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November 21, 2016

Comments

Excellent Russell, and though the Somali's are a good example many others are out there.

Frankly, anyone who has spent time in Paris could make a better argument to block French immigration but then that would be stupid right?

It's silly, short sighted, and given our history wholly predictable.

Thank you russell. It's amazing how Muslims are demonized, while white supremacists are normalized.

Good post.

Demonization takes many forms, as when a nonviolent movement initiated by Palestinians is called antisemitic.

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2158218-hillary-clintons-letter-to-haim-saban-against-bds.html

But yes, it is amazingly easy to demonize Muslims. Unfortunately the problem has not been entirely on the Republican side. And in popular culture for some reason many people on the left like Bill Mather.

A century ago the Christian majority demonized Jews in the same way, by linking them to sometimes violent radical leftist groups.

Bill Maher. My iPad strikes again.

Ah, I thought you referring to Bill Mather, the 9th-great grandson of Cotton Mather.

At the risk of dragging this thread back to Syrians, let me toss in the case of Abdulfattah Jandali. He was born in 1931 and grew up in Homs, Syria. Came to the US, and stayed and had a couple of kids. Got so acculturated that he has even been divorced 4 times -- one more than Trump (so far).

He started a few businesses, including a Mediterranean restaurant in the heart of Silicon Valley. Among his customers was a guy who was actually his son: Steve Jobs. And of course we all know all the horrible things that Mr Jobs has done to the US and our economy. So better we should never have let Mr Jandali in.

This chart might be useful to put things in perspective. We spent a lot of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with almost 15% of the population being foreign-born, then the rate declined to only 4.7% in 1970. Since then it's steadily risen to be about 13.5% now.

One of the things you'll notice about this chart is that 15% seems to be a magic number for reaction. When you get to 15%, the rate almost always declines for at least a decade.

I suspect that a lot of the current angst is simply that a whole bunch of people feel like they need a rest, and a little time to get their feet back under them. Immigration puts real stress on consensus culture. That stress may ultimately be beneficial but it's... you know, stressful. Add to that a truly abysmal low-skill labor market, and maybe it's time to ease off for a while.

I actively like being around the many Somali people who live in the Pacific Northwest. They are courteous, polite when they need to ask something or when others ask them something, attentive to detail when I encounter them in customer service jobs, the whole deal. Their values when it comes to public life are, really, very much like those of my Depression-vintage parents.

And I love seeing Somali students waiting for the bus, coming in or out of school, etc. They are so full of enthusiasm for school, so happy with each other's company, so accommodating and courteous to others around them. They charm me.

I'd be really happy with more Americans like them, from any part of the world.

That's a reasonable point.

My purpose in posting this overall was to contest the idea that people who are (1) Muslim or (2) from the Middle East or (3) from areas of conflict are incapable of assimilating into the US.

IMO the Somalis have done a pretty good job of doing just that.

Thanks for your comment Radical Moderate.

I would note a couple of things.

First, our current 13.5% immigrants is roughly what were the troughs in the variation during the late 1800s. Not the peaks, from which we looked for relief; the troughs, while we were catching our breaths after the peaks. Note also that the rate of growth is flattening. The percentage of immigrants is growing, but more slowly than it was in the 1990s and 2000s.

Second, the low-skill job market is bad. But the concern about immigration today doesn't seem to be as strong in that part of the population as it is among those a couple of steps up the skill range. That is, the concern doesn't seem to be those who would be competing with (low-skill) immigrants.

TheRadicalModerate, that's a good point, but I'm not sure if there is a faucet to turn off. The failure to deal with immigration, and to basically create an illegal system where Americans benefit from it in the form of lower prices on food and services, means that it is an elephant in the room. That's why you have Marty claim that Obama overreached with the DREAM act, but he can say it is a good thing.

Unfortunately, when you have one party that is so keen to hang on to power, that they are willing to stop any meaningful progress on the issue to keep the other side from deriving any benefit, you are going to have problems. And given that a large part of Trump's appeal was against Mexicans and Hispanics, I don't see how the Republican party can now go back and deal with it. So giving it a rest isn't really an option, unless you (the generic you, not you in particular) only wanted to use it to gin up the troops and now that it is over, you want them to stop worrying about it.

LJ, even if you were to linearize the estimated illegal population in the US over the period of its most steady growth (1990-2007--see here), you'd get about 543K illegal immigrants per year. But that number has probably been negative for the past 10 years or so.

In contrast, the US has granted an average of about 1.03 million permanent residencies per year since 2000.

My guess is that the illegal problem is about 80% solved, simply through incremental improvements in enforcement. I have no doubt that Trump will make a medium deal about "the wall", which he can do pretty much through reconciliation piggybacking on the 2006 Secure Fence Act, but it's going to be (moderately expensive) political theater more than anything else.

The real question is what to do about legal immigration, and what to do about refugee programs. I would note two things:

1) In terms of Middle Eastern refugees, what we're doing currently is pure virtue-signaling. The number of refugees we're actually admitting is minuscule compared to the scale of the problem. We could stop completely and nothing would change except we'd get a little bit of a soft-power black eye. Given what I suspect Trump is about to put us through in terms of the rest of the soft-power portfolio, it would be lost in the noise.

2) I think the case for admitting low-skill immigrants to the US is incredibly weak. They're not even close to being the biggest depressant of low-skill wages (i.e., they fall far behind offshoring and automation), but they're not trivial. Before we apply even modest additional economic pressure to a particularly vulnerable class of natives, I'd want to see an awfully compelling case for how any cultural benefits that might accrue from more low-skill immigration would outweigh the pain inflicted on the low-skill working class. I don't think that that case is makeable.

3) NB: We need the high-skill immigration. The case for it as a net benefit is a slam-dunk. And, while native workers do get displaced by immigrants, the number that are permanently displaced is tiny. Basically, the US economy is really good at devouring high-skill labor and turning it into goodies. The more the merrier.

Between marginally better enforcement, looking at refugee programs from something other than a feel-good perspective, and restricting low-skill immigration somewhat, I think you've got a faucet with a pretty good handle on it.

I'm not sure what the right thing to do is here, other than the low-skill stuff. But I don't discount the feelings of those who feel just a little too culture-shocked. A little clockwise pressure on the faucet seems warranted and doable.

I don't know if there is any research on this but I had the impression that the Syrian refugees tended to be educated urban people practicing a liberal version of Islam, the kind of people who would fit in quite easily.

"I have no doubt that Trump will make a medium deal about "the wall""

I say we buy him a really big set of Legos and let him knock himself out.

"I think the case for admitting low-skill immigrants to the US is incredibly weak."

if we're talking about syrians, specifically, I'm not sure we're talking about a low-skill population.

Syrians aside, from a purely macro-economic point of view, you're probably right. at least, right-ish.

from a point of view of building good will, less so.

we could do it. do we want to do it is the question.

"I have no doubt that Trump will make a medium deal about "the wall""

I say we buy him a really big set of Legos and let him knock himself out.

"I think the case for admitting low-skill immigrants to the US is incredibly weak."

if we're talking about syrians, specifically, I'm not sure we're talking about a low-skill population.

Syrians aside, from a purely macro-economic point of view, you're probably right. at least, right-ish.

from a point of view of building good will, less so.

we could do it. do we want to do it is the question.

IMO the Somalis have done a pretty good job of [assimilating]

For three decades, I have flown into and out of the St. Paul airport four times a year. Much of the service staff is Somali, and I've had considerable chance to watch and interact with them.

I'd say the hardest thing was the Minnesota winter. Traditional Somali dress didn't cut it, but they've modified their traditions to use more non-cotton fabrics and more layers -- and of course long exposure to winter triggers physiological adaption.

But those first years ! The guys filling up taxis at the SuperAmerica station on Post Road at 20 degress below zero Fahrenheit must really have wanted to be there, because you could see they were suffering.

If they can adapt to that, getting along with Minnesota's Lake Woebegone Lutheran culture should be a snap.

Russell, I wasn't talking specifically about Syrians in making my low-skill comments. And I'm fine with the US accepting some Syrian refugees.

But let's not kid ourselves: The US admitted 12,587 Syrians and 9880 Iraqis in FY2016. Syria has 4.8 million refugees and another and estimated 8.7 million internally displaced persons. Iraq has 220,000 refugees and about 3 million IDPs.

In other words, the US resettled 0.4% of the refugees from the combined Syrian/Iraqi civil wars last year.

This is nothing but virtue-signaling. Nothing wrong with that, but there's nothing particularly effective about it, either. If we never resettled another Syrian or Iraqi refugee in the US, it would have virtually no impact on the crisis one way or another.

