Foreign Policy

xenoThe LA Times reports that Republican lawmakers have called on the Obama administration to return to the Bush-era practice of sending jackbooted thugs into private workplaces to arrest illegal aliens — revealing (as if we didn’t already know) that virulent xenophobia is alive and well in the Republican party. (Note well the hypocrisy of complaining that foreigners sneak into our country to take advantage of the welfare system, and then addressing the problem by focusing your deportation efforts on foreigners who have obviously come here to work).

The same Times article observes that even without the workplace raids, deportations have reached new heights for two years running at the direction of President Barack Obama — revealing (as if we didn’t already know) that virulent xenophobia is alive and well in the Democratic party too. This is, after all, the same Barack Obama who said in his acceptance speech at the 2008 convention that nobody benefits when an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. Well, sure. Nobody, that is, except the employer, his customers, and the illegal workers who, in Barack Obama’s universe, count as “nobody”.

This raises the idle question: Which political party harbors more xenophobia? I have no careful documentation of this, but my impression in the 2008 election was that the Democrat John Edwards was the most despicable of the candidates in this dimension, with the Republican Mitt Romney running a somewhat distant but still unchallenged second. Going back to 2004, it was the Democrat John Kerry who called for federal contracts, whenever possible, to be performed by American workers, demanded tax incentives for firms that hired Americans instead of foreigners, and endorsed legislation encouraging consumers to “buy American”. (If that doesn’t strike you as virulent, ask yourself how you’d feel about a candidate who called for federal contracts, whenever possible, to be performed by white workers, demanded tax incentives for firms that hired whites instead of blacks, and endorsed legislation encouraging consumers to “buy White”.) But it was the Republican victor, George Bush, who followed in his Republican father’s footsteps by dispatching those jackbooted thugs who evoke such nostalgia in Republican leaders of today.

I always had the impression that Bush’s heart was actually in the right place, ever since that day in the year 2000 when, while campaiging for the South Carolina primary, he squelched a heckler with the firm observation that “family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande”. There was no obvious political advantage in it, and it seemed to come from the heart. But Bush, like anyone else, should be judged by his policies, not by his sentiments.

In the most recent election, we saw the execrable Republican Meg Whitman call for the banishment of the woman who she’d seen fit to employ in her home for several years, solely because this woman had been born on the wrong side of an imaginary line. I can’t offhand think of anything quite comparable from a Democrat in 2010, but I bet a little research would turn something up.

On balance, which party is worse? My gut feeling is that the Democrats — the party of Edwards, Kerry and Obama — win this shameful prize, but it’s close, and I could easily be convinced otherwise.


58 Responses to “Foreign Policy”

  1. 1 1 Ben Hughes

    Republicans seem to be more xenophobic towards flesh-and-blood human beings entering the country or “taking our jobs”. Democrats are more xenophobic towards economic abstractions in the realm of trade.

    I personally fine the latter more dangerous than the former, though they’re both bad. In the former it’s just a wrong-headed argument based on anecdote and selfishness that reaches an unfortunate conclusion. With the later, it’s indicative of some much more fundamental fallacies concerning economics, fallacies that cause pretty horrible policy that transcends any notion of xenophobia per say.

    It’s definitely an interesting question though.

  2. 2 2 Tony Cohen

    Well, sure. Nobody, that is, except the employer, his customers, and the illegal workers who, in Barack Obama’s universe, count as “nobody”.

    Of course, the customers only benefit if the savings of lower employee wages gets passed on to the customers.

    The employer benefits, assuming that this strategy isn’t universally adopted and too many existing customers suddenly loose large swaths of their purchasing power due to downward pressures on their wages. Sure, the wages don’t just disappear, they go to the illegal worker, who may or may not have the same spending habits.

    On a macro-level, it will even out, but not necessarily on a micro-level, where this theoretical business may or may not exist.

  3. 3 3 Pavel

    “sending jackbooted thugs into private workplaces to arrest illegal aliens” is enforcing existing laws. While I might dislike the laws in question, I find it very hard to call the people enforcing those laws evil unless I call the people who refuse to change those laws even more evil.

  4. 4 4 Colin

    Tony Cohen,

    Nothing bad can come of this. Say the employer doesn’t pass the savings on to the customer. He keeps it for himself. What do you think he does with the savings? Put it under a mattress? Probably not. He probably uses it to invest in his business, making his employees more productive. As they get more productive, there is UPWARD pressure on their wages, not downward pressure. Downward pressure on the wages of a particular job can only happen if the people are being paid too much to do the work in the first place, and if that is the case, downward pressure on the wages of that particular job are actually a good thing—it signals to people who could be more productive elsewhere to focus on that thing that they could be more productive at.

