Tuesday, November 21, 2017

“Low-Skill Immigration: A Case for Restriction” published in American Affairs

Last fall, I participated in a Center for Immigration Studies panel entitled “Immigration and Less-Educated American Workers,” alongside University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax and political scientist Charles Murray. The panel was perhaps most notable for Murray’s revelation that, despite his libertarian instincts, he had come around to the position that we should “shut down low-skill immigration for a while” to encourage more Americans to rejoin the labor force.

Logo
Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter 2017)
Murray’s announcement is not the panel’s only legacy, however. Amy Wax and I realized that the material from our own presentations would combine nicely into a long-form essay. Now, one year later, that essay appears in the latest issue of American Affairs. Our essay is unique in that it combines “top-down” Census Bureau data on native job losses with “bottom-up” ethnographic research on employer preferences for immigrant labor. From the introduction:
Lawler Foods, a large commercial bakery outside of Houston, prefers to hire Hispanics. That was the allegation in legal briefs filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which contends that Lawler created its 80-percent Hispanic workforce in an area where much of the low-skill labor pool is black by advertising for Spanish speakers, then relying on word-of-mouth among its Spanish-speaking employees. When non-Hispanic applicants still showed up, the company would discourage them with horror stories about the nature of the work, emphasize that Spanish is required, and sometimes declare outright that non-Hispanics would not be considered…. 
How did we get here? This is a story about the decline in the quantity and quality of work performed by less-skilled U.S.-born workers, along with the concurrent rise of immigrant labor as a cheap and reliable alternative. Immigration is only one part of a complicated dynamic that has caused ever-greater proportions of natives to withdraw from the labor force. However, as long as the United States receives a steady flow of low-skill labor from abroad, little incentive exists for politicians, business owners, and opinion leaders to address the problem of native idleness. The Left and the Right, for different reasons, have embraced a system that encourages the replacement of native workers—including subsequent generations of immigrants—rather than improving their prospects. This system threatens to create a politically and economically untenable cycle for lower-wage workers. 
Cutting off the flow of low-skill immigration could force a renewed commitment to getting Americans back to work—a commitment that must include, among other things, aggressive job recruiting and training by employers, reviving the social expectation that prime-age men must work, ending the “college for all” mindset that devalues blue-collar occupations, and strengthening work requirements as a condition of aid.
The whole essay is available here.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

We've reached full generality

A perplexing tweet has been making the rounds:


An old cliche in Washington is to pretend that one's pet issue is a matter of national security, or of public health, or of some other important and neutral-sounding goal that disguises the underlying politics. I've written about or linked to several cases before:
Same-sex marriage is a matter of public health
Gun control is a matter of public health
The gender wage gap is bad for the economy
Ethnic diversity is essential for learning
The Electoral College is a national security risk
Common Core is a national security imperative.
But that tweet takes things to a whole new level. It's not just that X is a matter of some unobjectionable goal such as national security or public health. Now X is a matter of Y, where X and Y are anything at all. The cliche argument has reached full generality!

I suppose that "X is a matter of Y" is a crude attempt at coalition building, suggesting that seemingly different causes actually fall under the same Social Justice umbrella. To me, however, the open illogic and blurred distinctions in that tweet are really just invitations to stop thinking.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Abolish the diversity lottery

Early reports indicate that Sayfullo Saipov, the terrorist who killed eight people when he drove his truck down a bike path in Lower Manhattan, came to the U.S. by winning the "diversity lottery" -- a program that randomly distributes about 50,000 green cards each year to people from countries that are not major immigrant senders. The incident is a grim reminder of the program's irrationality. I wrote about the lottery in a magazine piece for National Review way back in 2011:
The national-security risk of the lottery is certainly real, but the program is problematic for a more fundamental reason: It does not select for any of the immigrant characteristics that most Americans consider important. The three main kinds of legal immigrants the U.S. currently accepts are people with family members already in the U.S. (66 percent of immigrants in 2010), workers with desirable skills (14 percent), and refugees (13 percent). But the lottery involves no selection at all. It does not make our workforce more skilled, reunite families, or further any humanitarian ends. Its exclusive purpose is to increase the national-origins diversity of immigrants.
It's way past time to abolish this irrational program.

Update: I wrote a new piece for NR on the cold comfort of "dying for diversity":
One terrorist incident by itself does not justify abolishing a program, but it does bring the pointlessness of the lottery into sharp relief. When a refugee commits terrorism, there is perhaps some minor consolation that our heart was in the right place when we brought him here. For all the problems with our refugee program — and there are many — at least it is rooted in our desire to alleviate human suffering around the globe. But Sayfullo Saipov was not invited for any humanitarian reason, nor was he invited to rejoin family members or to apply his specialized skills. He was invited because his name was drawn out of a diversity hat. Cold comfort to his victims, indeed.
Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"We support free speech, but [we don't support free speech]."

Those who follow me on Facebook know that I enjoy quoting the various "We support free speech, but..." excuses from censors as they explain why they fired or disinvited or blacklisted people whose views they don't like. Remarkably, two different vice presidents at Google used this formulation in their reactions to employee James Damore's common-sense points about gender differences.

From one VP:
Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But...
And from another VP:
Questioning our assumptions and sharing different perspectives is an important part of our culture, and we want to continue fostering an environment where it’s safe to engage in challenging conversations in a thoughtful way. But...
In a recent piece for National Review, I took the opportunity to list several other examples of but's and however's that I've come across over the years. Two that I did not list -- to avoid making the piece seem self-serving -- were statements made by Harvard students who wanted the university to retroactively reject my dissertation. From a coalition of 23 ethnic student groups: "In any healthy democracy there is always disagreement, but..." And from a student petition with nearly 1,000 signatures: "Academic freedom and a reasoned debate are essential to our academic community. However..."

