens.


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