In fifteen words or fewer: Robert J. Samuelson in the Washington Post on immigration and poverty statistics

(Via Kerry Howley @ Hit and Run 2008-05-15, via John Markley @ The Superfluous Man 2008-05-19.)

Robert J. Samuelson, in the Washington Post (2008-05-14):

Finally, let’s discuss poverty. Everyone’s against it, but hardly anyone admits that most of the increase in the past 15 years reflects immigration — new immigrants or children of recent immigrants. Unless we stop poor people from coming across our Southern border, legally and illegally, we won’t reduce poverty. Period. That doesn’t mean we should try to expel the 12 million illegal immigrants already here — an impossible and morally dubious task. Many families have been here for years; many have American children. We need a pragmatic accommodation: assimilate most people now here; shift future immigration to the highly skilled.

— Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post (2008-05-14): Truth Serum on The Trail

Shorter Samuelson: Let’s reduce poverty by forcing all the poor people to be poor in other countries.

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16 replies to In fifteen words or fewer: Robert J. Samuelson in the Washington Post on immigration and poverty statistics Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Francois Tremblay

    So the way to lower poverty is to prevent people from getting better jobs?

    Makes sense…

    IN BIZARRO WORLD.

  2. wtf

    Have you ever taken any economics? His quote doesn’t imply what you are claiming at all.

    Illegal immigration into the US keeps US wages artificially low. Illegal immigration out of other countries keeps pressure on their governments to reform their economies artificially low.

    Stopping illegal immigration into the US says nothing about increasing legal immigration, helping improve other countries economies, providing aid and resources to people that need it around the world.

  3. Rad Geek

    wtf,

    Have you ever taken any economics?

    Yes.

    Stopping illegal immigration into the US says nothing about increasing legal immigration, helping improve other countries economies, providing aid and resources to people that need it around the world.

    Samuelson wasn’t arguing that only illegal immigration should be reduced. He was arguing that all forms of immigration by poor people, whether legal or illegal, should be reduced. Quote: Unless we stop poor people from coming across our Southern border, legally and illegally, we won’t reduce poverty. Period. … We need a pragmatic accommodation: assimilate most people now here; shift future immigration to the highly skilled.

    Illegal immigration into the US keeps US wages artificially low.

    1. Artificial relative to what? Normally when one is describing artificial conditions in economics, the word refers to conditions that would not exist in a free market, but are sustained through government intervention. But without government intervention against peaceful migrants, there would be completely free immigration. So the only thing that’s artificial here are the effects of government border controls.

    2. Forcing poor workers to remain penned up in other countries when they would rather come to the U.S. keeps those workers’ own wages artificially low — lower than they would be if the workers were able to immigrate to the United States. You’re right that this may produce the purely statistical achievement of increasing average income and reducing poverty rates within U.S. borders. But I don’t care about purely statistical achievements. An individual poor person who is forced to be poor in Haiti or Mexico, rather than being poor in the U.S., is no better off just because her poverty is not counted in U.S. government poverty statistics. The only way this kind of policy makes sense as a means of reducing poverty is if you think that poverty only counts as a bad when it happens to residents of the U.S. Which is precisely the idiot notion of Samuelson’s that I was criticizing.

  4. Micha Ghertner

    WTF,

    I can assure that Radgeek understands the economics far better than you do. His quote does indeed imply reducing poverty by forcing all the poor people to be poor in other countries, namely, “shift future immigration to the highly skilled” and “Unless we stop poor people from coming across our Southern border, legally and illegally, we won’t reduce poverty”, both of which imply that he wants to forcefully keep poor, low skilled workers outside the borders in order to reduce poverty inside the borders. What part of that is not clear?

    Illegal immigration into the US may keep US wages artificially low, but at the same time, policies restricting immigration into the US keeps non-US wages artificially low. The question is why those concerned with reducing poverty should only be concerned with people born on some arbitrary side of a border line.

    Illegal immigration out of other countries keeps pressure on their governments to reform their economies artificially low.