    By the way, if he does put it under the mattress, he ever-so-slightly decreases the supply of money, making money holders everywhere just a little bit richer.

    Really, sincerely, if the employer can get the same work done for cheaper, that situation can only be win/win/win.

  5. 5 5 Harold

    2010 had a 6% increase in deportations compared to 2008, but a 70% increase in the forced removal of immigrant criminals. I am not sure what you have to do to be classed as criminal – is this breaking something other than immigration laws? Presumably, otherwise all illegal immigrants are criminal. In this context, Bush deported 250,000 non-criminals in 2008 and Obama only 197,000 non criminals in 2010. On this score, Obama is the least xenophobic. That is if it not xenophobic to deport foreign criminals. Although I have a suspicion that many of these criminals will be guilty of very trivial offences.

  6. 6 6 Josh

    I’m all for letting mexicans (and whoever else) come and work/live here. They make our lives better and we make their lives better. Here’s my question though: if you live in a country that allows everyone to enter its borders very easily to work but every other country makes it relatively (for any reason…culture, laws) hard then could it at some point make sense to restrict flows into your country to match the rest of the world’s policies? Or should your immigration policy never depend on others’ ?

  7. 7 7 Ken B

    In California we saw the democrats make the big fuss about Whitman’s employee. Whitman had I believe simply let the woman go in compliance with the law when she (Whitman) learned the woman was here illegaly, but not reported her UNTIL it became a campaign issue. So if there is blame here is can be spread a bit.

    Speaking as a foreigner living here I fear the democrats’ economic nationalism more than the gop’s, but that’s just me.

  8. 8 8 Dan

    For the past five years it’s been Republicans who have blocked reforms that would legalize millions of illegal immigrants. This is a far bigger issue than a few lines in a few speeches. Democrats may have some ugly rhetoric, but on actual policy that affects actual people, they’ve got nothing on Republicans.

  9. 9 9 Jonatan

    Let’s say we have a group of people. Our goal is to get the maximum average income for this group. There is a person p1 who has a job. Now we can choose to let p2 into the group. He can do the job 20% cheaper, but this will cause p1 to have no job. So the average income will fall, for the group.

    You could then argue that the goal is not to get the maximum average wealth for this specific group of people. But why not? Maybe all members in the group prefer to live in a group with high average wealth. And if we want to sacrifice our own value to better other peoples lives, maybe the value is better spend buying medicine for people in Africa.

  10. 10 10 Josh

    Jonathan, why doesn’t the worker in your example drop his wage by 20% instead of going without a job?

  11. 11 11 Jonatan

    Because the people in the group additionally don’t like to have any members that have under a certain income. If he is without a job, they would transfer money to him. And he would rather take the transfer money, and relax.

  12. 12 12 Ken B

    @Dan: It’s voodoo I guess. The democrats controlled both houses and the presidency but the republicans blocked it? You can certainly say the gop opposed the policy, but you can’t say they ‘blocked’ it when the dems had complete control. The blockage is clearly bipartisan. (Please note I do not say this is either good or bad policy; I am not arguing merits only the charactersitics of the 2 parties.)

  13. 13 13 Harold

    From the comments at LA Times: “Obama is so sympathetic because he hasn’t been able to prove he is here legall”. Oh well, hope we do better here.

    If we were to adopt a totally open border for immigration, and no wage controls, I think Steve would argue that the equilibrium position would be better for everyone. Wages would fall, but the cost saving would get recycled as lower prices or higher productivity, so ultimately people are better off. In the long run, everyone would be better off, so it is not a matter of selflesness – open borders are better.

    However, we are such a long way from this equilibrium position that there could be massive upheaval along the way. Let us ignore emotional and social ties for the moment, and assume people people will emigrate for a better standard of living, if they have the means. If we had a large, wealthy country next to a small, poor country there is no real problem. Most of the population of the small country moves to the big one. They will work for very little, so there is some downward pressure on wages, but the picture for the wealthy country does not change that much, and the savings are rapidly recycled to the benefit of all.

