Tyler vs. Tyrone on Immigration

I am unimpressed by Tyler's reply to Tyrone. I don't relish the gimmicky nature of Tyrone's proposals, and my commitment to the rule of law excludes setting forth the intentional disregard for the law as a positive reform. That said, Tyrone is in important ways both a better liberal and a better utilitarian than Tyler, at least in this case. And Tyler's reply, “Poor Tyrone has no idea of the cultural foundations of democracy,” sounds like a glib piece of reactionary agitprop in the absence of evidence that Tyrone's proposals would indeed erode the cultural foundations of the institutions that make the U.S. such an attractive target of migration.

I am the last person to deny that “moral infrastructure” is of fundamental importance. But opponents of liberal migration and labor policies too often confuse dynamic cultural change for cultural erosion. I more afraid that fat, tenured Americans will become too risk averse and insurance-minded than that hungry, entrepreneurial new entrants will undermine the very institutions they came to benefit from. Why not think that, on the one hand, our institutions  transform newcomers culturally more than they transform our institutions, while, on the other hand, newcomers keep our institutions vital and growth-minded, rather than moribund and insurance-mided? I wonder if Anthony de Jasay's reply to a very different argument doesn't apply here, too:

It so happens that under the hypothesis of an accumulated pool of agreeable externalities, the very processes of production and exchange that are enriched by people helping themselves to the pool, and by so doing depleting it so that less is left for latecomers, must be agreed by the same token to be replenishing the pool by the agreeable externalities they generate. For if past social cooperation has left over externalities that enrich the present, why should we not assume that present social cooperation will likewise enrich the future?–though room may always be left for the second-order question about the present doing enough for the future.

[Update: In the comments Tyler clarifies, “Sometimes Tyler is simply too obscure. I meant the line about cultural foundations to be poking fun at others, namely that a nation can be too stupid to embrace certain bright ideas…and that, sadly, that is part of democracy too.” I think I see! So… Then Tyler agrees with the upshot of Tyrone's ideas after all, but just thinks they are too infeasible to take seriously, given democractic stupidity?

 You should of course pre-order Tyler's book and get access to his super-secret blog hideout. I got my hands on a review copy and have read most of it. It's good. Short review forthcoming.]

Was the Marquis de Chastellux the First Growth Fetishist?

From the weird and fascinating An Essay on Public Happiness, published in 1774.

If, on the contrary, there should exist a nation which, without being very numerous, possesses a great quantity of well-cultivated lands; which daily increases its agriculture, and its commerce, whilst its population doth not increase in a similar proportion; and which, in short, raises a much greater measure of subsistence, without maintaining a greater number of inhabitants, I affirm that this nation must consume specifically more than other nations; and that, here the tariff of human life is higher than elsewhere. This, then, is the surest sign of the felicity of mankind.

Chastellux was third in command of the French troops at Yorktown, corresponded with Jefferson, Adams, Washington, etc., was a protege of Voltaire, and member of the Academie Francaise. Chastellux, who was also the first volunteer to be vaccinated for smallpox (there was of course a tremendous controversy over whether we should be “playing God” by curing people of horrible diseases) may have been more of a scientific materialist than his somewhat more pious yet still very science-besotted American correspondants.

Here is my favorite passage from Chastellux's Essay: 

Anatomy hath lifted up the veil of humanity; it hath discovered an innumerable quantity of machines, which give motion to these frivolous decorations of life, and proved to us that Moses made use of extremely bold hyperbole, when he asserted that God created man after his own image. This science, at once terrible and useful, hath taught those destructive weapons, which were accustomed to deprive us of our being, the new art of preserving it, and tracing out for them, even in our very entrails, a dark, but certin road, hath enabled the artist to remedy those disorders which he could not see.

That is, when we get over Moses' flattering lie and realize that we are meat-machines, we can transform the knife to the scalpel and actually improve human life. Chastellux plumped for a science of politics that would increase human happiness, by which he clearly meant: consumption per capita. 

Bonus: If you'd like to know what the Enlightenment French scientific elite thought of Benjamin Franklin, here you go:

A great, and magnificent discovery was reserved for these times; and this is Electricity, the terrible effects of which have placed mankind on an equality with the gods of antiquity, whilst Franklin, like another Prometheus, acquired the art of stealing the celestial fire, and rendering it docile to his laws.

That's a good review.     

Is a Guest Worker Program Like Slavery?

