A Predator of Information

Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing.

…I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

8 September 2017 10:46 PM (politics | society | immigration)

Immigration is a very important issue to me. I can't really say that to pollsters because they'll assume I oppose it. Immigration is very important to me because I think we desperately need more of it. There are lots of altruistic reasons to support immigration and globalization and they're important. (Yes, globalization under capitalism isn't ideal. There are real, serious problems like the United States outsourcing pollution along with work, child labor, low safety standards, and investor-state disputes. Yes, world socialism would be better, but the benefits of vastly imperfectly globalization have been large enough for the poorer nations that we would do much better to fight against the most harmful aspects than to protest globalization itself. Also we should work for world socialism.) I won't be talking about the altruistic reasons.

If you're worried about immigration and feel that we need less of it there's a good chance you're of the belief that immigrants ‘take jobs’ from Americans. It is also overwhelmingly likely that you are worried about the low birth rate and upset that more young people aren't starting families and having children. Think about these two things at the same time. You see why believing both doesn't really work, right? Either we have way too many people or we have too few people. If the former, then encouraging people to have more children would be disastrous. If the latter, then we should welcome people coming in from outside.

So, which is it? There are a few factors, really. One is that increasing automation, all on its own with no help from outsourcing or immigration, is cutting into existing jobs. There is some concern that it will cause a long-term decrease in the required work-force. The counter-argument is that, historically, automation has created new, different, and ultimately more jobs. In the long term a diminished place for humans in the workplace is almost certain, but I don't know how long that run is, and when it happens immigration won't matter a whit so we may as well discount it.

At present, we have reason to believe we could use more people or, and this is more crucial, more young people. The United States, along with many other rich countries, is suffering from an aging population. The most obvious problem this leads to is that the burden of care for each sick or old person falls on an ever-smaller number of working people. No. Social security is not a magic savings account. Your contributions went to paying for the people who were on it then, and any surplus was saved. The United States stopped having a surplus due to the generations following the baby boom all having fewer children and the baby boomers retiring. More young people would help. More young people would help to fund Medicare and, since young people are, on average, healthier, would help stabilize even Universal Medicare.

There are other advantages to having more young people. Young people need stuff sometimes (more rarely now, but sometimes) they have children and their children need lots of stuff. Older people already have stuff. Many of them are downsizing. They tend not to consume, other than healthcare services. Younger people stimulate and diversify the economy by buying things. Older people are also much more conservative in their investments. More specifically, they prefer either low-risk bond portfolios or savings accounts and are drawing down their savings. Younger people are much more likely to invest in higher-risk portfolios. Those are the ones that fund new businesses and new research. Younger people stimulate and diversify the economy by making capital available to new and innovative ideas.

There are, of course, other reasons to want a higher percentage of younger people. Older people tend to have common demographic interests and if they dominate the electorate, policies are made to cater to them. This may not sound bad, but many of those laws can harm a country's dynamism. Older people are more likely to oppose new development and indulge in NIMBYism. They favor extremely low inflation rates which are bad for the young and a drag on the economy. They tend to pull more money toward themselves and away from other concerns. Increasingly large portions of the welfare state to programs that benefit the elderly, particularly the rich elderly, at the expense of job training, education, and aid to people just staring in the work place. This is dangerous, because these latter programs can help to grow the economy as a whole.

So. We need more young people. You might ask “Well, why don't we just have more of our own?” There are a few answers to that. One is…why? From a purely selfish perspective, immigrants have some advantages. They got up and moved to a new country, that indicates a certain amount of whipitupitude. Statistically, immigrants are more likely to found businesses and create jobs for others. (This includes people from the US going to other countries, too.) I don't mean to denigrate born natives, they also have some advantages, like not needing to integrate into the culture. However, it's not obvious that, if you were to build an immigration policy based on self-interest, you would necessarily prefer them to immigrants.

Unless you're one of those people. Oh, you know. The people who say things like “White civilization was created by the white race!” completely ignoring…history. You know, like that dark-skinned Muslims were hanging onto and building the civilization people like that are so proud of yet fail to live up to. Or that to the Romans they look up to, they'd be “barbarians” of lesser standing than darker skinned folks from Asia Minor and North Africa. All that twaddle about ‘the white race’ and ten cents will get them…I don't know…what can one buy for ten cents nowadays? A stick of gum?

But you're smarter than that, right? So let's continue. The other problem is that getting people to have more children is hard. You could try paying them a dividend per child. That mostly doesn't work. There are some policies that may work better, but if you're wanting to keep immigrants out, you likely oppose them. …just in case you're curious, things like universal maternity and paternity leave, state and employer provided childcare, and a social safety net so that people can afford to take time off to have and raise children and absorb the risk of not being able to resume their career at the same level as before. Oh, yeah, the entire social norm of losing career status when you take extended time off doesn't help either.

So, if we have to choose between all those things and letting more immigrants in, which do you think will be easier? Of course the best choice is both. US demography is out of whack enough we could use as many young people as we can get.