    What happens if we have a large poor country next to a small rich one? Lets say borders have been closed, but they are suddenly completely opened. All jobs that can be will be filled by workers from the poor country. They will move for a standard of living slightly better than in their original country. The workers in the rich country will have to accept the lower standard or be unemployed. Ultimately, they will get the benefits from lower prices etc., but when will this be? There is still a large pool of workers willing to move to the rich country. As soon as standard of living rises, new workers from the poor country are prepared to take the jobs. The employers can invest their savings to fund new work, so more workers will move. As long as there is a large pool of workers in the poor country, wages will not rise – and more crucially, standard of living will not either. The result is that the wages and the standards of living of the workers in the rich country fall. It will only increase when the investments have increased productivity such that ALL the workers in the poor country are employed. That may take a long time, and you may be dead when it happens. Now in this case, you can still argue that more people are better off, so the open border is still for the greater good. But for the individuals in the wealthy country it is not a selfless act. More people may be better off, but YOU will be worse off for a long time, and your way of life will be completely different.

    So what policy should the small country follow? Should it open its borders? All the new arrivals will be happy, and there will be more of them than the displaced original workers. Do the original workers have a right to “protect” their standard of living? Or even their way of life? After all they do not have an obligation to send money to the poor. It may not be very edifying, but it is very understandable attitude to restrict immigration.

    Compared to the population of the world, The USA and Europe are small countries.

    The opposite effect happens also. The employer can take advantage of the low standard of living in the poor countries by moving the jobs there.

  14. 14 14 Dan

    Ken B: I assume by “complete control” you’re referring to the five-month period in which the Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate. If, during that time, 100% of Republicans opposed immigration reform and 1 of the 60 Democrats did, the bill was blocked. (I’m approximating on those numbers). I suppose the inclusion of that one Democrat makes the blockage “bipartisan”, but clearly it’s Republicans who are more responsible.

  15. 15 15 Ken B

    @Dan: I always like to learn new words: “approximating” is one I have not seen before, but from context it seems to mean “making up”.

  16. 16 16 Roger Schlafly

    So “virulent xenophobia” means expecting foreigners to obey American laws. By this standard, most Americans are virulent xenophobes.

  17. 17 17 Dan

    Ken B: How about this: A large majority of Republicans oppose comprehensive immigration reforms, while a large majority of Democrats are in favor of it. That is not made up.

  18. 18 18 Dan

    Roger: “Virulent xenophobia” means being in favor of those laws, just as being in favor of Jim Crow laws would have made you a racist.

  19. 19 19 Harold

    Roger Schlafly: most foreigners have no interest in American laws. Most foreigners are abroad. The USA does seem to expect foreigners to obey US laws – as Icelandic MP’s can attest to.

  20. 20 20 Tagore Smith

    “Nobody, that is, except the employer, his customers, and the illegal workers…”

    You’re correct that it’s silly to suggest that no one benefits here. But there are costs too, and they are not equally distributed. There are people who, on net, benefit from Latin immigration (which is really what this is about, st lat right now) and there are people who lose. The losers here are generally people who weren’t big winners in the first place. It’s not surprising that they aren’t happy about the situation, and I think it is a bit unfair to dismiss their unhappiness over this (or pandering to that unhappiness) as xenophobia. Our current system (maybe inevitably) is one in which policy is largely determined by people lobbying the government to act in ways that benefit them. There are a lot of people who would, in the short term at least, benefit if there were a lot less Latin immigration to the US. It is not surprising that they lobby for that.

    I’m generally in favor of fairly liberal immigration policies. I could lay out a lot of reasons for that that seem to make sense, but- if I am honest I must acknowledge that I, like you, win in this transaction (at least in the short term.) The vast majority of Mexican immigrants are not going to drive the price of my labor down simply because they lack the mathematical background to compete with me (there are exceptions- I had a Mexican TA in a math-heavy course in University, but he was literally the only Latin guy I met in the core courses I took as an undergrad.)

    As a utopian ideal, I’d like to see universally open borders. I think that might lead to a drop in the standard of living of a lot of Americans in the short term, but I think it would lead to a better standard of living for pretty much everyone in the long term.

    But we aren’t going to see that utopia any time soon- the US is actually already more liberal in this respect than most nations. I consider myself an American, but I’m also a Canadian citizen and have spent something like 20% of my life there. Canada is very open to immigrants who have money before they come, but takes a much harder line than the US when it comes to illegal immigration. Japan will jail you for weeks and ban you from the country for 5-10 years if you overstay your visa by one day (and if any nation needs immigrants it is Japan.)