Indeed, if we put a moratorium on admitting all refugees and transferred the entire $1.7B budget of the Office of Refugee Resettlement to supporting refugees in a country like Jordan, we could help about 453,000 refugees. (Jordan spends about $3750 per refugee per year.) That's more than five times more people we could help than the 85,000 we admitted in FY2016.

(NB: The $1.7B is HHS funding. No clue whether that folds in the State and DHS funding for the program or not. Also, note that I did something vaguely weaselly when I started using the entire ORR budget instead of just the part that went to Syria and Iraq. Then we would only be able to help 120,000 refugees--but that's still 5x more. And it gets us up to dealing with a whopping 2.4% of the total refugee load!)

I have no clue what kind of soft-power bang we get for the buck out of refugee resettlement. But if we're going to grade on something other than the sheer number of people we could help for a given bolus of money, it had better be a lot. Think that's happening in the Middle East?

Again, nothing wrong with refugee programs, and I agree that the token number of middle-class Syrians we admit are probably going to be pretty good citizens. But we're kinda looking for our keys under the lamppost because the light's better there.

A nit:

"They are Muslim Arabs, from the middle-east-ish part of the world."

Somalis are not Arabs. The Somali language is not even a Semitic language (it's Cushitic, although the Semitic and Cushitic languages are both part of the Afro-Asiatic language family).

Maybe it has changed, but I thought the US still had two basic categories of immigration, family based and employment based. I'm not sure how we take that system and just get high skilled immigrants out of it. As I understand it, the current visa for highly skilled is the H1B and it is a non-immigrant visa.

Also using permanent residence as a proxy for immigration is rather flawed.

according to https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics/yearbook/2014/table6

2014 saw 1,016,518 permanant visas,
Unless I've misread the link, over 645,000 of those visas were family based. Are you saying family members shouldn't have visas?

I'm also not sure how we simply take one governmental budget and spend it on something else. Has that ever happened before?

Basically, you want to make a show of stopping immigration because some people feel that we have too much immigration. But the problem is not formal immigration, it is a vague sense of unease when people hear other people speaking Spanish, or have to interact with someone not from their culture, which then makes people susceptible to appeals to build a wall. Trump is not proposing to build a wall as a part of a rational immigration policy, he is proposing it to take advantage of the angry white demographic. Throwing them a faux bone in the form of reform of immigration is not going to make them think that everything is ok, unless is means that they can more easily target people because if there is no immigration, then anyone working in a low-skill job and not white is going to be assumed to be here illegally.

"Somalis are not Arabs"

Noted! thank you for the correction.

"This is nothing but virtue-signaling. Nothing wrong with that, but there's nothing particularly effective about it, either"

you are correct, it would not be a sufficient solution to the overall Syrian refugee problem.

it would, however, demonstrate a willingness on our part to help people who are in a desparate position.

I guess you could characterize that as "virtue-signalling". what does a refusal to do even that much signal?

russell,

"what does a refusal to do even that much signal?"

Kinda depends on what you do instead, doesn't it?

yes, of course it does.

i'll be more specific: if we decline to help because the folks in question are (a) Muslim or (b) Syrian, what does that signal?

and I know that wasn't your point. it is, however, mine.

LJ,

"As I understand it, the current visa for highly skilled is the H1B and it is a non-immigrant visa."

There's a procedure for converting H-1B's to permanent residency. Here's a rundown on how skilled worker preferences are organized. I'm not sure how many of these come out of the H-1B pool, but my guess is that H-1B conversions make up a lot of EB-2 and EB-3 categories.

My understanding of the H-1B process is that there's a pretty significant industry built up around ensuring that employers can successfully jump through the hoops necessary to retain workers that they like and, to a lesser degree, demonstrate that the wages that they're paid are prevailing wages. This has led to a certain amount of abuse of the process. Since I don't think that skilled immigration has many deleterious effects on native workers (and note that I'm using "native workers" as a shorthand for "native-born and naturalized US citizens and permanent residents in the labor force"), a little bit of H-1B visa abuse doesn't particularly bother me, although I'm pretty sure that it would bother a dedicated Trumpkin.

"Also using permanent residence as a proxy for immigration is rather flawed."

Agreed, but it's an extremely good proxy for who's going to become a citizen.

"Are you saying family members shouldn't have visas?"

Up until 1965, immigration was based on country quotas and not family reunification. So it's not like there aren't other ways of doing this. There are certainly some moral problems associated with country quotas (e.g. they can be pretty racist), but there are also moral problems with family reunification (e.g. it brings in some low-skill labor to compete with native low-skill labor).

Also note that family reunification visas, just like employment-based visas, are allocated by quota. So we're already dealing with the moral implications of not reunifying every single family of every single legal immigrant in the US. Given that, it doesn't seem particularly horrifying to suggest that you could tighten up those quotas and cut down on low-skill immigration.

Alternatively, you could simply design some reasonable skill requirements that got factored into some of the various existing reunification quota categories, or you could create new categories that would bias immigration in favor of more skilled workers.

"Trump is not proposing to build a wall as a part of a rational immigration policy, he is proposing it to take advantage of the angry white demographic."

I agree that the wall is a stupid policy idea and shameless pandering, but your "angry white demographic" generalization begs the question: Are they angry because they're racist, because they're culturally stressed, or because they're economically frightened?

I have a huge amount of sympathy for the economic fear, and addressing that fear with policy seems entirely warranted. I'm willing to entertain the argument that low-skill immigration doesn't affect the wages of low-skill natives very much, but it seems to me that you're on pretty shaky moral ground if it affects their wages at all.

I also have a fair amount of sympathy for the cultural stress argument: If you're ultimately balancing the positions, "diversity is good because it builds a more robust society" and "diversity is bad because it erodes cultural norms", I'd probably come down more on the "diversity good" side, but there's a limit. If you're finding yourself cramming what's essentially an ideological agenda down a whole bunch of unwilling throats, at the very least you ought to consider whether simple pragmatism dictates that you ease off a bit.

It is almost certain that there's an immigration rate beyond which you get severely sub-optimal social results. If you'd like to argue that "it's sub-optimal because of racism", then... OK, I will pretty strongly disagree with you, but that doesn't really affect the sub-optimality one way or another.

I doubt strongly that Trump has given this much thought one way or another, and I'm certainly prepared to expect that his solutions to the problem will be pretty bad. But that's different from denying that there's a problem in the first place. If current policy is causing an already-distressed chunk of the population even more distress, you probably ought to consider changing that policy.

Russell,

"if we decline to help because the folks in question are (a) Muslim or (b) Syrian, what does that signal?"

Signal to whom, for what purpose, and to what degree?

If we're talking about signaling to the people of the Middle East that we don't hate and fear them, they don't really care. No matter how we feel about them, they hate and fear us, not without some justification. So there's no advantage to be gained here other than a vague, warm, fuzzy feeling.

If we're talking about signaling to the rest of the international community that we're willing to carry our share of the load, then our current refugee program is a profound insult to their intelligence, and the net benefit is probably negative.

If we're signaling to ourselves that we're the kind of country that welcomes people in distress, well, OK. But this is pretty much the definition of pure virtue-signaling.

Virtue signaling is not unimportant. It's a way of reinforcing certain social norms. But history shows that being an open and welcoming society has pretty specific limits as an American social norm: we like being an open and welcoming society when we can afford it.

That seems to me to be a pretty pragmatic position.

We can certainly afford the resettlement of 20,000ish Arabs (a big chunk of whom are Christian, BTW, and skilled labor, as you have pointed out) in purely financial terms. However, it is less clear if we can afford a larger, more diverse set of immigrants at the rates that we're accepting them (or tolerating them in the case of illegal immigration). In the more general case, the affordability has financial implications for specific segments of the labor force, and cultural implications for specific segments of society. I suspect that there's a fair amount of overlap in those segments, because the people who are financially vulnerable are also culturally vulnerable.

This is why I keep dragging this back to immigration in general. If we're bringing in Middle Eastern refugees purely for purposes of domestic virtue-signaling, then we need to look very carefully at whether cramming this particular set of signals down the throats of some very unwilling chunks of the electorate is beneficial.

It certainly hasn't been beneficial for US political stability.

If we're talking about signaling to the people of the Middle East that we don't hate and fear them, they don't really care. No matter how we feel about them, they hate and fear us, not without some justification.

Is this presented as fact or opinion?

""Trump is not proposing to build a wall as a part of a rational immigration policy, he is proposing it to take advantage of the angry white demographic."

Maybe, or probably. But every President in my lifetime has campaigned on a commitment to slow or stop illegal immigration from Mexico. Including Obama, who has deported more people to Mexico than any of his predecessors and has ramped up electronic and human surveillance on the border substantially.

So, other than the optics of a wall, why is stemming the flow of illegal immigrants suddenly racist or irrational immigration policy?

