Monday, April 13, 2009

Pete Murphy is Wrong about Immigration

Pete Murphy and I had are having another short discussion on immigration, this time on his blog. We've had this debate before, and I went back for Round 2. See below (comments section):

Here are my responses to Mr. Murphy's anti-immigration views:

1. I agree that California is a fiscal disaster. That's because California spends most of its tax revenue on education. In addition, the salaries, medical costs, and pension obligations of public sector employees--officers, firefighters, teachers, etc.--create a significant impact on CA's budget. Illegal immigration is a convenient scapegoat for CA's refusal to cut spending across the board. See this PDF file for more information:

It shows that education is the #1 spending item in CA, by far; then comes health and human services; then jails (CA jails too many nonviolent criminals). Some illegal immigrants may receive health and human services, but until we receive a breakdown of how much money or services is given to illegal immigrants, blaming them for CA's budget crisis is, at best, resorting to speculation, and at worst, scapegoating. Keep in mind also that immigrants pay sales taxes.

2. As for your dismissal of the idea that you might be deporting our next generation of ideas, you don't have any statistics supporting your view. My previous posting had a link showing that at least 1/2 of the companies in Santa Clara County were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants. If we accept your philosophy of slow growth, San Jose, S.F., L.A., and N.Y. all disappear as we know it.

Gone are also Google (Russian immigrant), eBay (Iranian French immigrant), Sun (Indian immigrant), Intel (Hungarian), and so on. Basically, if we followed your advice 20 years ago, we'd be decades behind in technological progress.

3. You want America to look like Indiana--a nice place, certainly, with good schools, low population growth, and ample land. But let's not confuse economic growth with other amorphous variables, such as happiness or quality of life. It is clear that more immigration leads to more jobs and more overall income. If that wasn't the case, immigrants and younger Americans would not be flocking to the larger cities. Your distinction that per capita income declines as more people gather in a particular place isn't significant in a globalized world where companies can ship jobs anywhere. There must be a reason companies and their employees stay in a particular city, even as per capita income declines. If declining per capita income was a problem, intelligent Americans would be flocking to smaller or low growth cities. They are not.

I am actually in agreement with you re: your main thesis. If you want a slower pace of life and a more close-knit community, lower growth policies and protectionism are conducive to those goals. Thank goodness we live in a country where you can freely move to Indiana, Montana, or another state where the majority population agrees with your slow growth philosophy. That's the beauty of America--there's somewhere pleasant for everyone.

However, advocating protectionism and closed borders would involve a serious reversal of American dominance and prestige. Other countries would start creating jobs and companies at our expense, immigrants would start going elsewhere (like to Canada and Australia), and America would fall decades behind in job growth. A reversal of overall growth, if accepted, may lead to future generations of Americans moving to Canada, Australia, India, China, and Singapore to find jobs or deciding not to work at all (e.g., Japan's "hikikomori"). We take for granted that much of the educated world speaks English, knows about the Simpsons, and drinks Coke. The minute we stop creating jobs and attracting foreign talent, we make it harder for future Americans to succeed in the global marketplace.

In short, be careful what you wish for. We owe much of America's progress--and almost all of its technological progress--to immigrants. Societies that fall behind the global race rarely catch up.


Dave Gardner said...

It's interesting that in good economic times the U.S. has a goal of creating 100,000 new jobs every month - about the same as the number of legal immigrants coming in.

Without rampant immigration, job growth would not be such a huge issue. Many other cultural pro-growth biases in your argument here. They don't really have a lot of logic behind them, but they are powered by a belief system ingrained by a few centuries of faith in growth everlasting.

Dave Gardner
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity

Brett Stevens said...

We don't know what is costing California so much in education, but let's take a stab: if immigrants are the main growth in the economy, and require ESL classes as well as more schools to be built, they could well be causing many problems.

While you cited some impressive companies that were founded by immigrants, you have not shown how the technologies those companies have created would not have been made by others. After all, the execs now working at Intel might well have been working for Motorola if Intel wasn't the market leader.

It's unreasonable to expect that quiet places like Indiana will remain quiet if economic forces create competitive disadvantages to their quietness.

I think many of us are opposed to immigration for economic reasons, but still others see a practical reason: diverse societies, throughout history, have tended to fragment.

Brett Stevens