    In that global environment I think the US needs to be able to make decisions about which immigrants we want, and how many we ought to admit. I would argue for admitting a lot, but I think we ought to be in a position to make policy in this respect, and as long as we refuse to enforce immigration law we won’t be able to do that.

    There is a basic asymmetry here- lots of people all over the world want to come to the US. A German friend of mine (who by the way is in a position to compete with me for my job, though I would win ;) ) waited for years for his number to come up in the visa lottery. Given that we can’t admit everyone who wants to emigrate to the US, why do we prefer Mexicans and Latin Americans simply because they are close enough to the US to enter illegally? Is it possible that we like that because they become a useful and compliant underclass once here? An underclass that serves Tagore Smith and Steven Landsburg?

  21. 21 21 Michael

    One way of bringing “open borders for everyone” and “foreigners are costing American jobs” groups together would be a wage subsidy for American citizens. After all, if there is full employment for Americans, it is silly to begrudge anyone, regardless of immigration status, productive employment. You can structure the subsidy and the funding in such a way that it crystal clear to everyone that more workers mean higher take-home pay for most Americans.

    Conceptually, it’s rather easy to come up with one possible method. Find the minimum amount of money a person needs to live (let’s just say the poverty line of $11,161 per person) and the number of hours for full-time work without overtime (40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, or 2080 hours). Dividing the first number by the second, you get $5.37 per hour. Have the federal government give every American citizen that much money per hour for productive employment.

    For funding, I actually prefer Pigovian and Georgist taxes (especially land value taxation), but since we already collect income taxes, I’ll base my back-of-the-napkin calculations an additional flat tax on everyone’s income. It’s hard to find the average (mean) wage for the United States, but the latest figure I see is $45,831, with a median wage for those 25 and older of $32,140. 11,161/45,831 = 24.35% effective flat tax rate. Note, this is in addition to current taxes, rather than instead of them, though you could dismantle the minimum wage, as well as most unemployment and welfare payments.

    If everyone — citizens, legal residents, and illegal aliens — pays the tax, but only American citizens get the subsidy, it would give the latter group an incentive to open the borders as wide as possible to everyone who wanted to work. A majority of Americans would benefit from the program as well, since the mean wage (which is also the break-even point between tax and subsidy) is higher than the median wage (the point at which 50% are better off). In fact, a person at the median wage would get an additional $3334.91 per year, raising the median wage to $35,474.91.

    Granted, having almost a quarter of everyone’s paycheck go to a program like this is a huge chunk of change to worry about, and arguably a huge expansion of the welfare state, but we already have a mechanism in place to do it, in the form of the IRS. It would be more along the lines of Milton Friedman’s “negative income tax,” rather than an earned income tax credit, and Uncle Milton can hardly be considered a socialist.

    I’m not sure if a tax-and-subsidy would be a xenophobic method of border control, though. :)

  22. 22 22 Daniel Hewitt

    I don’t see much difference between the two. One party doesn’t want foreigners here “stealing our jobs”. The other party doesn’t want foreigners in other countries “stealing our jobs”. They are slightly different forms of nationalism, packaged differently to satisfy their supporters’ preferences of who to blame for our economic woes (which of course are self-inflicted).

  23. 23 23 Ken B

    @Daniel Hewitt:
    Not quite right I think as there can be other objections to immigration aside from jobs. ‘The jobs complaint in both cases is similarly mistaken’ is a better way to put it. There are other costs and benefits to immigration aside from jobs. The US has benefitted from a “brain drain” from other countries for decades, which has been a distinct plus.
    An extreme example will illustrate the possible costs. On 9 April 1940 Denmark experienced unrestricted German immigration. The new immigrants showed little concern for pre-existing Danish laws or custom, or for Danish persons. No-one will compare the presetn US immigration debate with Denmark’s sad experience, but it illustrates the point that jobs are not the only issue.

  24. 24 24 Tagore Smith

    Michael said:

    Granted, having almost a quarter of everyone’s paycheck go to a program like this…”

    Ay, there’s the rub. Let’s be honest about this. It is fine to say that “if this program were properly administered, it would produce this result.” But the program will not be properly administered. ‘

    This is where the real-valued math comes in. We should look for policies that are linearly inefficient. It is generally better to have a program that is linearly inefficient and misses your goal by a large margin than it is to have a program that is quadratically inefficient but misses by a small margin.

