Razib!? Not You, Too!

Razib is uncharacteristically confused:

a nation is not a market, a market is a sector of a nation. There is a large underclass in the United States which we lay off and replace with some industrious Mexicans, but that isn't going to happen, you don't lay off citizens, or export them. That's a reality, so one of the major priorities (in my opinion) should be choking unskilled labor so that wages rise for that sector.

Well, here we go…

(1) Markets are not sectors of nations. I just looked at the tag on my shirt. It says “Made in the Philippines.” How did it get here!? Labor markets are geographically bounded only insofar as the market for services and flows of labor are geographically bounded. But services are increasingly international (call centers, data entry, etc.). And the question at hand is whether we ought to further restrict the free flow of labor across our borders: don't beg it.  

(2) The largely black, urban American underclass is not an underclass because Mexicans are willing to accept low wages. It just isn't.

(3) Who doesn't lay off citizens? I'm not sure what is being said here. (Exporting? Huh?) If there is some claim here about a special obligation to enter into labor contracts with co-nationals, I'd like to hear an argument for it.

(4) As my last post argues, a nation is basically a geographically defined club that offers a number of services to its members, and that generally denies entry and membership to others on a completely morally indefensible basis.

I am glad that Razib (and Yglesias) are clear about their straightforward protectionism when it comes to labor. Of course, the argument for free trade in labor is exactly the same as the argument for free trade in anything else–even given morally backward America First assumptions. (And once we decide to consider the issue like decent human beings, and take into account the welfare of other human beings who just happen to have been born outside our public goods provision jurisdiction, the argument for free labor is so overwhelming you basically have to reject the idea of morality itself to deny its force.) Is there a compelling argument against free trade of which I am not yet aware? Even from the perspective of the U.S. national interest, we ought to abolish wage floors and allow U.S. employers to enter legally into labor contracts with anyone with the good sense to show up here.

In the same post, Razib says we need to batten the hatches to allow us to fully absorb the immigrants we have now. Is there any evidence that we are not successfully doing this already? Is there any evidence that we could not be doing this quite successfully if we doubled or tripled the rate of immigration? We can absorb many many more high wage and more low wage workers, and we should.

The good thing about the guest worker provision in the otherwise awful immigration bill is that it provides a stepping-stone to an EU-like American common labor market.  Here is Princeton's Douglas Massey in the August 2006 Cato Unbound on Mexican immigration:

Rather than seeking to build a wall between our two countries, we should adopt the stance taken by the European Union when it integrated poor neighbors such as Spain and Portugal in the 1980s and Poland and Hungary today. Rather than seeking to block flows of people that naturally follow from trade and investment within a common market, we should work to make sure these movements occur under circumstances that are beneficial to all concerned, promoting growth in Mexico, minimizing costs to the United States, and protecting the rights of immigrant and native workers.

Right on.

Preference, Opportunity, and Outcome

From Anne Phillips's “Defending Equality of Outcome” [pdf]:

When differences in outcome are explained retrospectively by reference to differences in personal preference, this assumes what has to be demonstrated: that individuals really did have equal opportunities to thrive. In many case, moreover, these explanations reproduce ideologically suspect stereotypes about particular social groups: that 'women' for example, care more about children than men, or have less of a taste for political power. When outcomes are “different” (read unequal), the better explanation is that the opportunities were themselves unequal.

I haven't read the whole paper yet, but this strikes me as forcing a false alternative. Phillips makes an excellent point about not just assuming that differences in outcome reflect a simple difference in preference. This point cuts especially deep when we acknowledge that preferences are not formed in a cultural vacuum, but can and often do reflect entrenched prejudices and social expectations at odds with a decent measure of individual autonomy, a requirement of equal opportunity. (Which is why, if you care about autonomy, it is insane to think sexism and racism are non-problems just as long as there are no legal barriers.) I think this is pretty well undeniable.

That said, it may also be the case that men and women, say, would tend to have differences in preference even when their preferences are sufficiently autonomously generated and reflectively endorsed — even in a climate of truly equal opportunity. Indeed, I think it would be pretty surprising if they didn't. And these no doubt will tend to affect patterns of outcome. Furthermore, unless we assume, bizarrely, that autonomous preferences must be either uniform or random, then there will be autonomous, reflective, culturally correlated preferences, again generating different patterns of outcomes for different groups.

Whether inequality in preference or inequality in opportunity is a better explanation for inequality in outcome is an empirical issue. And we should try to figure out what's going on in various cases. There is lots of evidence for heteronemous social pressure and unequal opportunity in all kinds of cases. And there is also plenty of evidence for sex differences and benign cultural variation that could effect outcomes. In most cases, it's not clear how much weight to put on either consideration, but it really is something we ought to just go ahead and dig into and fight about. That's how you find out. (There is also a matter of sex-, population-, and culture-based variations in skill, which is whole other question that bears on differences in outcome.) 

Maybe this is the big complication: If there are cross-culturally robust, non-culturally-constructed sex-based tendencies in preference, for example, then cultures may not only reflect but harden and exaggerate the differences in tendency, creating cultural expectations that exert pressure on men and women at the tails of their respective distributions to form preferences not fully “theirs.” Another way to put it: “naturally” emergent cultural expectations that reflect the average “natural” preferences of a group may raise the social cost of expressing statistically deviant preferences past the point that most people are willing to pay. So you get broad conformity in preference expression, but lots of people would have expressed non-conforming preferences had the price of expressing them been lower. If the problem of empirically determining whether or not different preferences determined different outcomes requires distinguishing between preferences that were supressed by the price of non-conformism, then we're probably in trouble.

Now, by “equality of opportunity” do we mean that everyone faces the same cost of expressing their “natural” preferences? I don't, since people with statistically deviant preferences will almost always face a higher cost of expressing them, unless they're also statistically deviant in not having a preference for conformity. Further, some preferences just aren't compatible with a desirable social order, so we need to keep the cost of expressing them high.