    To the extent that governments extract tax revenues from their subjects, the exact opposite is the case. If a government knows that citizens are free to leave if the policies it implements are undesirable, it has an incentive to implement better policies or risk losing its tax base.

    providing aid and resources to people that need it around the world.

    And the best and cheapest way to provide aid and resources to people that need it around the world is to open up our borders and stop enforcing unjust immigration laws.

  5. John Markley

    wtf,

    If you are interested in “providing aid and resources to people that need it around the world,” freedom of immigration to countries like the USA is a good way to do it. Many people from Mexico come to America and work for a few years, than take their earnings (which are far higher than what could be made at home) back home to their families. Many other permanent immigrants to this country send some of the money they make back to their relatives in their birth country.

    As to your claim that letting people escape oppressive regimes reduces pressure on those regimes to reform: Micha Ghertner has already given a good reason to believe that the claim is false, but if it were true, so what? Doesn’t the idea of using force to compel oppressed people to continue suffering in impoverished, despotic countries so that you can use them as political tools strike you as somewhat bothersome, morally? If we take the idea seriously, then presumably the western world was wrong to let anyone flee from the Soviet bloc into the West.

    I’ve heard this sort of argument before, and there’s something deeply, deeply distasteful about people who had the luck to be born into the richest societies in human history deciding that far less fortunate people who could have attained a better life by their efforts should instead be forced to remain in lives of poverty, suffering, and possible danger in order to aid some alleged higher good or cause. It’s not your place– or anyone’s- to conscript someone else into martyrdom.

  6. Aster

    John-

    Thank you. Well said.

  7. Natasha

    John,

    You said what I would about the “morality” behind forcing people to sacrifice for the cause, but I didn’t think about the Russians fleeing to the Western bloc example.

    Good one!

    Wtf,

    Would you have opposed German Jewish immigration during the time that the Nazi regime held power? And do you think I have a moral obligation to stay in the U.S. and fight its government’s attacks on liberty?

    How can you “morally” condemn someone to a life of fear, suffering, and pain?

  8. wtf

    Immigration quotas based on race are wrong. Immigration quotas are not.

    No one is condemning anyone to a life of fear suffering and pain. Recognizing our system can increase at only a finite rate and trying to not overload it and trying to distribute the increases in the system globally IS the way to reduce poverty.

    Micha’s argument is bizarre. If asshole governments think they can outsource their poor to other countries, they have much less a reason to increase social services.

    Amazing that a blogger that seems to believe in unions is so willing to destroy all the labor, wage, safety, health, environmental increases those unions have brought about.

    If you guys believed what you say about borders and morally condemning people to poorer lives, then please tell me when the last time you housed a homeless family in your own house or apartment. Please tell me when the last time each of you opted out of a vacation for yourself and instead donated the money to a homeless shelter. When each of you decided to adopt a child instead of having a child of your own.

    Would I have opposed German Jewish immigration at the time the Nazi regime held power? Well, Mexico (for instance) is not Nazi Germany is it? And I am not asking for quotas based on race, creed, color, age, or anything else. But it is dumb and creates a highly regressive tax to allow illegal immigration.

  9. Robert Hutchinson

    wtf:

    If my choice is between letting a “system” overload, and pointing guns at people’s heads because they crossed an imaginary line, then the system can go right ahead and crumble, and the sooner the better.

  10. Natasha

    “Immigration quotas based on race are wrong. Immigration quotas are not.

    No one is condemning anyone to a life of fear suffering and pain.”

    My point was that the morality displayed by your logic is horrible. People don’t have a moral duty to risk their lives, happiness, and comfort to fight oppressive regimes.

    When you make the argument that illegal immigration is bad, because it reduces the pressure for oppressive regimes to reform themselves, then you’re implicitly arguing with the moral premise that people’s lives should be devoted to “the cause”.

    You’re essentially saying that people should be forcibly prevented from migrating, because their country of origin requires people to stay, so that the regime ruling it will change — either through their mere presence or active revolt against the regime.