  25. 25 25 Super-Fly

    I think the Republicans are worse. The Democrats have been more inclined to push legislation for easier ‘paths to citizenship.’ That’s a step in the right direction at least.

    The Republicans, however, (as you mentioned) are fighting to stop immigrants from working which makes them *more* dependent on social programs. This leads me to believe that they are either guilty of stupidity or posturing to get public appeal.

  26. 26 26 Daniel Hewitt

    KenB, I don’t disagree. In fact, you are elaborating on my point that both political parties package their nationalism differently. Conservative fears about foreigners coming in and not respecting the culture, not speaking English, not waving the flag enough, not having the presidents memorized, wearing funny hats, eating strange foods, etc. are what the Republicans exploit. It is therefore an easy sell for them to stick a “job stealer” label to newcomers. So yes, I concur that there are other objections to immigration aside from jobs. The Republicans, however, want to lump the other objections in with the jobs.

  27. 27 27 Ken B

    @Daniel Hewitt: There’s another point. Dems think hispanic immigrants lean dem, so want to legalize those; the gop agrees and hence doesn’t want to legalize the same ones. To be deliberately provocative: similarly the dems think convicted felons lean dem so want to enfranchise them, the the gop agrees and so does not.

  28. 28 28 Ken B

    @SuperFly: But which party is worse on protectionism in general? I think it’s pretty clearly the dems.

  29. 29 29 Doctor Memory

    If you’re going to weigh the two political parties on this balance, you’d be rather remiss to not include the barking mad Tom Tancredo on the GOP side.

  30. 30 30 Tagore Smith

    “Conservative fears about foreigners coming in and not respecting the culture, not speaking English, not waving the flag enough, not having the presidents memorized, wearing funny hats, eating strange foods, etc”

    These are not just conservative fears. These are facts. They are facts that you are insulated from. Mexicans are culturally different from Americans, but if your interactions with Mexicans are limited to disputes over how much they should charge to clean your toilet it is easy to discount these facts.

  31. 31 31 Daniel Hewitt

    Ken B, I don’t think there is anything provocative about what you said. It is true. Also noteworthy is the fact that Democrats do not bother courting minorities who are not perceived to lean Democratic.

  32. 32 32 Doctor Memory

    Well, this was certainly timely. Rand Paul, erstwhile libertarian hero, and David “The Shitter” Vitter have taken it upon themselves to tackle the REAL problem facing America today: newborns citizens!

  33. 33 33 Josh

    After more thought… even if the USA (or any given country) is much easier to get into than most of the world, wouldn’t it follow that people would only go until the marginal value of going is no longer worth going? That is, it seems there would be a natural population control based on market forces… too many people means wages that could be too low for newcomers in specific industries, etc.

    Either way, the fact remains that even if there are different immigration standards in different countries, if someone is willing to pay the cost of going to a country and accepts the given wage, then it’s likely good for everyone on balance.

  34. 34 34 dave

    republocrat = demican. i agree with daniel hewitt. it has recently struck me that news stories about the politics in many other nations talk about two parties: the majority (ruling) party and the opposition party. i think the recent rise in the popularity of the third party (reform, tea) in american politics is really a reflection of how similar the supposedly different major parties actually are.

  35. 35 35 Jeff Semel

    I wonder if Steve would answer the question: Is it morally permissible to pursue national interests? I think there are two separate issues here. One is the factual question as to whether illegal immigration is a net benefit or net cost. The other issue is the moral question as to whether simply making an us-versus-them distinction based on geographical boundaries is immoral, the same way racism is immoral.

    Sure, people are people everywhere. But how does that help one arrange for mutual defense, for example? Our whole setup is based on multiple levels of regional politics.

  36. 36 36 Stumbo

    If they can actually, on the relative cost/benefit merits, “steal” my job — more power to them; until then, I don’t want to support them or their kids with my taxes. Please answer me, SL: why do I have to pay for them going to emergency rooms (etc.), for (to them) free, just so I have to wait in line longer? Does Econ 101 say this is beneficial overall — and if so, how so?

  37. 37 37 Harold

    Steve: what would your policy be? I think your ultimate objective is for unrestricted movement of labor. However, from where we are now, I don’t think this is possible to achieve in one go without too much disturbance. Would you apply some restrictions, say only immigration from Mexico? Or would you do away with all restrictions straight away.

  38. 38 38 Ken B

    @Jeff Semel: My impression like yours is that Steve wants to elide this distinction. Sometimes functioning societies are small pockets surrounded by dysfunctional ones. If they did not restrict inflow they might cease to function so well.

