Saturday, November 24, 2018

Comparing immigration to nuclear power

Libertarian economist Bryan Caplan compares immigration to nuclear power:
Immigration has the ability to double the wealth produced by all mankind. But only 3% of people on Earth are migrants.Why is something so great so rare?

Because government strangles immigration with regulation.

Why do governments strangle it?

Because immigration is unpopular.

Why is it so unpopular?

First, innumeracy. The gains of immigration vastly outweigh all the complaints put together, but the complaints are emotionally gripping. Deaths from immigrant crime are horrifying; vastly higher fatalities from native crime are not. Even immigrant outrages that kill zero people get worldwide media attention, fueling draconian populist regulation.

Second, spookiness. Economically illiterate people can imagine endless far-fetched dangers of immigration. And at risk of sounding elitist, almost everyone is economically illiterate.
Okay, so I am against immigration because I am innumerate and economically illiterate. I am just too dumb to understand the proof of net benefits to immigration.

So I looked at his paper on the subject, so I could educate myself:
In the United States, housing prices and rents rise by roughly 1 percent when immigration raises a city's population by 1 percent (Saiz 2007, 2003). Gonzalez and Ortega (2009) find an even larger effect for Spain. Since Americans own almost all American residential real estate, immigration is a quiet but massive transfer from immigrants to native homeowners. In an era of massive bailouts for underwater mortgages, taxpayers benefit too. ...

Vaguer cultural complaints are harder to evaluate. However, if we equate "culture" with "high culture" or "popular culture," we see a curious pattern. America's top two cultural centers, California and New York, have the largest foreign-born populations in the country - 26 percent and 20 percent, respectively (U.S. Census Bureau 2003). While states with few immigrants-like Alabama (2 percent foreign-born), Arkansas (3 percent), Montana (2 percent), North Dakota (2 percent), South Dakota (2 percent), and West Virginia (1 percent)-enjoy great natural beauty, even their tourism bureaus would not paint them as cultural meccas. ...

Millions of Haitians want to move here. Millions of American landlords, employers, and stores would be happy to house, hire, and feed them. For the U.S. government to criminalize these transactions for no good reason is not merely uncharitable. It is unjust.
No, raising housing costs is not a benefit.

I guess some could benefit. If you own your house and have no kids, then rising housing prices makes it profitable to sell out and retire to South America. But the vast majority of Americans are not helped by rising housing prices. On the contrary, it puts them in debt and makes it very difficult for their kids to ever own a home.

Most Americans do not envy the culture of New York City, Los Angeles, and San Jose. California culture was much superior 50 years ago when it was 85% white.

Maybe some employers would be happy to hire Haitians, but most people do not want their neighborhood turned into something resembling Haiti.

Caplan says we could make the Haitians learn English, or charge them a tax for whatever inconveniences they cause. No, that is just crazy talk. Go visit Haiti if you think Haitians are so desirable.

All these arguments that immigration is a net economic benefit are just nonsense. The reasoning is backwards. He does not accept that there is a cost to making America more like Haiti.

On the other hand, nuclear power is a net benefit, especially if you believe that carbon emissions are harmful.

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