Like the editors of the New Republic seem to think? The Center for Global Development's Michael Clemens cooly annihilates the vile comparison.

I take a breath and count to ten. First, and emphatically, we must set the brutal, coercive slave trade completely and irrevocably apart from Chinese and Mexican immigration, which has been almost universally voluntary. Forcing Africans to come to this country and work for nothing was indeed far beyond unsavory and it did reflect, in its time, the worst instincts of this country. A colossal difference lies between this and the braceros' decision to come here and work for pay. Slaves were indeed “imported” as subhuman commodities. Mexicans and Chinese chose to come. And allowing people to voluntarily pursue their dreams is not something for which we should hang our heads in shame.

Now: What is the alternative to admitting Chinese and Mexicans to do “difficult” work here in a “shadowy” underclass? The alternative was not mass admission of unskilled labor with full citizenship, which would have been politically impossible and continues to be. For most of them, the alternative was not to come at all, and the temporary worker provision of the Immigration Act embodies a sophisticated understanding of this fact. If the US had not admitted Chinese and Mexicans in the past, those people would have remained where they were: doing far more difficult work in a sub-sub-underclass in the places they came from — not just shadowy, but completely invisible to Americans. How do we know it was that bad where they were before? Because despite the enormous hardships of coming here, both groups kept on choosing to come, for many decades. Immigrants, bluntly, are not stupid; they know what makes them better off, and they act on it.

The failure of the Immigration Reform Act means no temporary worker program, so fewer people will have that chance for a better life. The way the editors of the New Republic excoriate that provision of the bill, you'd think the bill's collapse is a victory in the fight against poverty.

Michael is an incredibly smart guy who really knows what he's talking about. Please read the rest.

Arbeit Macht Glück?

Arthur Brooks (via Mankiw) in the WSJ writes:

For most Americans, work is a rock-solid source of life happiness. Happy people work more hours each week than unhappy people, and work more in their free time as well. Even more tellingly, people with more hours per day to relax outside their jobs are not any happier than those who have less non-work time. In short, the idea that our heavy workloads are lowering our happiness is twaddle.

Obviously, there is a point beyond which work is excessive and lowers life quality. But within reasonable bounds, if happiness is our goal, the American formula of hard work appears to function pretty well.

This may be one reason why Americans tend to score better than Europeans on most happiness surveys. For example, according to the 2002 International Social Survey Programme across 35 countries, 56% of Americans are “completely happy” or “very happy” with their lives, versus 44% of Danes (often cited in surveys as the happiest Europeans), 35% of the French and 31% of Germans. Those sweet five-week vacations and 35-hour workweeks don't seem to be stimulating all that much félicité. A good old-fashioned 50-hour week might be a better option.

I think the wealthier societies become, the more work is likely to be a source of satisfaction, since the more likely it is that people will have the opportunity to work at jobs they find individually satisfying. This is even more likely to be the case when labor markets are relatively unregulated, making it easier for people to test the waters of lots of different kinds of careers, or to make big mid-career changes, without too much fear of of getting (semi-)permanently locked out of the market.

Whether or not work makes you happy depends on what kind of work it is; whether or not leisure time makes you happy depends on how you use it; whether or not money makes you happy depends on how you spend it. Work, leisure, and money are all good for happiness. What we need to understand is how different kinds of people can best match up with different patterns of working, relaxing, and spending.

Ross on the Moral Baseline

I am glad to see Ross explicitly lay out in his gracious rejoinder what he takes the alternative to the liberal moral baseline to be:

I suppose I prefer to think that constitutionalism and Judeo-Christian ethics are the moral baseline where government action is concerned. That is, I believe that the government of the United States should strive to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” and do so without trampling on any of the liberties enumerated in the Constitution; at the same time, I would prefer that America's leaders pursue policies that are broadly consonant with the Judeo-Christian tradition. (No wars of aggression, for instance.) And I'm pretty sure that “unrestricted voluntary cooperation between human beings” isn't a liberty that the Constitution protects, since the Congress is explicitly granted the power to regulate both interstate and international commerce.