  39. 39 39 Will A

    @ Stumbo:

    You make some excellent points. What people don’t get is that we are talking about America and that there is such a thing as American Exceptionalism and Destiny. The people born in the U.S. where not put here randomly. They are part of a grand purpose that those chosen to be born here are destined to fulfill.

    If we let immigrants into our country, then we are messing around with the grand design for our country.

    Those liberals in the European Union allow for open borders and free trade within its member nations. So I say let the world join the European Union and let us continue our path toward our great destiny.

  40. 40 40 Ken


    Do you think there is a solution to the immigration problem? If so, what is it? Do you advocate for a completely open border, in which anyone at anytime can cross the border for whatever reason they want? I see you bitch moan about this issue a lot, but I don’t really remember any solutions you had to the problem.

    I think our immigration policy should be pretty lax; however, I think setting up check points and doing some research on who to let into the country is a good idea. Keeping out aliens simply because they’re aliens isn’t good enough; however, keeping out criminals terrorists and other unsavory types is a good idea.

    When many people talk about immigration, they mean border control, i.e., the government taking control of who comes into the country, which it clearly is NOT doing now, so enact after the fact policies that are pretty draconian. The way you talk about the issue, I get the feeling you think whenever anyone talks about regulating immigration, it’s mere xenophobia and racism. Talking like that doesn’t get us anywhere, the same way it doesn’t get us anywhere to smear opposition to Obama as racist.


  41. 41 41 Ken B

    Just because Steve Landsburg shouldn’t be allowed to be the only contrarian here I want to put in a good word for xenophobia. Is it not true that there are sometimes ideas, values, and practices a society might not be better off without? I don’t think it’s enough to say, ‘yes but we can enforce our laws’ if you are also arguing 1) we should let in enough new immigrants so that they can change the laws, and 2) we will let in even those we know will not respect our laws. I suggest that this means we should be applying standards to immigrants. If Fred Phelps and a million of his followers want to immigrate to my country (Canada) I have not the least compunction in answering a xenophobic “no, they are not compatible with what Canada is or should be.”

  42. 42 42 RJ

    This is a terrible analogy and a very loose use of the word ‘xenophobia.’ Restricting jobs within American borders so that it benefits ‘citizens’ is not comparable to, say, Jim Crow laws of an earlier era. The whole point of citizenship is to create an incentive for individuals to obtain it, thereby using them as tools to improve the society which they claim loyalty towards.

    Furthermore, by Steve’s logic, if I were to start a family business and then claim it’s reserved to only family members, just replace the term ‘family’ with ‘white’ and I similar to some scathing racist.

  43. 43 43 math_geek

    It appears that there are two ways this “xenophobia” could manifest itself. Either A) A political preference for making it more difficult to hire foreign workers overseas to produce for American consumers and companies or B) A political preference to make it more difficult to hire foreign citizens to come into this country and produce for American consumers and companies. Republicans have traditionally been more lenient on A and more restrictive on B, whereas Democrats have been the opposite. Personally, I find B to be more egregious, as I see A to be reasonable in more cases (in the cases of refusing to trade with enemy or hostile nations) than B (where enemy individuals can be capably dealth with). Democrats tend to advocate for A based on a dislike for the governments of foreign countries, and while in many cases this should be utterly irrelevant, in the most totalitarian examples I am much more sympathetic to this argument. The Republican argument for B tends to base itself on “rewarding people for breaking the law” and “protecting America’s cultural heritage.” The first argument is stupid, because if the law itself is stupid than the second best alternative to getting rid of the stupid law is to refuse to enforce or follow the stupid law. The second argument I find to be much closer to xenophobia than a dislike of totalitarian regimes, and also a little absurd. Is Papa John’s Pizza part of America’s cultural heritage? The Statue of Liberty?, The Beatles?

    As for immigration in particular, which this post seems to be about, it is to me unquestionable that the Democratic Party is less repulsive on this issue than the Republican one. Consider the Dream Act what was supported by 90% of Democratic congressmen and opposed by 90% of Republican congressmen. Admittedly it is a small step towards positive immigration reform, but a small improvement is an improvement nonetheless. This dramatic difference with the political parties has not historically been the case and there is a lot of room for improvement by the Demcorats, but on immigration the Republican party, according to Prof Landsburg’s (and my) political preferences, is far worse.