Stemming the flow of illegal immigration is not a particularly rational policy when net illegal immigration, via the route being addressed, is negative. The optics of the wall are relevant only because the wall is purely about optics.

If someone actually cares about illegal immigration, rather than being upset about Hispanics in the US, they ought to be looking at the actual way people who are here illegally got here. Which, overwhelmingly, is by arriving entirely legally and then overstaying their visas. Have you seen anything about addressing that? I sure haven't.

wj,

No, but I have seen the deployment of drones and doubling the number of border security guards and massively expanded video surveillance. You know, actual actions by the current and previous administrations with no massive rebuke.

hairshirthedonist,

"Is this [that much of the Middle East hates and fears us] presented as fact or opinion?"

Well, there's this. No numbers for Syria or Iraq, possibly because they didn't want to categorize the answers as approve/disapprove/don't know/surveyor killed. The closest proxy for them is probably Jordan, which is not so good.

If you'd like me to moderate "hate/fear" to "disapprove so strongly that they don't care about our fig leaf refugee program", consider it done.

If we're talking about signaling to the people of the Middle East that we don't hate and fear them, they don't really care.

I hope you'll forgive me if I don't take your word for that.

You know, actual actions by the current and previous administrations with no massive rebuke.

I think the reaction to Trump's policies on immigration from MX are not so much about managing illegal immigration per se as they are about the language and tone with which he referred to Mexican people.

I could, of course, be wrong about that. But that's been my takeaway.

What's Great about America (Facebook Video)

wj,

"Which, overwhelmingly, is by arriving entirely legally and then overstaying their visas."

The best-publicized study of this was the Pew Hispanic Trends study in 2006, which estimated that visa overstays accounted for 39-50% of illegal immigrants. That's hardly "overwhelming", but it's hefty.

Yes, it appears that the number of illegal immigrants has been flat since 2009, although the actual decline took place between 2007-2009. You could infer that illegal Mexican border crossing were down from that if you assume that visa overstays are still occurring, but I haven't seen any evidence of that one way or the other. Border patrol apprehensions in the southwest sector are still running about 480,000 a year. The best estimates of the apprehension-to-success ratio of an illegal crossing are about 50-50. So we'd have to have almost half a million illegal Mexican immigrants returning to Mexico per year to have a negative immigration rate. That doesn't sound very likely.

The whole "build a wall" thing is stupid. But it's hard to argue that we couldn't do a lot more to reduce the inflow of illegal immigrants, through better border surveillance, better entry/exit matching, and better enforcement of employment verification.

"If someone actually cares about illegal immigration, rather than being upset about Hispanics in the US..."

Since your "overwhelming" claim is more than a bit overblown, this looks gratuitously nasty. I've recently seen some evidence that imputing bad faith toward a whole bunch of people that you don't know turns out to be a sub-optimal strategy for accumulating and managing political power.

I've recently seen some evidence that imputing bad faith toward a whole bunch of people that you don't know turns out to be a sub-optimal strategy for accumulating and managing political power.

You don't really have to impute it.

As to accumulating political power, the current Putin-supported coup appears to be quite effective. Although, historically, Republicans taking the Presidency is full of treachery and bad faith. See Nixon, Reagan and Bush.

tRM, it looks to me like that's an estimate using all of those currently in the country who are illegal immigrants. Which is not quite the same as saying that the percentages they give apply to current illegal immigration activity.

Large numbers of those who have been here for years did, indeed, cross into the country illegally. Which skews the numbers when you look at everybody who is here illegally, rather than looking at what is happening today.

wj, are you talking about the 50-50 apprehension rate? I'm pretty sure that those are computed only at or close to the point of entry (i.e. some spot on the southern border).

What I was trying to break out was specifically current illegal entries minus self-deportations. The methods to do so are obviously imperfect.

I'm willing to believe that the Pew Hispanic study is no longer valid, but the CPB numbers certainly are. To get anywhere near "overwhelming" in terms of visa overstays, you'd have to be up in the 1M range, and the recent numbers are less than half that. In fact, they're pretty close to 50-50 with the presumed "uninspected" entry rate--which is what Pew came up with.

tRM, by conflating the question of who wants to become a citizen with who is in the country, your argument gets really confused. And you didn't address my question, are you proposing we stop issuing visas to family members so we can say hey, we are only getting high skills people?

But it's hard to argue that we couldn't do a lot more to reduce the inflow of illegal immigrants, through better border surveillance, better entry/exit matching, and better enforcement of employment verification.

I (correctly) requote Dave Chapelle: "You act like everyone gonna pick their own strawberries" Sure we could reduce the inflow of illegal immigrants, but the reason it hasn't been done is that it is the same sort of theatre that fiddling with visa categories is. And worse, it just maintains the ability for most Americans to never really have any contact with them, making it impossible to have policies that are empathetic. If policies were grounded in empathy, that would be a much more powerful 'virtue signalling' than anything you have suggested.

LJ--

"...by conflating the question of who wants to become a citizen with who is in the country, your argument gets really confused."

Fair enough. Let's do a better accounting:

LPRs per year: 1.02M
New H-1Bs approved: 275K
New H-2Bs (guest ag workers): 75K
Illegal immigration: not very much--probably
Other stuff: too lazy to research--arm-wave 100K

So using LPRs as a proxy could be off by 40% or so.

"And you didn't address my question, are you proposing we stop issuing visas to family members so we can say hey, we are only getting high skills people?"

I'm proposing that we reduce the existing quotas used for family reunification--which already prevent a lot of family members from entering the country--so that the ratio of high-skill to low-skill legal immigrants increases substantially. The ratio doesn't have to be infinite, just larger.

"Sure we could reduce the inflow of illegal immigrants, but the reason it hasn't been done is that it is the same sort of theatre that fiddling with visa categories is."

At the risk of setting the controls for the heart of the Black Hole That Is American Wage Policy (and what immigration discussion isn't livened up with an oblique Pink Floyd song reference?), let me just say that if the goal is to move immigration policy from from the "theater" realm, then you have to move minimum wage policy from the "theater" realm at the same time.

Either we need the sub-minimum-wage jobs, in which case we should acknowledge that there's something that needs changing with the minimum wage and change it, or we can afford the hit to the macro-economy that comes from paying 5M-ish workers 50%-ish more, in which case we should work aggressively to destroy the grey market that's enabled by illegal immigration. Either choose the form of your hypocrisy, or be willing to take responsibility for looking like a meanie to one chunk of the offended electorate or the other.

Frankly, I'm OK with the hypocrisy, as long we acknowledge it, and try to work out a compromise between the various offended groups. You know--kinda like politics. Seems like some more immigration enforcement, some immigration restriction, and some attempt to get the sub-minimum-wage grey market to normalize would be more effective than simply having comedians rolling their eyes at us.

"And worse, it just maintains the ability for most Americans to never really have any contact with them, making it impossible to have policies that are empathetic."

This is the only thing you've said that's actively pissed me off, because it completely ignores the vast, yawning chasm of empathy deficit that exists between the policymakers and their own working class. Address that and I'm pretty sure that you'll find that the people you're accusing of having no empathy are quite the opposite of what you're presuming them to be.

Frankly, I'm OK with the hypocrisy, as long we acknowledge it...

I'm not so sure that's a good idea.

I realize that it's usual to be offended by hypocrisy. But I think it sometimes has its uses. It's just that, like "compromise", it gets a bad rap.

Think of it as a form of internal politics. Hypocrisy allows someone to do something that he knows needs to be done, but which he doesn't want to admit should be done. With hypocrisy, he can have it both ways. That increases the chances that something which needs to happen actually does happen, by removing a psychological (or ideological) barrier.

Yeah, it's impure. Just like compromise. But it allows real human beings (as opposed to idealized ones) to function.

This is the only thing you've said that's actively pissed me off, because it completely ignores the vast, yawning chasm of empathy deficit that exists between the policymakers and their own working class. Address that and I'm pretty sure that you'll find that the people you're accusing of having no empathy are quite the opposite of what you're presuming them to be.

Apologies, but I don't see how ratcheting up the skills requirement is empathetic. Maybe I'm not understanding how you propose to do it, because the skills test has to rely on some sort of mutual recognition of certifications, or some sort of testing regime that is no where in place, which then mirabile dictu, tends to make it less likely to have the people from the countries where they are actually coming from. So it's a way to appeal to people who want to say 'I'm not against skin color, I just don't think they have the mental capabilities that we do'. I realize that accuses you of that, so I can understand you getting pissed, but if you can explain how you can test for high skills in a way that is not simply immigration theatre, I'd be a little less dismissive. I think that conflating LPRs and H1 and H2 visas is a category error and the failure to take into account undocumented aliens (or automatically assume they are all low-skill) is a problem.