    How is this not condemning oppressed people who are in pain, and thus seeking a better life elsewhere to their current painful existence? At the minimum, it’s denying them the freedom to migrate to a specific place — if they come after the quota has been reached. If you support efforts for reform in the countries they are going back to or individually support defend them, then there’s a chance they won’t be condemned to such an existence. That’s merely a hypothetical scenario though. We do know that an oppressed person coming from another country will probably be better off in a less oppressive country or situation.

    And I am not sure you’ve entirely refuted my argument, because it would still be possible for victims of oppression in other countries to not make it in due to generic quotas that didn’t discriminate against, say, Jewish people. The ethical question I was posing with the example of Nazi Germany was: is it moral to use force against peaceful migrants, because they came after the artifical designation of a quota by the government that rules the territory. Would you have turned back a single Jewish person fleeing Nazi Germany? Regardless of quotas limiting the total number of immigrants.

    “Would I have opposed German Jewish immigration at the time the Nazi regime held power? Well, Mexico (for instance) is not Nazi Germany is it? And I am not asking for quotas based on race, creed, color, age, or anything else. But it is dumb and creates a highly regressive tax to allow illegal immigration.”

    Mexico is a country with a partially impoverished population and a government not entirely respectful of individual rights. There’s some drug war created violence going on with gangs. The point I was making about Nazi Germany is related to this statement of yours: “Illegal immigration out of other countries keeps pressure on their governments to reform their economies artificially low.”

    This isn’t a reason to support border controls, unless you believe in the ethical premise that people have a moral duty to contribute to the cause of government reform. The principle of an oppressed person being free to migrate is more important, than the principle of morally mandated self-sacrifice — quite logically enforced with force.

    I might be uncharitable in my take on your comments, but I see an altruist ethics underlying your commentary. As an egoist, I just find your reasoning to be repugnant — even though I agree with the principle that oppressive governments should reform.

    “If you guys believed what you say about borders and morally condemning people to poorer lives, then please tell me when the last time you housed a homeless family in your own house or apartment. Please tell me when the last time each of you opted out of a vacation for yourself and instead donated the money to a homeless shelter. When each of you decided to adopt a child instead of having a child of your own.”

    Well, I’ve worked with Food Not Bombs to feed the homeless in the past. I get money withheld from every paycheck I get that goes to the welfare state — don’t mind contributing to a social safety net. I’ve donated money to the desperately poor Arthur Silber of http://www.powerofnarrative.blogspot.com/.

    By not supporting border controls, we’re also supporting the people who decide to migrate in search of better jobs. I am not so sure your presumption that we don’t act on our beliefs is warranted here.

    In the end though, I am an egoist, and I don’t feel I have a moral duty to work for the end of poverty in the world.

    I know Charles donates to groups doing work too, but I can’t remember what the names of them are.

    “Micha’s argument is bizarre. If asshole governments think they can outsource their poor to other countries, they have much less a reason to increase social services.”

    They need people to tax to provide services in the first place though. Micha’s point was that a government which knows it has a captive population to rule has much more leeway in what policies it adopts, because they know that people can vote with their feet.

    I am troubled by your use of the language, “their” poor, because it implies ownership, and the government doesn’t own people in a free society. How do governments specifically directly outsource “their” poor to other countries? Are you saying that even though they don’t forcibly remove them, then they still indirectly contribute to those people leaving, because they don’t provide any good services or adopt good policies?

    You’re still just voicing an argument dependent ona very collectivist nationalist altruist moral premise though. Do people have a moral duty to stay in other countries, so the governments there will increase social services? As an anarchist, I am for social services organized without the state, but I can see why a person would rely on the government provided ones, when there is no other viable game in town.

    “Amazing that a blogger that seems to believe in unions is so willing to destroy all the labor, wage, safety, health, environmental increases those unions have brought about.”

    I don’t think Charles wants to or is willing to destroy all that. He just believes that statist border controls aren’t necessary for grassroots union struggles or any other type of political struggle to achieve that kind of thing.