  44. 44 44 Doctor Memory

    Jeff: I don’t think you have to parse Steven’s writing terribly closely to find that his answer is, resoundingly, no. (And your question about mutual defense points to why a lot of people don’t find Steven’s arguments terribly convincing on this subject: the nation-state did not evolve by accident, and most of the proposed replacements for it have a very strong whiff of assume a can opener about them…)

  45. 45 45 Will A

    @ RJ:

    If you were had a business and only hired your family members regardless of whether there were more productive workers (more productivity for the same wages, or same productivity for less wages), then you would be a person who values family members more than you value building wealth or non-family members.

    You would probably also hope that you have a monopoly in your niche of the market otherwise you would soon be out of business.

    Basing a hiring decision on anything other than productivity is a sign of being biased. If that decision is based on family, it seems fair to call it nepotism. If that decision is based on race, it seems fair to call it racism. If that decision is based on where someone was born, it seems fair to call it xenophobic.

  46. 46 46 Ken B

    @Will A: “Basing a hiring decision on anything other than productivity is a sign of being biased.” So is hiring on the basis of productivity; it’s just a different bias. The argument is about which biases are reprehensible and blameworthy. Some might call your bias “mercenary.”

    Incidentally your argument fails logically even if the only criterion should be net economic benefit to myself. Even if I could get a better employee than my son the cost to me might be higher if he cannot find another job at equal pay.

  47. 47 47 Will A

    @ Doctor Memory:

    “And your question about mutual defense points to why a lot of people don’t find Steven’s arguments terribly convincing on this subject: the nation-state did not evolve by accident, and most of the proposed replacements for it have a very strong whiff of assume a can opener about them”

    The European Union might crumble under its own weight. However it might not. It does though currently exists, has open borders and open markets. Some of the countries also have different currencies. From a defense point of view, it is hard to envision on of the member states attacking another one which is unusual for the barbarian descendants.

    If the European Union makes it through its financial crisis in tact and then adds Turkey, you have at least one non-utopian solution.

    There is nothing preventing the U.S., Canada, and Mexico from entering the same type of agreement (open borders, open trade, different currencies). Of course Ken B. could tell us whether Canada would rather join the EU or a new North American Union.

  48. 48 48 Will A

    @ Ken B.:

    Sorry for being careless with my argument. I should have been more specific.

    On your first point, I should have said, “Basing a hiring decision on anything other than productivity is a sign of being biased on a factor other than building wealth

    On your second point:
    “Incidentally your argument fails logically even if the only criterion should be net economic benefit to myself. Even if I could get a better employee than my son the cost to me might be higher if he cannot find another job at equal pay.”

    From an economic benefit point of view, if hiring your son produced a bigger economic benefit to you than hiring a non-family member, then you should hire your son. If hiring your son produces a smaller economic benefit to you than hiring a non-family member, then you should hire the non-family member.

    So if it makes you feel better, you can substitute net positive economic for productivity above:

    If you were had a business and only hired your family members regardless of whether there was more of a positive net economic benefit to you…”

  49. 49 49 Daniel Hewitt

    Doctor Memory & Jeff, to eliminate the conflict caused by immigration, private property and freedom of association would need to be honored. Nation-states by their nature do not respect either of these concepts.

  50. 50 50 RJ

    Dear Will A,

    No, again, you, Steve, and anyone who uses the term xenophobic in this context because someone will not hire them for a job due to their non-resident or non-citizen status is just simply wrong and needs to look at the damn definition! Someone who is xenophobic is someone who harbors a hate and/or fear of foreigners or their lifestyle/culture. Anyone can become an American citizen, or even just a legal permanent resident, by going through the necessary naturalization process. By anyone I do mean ANYONE of any culture, heritage, class, religion, nationality, sexuality, gender, race, etc. Not only that, but they do not have to give up their culture or lifestyle that they already practice, so long as they do not infringe upon the civil liberties of others. Being able to work in the US is a privilege of citizens and/or (certain) legal residents, there is no hate or fear of another’s culture involved. That’s the whole purpose of having a citizenship in a specific country, it entails to participate in that nation-state’s politics and in return receive the benefits that associate with it.

    Yes, you’re right. If I do hire someone from my family over a more productive worker, it’s nepotism. If I do hire someone of my same race (though race is a non-existent concept that needs to be abandoned) over someone else more productive of a different race, then I’m a racist. I am NOT xenophobic if I hire a citizen over a productive non-citizen because I do not hate or fear their culture. It means I’m a nationalist and/or patriot, whatever you prefer.