LJ, I think you misunderstood something I said up-thread: "Alternatively, you could simply design some reasonable skill requirements that got factored into some of the various existing reunification quota categories." This has nothing to do with a skills "test". We set aside several categories for immigrants who have documented proficiency in certain skills. There's no "testing" involved--just a big honkin' paper trail.

You could implement a similar system for family reunification, but frankly it's a lot easier just to reduce the family reunification quotas. Whether you decide to offset that reduction by cranking up the H-1B quotas is a separate issue. Business will be happy to take as many H-1Bs as we'll provide, and a hefty proportion of the H-1B holders will be happy to become permanent residents.

I don't really care if we raise total immigration, reduce it, or leave it the same. The thing I care about is relieving as much pressure on the low-skill labor pool as possible, and one way to do that is not to pour gasoline on the fire by needlessly adding more low-skill foreign workers to the pool.

People are really hurting out there. Not only has the low-skill labor pool grown larger as the "previously skilled" (e.g. low-end knowledge workers who have been displaced by automation, factory workers who have been displaced by a combination of automation and outsourcing, etc.) have joined its ranks, but many of the traditional avenues to climb out of it into jobs that lead to the acquisition of skills have been cut off.

I prioritize empathy for them, my fellow citizens, over empathy for prospective immigrants, no matter how deserving they are, or even how much they may ultimately contribute to American society. That doesn't mean that I don't feel empathy for them; it just means that, when we're forced to choose between conflicting interests (and I believe that there is a conflict in this case), I'm going to choose to take care of the people who are already here first.

And I'm not pissed because I think you're implicitly accusing me of being some kind of concern-trolling racist. I'm pissed because you are wringing your hands about a lack of "empathy" for a relatively small group of prospective immigrants and are being completely oblivious to (which of course implies a lack of empathy) a larger group of real-live citizens and permanent residents. But if you were then to accuse them of racism when the vast majority are simply struggling, scared, and not thinking very clearly, then you would cross the line from indifference to hostility.

I accept your criticism about conflating LPRs with non-immigrant visa holders, but I don't think it matters very much in terms of scale (which is what I was driving at with the numbers above), so any category error is incidental.

As for assuming that undocumented aliens are low-skill, see here: 74% have high school or less. Median income is drastically lower, and the concentration of undocumented immigrants in low-skill jobs is much higher. I'm not automatically assuming that all of them are low-skill, but the low-skilled predominate.

Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue - La Rochefoucauld.

I've always approved of hypocrisy to this extent, that even bad people acknowledge the existence of good and pretend to it. Not ideal, but better than bad people denying or ignoring the existence of good.

TRM: well said.

why is it good to limit immigration to reduce competition for low-skill labor, but encourage immigration that creates competition for high-skill labor?

just asking, as they say.

I'm pissed because you are wringing your hands about a lack of "empathy" for a relatively small group of prospective immigrants and are being completely oblivious to (which of course implies a lack of empathy) a larger group of real-live citizens and permanent residents. But if you were then to accuse them of racism when the vast majority are simply struggling, scared, and not thinking very clearly, then you would cross the line from indifference to hostility.

I live in Japan, and what I know is not a relatively small group of prospective immigrants (they are already in the country, so they aren't 'prospective', they are already here working) so I am assuming the pattern is the same in the US. If you pretend that all the immigrants are outside the country waiting to get in, you end up confusing visa procedures with real immigration reform and fail to provide a path to citizenship. It suggests that you don't see the people picking your vegetables, cleaning your hotel room or doing a myriad number of other jobs.

I've actually know people who are working illegally in Japan, and they aren't doing it to rip off the Japanese government, or to pull some scam, they are doing so called san K jobs (kitsu, kitanai, kiken or backbreaking, dirty, dangerous) that Japanese don't want to do. It seems that the same goes for the US. Complaining that you are creating some bogus notions of 'high skills' doesn't seem to be me wringing my hands, it's calling you out for a bait and switch with immigration. That I call you out for throwing a bone to your fellow citizens while pissing on anyone who doesn't have citizenship seems to be what you have problems with, but I'm not really attached to the idea that where someone happened to be born grants the right to piss on people who weren't born there.

As far as equating hi skills with a High school education, it suggests that these people had this opportunity to turn down going to high school and instead chose to try and make money. I don't think a high school diploma is a good marker of 'high skills', and if you could tell me what particular skills they would acquire attending a Central American high school that would then allow us to employ them to pick our strawberries or section our chickens or all those other tasks, I'd be interested to know.

LJ: Is it Koreans in Japan that you are referring to? They have the kind of problem that "birthright citizenship" eventually solves, I hear.

and if we're concerned about there not being a path for lower-skilled people to acquire better skills, why don't we create that path?

why do we have to pick between having empathy for one group of people but not another?

and what freaking good is "empathy" if it doesn't translate into actually doing something to improve people's situations?

"we have to keep the immigrants out so our people can do shit jobs for low money" seems sketchy as an expression of empathy, for anybody. to me, anyway.

why is it good to limit immigration to reduce competition for low-skill labor, but encourage immigration that creates competition for high-skill labor?

just asking, as they say.

Just speculating (since I'm not the one making the original argument that it was). But I could see an argument which says something like:
Competition for high skill jobs isn't leaving people unemployed or reduced to taking part time or service jobs which aren't sufficient to support them and their families. High skill workers may lose a few percent off their 6 figure incomes, but they aren't in economic agony as a result. Whereas the low skill workers....

As I say, I'm not the one making the original argument. And I'm not sure I really buy this one either. But at least I could see it as a viable position.

I'm gonna say there are a non-trivial number of white collar professionals of a certain age who are looking at ending their working lives making half or less than what they once made, if that, who might see it differently.

not me, personally. but many.

if you want to help working people who are trying to live on $10 an hour, there are lots of things we could do.

keeping people out so that they can continue to try to live on $10 an hour seems like small beer, to me.

I've noticed one thing, whenever the discussion (here or elsewhere) turns to low skill immigrants. There seems to be a serious perception difference between those on one side of the issue and those on the other. To wit, to what extent are there Americans who would be willing to take to jobs that those immigrants are doing?

Those who are fine with low skill people immigrating generally seem to take the position that they are mostly doing jobs that Americans are unwilling to do. Sometimes unwilling to do at the pay rates which can be paid (without making the whole enterprise uneconomic). Sometimes unwilling to do period -- farm labor being the most usual one cited here.

Those who think we need to restrict low skill immigrants think that there are plenty of Americans who would take those jobs if they weren't been squeezed out by all the immigrants. Maybe at a somewhat higher wage, but still nothing that the businesses involved couldn't handle.

I've read some things that suggest that, when offered the opportunity (as in, recruited, transported to the work site, etc.), Americans on average last less than half a day doing the agricultural labor that employs lots of (illegal) immigrants. Having done agricultural labor myself, back in the day, I find that totally believable; the other manual labor jobs I've had were a walk in the park by comparison. But I also see some things claiming that the reports are totally bogus.

What I haven't come across (and, to be honest, haven't spent any time looking for) is any credible research on the question one way or the other. Anybody happen to know of any?

With apologies for repeating a gag I've used before, EVERYBODY is an immigrant. Some are immigrants across the border, some are immigrants through the maternity ward.

The latter are unquestionably admitted on family-reunification rather than valuable-skills grounds. They are an immediate drain on the nation's resources -- takers par excellence, though with lots of potential to be makers in the long run. They are not cultural blank slates; they are statistically almost certain to inherit the religion, politics, and economic status of their parents -- though they often assimilate to the median culture over time.

In short, arguments against cross-border immigration can easily be made against maternity-ward immigration. No sane person would suggest that equivalence, of course, which is why I have to.

--TP

[...]
...Even if your findings about the economic harms of immigration were indisputable, which they are not, they may not add up to a case for restrictionism any more than the harms from free speech would add up to a case for scrapping the First Amendment. The draconian government policies that restrictionism entails—and you endorse—might be even more harmful than immigration for a nation with a bedrock commitment to individual rights and limited government...
[...]
If there are no efficiency gains to be had, then espousing
any specific immigration policy is nothing but a declaration that group x is preferred to group y. It is easy to avoid clarifying who you are rooting for by trying to reframe the debate in terms of amorphous philosophical ideals about mobility rights and the like. But this is where we go our separate ways. When push comes to shove, I will side with policies that improve the well-being of the American worker.
Two Immigrants Debate Immigration: A conversation about who wins and who loses when America opens its golden door

We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative

In short, arguments against cross-border immigration can easily be made against maternity-ward immigration.

The argument could be made that adult immigrants arrive without the expense to society of their first two decades of life.

LJ (and russell and wj, I've got responses to you down below too), just so I'm clear on what you're saying, it seems like you're making two points in your last response:

1) Talking about immigration policy without addressing the issue of illegal immigrants already in the country is pointless, because policy without resolving the long-term illegal residency issue amounts only to "throwing a bone" to the groups that are upset about this.