    And if the transnational corporations are going to countries where wages, working conditions, health standards, and so forth are really bad, then we should support grassroots struggles to better them. International solidarity to joyously advance our values is the key. I don’t understand how illegal immigration leads to all of that entirely though. Could you explain more?

    Part of the issue here may be that left-libertarians largely see state intervention as unnecessary for the good to occur in society — including the multiple goods of living wages, healthy environments, and safe working places.

  11. John Markley

    wtf,

    “No one is condemning anyone to a life of fear suffering and pain.”

    Many people wish to escape lives of fear, suffering, and pain by coming to a freer and wealthier country, such as the United States. Others use force or the threat of force to prevent them from doing. So, someone most certainly IS condemning someone else to a life of fear, suffering, and pain, unless you think the life of a poor person in a despotic Third World hellhole is a good time.

    “Recognizing our system can increase at only a finite rate and trying to not overload it and trying to distribute the increases in the system globally IS the way to reduce poverty.”

    Not being a socialist, I don’t think the state has either the right, the skill, or the the incentives to engage in the sort of central planning neccesary to distribute people or wealth to the general benefit of humanity. It is of course true that our system can only increase at a finite rate, but the way to increase that rate is making it easier for producers to go where they are most productive, i.e. let them immigrate.

    “Micha’s argument is bizarre. If asshole governments think they can outsource their poor to other countries, they have much less a reason to increase social services.”

    So your argument is that if people are denied one of their main forms of leverage against their rulers- the ability to leave the country, taking their labor and wealth with them- the government will somehow be compelled to give them MORE concessions, in the form of humane treatment or whatever?

    That’s utterly mad. If wives were forbidden by law to leave their husbands, what kind of incentives does that create for the husband? If workers were forbidden to quit their jobs, do you think their employers would start handing out more raises in response?

    “Amazing that a blogger that seems to believe in unions is so willing to destroy all the labor, wage, safety, health, environmental increases those unions have brought about.”

    I can’t speak for Johnson, but I would reply that someone who is in favor of the goals of labor unionism ought to care about the rights and prosperity of workers in general, not just in one jurisdiction. I don’t, as it happens, think that workers actually do gain from these restrictions- the steel plant worker who makes higher wages because foreign steel workers are kept out is also the consumer who pays more for food because foreign farm laborers are kept out.

    However, to the extent that one worker’s gains come from unjustly impoverishing others by preventing them from working- that is, from immigration laws- those benefits are to be decried rather than applauded. If I mug someone, pointing out that I bought a kick-ass stereo with the money is a poor justification.

    “If you guys believed what you say about borders and morally condemning people to poorer lives, then please tell me when the last time you housed a homeless family in your own house or apartment.”

    The common practice of comparing a nation to a house or the private property of an individual is terribly misleading. A geographical territory ruled by a particular state is not a privately owned home. America is not the property of the United States government. I have the right to bar others from my home, because it’s mine. I do not have the right to bar foreigners from the country, because I don’t own the entire country. Neither does anyone else, singly or collectively. If someone takes up residence in my home without asking, he is imposing on me; if he moves in down the street, he is not, even if I don’t enjoy his company as a neighbor.

    “Please tell me when the last time each of you opted out of a vacation for yourself and instead donated the money to a homeless shelter. When each of you decided to adopt a child instead of having a child of your own.”

    I am not calling for charity, because refraining from using force against innocent people is not charity. I am not dispensing gifts or charity when I refrain from robbing or beating or abducting people I encounter in the course of my day. If I don’t slash the tires of someone who intends to apply for the same job I want, I am merely respecting his rights as basic decency requires, not going out of my way to do him a favor. Refraining from hurting others without provocation is a bare minimum requirement of justice, not something extra you do to be nice.

  12. wtf

    well tl;dr for now.

    look if you folks don’t believe national borders have any legitimate purposes, that’s cool. Tell me when you find that alternate timeline where enough people agree with you to make your points of view worth discussing.