  51. 51 51 Jeff Semel

    Ken B: I agree that the cultural norms that allow societies to function are important. I remember the 2006 immigration-reform protest rallies here in Los Angeles. Hardly an Operation Weserübung, but I heard some ominous-sounding (and perhaps overblown) reports on the radio of protesters waving the Mexican flag amidst talk of taking California back for Mexico. I think the organizers must have realized this was a public-relations mistake, since I never heard anything like that from subsequent demonstrations.

    I still remember how good the freeway traffic was that day.

    Doctor Memory: Thanks for the seasteading link. I don’t want to undercut my own argument about the value of nations, but in addition to my traditionalist leanings I also respect those who are willing to experiment with new methods. Not that some of these libertarian ideas are all that new. Seastead promoter Patri Friedman’s father, David Friedman, likes to point to medieval Iceland as an example of an anarcho-capitalist society in which one’s choice of government representative was not limited by geographic territory.

  52. 52 52 ken B

    @Daniel Hewitt: I think a bit more (litotes alert) is required than just respect for property and association. Well functioning civil society relies on a host of often unstated norms. They are able to change and adapt but only so fast, and only so far. Consider for example a large influx to the US of members of a religion which held — in a very essential way — that blacks were inferior, should be subject to whites, and should count as half a person in legal matters; that whites could sometimes beat disobedient blacks, and could control their economic fate and their access to their own children. Welcome? In large numbers? Especially those unwilling to change?

  53. 53 53 Economic Freedom

    Of course, the customers only benefit if the savings of lower employee wages gets passed on to the customers.

    The customer clearly benefits by not having to pay a higher price than usual — which is what he would have to pay if the employer were forced to pay higher wages.

    Customers also benefit whenever an industry or business is either kept profitable or made more profitable by cutting its costs of production (whether labor or anything else). That profitability incentivizes others to enter the industry and expand output . . . which tends to lower prices (benefitting customers) and improve quality because of competition (benefitting customers).

    When a business finds a cheaper way of manufacturing, it usually doesn’t immediately lower its product price in order to “pass on” their savings to consumers — understandably so. It uses the cost-cutting to keep itself profitable, or to make itself even more profitable, which is in and of itself valuable to consumers.

  54. 54 54 Tagore Smith

    Let’s put this really simply. My relationships and transactions with other people can be viewed as a set of functions over a weighted directional graph. It is important to note that the edge weights of this graph are differentially determined, under actual circumstances.

    This is a great way of viewing relatively static communities simply because it mirrors the relationships in those communities with a simple mathematical model.

    The thing about graphs like this is that they are actually very simplified, and they break down under real demographic shifts- your local model is going to break.

    So here is my meta-challenge: solve the meta-problem. But trust me, the prize will be commensurate.

    If you fail you will be obliged to act as a Mariner.

  55. 55 55 Tagore Smith

    In general I am sure that Steve managed a bit more advertisimg.

  56. 56 56 Will A


    I don’t know if you are still are reading these replies, but as a Nationalist Patriot which group would you say appeals to you more on the issue of immigration:
    Progressive Democrats
    Blue Dog Democrats
    Mainstream Republicans
    The TEA Party

  57. 57 57 Steve White

    One anecdote: Edwards came to MIT in Spring 2008 for a conference on global poverty and I asked him something like:

    “Economists agree trade is the key to development and thus poverty reduction. China provides the textbook example. You often argue for protections for U.S. workers. Isn’t there a tension between the needs of U.S. workers and foreign workers?”

    And his response was an affirmation of trade. He said that it was a hard question but he believed “we can’t turn out back on trade.”

    Also, Democrats, including Edwards, favor foreign aid lot more, esp. for health purposes. So the analogy could be that Democrats favor denying all management jobs to Mexicans, but they let them sweep the floors while they favor sending a ton of money to black communities to build hopsitals, provide vaccinations, and feed the starving. Sounds like a worthwhile trade-off to me.

  58. 58 58 RJ


    Option ‘e’, None of the above. You’ll be hard pressed to consider me either a nationalist or patriot, I was simply using myself in the example from the perspective of someone who only hires citizens within their given territory. But I feel it is the responsibility of governments to support its taxpaying citizens. If you feel that wrong or misguided, then I suggest you read Steve’s full article in “Slate” about this very same issue and see what exactly is wrong with it.

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