2) The whole high-skill / low-skill distinction... isn't valid for some reason? That it's not legitimate to select for skilled immigrants because it's not the low-skilled workers' fault that they don't have the right skills? I'm confused on this one.

Let's deal with these in order.

American immigration policy has been wrapped around the axle for 35 years over the "comprehensive reform" issue, and it's because both sides are insisting on linking the issues of what immigration policy should look like, what immigration enforcement should look like, and what to do with the people who have escaped enforcement and are de facto residents. The net result of these linkages are that nothing happens, and a pretty good case can be made that nothing happens because, until recently, nobody wanted anything to happen. If that used to be the case, it's no longer the case, or at least it's no longer the case for the 25% of the country who voted for Trump. They pretty explicitly signaled that the status quo isn't acceptable.

The enforcement issues are the real problem here, and the thing that makes them a wicked problem is that any compromise on amnesty is impossible without a guarantee that enforcement will work a lot better going forward than it has in the past, and any attempt to beef up enforcement runs the risk of goring the oxen of constituents on both sides. (You can get pretty close to perfect enforcement if you make it impossible for illegal immigrants to work, but the biz people hate that because they want the cheap labor and don't want to have regulatory pressure that would be required to make the system work, and the immigrant community hates it because it will make the lives of long-term illegal residents untenable, so nothing happens.)

LJ, you are correct that this deadlock is a mess and it's a big problem. But it's not really what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the policy chunk.

Look: Westphalian norms allow nations to control their borders, and to decide the composition of the populations they admit as immigrants. If you deny those two basic tenets, then we don't have a lot to talk about. Assuming that you accept them, let's deal with the "throwing a bone" issue.

I concede that dealing with the policy issue alone looks a lot like treating the paper cut on the traumatic amputation victim. But I don't think that's really the case, for a few reasons:

a) As has been noted by both of us several times above, the current inflow of illegal immigrants is quite low right now. So, looking at this strictly from the standpoint of minimizing current impacts to the current labor situation, policy actually matters, because policy controls the bulk of the new inflow.

b) Since the policy part of the problem isn't nearly as bound up in the Gordian Knot of the enforcement/amnesty brouhaha, building consensus on policy is an important trust-building exercise between the two warring camps on enforcement, both of whom believe that any agreement will be instantly perverted for political gain. This problem doesn't get solved without trust, so building trust is essential.

c) I don't know if you missed a little tidbit from the news a few weeks back, but the American polity went insane. You and I obviously have very different views of the nature of that insanity, but we should both agree that most of blue-collar America thinks that the status quo is pretty much wiping them out, and they want it changed. If you "throw them a bone" on immigration policy (and we'll disagree on the meatiness of that bone), you're signaling that you believe them when they say they're in distress, and you're further signaling that you no longer believe that their perception of that distress is morally wrong, backward, and/or in error.

Speaking as a rightish-leaning moderate who voted for Clinton (threw up a little in my mouth doing it, but did it anyway) because I thought Trump was genuinely dangerous, I would very much like to talk the chunk of the electorate that put him in office off of the ledge. But they're on the ledge in the first place for completely valid reasons. Nothing happens until everybody--everybody--acknowledges that. Immigration policy reform is one of the things that will constitute that acknowledgement.

Now, if that wasn't long-winded enough, let's go on to issue #2.

First, let me endorse wj's excellent summary of the case for why high-skill immigration is acceptable and low-skill is problematic. He may not believe it, but I do.

The nature of low-skill labor has changed. It's vastly less upwardly mobile than it used to be. A lot of the workforce used to start out as low-skill labor, proved that they had developed good work habits, and were hired into positions where employers were willing to develop specific long-term skills. That changed for a lot of reasons which I won't go into here. But low-skill labor is now pretty much a trap.

LJ, you seemed to imply that education and low-skill labor aren't closely linked, or at least that lack of education wasn't the cause of being trapped in low-skill labor. In a country that wasn't awash with educated workers who weren't competing for the first-rung-on-the-ladder positions for which employers are willing to do some long-term training and development, that might be true. But today, the employer who's willing to train somebody to be a machine operator, when faced with applicant A, who has a couple of years of college and some steady service jobs on his/her resume, and applicant B, who has high school or less and has consequently bounced around doing odd jobs--or who has no resume in the US at all--is going to pick applicant A every single time.

Russell asked why, if low-skill labor is such a trap, we don't simply fix that, instead of making marginal changes to the wage structure by making the labor pool marginally smaller (i.e., by keeping low-skill immigrants out of it).

The answer is simply that developing retraining that is effective is the work of decades, while making marginal immigration policy changes is the work of months. We need to do what we can. I'd very much like to see affordable, effective retraining that could work at high scale. I'm pretty sure we'll see commercially dominant nuclear fusion before we see that. It's an unsolved technical problem.

Russell, just to be clear: If we figure out a way to restart the conveyor belt from Low Skill Land to Decent Middle Class Job Land, I will be advocating for immigration from all classes, for all types of refugees, and in increased numbers. My advocacy for immigration restrictions is based on our current economic situation. Fix that and the need for the restrictions goes away.

Finally (finally!) LJ:

"I don't think a high school diploma is a good marker of 'high skills', and if you could tell me what particular skills they would acquire attending a Central American high school that would then allow us to employ them to pick our strawberries or section our chickens or all those other tasks, I'd be interested to know."

I'm kinda flummoxed by this, and it seems to be a non sequitur, but let me take a crack at what I think you might have meant.

A HS diploma is not a marker of high skills, but HS and below is a very good quick-and-dirty way of identifying those who are low-skill. The Pew stat that I cited was to prove that the bulk of illegal immigrants were not suited for high-skill labor, and hence would wind up competing in the low-skill pool with natives who were also trapped there. Is this even slightly in dispute? I'm happy to entertain arguments about the size of the marginal effect, but the actual situation about who's doing what jobs is pretty much a no-brainer.

If your point is that somebody has to do the stoop labor and natives aren't willing to do it, demonstrate to me other than anecdotally that that's really true, disentangle all the wage distortions and see if it's still true, and then my answer to that will be, "Let's reform legal guest worker policy so that it minimizes the impact on low-skill native labor but still gets the crops picked." That's not a good argument for the status quo; it's an argument to make policy comport with reality, and to make it favor natives over prospective immigrants. NB: prospective immigrants aren't part of the "general welfare" that the US government is bound to promote. Once they get into the country, they are. So it's essential that the act of moving them from the outside to the inside actually is beneficial to those already inside.

"My advocacy for immigration restrictions is based on our current economic situation. Fix that and the need for the restrictions goes away."

great, we're on the same page. let's "fix that" and make the motivation for imposing unenforceable restrictions go away.

because not for nothing, but speaking of things that take decades, we've been trying to square the "immigration problem" circle for decades, at great expense and effort. and, no joy.

What is our "current economic situation"? Growth? Decrease in income inequality? Rising wages?

All that will change come late January, probably. But please tell me what "economic situation" you're looking for.

Charles, thanks for the links.

Just reading the intro to Borjas' book (Amazon's "Look Inside" is so nice!), I have a couple of serious problems with where he seems to be coming from.

First, he suggests that someone is seriously saying/thinking that immigrants represent strictly warm bodies to do work, and that they will have no impact on the nation's life and culture. I have trouble with that, since as far as I can tell it is precisely that impact on our culture which bothers the nativists among us. (They talk about the impact on our workers. But since they resist anything, other than immigration restrictions, to help those workers, it is hard to take them seriously.) The argument we have is whether that is a good thing or a great danger.

Second, he seems to believe that the difference between whether immigrants assimilate or not is whether the new country puts enough effort into helping them to learn the new language, culture, etc. He takes as examples the difference between immigrants in the US and Europe (specifically Germany). I think that is almost totally wrong. Immigrants, even if living is clusters of people of their native culture, are immersed in the new culture; their children even more so.

The difference in assimilation is not how much help the immigrants get. Rather it is whether they can see any prospect that they will be accepted if they do assimilate the new culture. If you are a Turk in Germany, or a Muslim in France, or a Korean in Japan, it is real clear that neither you nor your children and grandchildren will ever be accepted as part of the nation by the vast majority of the country. So what is the incentive to try to assimilate?

In contrast, if you are in the US you see a different picture. Yes, there are a lot of people who will refuse to accept you. But there are also a lot of people who will neither know nor care where else you might have come from. (I really treasure the image of a Japanese American mayor, dressed in a bright green top hat, leading his city's St Patrick's Day parade.) And even among those who refuse, you can see that a lot of other groups who came here got the same treatment initially, but got accepted eventually by the overwhelming majority -- the Germans, the Irish, the Italians, etc.