Fair enough, though I don't think specifically Judeo-Christian ethics are an acceptable baseline in a pluralistic society with tens of millions of citizens who do not accept the authority of that ethical tradition. That said, observing the principle of equal liberty (i.e., “that every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty to every other man”) with regard to trade in labor is also perfectly consonant with both the Judeo-Christian tradition and the U.S. Constitution. So Ross's baseline seems to me largely irrelevant to his restrictionism, other than not obviously ruling it out. And, as a moral matter, it does nothing to establish what I see as his nationalism: the preference for the well-being of co-citizens over non-citizens, or the preference for reductions in inequality among citizens over even larger reductions of inequality between citizens and non-citizens.

The ultimate reason to endorse liberal principles is that adherence to them produces conditions under which human beings are most likely to thrive (according to the broadest variety of different conceptions of thriving). Even from a nationalist point of view, it is necessary to justify deviations from the principles that are most likely to improve the welfare of the nation's citizens. The argument Ross had offered seemed to be based on the idea that, although de facto not-completely-restricted trade in labor with Mexican workers likely produces net benefits for the nation, these benefits come at the expense of some of the least well-off citizens. The unarticulated argument, I take it, is that certain patterns of material holdings are, for one reason or another, in the interest of the nation, and so that it may be morally legitimate to restrict the liberties of all citizens, and reduce the average national material well-being, so that less well-off citizens may be made better off (or not worse off).

Even if we hold fixed nationalist assumptions, this line of thinking is unconvincing. If we're worried about patterns of material holdings, then we could, alternatively, not further restrict the freedom of citizens to trade in labor with migrant workers, go ahead and realize the economic surplus, and then reallocate some portion of the surplus to achieve the desired pattern of holdings. This produces a gain all around — even if we don't take the welfare of migrant workers into account — and without restricting the liberty of citizens to cooperate with others to mutual advantage. So it is hard to see how what I called a “Rawlsian nationalist” worried about the national pattern of income and holdings could rationally use this worry as a lever for restrictions on the inflow of foreign workers.

I appreciate Ross's meditation on the relationship between Christianity and immigration policy (I think Christianity, which sees all souls as having equal value under the eyes of God, is pretty flatly incompatible with all but the most tepid nationalisms, but nobody's going to take my heathen word for it) which I think identifies one of the chief issue of contention between us.

There are all sorts of variables that the government of a Christian society should weigh when deciding how many migrants to admit, chief among them the effect of migration on civil peace and political stability, both of which are taken somewhat for granted in contemporary America but which have historically been rather fragile things. How to weigh these variables is a point on which intelligent people, Christian and otherwise, can disagree. 

I would say we are a society containing a large majority of Christians, not a Christian society, but I agree that “civil peace and political stability” are at the heart of the issue. Statist liberals often worry about the destabilizing effects of income inequality. Statist conservatives often worry about the destabilizing effects of cultural change. Ross evidently worries about both, which puts him at odds with cosmopolitan dynamism on two separate fronts. In this sense, I think Ross's concerns about eroding American national identity and nation-level economic inequality are of a piece. But I think the actual evidence of destabilization, either from national economic inequality or from immigrant-led social change, is very scant. I, for one, think we are in a period of both rapidly evolving American cultural identity and increasing social, political, and economic stability. Ross is right that this is an argument worth having, and I think we're starting to have it, which is good. Let the data soar!

But, I've got to insist, the arguments over (a) whether the existence of political boundaries and co-citizenship is a conversation-stopper when it comes to matters of justice, and (b) over the amount of moral consideration to give to the well-being of non-citizens when it comes to assessing the costs and benefits of trade, are also worth having (i.e., worth not avoiding.)

Reihan has also written a long, meaty rejoinder (and who doesn't take pleasure in Reihan's long, meaty rejoinder?). I'll get to that a bit later when I get a chance.       

Why is the U.S. Falling Behind in Immigration?

George Borjas writes:

We always tend to think of the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants.” About 12% of the U.S. population today is foreign-born. It is eye-opening to put this number in perspective. Just look at some of the data collected by the U.N.:

Ireland, 14.1% foreign-born
Sweden, 12.4%
United Kingdom, 9.1%
Greece, 8.8%
Spain, 11.1%
Austria, 15.1%
France, 10.7%
Germany, 12.3%
Netherlands, 10.1%
Switzerland, 22.9%

That's percentage of the population foreign-born. The U.S. is even more of a laggard in inflows of foreign nationals as a percentage of population. Here is a graph from the OECD factbook:

Inflow of Foreign Nationals as a Percentage of Total Population among OECD Countries, 2004

Inflow of Foreign Nationals as a Percentage of Total Population among OECD Countries, 2004

[Click for full graph]

I've been poring over national quality of life statistics for the past two years now, and I can tell you for sure that Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada are much better places to live for the average person, in terms of QoL indicators, than the countries at the bottom the list. Part of it is that immigrants know what they're doing: they go where the opportunity is. Part of it is that high immigrant in-flows are a vital part of a thriving economy and society.