Now we come to the question of illegal immigration. ‘Undocumented’ if you like, but it's not a terminology battle I care about. ‘Illegal’ isn't a value judgment on a person to my mind, given how many bad laws there are. So, some of you may take the strict law-and-order approach: they broke the law, they have to go. To this I might ask…why? First, if you're the kind of person who's really bothered by illegal immigration, I would have a very strong expectation that you are also quite annoyed at other laws. You may think that Federal grazing laws are too bossy and Environmental protection is too strict and that they should just leave people alone and mind their own business. I see very few people who call for deportation of illegal immigrants also calling for the government to clamp down on people grazing their animals illegally on federal land.

You might say that you don't have a nation if you can't even control your own borders. This is false, I might add. Through most of human history, borders were about who had control of what land. Some places may be more or less welcoming of strangers and in war time people will want to keep armies away, but the obsession with keeping people from crossing an imaginary line is pretty modern.

Did I upset you by calling it an imaginary line? Well, I apologize. I have a theory that people like you tend to think of the nation as like their house or family, and feel a sense of personal violation when people just waltz on in. I tend to think of the United States as something abstract a good that can be shared widely and that only gets more valuable as it's shared with more people. Economically it seems to be true, at least if you believe the above about a younger population and immigrants creating wealth. I think I might add that having a sense of personal violation seems very strange considering people are being born all the time without anyone giving them any license to do so. Not that I necessarily think we should abolish all borders right away. I'm not fond of borders as they are, but there are arguments for restricting the number of people entering at any given time so that they can adapt to cultural and democratic norms, and cases like children walking here from South America require serious thought.

We have some people who are here right now who didn't follow the rules when getting here. Should we make a point of getting rid of them? There's all sorts of arguments about ripping people up by the roots who've come here and made this country their own, who are American in every aspect but paperwork, but I'm keeping things to self-interest right now. From a perspective of pure selfishness: no.

The United States spends $19.3 billion every year on immigration and customs enforcement, and that doesn't even include the $3.8 billion we spend on intensive patrols on the Mexican border. We have 11.3 million undocumented immigrants. We're spending almost $17,000 every year on every illegal resident and we haven't got rid of them, or even made much of a dent. People want to pair any calls for amnesty, even limited ones, with more money for enforcement. I'd like to know exactly how much money we should spend on enforcement before it's enough and what we get out of it?

The US population of illegal residents has stayed basically flat for eight years, largely because the Mexican economy has got better and the US economy has got worse, so the US is less attractive overall. There is no rush across the border that has to be stemmed. We don't need to spend more on enforcement, even if we did think keeping illegal immigrants out was very important.

Deporting illegal residents and making those that come across the border seasonally impoverishes the United States, particularly the agriculture industry, since they end up with fruit rotting on the vine if they don't have enough pickers for it. of course if you were worried about illegal immigrants taking jobs from Americans, you could…give them work visas and residency.

Really. Many of them are paid substandard wages, work in poor conditions, get cheated out of their pay, and otherwise mistreated because employers know they can always threaten to call ICE on them if they demand better conditions. If they had legal residency and work status, that would no longer be the case. They'd be better off, and any American workers who are supposedly losing out them would be better off. Illegal residents also do not, as a group, contribute to violent crime. Oh, sure, there are examples of people who were killed by illegal immigrants— There are examples of people who have been killed by Sunday school teachers— but an example does not a trend make. Illegal immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes than the average for the US population. So if you're concerned about your safety and security, you should prefer that much of ICE's budget be taken away and used for actual criminal law enforcement.

There are reasons to have a customs agency. Smuggling comes to mind, particularly of agricultural pests and animal diseases, but the amount of money we now spend on it goes above and beyond reason. The number of people in ICE detention is more than the total number in the entire federal prison system. ICE has essentially become a collection of cynosures and plum contracts that big businesses use to suck money out of your pocket. They do it because they think you're stupid. That all they have to do is wave a cardboard Mexican on a stick, say ‘Oooh! Scary!’ and you'll insist that they be given another few billion dollars to build more private detention facilities. Linking any amnesty to more enforcement is just throwing good money after bad and providing no benefit.

Really, there's no two ways about it. If you are an American and you want to look out for yourself, just you and the people closest to you, your safety, and your economic well-being, then you should support immigration. You should support making legal immigration easier. You should support granting residency to all current illegal immigrants. You should support a cut to the resources currently spent on immigration and border security.

One response

  1. Digital says:

    The counter-argument is that, historically, automation has created new, different, and ultimately more jobs. In the long term a diminished place for humans in the workplace is almost certain, but I don't know how long that run is, and when it happens immigration won't matter a whit so we may as well discount it.

    To anyone doubting or curious about this, Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell has a wonderful video on this from 6 months ago:"The Rise of the Machines – Why Automation is Different this Time" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSKi8HfcxEk)

    CGP Grey has a video likewise, "Humans Need Not Apply" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU).

    The future is going to be.. interesting.

    Hopefully the HTML formatting worked...

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