Elitist Economists, Immigration, And The American Future

Economist Bryan Caplan [email him], an associate professor at George Mason U., a commuter school in suburban Virginia, has been getting a lot of good press for his recent book The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies which argues that voters should have less power because they make bad decisions compared to experts—such as (to pick a random example) economists.

Thus Caplan wrote in the online journal of the libertarian-turned-Beltway-Establishment-wannabe Cato Institute:

"Consider the case of immigration policy. Economists are vastly more optimistic about its economic effects than the general public. The Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy asks respondents to say whether 'too many immigrants' is a major, minor, or non-reason why the economy is not doing better than it is. 47% of non-economists think it is a major reason; 80% of economists think it is not a reason at all."[The Myth of the Rational Voter, November 6th, 2006]

This is a particularly foolish argument—because, of course, immigration is the single political issue on which the American elite most gets its way over the American people.

And Caplan's belief that "experts" should be deferred to on the wisdom of open borders is even more self-contradictory because the vast majority of economists surveyed are not at all experts on immigration. The true expert economists on immigration, such as labor economist George Borjas of Harvard, tend to be very dubious indeed about the economic benefits of our current policy—much less about the benefits of more unskilled immigration.

Caplan himself has displayed over the years on his blog little awareness of objective facts about immigration. He does, however, possess an unmistakably dogmatic faith in the theories of the late Julian Simon about how immigration ought to be benefiting us.

I was reminded of this remarkable imbalance in empirical knowledge between the two sides in the immigration debates while reading Immigration and the American Future, edited by long-time VDARE.com contributor Chilton Williamson, Jr., a fact-crammed collection of 14 essays from Chronicles Press, which is affiliated with Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture of Rockford, Illinois. [VDARE.com note:  Chronicles fans will prefer to buy through the magazine].

In this book Professor Borjas is himself represented by a long interview with VDARE.COM editor Peter Brimelow. The two veteran students of economics share a laugh over how the opinion divide on immigration policy between the rich and the rest can be explained by an old economic concept that Dr. Caplan has overlooked: class self-interest.

Borjas: "Who exactly is lobbying for guest workers? Is it you and me? No, it's employers, right? Why would employers tend to go to Washington and expend their resources lobbying for something that doesn't benefit them?

Brimelow: "It can all be explained in rather crass Marxist terms, can't it? The class analysis works.

Borjas: "Of course! Of course! The Marxist analysis works."

In other words, pro-immigration arguments are so shameless and stupid that they are rehabilitating the reputation of Karl Marx.

Williamson's new book includes three other essays on economics: by Rockford Institute chairman David A. Hartman, VDARE.COM's Edwin S. Rubenstein, and from James A. Bernsen and the Lone Star Foundation on the costs of illegal immigration to Texas. Each economics chapter is beautifully illustrated with very clear graphs and data tables. Reading any of them would likely double the sum total of the average economist's objective knowledge about immigration.

Yet economics is only one aspect of the immigration quandary. As Thomas Fleming, editor of Chronicles recalls in his chapter "Up Mexico Way":

"Some years ago, when I began speaking and writing on the immigration question, I ran into trouble very quickly. So long as I was content to quotes George Borjas's and Donald Huddle's statistics on the economic impact of immigration, my arguments were treated politely by advocates on both sides, but when I made the mistake of raising the question of culture, of the kind of country that America would be turned into by mass immigration, I was informed by opponents of unrestricted immigration that anyone who raised the cultural question would be accused of bigotry. How convenient, I thought."

Fleming offers an informative contrast between American culture and Mexican culture and how they are amalgamating, focusing on the border cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, where so many women have been murdered. Fleming, a resident of the upper Midwest, is particularly struck by the traditional Mexican love of violence, which has long been reflected across the border in Texas, scene of brutal Cormac McCarthy border novels such as  No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses.

Indeed, southern Arizona journalist Gregory McNamee's chapter on the environmental impact of immigration reads rather like a McCarthy novel. He describes a member of the Tohono O'odham (a.k.a. Papago) Nation (which has long protested how the constant flow of illegal immigrants degrades their land along 70 miles of border) who works "cutting for sign" for an elite unit of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service known as the Shadow Wolves:

"The tracker kneels in the middle of the dry desert wash, looking intently at the sandy, rock-strewn floor. The earth bears faint impressions of many kinds… A few hours ago, before dawn, two men came this way, heading south. More men passed, heading north. Many more."

"Greetings from Ground Zero" by Steven Greenhut of the Orange County Register assesses immigration from a more urban perspective, that of Southern California. He notes that this market of 17 million people lost its only country music radio station in late 2006, when KZLA switched to an "urban" format specializing in quasi-music like the Black Eyed Peas rap travesty "My Humps".

The good news is that SoCal now has a country radio station again: 105.1 FM. The bad news is that. to become the new country station, 105.1 stopped being LA's only commercial FM classical station.

On the political side, Peter Brimelow has a second chapter analyzing Big Business's love affair with immigration "as a savage attack by the American rich on the American poor (and middle class), by American capitalists on the living standards of the American working class."

But he goes on to explain:

"The business elite is surprisingly flexible over time… It just wants to be left alone. So it sometimes responds very quickly to friendly hints dropped by politicians… In the 30-year struggle that culminated in the legislated cutoff of the last Great Wave of immigration in the 1920s, it was the business elite's fear of mounting social disorder that caused it to change sides. The scars from the little-remembered anarchist bombing outside J.P. Morgan, Inc. on September 16, 1920, which killed 33 people and injured 400 are still visible on the façade of 23 Wall Street."

The crime was never solved. The Italian immigrant chief suspect fled back to his homeland. But business had learned (temporarily, at least) that cheap labor could be expensive.

There's a lot to be learned. And Immigration and the American Future is a good place to start.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]