In short, I look at his intro and I wonder what country he is looking at. Maybe the bulk of the book addresses that. But it pretty well discouraged me from digging in.

tRM, I'm probably going to end us with several comments in response. Here's the first.

American immigration policy has been wrapped around the axle for 35 years . . . a pretty good case can be made that nothing happens because, until recently, nobody wanted anything to happen.

If by "recently" you mean "until a decade ago", you may have a point. I think that saying "nobody" wanted reform is an overstatement, but "too many wanted the status quo" may be accurate. However comprehensive, or at least drastic, immigration reform has been not only on the table but broadly agreed to for years now.

The only thing, as far as I could see, which kept it from happening 5-6 years ago was the refusal, on the part of Republicans in Congress, to pass anything which could possibly be seen as a "win" for Obama. No matter how much they agreed with the substance of the legislation. To the point that some of the Senators who sponsored the legislation initially ended up fighting against it once Obama turned out to be publicly in favor. In short, the current failure to act has nothing to do with immigration.

If you are a Turk in Germany, or a Muslim in France, or a Korean in Japan, it is real clear that neither you nor your children and grandchildren will ever be accepted as part of the nation by the vast majority of the country.

[...]

In contrast, if you are in the US you see a different picture. Yes, there are a lot of people who will refuse to accept you. But there are also a lot of people who will neither know nor care where else you might have come from.

I can't speak WRT your German or Japanese examples, but your acceptance of American evangelism of multiculturalism as the only way to deal with immigration and integration appears to be leading you to a rather painfully simplistic understanding of integration in France. To put it mildly.

tRM, more:
The nature of low-skill labor has changed. It's vastly less upwardly mobile than it used to be. A lot of the workforce used to start out as low-skill labor, proved that they had developed good work habits, and were hired into positions where employers were willing to develop specific long-term skills. That changed for a lot of reasons which I won't go into here. But low-skill labor is now pretty much a trap.

I think you are wrong here. Specifically, I think that the reasons why that happened are critical to understand if we are going to be able to restart the upward conveyor.

Here's some speculation on what may have happened. Probably not the whole picture, but I think it's a significant part of it:

What changed was labor mobility. Specifically, people stopped staying with a single employer for years. And employers found that they were able to poach skilled employees from other companies.

The result was that companies incentive to train their low skill workers fell away. (Or high skill workers! Ask any of the older high tech guys how much training they get now vs in the 1970s and 1980s.) If you can get the skills you need from somewhere else, whether another company or another country, why spend money on training your existing workers? Especially since someone else is likely to hire them away from you anyway.

I don't know how you address that. Or even if you can. But until and unless you do, the low skill trap that you describe is not going to go away.

I can't speak WRT your German or Japanese examples, but your acceptance of American evangelism of multiculturalism as the only way to deal with immigration and integration appears to be leading you to a rather painfully simplistic understanding of integration in France. To put it mildly.

Except I'm not arguing for American-style multiculturalism. Those third (and greater) generation Muslims in France are often culturally French in every way except how (if) they pray. Which gets them nothing.

tRM, more
"Let's reform legal guest worker policy so that it minimizes the impact on low-skill native labor but still gets the crops picked." That's not a good argument for the status quo; it's an argument to make policy comport with reality

Amen.

We'll probably want something philosophically akin to the requirement (for H1-B visas) that the employer demonstrate that he doesn't have native workers available who are willing to do the job. Maybe even to the point of holding hiring hall events in places where there is reason to think that such workers are, if they exist.

That also, now that I think of it, addresses the argument about whether such willing native workers exist. Go to where they are supposed to be, in some reasonably comprehensive way, and see who if anyone signs up. (And stays, once the reality of the job hits them.)

The problems faced by Zainichi Koreans are what happens over time when you have a hypocritical system.

Now, every system has some hypocrisy in it, and that is unavoidable. And American multiculturalism seems to now have a fatal flaw, similar to the one French monoculturalism has. I'm not sure what the solution is, (though it has to be located in some sort of international community effort) but it's not trying to go back to when travel was a lot more difficult. You can no more stop people from moving to where work is than you can stop money moving. Making immigration comport with reality seems a lot more realistic than trying to make reality comport with what we think is best. At least in my experience.

wj, I'm gonna batch up my responses to your de-batched set of responses. (Threading would be real nice...)

"In short, the current failure to act has nothing to do with immigration."

Cause and effect are hard to disentangle here, but the 2013 Gang of Eight effort died in two phases. The first, when the children's border crisis hit in 2014, and the second when the executive order went out.

I agree that there's been a lot of bad faith here, but that's a big part of the problem. The whole "You support border enforcement first, and then I'll support normalization" vs. "No, you support normalization first and I'll support enforcement reform" dynamic is a pretty classic first-mover problem. Those only get solved when both sides trust each other enough to make the leap. That's a big reason why I like breaking out the pure quota policy parts, because they're sort of orthogonal and a good-faith deal is there to be had.

"What changed was labor mobility. Specifically, people stopped staying with a single employer for years."

I would argue "chicken" to your "egg", but I pretty much agree with the result. I think the incentives for employers to commoditize their labor came before the employees getting all squirrelly, but the dynamic is self-reinforcing.

At the heart of all of this is automation. I know a lot of the total-factor productivity evidence argues against it, but my guess is that the TFP isn't capturing what's going on for some reason. The completely rational desire to optimize your business processes so that you carve out hunting preserves for the machines and increasingly well-constrained job descriptions for the humans makes the humans look like field-replaceable units to the employer. And it's hard to command loyalty from a FRU. Skip ahead a bit, and you're looking at labor supply and demand being the last word in cutting-edge HR management.

I don't know how to solve this either. Ultimately, we may just have to accept that we're in a race between some kind of vaguely Malthusian unemployment monster and the Abundance Tooth Fairy. Winner gets to decide whether we keep civilization or not.

Meanwhile, minimizing the social and economic shockwaves coming off of those two bastards as they're elbowing each other on the way to the finish line seems like good public policy. That involves doing a lot of things to make marginal improvements to the near-victims (cf. the last 80 jillion words I wrote above) and reforming entitlements to make room for a better welfare state for those who are completely wiped off the playing field.

Who knows? Maybe the neural implant version of Siri turns everybody into Einstein, and then we have to listen to the all-robot-engineer workforce grumble about how nobody understands what great ideas they have. Not holding my breath.

"That also, now that I think of it, addresses the argument about whether such willing native workers exist."

Not until you figure out the wage issues. If you put price controls on labor (aka minimum wages), you're going to get very strange distortions that change incentives to work.

I can see it working by treating guest workers literally as a second class and exempting them from minimum wage, and I can see it working by nuking the minimum wage completely and letting the market work its unpleasant magic, but both of those have horrible social consequences, and I'd be surprised if either of them maximized anybody's welfare.

(An aside: EITC-style income supports and minimum wage are antagonistic with one another. EITC can increase employment, but only if you let wages float down to increase demand, and then backfill the employees up to some living wage. Otherwise, doing both at the same time is the worst of both worlds. This brings welfare reform into this whole mess, which we really needed, 'cause it wasn't complex enough already.)

I suspect we're only a few years and a few innovations in robot dexterity from rendering the whole issue of crop workers and maybe even low-skill construction workers moot. And once again, we arrive back at what we can do short-term, while we wait to see what the medium and long terms have in store for us.

TRM, you haven't addressed my question. You said:

My advocacy for immigration restrictions is based on our current economic situation. Fix that and the need for the restrictions goes away.

What is the "current economic situation", and the fix that you're looking for? Right now, our situation is full employment, growth, a diminished economic inequality, and rising wages. What state of grace are you waiting for?

"The only thing, as far as I could see, which kept it from happening 5-6 years ago was the refusal, on the part of Republicans in Congress, to pass anything which could possibly be seen as a "win" for Obama."

Here is my dream for America for the next 4 years.

Trump goes on TV a lot and attends lots of parades. the very best parades. mostly, he hangs out in trump tower and engages in endless arguments with the editors of vanity Fair on twitter.

vanity unfair! sad!

he insists on having a throne installed in the lobby of trump tower - a huge throne - so fine, we give him a throne. whatever.

kushner and ivanka stay in DC and make great deals with corrupt foreign dictators to build expensive white elephants with the name "trump" on the marquee. fine, whatever.

meanwhile, Obama and Clinton arrange discrete lunches with members of the (R) leadership where they casually mention useful policy proposals that the (R)'s can present as being their own big ideas. they can say the folks at Cato and American Heritage came up with them. sometimes it will even be true.

Steve Bannon gets sick of dealing with the insane, byzantine bureaucracy of DC and takes a gig as executive director of a government-sponsored nationalist website and media empire in Russia. he defers a salary and takes his compensation in the form of an equity stake in Gazprom and an option on being king of Kalmykia.

