The Economist Magazine on Immigration

I wasn`t very hopeful about
the London Economist`s

“Editorial Survey on America and Immigration”
when I
read the flyer being circulated to potential advertisers. (In
the current climate, immigration enthusiasts never think of
hiding their crass motivations.) And in fact the survey can`t
compare with the

Copley News Service`s Special Report “America`s Immigration
last year, with its sophisticated but searing
account of the marginal lives of many recent immigrants.
(Correct link thanks to

`s Brenda Walker.)

Still, the Economist`s
effort (just out in the March 11-17 issue – ) isn`t totally
awful. There`s the Economist`s trademark smug
condescension. There`s a steady rain of immigration enthusiast
clichés: the Cato Institute`s Steve Moore is even taken
seriously when he makes his timeworn claim that immigrants are a

“self-selected elite.”
(Because they`ve uprooted
themselves.  Of course, it`s equally true that, while some
immigrants may be enterprising, others may just be chronic
misfits and drifters. Hence immigrants historically have been
over-represented in poverty and in prisons.  The Economist
investigates neither issue).  But there`s also, maybe because of
the naiveté of the reporter, John Mickelthwait, quite enough
evidence in the Economist survey to make it clear that
immigration has become a disaster.

For example, the
final image is of “Nora,” described as an


p.c. term for illegal] 42-year-old Mexican who has been in
the country for 12 years. She lives in a caravan trailer with
her husband and four children, two of whom are American citizens
i.e. born in the U.S. and therefore citizens under the
current interpretation of the

14th Amendment
].  The family finances are
tight. Her husband brings in $200 a month, working as a
bricklayer across the border in Matamoros. She gets $200 in food
stamps and $90 from Aid to Families with Dependent Children…”

Nora, Maria and the American dream

Mar 9th 2000

Plainly, this is a social catastrophe in the making—financed to
an extraordinary extent, the Economist reveals, by the
unfortunate American taxpayer.  And there is more to come. When
asked why she refuses to go home, “Nora” points to a picture of
a daughter holding a high school graduation certificate.

This makes the Economist
go all squishy. But what it actually represents is another raid
on the American taxpayer. Annual per pupil spending in

Texas public schools
averages over $5,000.

In the modern U.S.,
transfer payments are far more extensive than just “welfare.”
These transfer payments do indeed constitute a powerful
incentive for immigrants to stay – unlike the situation during
the first Great Wave a century ago, when up to 40 per cent of
immigrants ultimately went back home.  Which is why the Cato/
Wall Street Journal
editorial page formulation (“immigration
yes, welfare no”
) is so fatuous.  It should really be
“and free education / emergency room health care etc. etc. no.”

Yeah, right.

Typically, the Economist
heads this story “For America, immigration may hold the
secret of eternal youth.
”  Eternal aid for dependent
children, anyway.

Nevertheless, the
survey has four great virtues:

  • It makes crystal clear,
    illustrated with powerful graphics, that immigration is a Very
    Big Deal—”every bit as momentous as that of the last great
    wave a century ago. In fact, it may turn out to be even more
    influential…” This is important, because there are a few
    immigration enthusiast dinosaurs, like the American Enterprise
    Institute`s Ben Wattenberg, who are still stuck in the denial
    phase and keep trying to explain the data away—see his

    recent syndicated column
    . At first sight, these dinosaurs
    aren`t as appalling as their successors, such as

    Bill Clinton
    ,who actually celebrate the transformation
    and elimination of the historic American nation, seeing it as
    an excuse for further attacks on liberty. But they are less


  • It makes it clear,
    albeit in rather small print, that there is in aggregate no
    economic benefit to native-born Americans from the current
    influx. Some Americans—for example, agribusiness
    workers—benefit. Others—for example, native-born agricultural
    workers—lose. Overall, it`s pretty much a wash. In other
    words, America is being transformed for nothing.


  • It provides ample
    evidence, albeit without comment, of the arrogance of the
    Hispanic professional ethnics, who blatantly count on
    continued immigration to bring them to power (“We will


  • It discreetly leads to
    the conclusion that what it correctly describes as the
    American Establishment`s Pollyannaish attitude about
    immigration may be wrong: “…leaving the [melting] pot on
    the stove smacks of complacency. Whatever your reading of
    history, the Ellis Island immigrants were not just left to
    stew: laws were changed, wars fought, the English language
    This mild observation is utter heresy in
    contemporary debate. And the Economist backs away
    hurriedly, launching into a boilerplate peroration about
    immigration being not a problem but an opportunity, blah
    blah.  But the heresy is there, like a spark to a fuse.

The Economist`s realism about the economics of
immigration principally stems from having at least heard of the
National Academy of Science`s 1997 study

The New Americans,

which aimed to summarize the consensus among labor economists.
The Economist describes the NAS finding that the net
aggregate macroeconomic benefit to the native-born was “around
$10 billion” (actually $1-$10 billion) as “quite a modest sum
when set against an $8 trillion economy.”  This is probably not
British understatement but innumeracy.  A benefit of 0.1% can
only be described as nugatory—and the NAS finding as devastating
for current policy and its supporters.

More devastating, in fact,
than the Economist apparently realizes.  The NAS study
elsewhere found that the fiscal costs of the immigrant presence
more than wiped out any macroeconomic gain. America is not
merely being transformed for nothing—it is paying for the
privilege.  But, hey, none of these figures have ever been
reported in the Wall Street Journal at all. One cheer, at
least, for the Economist.

Again, the Economist
does report the NAS finding that immigration costs every
native-born family in California $1200 extra in taxes per year.
Admittedly, it flubs up the analysis, arguing “the methodology
is flawed” because tax-paying immigrant children will moderate
this loss eventually (but the NAS was reporting on a specific
year) and citing UC-Berkeley economist Ronald Lee`s much-touted
estimate that immigrants are worth an average $80,000 net in
taxes over their lifetimes (but this assumed a massive tax
increase to bail out Social Security—otherwise they`re still a
net loss.)  Still, that amazing California cost is there, in
print. Revolutions have started over less.

survey is also helpful, again inadvertently, in
suggesting why the NAS report has not started a revolution—yet.
It leans heavily on the sinister figure of

RAND Corporation economist James P. Smith
, who in his role
as chairman of the NAS study

the single most misleading press release I`ve ever
seen in nearly thirty years of professional journalism.  It is
entirely because of this press release (with a little help from
the idleness, stupidity and bias of the media—but what else is
new?) that even opponents of immigration policy think the NAS
found massive economic gains from immigration, whereas in fact
it found the exact opposite. Dr Smith has recently produced
Pollyannaish figures, not yet available to colleagues, that
allegedly show that the established decline in relative
education levels among immigrants has halted—achieved,
apparently, by the trick of not counting the backlog of Green
card applicants, many of them known to be illegal immigrants
already here.

The Economist
features this revealing quote from Smith: “Yes, one-third of
my country will claim Asian or Hispanic roots by 2050
bear no relation to the historic American nation]. But most
of that one-third will also be something else
[i.e. the
ethnic situation will be even more confused]. And our kids
will live in that world. We will not
[Italics added].

Just our kids, eh?  Oh,
well—that`s O.K. then. Isn`t it?

Letter from a Reader, March 15, 2000