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.

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.