Paul Ryan has an unfortunate accident while bench pressing the US Tax Code for the cameras.

Mike pence finds to his horror that he has fallen wildly in love with a white house staffer named Stephen.

stranger things have happened.

tRM, OK, I'll see if I can do it your way:

I would argue "chicken" to your "egg", but I pretty much agree with the result. I think the incentives for employers to commoditize their labor came before the employees getting all squirrelly, but the dynamic is self-reinforcing.

It may be that which came first varies between industries. But I can say from personal experience that job hopping among high tech workers (2 years, and then move on) started in the late 1970s to early 1980s. Whereas the slashing of training budgets for us happen more like mid-1980s. Egg! ;-)

As you say, it becomes self-reinforcing. That's part of what would need to be addressed if the situation is to be reversed.

At the heart of all of this is automation.

For low skill workers, this is quite true. So what do we do about it? The good news is, we've been thru this before. In the 1800s, industrialization eliminated the need for vast numbers of craftsmen. Yet we, eventually, found productive uses for all those freed-up hands. I'm not enough of a historian to know how we did it. But clearly we did. There are probably lessons to be learned there.

EITC-style income supports and minimum wage are antagonistic with one another. EITC can increase employment, but only if you let wages float down to increase demand, and then backfill the employees up to some living wage. Otherwise, doing both at the same time is the worst of both worlds. This brings welfare reform into this whole mess, which we really needed, 'cause it wasn't complex enough already.

Actually, one of the things that welfare reform should include is simplifying the whole mess. At the moment, we have something the just grew piecemeal. That's a big part of why it is so complex. A reform which started with a look at what we are really trying to accomplish could end up a whole lot simpler . . . once we (miraculously!) get some agreement on what we want.

Except I'm not arguing for American-style multiculturalism. Those third (and greater) generation Muslims in France are often culturally French in every way except how (if) they pray. Which gets them nothing.

I didn't say you were arguing for it. I said you appeared to have your POV influenced - I'll make this more forceful and say distorted - by its evangelical tendencies. You've made the extremely dramatic claim that Muslim immigrants are viewed as not French by the vast majority of the nation, and that integration gets them nothing three (or more, I assume?) generations out. These are very strong claims, and are presented with nothing to support them beyond assertion. And to my ear as someone who has some passing acquaintance with the culture, they're absurd claims. However, they fit in nicely with the received wisdom of evangelists of American multiculturism. So, um... do you have any basis for these exceedingly broad claims beyond how true they sound?

Russell, that bench press accident is just totally unrealistic....

"I can say from personal experience that job hopping among high tech workers (2 years, and then move on) started in the late 1970s to early 1980"

oddly, in 30+ years of writing code for a living, the only time I was laid off was from an organization I had worked with for about 14 years.

loyalty rewarded!

in my experience the jumping around thing has been a two way street.

NV,
There's this from a New Yorker article:
"France has all kinds of suburbs, but the word for them, banlieues, has become pejorative, meaning slums dominated by immigrants. Inside the banlieues are the cités: colossal concrete housing projects built during the postwar decades, in the Brutalist style of Le Corbusier. Conceived as utopias for workers, they have become concentrations of poverty and social isolation. The cités and their occupants are the subject of anxious and angry discussion in France. Two recent books by the eminent political scientist Gilles Kepel, “Banlieue de la République” and “Quatre-vingt-treize” (“Ninety-three”), are studies in industrial decline and growing segregation by group identity. There’s a French pejorative for that, too: communautarisme."

Also
https://books.google.com/books?id=1H8WDAAAQBAJ&pg=PA271&lpg=PA271&dq=french+muslims+acceptance&source=bl&ots=WGtG5YitfW&sig=SKqWKKC5Gp3y1inlzo2IRFWmxSA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiI9_LKn8XQAhUEKWMKHdfKD9cQ6AEIUzAJ#v=onepage&q=french%20muslims%20acceptance&f=false
and
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/30/america-acceptance-muslim-france

I may be incorrect on the state of things in France. But I'm not making it up out of thin air.

All this is nothing new, and I don't believe I suggested you were making it up ex nihilo. It was a matter of objecting to your fairly severe hyperbole and gross generalizations.

Muslim immigrants in France (which generally means North African immigrants) and their descendants may be "culturally French in every way except how (if) they pray", but that's not where an awful lot of the prejudice against them will arise. They look different, they may have "foreign" names, they may have grown up in banlieus with the attendant problems of growing up in poverty (nationalized education doesn't overcome this, even if it helps), and their vernacular may not sound "proper". The issue is as much or more a matter of racism than xenophobia and failure to integrate, plus an unhealthy dose of inter- and intra-class conflict to top it off. Any of this sound familiar?

Still, having said that, it's ridiculous to sum their situation as being deemed to not share the French civic identity by "the vast majority" of the nation, nor that integration offers nothing. You're portraying France as a monolithic hivemind, which is pretty typical of multiculturalists discussing monoculturism. It's absurd, and rote, but it's so very, very common. There are varying degrees of acceptance among the rest of the body politic, and individual integration results may vary wildly. Broad generalizations are, as a rule, crude and misleading. This is not a case running counter to that rule. Monoculturism is not a panacea, but honestly it's not the abject failure you're painting it as, not least because it's not uniform in outcome.

The issue is as much or more a matter of racism than xenophobia and failure to integrate

Somehow, I don't see racism and xenophobia as particularly different. Especially when the base country is racially homogeneous.

wj, I think we have reached near-violent agreement. A couple of quibbles:

Remember that not all industries had the Cold-War-style tech recruiting techniques of the 70s/80s hardware/software industry. ("Go to lunch at Il Fornaio on Wednesday, excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, then run for the black limo with the Sun Microsystems logo!") And even today, I think tech is less automated than a lot of manufacturing and service jobs.

One of the things that's important about automated business processes is that you have to design the humans' jobs as if they were machines. You slot them into jobs where you need human dexterity, judgment, or inter-personal skills, but they don't play well in the rest of the system unless you can write a decent interface spec for them.

"Yet we, eventually, found productive uses for all those freed-up hands."

Here's why I'm not so sanguine: Even through the industrial revolution, you may have had massive displacements of labor, but the things that grew up to eventually absorb them were jobs that were cognitively similar. When you've got 95% of all the jobs in the economy that pay middle-class or better wages accessible to anyone with an IQ over 85, things will eventually work out.

I think that "95% of everything decent open to 84.1% of the population" relationship is breaking down. As the new jobs grow cognitively more demanding, fewer and fewer displaced workers will be able to be retrained. If 95% of the jobs now require an IQ over 100 (I don't think this is the case yet, but it's coming), then suddenly half the workforce is ineligible for a well-paying job.

That's a problem you can't solve with retraining, or even better pedagogy. That requires some kind of unpredictable technical magic. That sort of magic does happen, but it's... unpredictable.

Agree 100% that welfare reform is essential. I also think that it has to be much more heavily oriented toward supporting a growing group who simply can't compete in the market, while at the same time being structured in such a way that it stops eating the budget. (I worked out a while back that entitlements have eaten an average 0.83% more of federal outlays each year since 1962.) That's going to be an interesting problem.

tRM,
Yes, I think we are pretty close at this point.

The issue of most jobs requiring at or above intelligence is very real. But I can see some possible paths forward.

For one example, when mass (automated) produced is readily available to anyone at a moderate price, a market niche (a pretty big one, at least in terms of labor demand) can open up for "hand made." People will pay a premium for something special, as for any luxury item. And that premium makes paying well for the labor required possible.

That includes not just stuff that is actually made by hand, but stuff which is labor-intensive in other ways. For example, it takes a lot more labor to raise "cage-free" chickens, whether for meat or for eggs, than factory farmed ones. Ditto most meat animals.

Is that market segment big enough to absorb all the available low tech labor available? (I'm using "low tech" rather than "low skill" because the skills involved are often quite high -- just not intellectual.) I don't know. But it could be a part, even a big part, of a solution.

Somehow, I don't see racism and xenophobia as particularly different. Especially when the base country is racially homogeneous.

Well, if the question is one of "can immigrants integrate" it can actually be quite different. If you're being marginalized because you adhere to a dangerous foreign culture, that's not really the same as being a subhuman mongrel. One of the key differences, and this one is the relevant bit, is that if you're raised in accordance with proper civilized values, you'll be okay if you're just a backwards savage, but if your barbaric tendencies are inherited, you'll turn out just as rotten as your parents and grandparents.

The two nasty little notions are rarely so polite as to separate themselves, but in their purest, most platonic forms, they actually are fear and loathing of different things, and that difference is quite relevant to the subject at hand.

OK, as pure forms they might be different. But as you say, they don't generally separate themselves.