Does Ross Want a Less Mexican America?

Both Reihan and Daniel Larison seem to think I'm cheaply accusing Ross of some kind of nasty Mexiphobia. No. What I said is that I think Ross  is “appealing to populist class sentiments to help achieve a goal he wants anyway: a less Mexican America.” 

I had thought that Ross does want a less Mexican America. For instance, I read Ross's review of Samuel Huntington's Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity as buying in to the main thesis that America's national identity is Anglo-Protestant, that it underpins much of what is good about America, and that Mexican migration threatens it. Ross's sensible attitude is both less alarmed and more resigned than Huntington's; he thinks erosion of national identity is too bad, but not that bad, and that there's not a lot we can do about it. But, yes, a less Mexican America would be good for American national identity, which would be good for America. Things aren't as bad as Huntington thinks, but, Ross writes, “What decay there is lies within, in 'the challenges to America’s national identity' that Huntington so ably describes.” The challenges Huntington so ably describe have a lot to do with an imagined invasion of Mexicans.

When I googled The American Scene, seeking confirmation of my sense of Ross's views, I did turn this up, which seems a clearer endorsement of Huntington's thesis than the review itself:

If we're concerned about the collapse of a common culture, and the eclipse of our national identity, we need to recognize that this eclipse is as much as result of free trade (and our present free-market approach to immigration) as of declining patriotism and left-wing identity politics.

Now, Ross's conditional formulation is characteristically circumspect, so if he really doesn't think Mexican immigration — independent of its effects on patterns of income — is a problem for American national identity, he can say so, and I'll try to believe him. But I don't think I'm being unfair.

Douthat's Populist Nationalism

Grinding his Christian universalism under his nationalist heel, Ross Douthat breezily sets forth a multiply fallacious argument on the premise that there is no intellectual or moral difference between confiscatory redistribution and voluntary exchange when citizens of other countries are involved:

A slightly better way of putting what Matt is driving at, I think, is this: Large-scale immigration from Mexico to the United States is a form of de facto humanitarianism, and since Americans are generally leery of humanitarian spending (primarily because we overestimate the size of our existing foreign aid budget), liberal humanitarians have a vested interest in preserving the existing immigration system. It’s a rare issue where business interests line up on the side of raising the living standards of Third World peasants, and why mess with a good thing? Better, as Matt suggests, to go after the global elite in other arenas – like tax policy, say – where the business class’s preferred policies don’t have humanitarian externalities.

To which one might respond that there’s something slightly perverse about pursuing humanitarian ends through policies that lower the incomes of your poorest citizens and raise the incomes of your richest citizens. If I proposed a new AIDS-in-Africa initiative and advocated funding it through a regressive tax that included a tax credit for families making over $75,000, I doubt that many liberals would line up behind the proposal.

I'll muster some charity and assume that Ross is simply confused here. But he really is badly confused.

It's a rather profound error to characterize voluntary trade between American employers and Mexicans workers as equivalent to “humanitarian spending,” as if money tax revenue had been withdrawn from the Treasury and sent to Mexicans. There is indeed a pecuniary externality of Mexican workers in the American labor market — downward price pressure from competition — and this can indeed have an effect on the pattern of American incomes. But it is a pretty basic and embarrassing mistake to confuse (1) coercive state confiscation and reallocation of income with (2) changing patterns of income from voluntary exchange.

Perhaps Ross really does think that the U.S. government has taken money from the pockets of the producers of Oceans 13 by refusing to ban Pirates of the Carribean, but I think he's smarter than that. Government tax policy requires justification. Distribution of tax revenue require justification. Exercising our rights doesn't.

That Ross is liable see the issue in this weird, mistaken way does indicate that he thinks some sort of nationalism is the legitimate moral baseline. The liberal (in the broad sense) presumption of freedom, on the other hand, has it that unrestricted voluntary cooperation between human beings is the moral baseline. Deviations from this require special justification. Given the liberal baseline, labor market restrictions (that's what we're talking about here — whether to further restrict American labor markets), besides standing as a violation of the rights of both Americans and Mexicans to freely associate and trade with one another, amount to a transfer of income from Mexican workers and American consumers to some low-skilled American workers. In addition to the basic violation of liberty, this is a monstrously regressive transfer, harming Mexican workers much more than it helps low-skilled American workers.