    Regarding the power people have by leaving their country being able to make a government more responsive to its citizens…. Do you not see the fundamental difference between husband and wife where both are relatively equal and seek a common future, between employer and employee where employer has to succeed in a somewhat free market, and between citizen and corrupt powerseeking authoritarian douchebags in government?

  13. Robert Hutchinson

    wtf:

    Tell me when you find that alternate timeline where enough people agree with you to make your points of view worth discussing.

    In order for any unpopular idea to become popular enough to get “real world” implementation, discussion is pretty much essential. Surely I don’t need to list various causes that took decades upon decades of fighting to become even somewhat palatable to the general public?

  14. Micha Ghertner

    Immigration quotas based on race are wrong. Immigration quotas are not.

    Nationality is just as arbitrary and just as immoral as grounds for discrimination as race. Race bigotry is morally the same as nationalist bigotry.

    No one is condemning anyone to a life of fear suffering and pain.

    Sure they are. By preventing people the freedom to migrate, which is their best available option to promote their own wellbeing, the potential migrants trapped within their country of birh are condemned to live a life of fear, suffering, and pain – if they live at all.

    Micha’s argument is bizarre. If asshole governments think they can outsource their poor to other countries, they have much less a reason to increase social services.

    As John pointed out above, even if this were true, how monstrous would it be to condemn some people to remain in a hellhole for the possible and uncertain benefit of other people who remain in that hellhole? Is our goal here the wellbeing of actual people, or the wellbeing of abstract non-person entities such as arbitrary geographic areas or “social services”? This is sort of like the people who argue against making it easier for parents to send their children to private schools on the grounds that the children who remain in public schools will be worse off. Well, is our concern with the wellbeing of the children themselves, or the wellbeing of the public school?

    Amazing that a blogger that seems to believe in unions is so willing to destroy all the labor, wage, safety, health, environmental increases those unions have brought about.

    What amazes me is how anyone who considers themselves “of the left” or progressive can engage in such blatant bigotry as to pretend that the only people whose interests matter are the ones born in a certain country. Surely a person born in Mexico deserves just as much of our moral concern as a person born in the U.S.?

    If you guys believed what you say about borders and morally condemning people to poorer lives, then please tell me when the last time you housed a homeless family in your own house or apartment.

    It is entirely consist to, on the one hand, not go out of one’s way do commit a positive action of charity, while at the same time actively oppose negative actions that make poor people worse off then they would be otherwise. I need not actively save lives to oppose murder, for example.

    And I am not asking for quotas based on race, creed, color, age, or anything else. But it is dumb and creates a highly regressive tax to allow illegal immigration.

    Sure you are: you are asking for quotas (or worse, a complete ban) on people born in areas that you don’t approve of. You may not like acknowledging it, but you are promoting bigotry.

  15. Micha Ghertner

    Regarding the power people have by leaving their country being able to make a government more responsive to its citizens…. Do you not see the fundamental difference between husband and wife where both are relatively equal and seek a common future,

    I took a doubletake right here. Husbands and wives only recently became “relatively equal” (and there is still much more to be done) primarily because wives are now actually (relatively) free to leave their husbands. Prior to the reforms of recent generations, wives were trapped within abusive marriages, and at the mercy of their abusive husbands, just as many poor people around the world are trapped within their countries at the mercy of their abusive governments.

    It’s the freedom to leave that made wives more equal relative to their husbands. And it is the freedom of citizens to leave that makes them more equal to their governments. Exit is a much more powerful force for change than voice. It is one of the main reasons why markets do better at satisfying human needs than governments.

  16. Aster

    “Do you not see the fundamental difference between husband and wife where both are relatively equal and seek a common future,”

    Far more often than not, the future a husband and wife seek together is the husbands’. Perhaps as importantly, the ‘common future’ marriage is suited to seek is familial-collective socio-economic advancement at the expense of individual authenticity and passion.

    Realm of freedom this is not so much.