Especially because, in my observation, xenophobes tend to think that those from elsewhere are genetically inferior, even if they are not of a different race -- at least as the rest of us see race.

Are Japanese, Koreans and Chinese of different races? Not in the eyes of those of us from elsewhere. But they definitely see themselves that way. In fact, again in my observation, even if they (or their parents or grandparents) all moved to the US and absorb American culture almost entirely, one of the bits of the old culture that remains is that the other two are "inferior."

The notion does eventually die out. But it persists for a remarkably (to me, anyway) long time.

It's not that foreign of an idea. How recently did the Irish and Italians "become" "white"? These are seperate concepts even if they overlap, and how they play out can be different.

I also can't help but notice that you've taken class back out of the discussion. How very, very American of you...

wj, I'm having a hard time seeing how you can run an entire economy on Veblen goods. Maybe if the hand-made stuff is of noticeably better quality, but that's less and less likely as time goes on and the automated substitutes get better and better (which also includes service). You can't have most of the jobs in the economy associated with status symbols.

Ultimately, this comes down to timing. If prices drop fast enough, you can redistribute downward enough to keep everybody happy and healthy. But if wages drop faster than the cost of living, things will get ugly.

This is actually why I'm fairly rabid about clawing little marginal advantages back, even if they only delay the inevitable for a short time. It's imperative that the low cost of living arrives first.

things are already ugly

Apologies, was at a conference this weekend, and the wifi was a bit problematic so I couldn't reply, though things have been bubbling. I want to go back a bit to something TRM said, which was

"Westphalian norms allow nations to control their borders"

The Treaty(s) of Westphalia date from 1648, so I tend to think that they are outdated, and while we use the concepts of national borders, the agreements made and the norms created were in a time when international trade was limited and you did not have large movements of people. Citing it as a framework for how we should deal with populations seems a bit anachronistic.

These two stories popped up in my FB feed, and underline my sense that you are missing a large part of this problem

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/11/24/national/social-issues/japan-leaves-unapproved-asylum-seekers-kids-born-country-dire-choices/#.WDsQf-F955M

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/11/24/national/social-issues/japan-born-son-thai-mom-split-heartbreak-legal-deal/#.WDsRQ-F955M

THere is one more interesting article that I will try and blog about later

An Englishman, a Scotsman, an Irishman, a Welshman, a Latvian, a Turk, an Australian, a Kiwi, an Indonesian, an American, a German, a Peruvian, an Egyptian, a Japanese, a Mexican, a Spaniard, a Russian, a Pole, a Lithuanian, a Tibetan, a Swede, a Finn, an Israeli, a Romanian, a Bulgarian, a Serb, a Swiss, a Greek, a Singaporean, a Kazahk, an Italian, a Norwegian, a Dane, a Ugandan, a Nigerian, a Frenchman, a Colombian, an Argentinian and a South African went to a night club.

The bouncer said: "Sorry, I can’t let you in without a Thai."

NV, I tend to leave class out of the discussion because I don't see a viable way to define it.

If asked, the vast majority of Americans will say that they are "middle class". So self-identification isn't useful.

But what else is there? Education? Not really. (Where would I put my family? My parents were both college educated, but my dad spent his career as a carpenter. It was because that was what he loved doing, not because he couldn't have had a white collar or even managerial job. But still.)

About the only "class" of Americans that I can see reliably identifying is nouveau riche. It occurs to me that, since that is basically a class defined by lifestyle, perhaps other classes could be similarly defined. But it's not at all obvious how that would play into the economic questions we are talking about here.

tRM, I don't think I am proposing running an entire economy on "Veblen goods". Just using the luxury market to help absorb the low tech labor force which is seeing its manufacturing jobs automated away.

I don't think that the issue is one of timing. Rather I see it as a matter of the relative returns to labor and to capital. Compared to, for example, the 1950s, the returns to labor have been flat to decreasing. Whereas the returns to capital have skyrocketed. Move that balance back, and the problem shrinks.

As for how to make that happen, I'm thinking it is going to have to be primarily a matter of tax policy. I'm not wedded to that approach. But it's the one that leaps to mind to get the job done.

Charles, that is baaaaad!

NV, I tend to leave class out of the discussion because I don't see a viable way to define it.

[...]

But it's not at all obvious how that would play into the economic questions we are talking about here.

Again, very American of you.

If a nation has an enduring economic underclass, and immigrants are effectively being integrated into that, but not any of the more affluent classes, are the immigrants being integrated or not? If the host society is willing to consign a segment of its native-born ethnic-majority citizens to an inferior station in society, it doesn't really make sense to turn the question of "are immigrants being integrated?" on whether they're successfully being accepted into "the middle class"...

It occurs to me that I didn't show my work in re: assumptions.

If you can make so fine-tuned a class distinction as nouveau riche, you can make a distinction between your supposedly-all-encompassing "middle class" and the "rich", because if not, "nouveau riche" lacks the necessary frames of reference to define it. Once that's conceded, it's questionable why we can't make other class distinctions as well - indeed, we do, but don't dare call them that because we prefer to think of ourselves as a society without classes. But we certainly have socioeconomic classes. Even if it's gauche to mention it.

I would say that you can define nouveau riche by their behavior, even without defining "rich". Indeed, I would say that you can behave like nouveau riche while a long ways from what anyone would construe as really rich -- if you buy stuff that is flashy, just for the flash, it fits my definition. Even if you are not yet making 6 figures, and your net worth is only the few tens of thousands equity (if any) in your house.

That said, I don't argue that you can't define a "rich" class and an "under class". I'm just saying that I'm not sure what you would use for definitions. By all means feel free to offer up appropriate metrics and thresholds**. (For metrics, I could perhaps see using either income or net worth. But feel free to make better suggestions.)

** I can see those being indexed, somehow, to the local cost of living. Just to avoid that particular variation around the country.

I'd do it the old fashioned way - by making it as much about type of work as accumulated wealth. The inequality in our society makes it easy for people who would easily be considered rich by conventional standards to point to the opulently wealth and make an incredible claim to be middle-class.

Lower class would be long-term unemployed (to include some retirees) and working poor. I really don't think this one should need a lot of explaining, but some markers would include a lack of real estate or meaningful savings, as well as precarious living arrangements or employment; jobs lack benefits and may well be multiple part-time gigs.

Working class is blue-collar workers and tradespeople. This is generally lower-to-middle middle-class. Jobs have benefits, and property and credit are reasonably accessible, though ofc the latter is a trap. There is a sense of class identity here, and it's not to the overarching middle-class.

The other side of the middle-class is the managers and white-collar professionals. There's class identity here too, even if it's generally coded in terms of regionalism, racism, etc., or at a minimum, what you're not rather than what you are.

I'd give a distinct mention to the petty bourgeoisie. It's my experience that this class doesn't self-identity, but small business owners don't "act their income", which is hardly surprising. Different wants and needs. Incidentally, this is the class I was raised in. Lots of groupthink about self-reliance, pride, and individualism fermenting here. There's some unique perspective, but a lot of it is thinking like the rich while acting like you're working class.

And then, yes, above that we have the rich, and we will of course squabble about where upper-middle-class ends and this starts.

You may well call that fairly traditional taxonomy quaint and outdated, but it still seems accurate, and in my experience there's senses of class identity in all these groupings (in varying intensities, ofc) even if they all explicitly self-identity as "middle-class". That latter point more reflects our toxic political culture where self-interest glazed with a patina of altruism is most commonly achieved by arguing anything and everything is for the benefit of "the middle class"...

i'm sure this will add some spice to the conversation.

Authorities have identified the suspect who was killed by police following Monday's attack at Ohio State University as an 18-year-old of Somali descent, according to multiple reports.

Law enforcement officials identified the suspect as a legal permanent resident of the United States, according to a report from NBC News. Citing a U.S. official, CNN also reported that the suspect was an 18-year-old of Somali descent, adding that investigators have not named the suspect.

My colleague and former grad school associate, Michelle Chihara has an interesting essay up at LARB about neighbors and her family's history during the Internment viewed through our current moment in time.

cleek, interesting LGM commentary on that event.

Fixed Nous' link.

Thanks LJ.

We have two distinct groups.

First, individuals who belong to an problematic group who kill or try to kill a bunch of people. They are terrorists.

Second, individuals who are not members of such a group who kill or try to kill a bunch of people. They are merely deranged individuals.

Their behaviors are identical. Their motivations are speculative (and usually unknown . . . not that that matters for labeling). But group membership, no matter how irrelevant, is all it takes to move from deranged individual to terrorist.

There is a distinct difference between an act of terror perpetrated by us and an act of terror perpetrated by them.

One we accept that we have to live with, the other we don't.

there were 15,000+ murders in the US last year. terrorism was involved in fewer than 50.

Not to mention all the not-murdered people who weren't killed by terrorists last year.

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