But Ross seems to understand the situation in a way that, as far as I can tell, completely discounts the welfare gain to Mexicans, and conceives of the effects of millions of people exercising their human rights as requiring some kind of special justification. This makes sense only relative to a nationalist worldview where “humanitarian spending” is something benighted “liberal humanitarians” want to do and the actual welfare effects of this “spending” on foreigners is simply irrelevant to the moral calculus; all that matters is the effect of the policy on persons with valid U.S. passports. If the policy turns out to (on average) reduce the incomes of low-skilled U.S. workers and raise the incomes of  higher-skilled U.S. workers, then it's evidently “perverse.” So if we have to placate uppity U.S. humanitarian liberals by throwing money at poor people somewhere, surely this isn't the way we want to do it.

But what about Mexican workers and their families? Who cares! Wrong passport! What about the lost liberty of Americans to trade with Mexican workers on the labor market? Well, I guess we decide what liberties Americans have based on some undermotivated nation-level idea of just distribution. Why? Who knows!? (And who cares if it keeps Mexicans out?!) I don't think Ross denies the fact that Mexican immigration on average makes Americans better off. So a merely utilitarian nationalism would have us accept even more immigrants. You could try to dress Ross's view up as Rawlsian nationalism, demanding that a policy improve the lot of the least well-off Americans. But I think Ross's argument really amounts to populist nationalism, appealing to populist class sentiments to help achieve a goal he wants anyway: a less Mexican America.  

Well, I understand that a certain kind of nationalism may well be the default baseline for a broad swathe of American public opinion, but that makes it no less repugnant from the perspective of both human liberty and human welfare. Democrats and then Republicans in the American South long succeeded in winning elections by drumming up racist majorities. (Integrating blacks fully into the labor market no doubt put downward pressure on low-skilled white wages, and I don't doubt successful politicians brought this up.) But I don't think this speaks well of our democracy.

This whole issue really turns on what we take to be the relevant moral baseline. I would very much like to see Ross defend what I see as his form of nationalism. From where I sit, there's something more than “slightly perverse” about denying our human rights to freely cooperate and locking very poor people out of our labor markets so that relatively wealthy people whose grandparents got here first don't have to take a paycut.

Kaplan: Morality a Threat to National Security

Robert D. Kaplan, well, sort of disgusts me:  

Never-say-die faith, accompanied by old-fashioned nationalism, is alive in America. It is a match for the most fanatical suicide bombers anywhere, but with few exceptions, that faith is confined to our finest combat infantry units—and to specific sections of the country and socio-economic strata from which these “warriors” (as they like to call themselves) hail. They are not characteristic of a country in many ways hurtling rapidly in the opposite direction. This is not the 1950s, when Americans felt a certain relief in possessing “the bomb.” Fifty years later, most Americans feel a certain relief in never having to even hear about “the bomb.”

Faith is about struggle, about having confidence precisely when the odds are the worst. Faith is the capacity to believe in what is simultaneously necessary but improbable. That kind of faith is receding in America among a social and economic class increasingly motivated by universal values: caring, for example, about the suffering of famine victims abroad as much as for hurricane victims at home. Universal values are a good in and of themselves, and they are not the opposite of faith. But they should never be confused with it. You may care to the point of tears about suffering humankind without having the will to actually fight (let alone inconvenience yourself) for those concerns. Thus, universal values may pose an existential challenge to national security when accompanied by a loss of faith in one’s own political values and projects.

In other words, if you care about the well-being of poor people in other countries more than restoring ROTC to Princeton, you're flirting with treason. You would think that if “our political values and projects” are in competition with universal values, then that's a problem with our political values and projects. Perhaps we may wish to reconsider projects like unjustly invading and occupying foreign lands, since it does not seem that this kind of thing makes us less likely to be a target of foreign aggression. Yet Kaplan genuinely seems to believe that truculent fanatic nationalism makes us safer. I fear this kind of mad emotive commitment to America uber alles, this “faith” of which he speaks, almost certainly makes us worse as a people and a culture, and therefore less worth believing in, and fighting for. And more worth hating. 

Are Robert Kaplan essays an existential threat to national security?