Maybe it should be encouraging that censors feel obligated to praise free speech in the abstract. But there's something Orwellian about their statements that troubles me even more than a straightforward rejection of free speech would. "We support X, but we oppose X" feels like an attempt to dull people's senses, to encourage them not to think too hard lest they become troubled by what's happening around them.

Friday, May 5, 2017

"California Fails the Immigration Test" published at Real Clear Policy

From my perspective, much of the immigration debate takes place on the right. Traditional conservatives feel that mass immigration is a cultural and economic disruption, while libertarian-leaning conservatives emphasize how immigration makes the American economy more efficient. To the extent that progressives are involved in the immigration debate, it is generally as advocates for the immigrants themselves -- arguing that deportation is unethical, for example, or that immigrants should be allowed to sponsor their extended families. For progressives, to what extent is immigration seen as a positive good for natives rather than just for the immigrants? More specifically, do progressives believe immigration moves us closer to their ideal vision of American society?

If so, please read my new piece for Real Clear Policy. I describe how America's leading progressive state, California, is failing on the issues most important to progressives -- poverty, low education, and social distrust. Many factors contribute to that failure, but one that stands out is the demographic change caused by decades of mass immigration. From the piece:
Given the impact of immigration, it is tempting to excuse the failure of progressivism in California on the grounds that the state faces demographic challenges that other states do not. After all, one can easily identify both blue states and red states that perform well on various social indicators, and that performance is largely driven by the states’ people, not by their governments. But here is the problem for progressives: They told us immigration-related challenges could be overcome through policy. High tax rates, strict labor regulations, and strong unions were to lift the least-skilled into a middle-class lifestyle. Investments in education were to close early-learning gaps. Ethnic tensions were to be smoothed over with diversity training seminars and multicultural textbooks. 
Needless to say, however much progressive policies in California are helping achieve those goals, they have not succeeded nearly enough. In the showdown between mass immigration and progressivism, immigration has won, hands-down. The California experience thus stands as a hard lesson on the limits of public policy.
I would like progressives to engage more on this question.

Update 5/18/2017: None ever did.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

When is the March for Large-Scale Preregistered Replications?

Why are progressives calling this weekend's demonstration the "March for Science"? Why not the "March for Equality," or the "March for the Environment," or even the "March for NIH Funding"? The reason, of course, is science-gilding, the covering of one's ideological positions with the veneer of scientific objectivity. It's very tempting. Ideological debates are messy and difficult to win, but Science sounds so authoritative. Just say "Science" and drop the mike.


Unfortunately, some scientists are only too happy to help. In a piece for National Review this past week, I wrote that researchers are subject to similar biases and pressures faced by others in the public sphere. The "replication crisis" is the best evidence. After quoting the passage from my American Conservative article outlining how replication failures have left psychologists uncertain that bilingualism makes people smarter, I noted that the prevailing scientific view on bilingualism had previously just happened to follow the prevailing political view on multiculturalism:
“Bilingualism makes people smarter” is itself a reversal in the literature. Before the 1960s, the opposite view predominated. “The general trend in the literature relating to the effect of bilingualism upon the measure of intelligence, has been toward the conclusion that bilinguists suffer from a language handicap,” according to a 1953 review paper. So at a time when assimilation was the prevailing ideology among political elites, science told them bilingualism is bad for the mind. Later, when multiculturalism became the prevailing ideology among elites, science told them bilingualism is good for the mind. Which is the cause and which is the effect here? 
Thank goodness for the replication crisis and the renewed interest in scientific transparency that has come along with it. If there were a March for Large-Scale Preregistered Replications, I would be on the front lines.
Has that march been scheduled yet?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Would you fly "Liberty Air"?

With bad flying experiences in the news again, I thought I'd resurrect this article of mine, which made the case for allowing airlines to determine their own security procedures. (You can tell the article is ancient because of the reference to a Blackberry.) Here's how it starts:
Let us imagine there were a major airline that could opt out of all TSA regulations. Call it “Liberty Air.” Liberty Air openly advertises that it takes zero safety precautions when it comes to screening passengers and baggage. Would you fly on this airline?  
The upside to Liberty Air’s approach is a far more pleasant airport experience. Liberty Air has no metal detectors, so there are no long lines after you get your ticket. Get to the airport ten minutes before take-off, not two hours. Pack whatever you want in your carry-on, including “dangerous” liquids, disposable razors, a hunting knife, whatever. If you have a laptop, don’t worry about taking it out of its case. Wearing a metal belt buckle? Have a lot of keys? Don’t want your Blackberry to leave your sight? No problem. You won’t have to juggle your boarding pass, your driver’s license, your cell phone, and your laptop. No need to take off your shoes. Don’t feel hassled to collect all your belongings pouring out of the X-ray machine—there is no X-ray machine!   
Most important of all, Liberty Air does not do body scans. No machine will take revealing photos of you, nor will X-rays zap you, nor will any uniformed official fondle you in the name of national security.   
Not only is Liberty Air more pleasant to fly, it’s also easier on your wallet. Free from paying for security officials and upkeep for expensive equipment, Liberty Air passes the savings on to you. No “September 11 security fee” on your bill. You pay only for the flight, not for the TSA bureaucracy. 
Of course, there’s an obvious downside to Liberty Air: it is clearly more vulnerable to a terrorist attack. Does the added risk outweigh the benefits? This is the question everyone should ponder. Would you fly Liberty Air, or would you still choose a TSA-compliant airline?