Covering the Economy: What Makes an American?
Ezra Klein on immigration:
Ezra Klein: What Makes an American?: Larry King last night. The show featured wall-to-wall coverage of the May Day rallies with continuous commentary by a panel of Lou Dobbs, smiling beatifically; Dana Rohrabacher, who was unsuccessfully trying to hide the crazy; Bill Richardson, whose jowls could be used to smuggle immigrant families across the border; and Janet Murgala, president of the National Council of La Raza. What struck me throughout the broadcast was the pains Rohrabacher and Dobbs took to qualify every statement with a paean to the goodness and virtue of the immigrants in question. Hard-working folks, good, kind and honorable, too. Indeed, some of the best people you'll ever meet. Now let's put 'em on a bus.
The reason I'm relatively sanguine about the outcome of this debate is that the anti-immigrant forces are chained to some very tough rhetoric. The essence of "American" has never been geography, rarely do politicians wax rhapsodic over the quirk of fate that saw them born in San Diego rather than five miles further south. Instead, we've always prided ourselves on comprising a collection of transcendent characteristics, characteristics which allowed us to emerge a global nation, easily able to incorporate all those who would seek to share our values.
In this debate, however, the poor Mexicans who undergo a dangerous trek so they can work agonizingly hard for very little, and do all of it to guarantee their children a better life, are such quintessential expressions of American ideals that it's impossible to exclude them from the more metaphysical description of citizenship. So, instead, folks like Rohrabacher are being forced to redefine "American", making it nothing but an accident of geography, divorcing it from everything that has made our citizenship as more myth than mundane statement of birth place. And that, I think, is going to prove a pretty hard sell.
Nell Henderson of the Washington Post:
Effect of Immigration on Jobs, Wages Is Difficult for Economists to Nail Down: By Nell Henderson Washington Post Staff Writer: Saturday, April 15, 2006; D01: According to the economic models, it's a no-brainer: a surge of low-skilled immigrants should increase the supply of such workers, driving down wages at the expense of working-class Americans. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.).... "I don't think you need a professor to understand that when you import substantial cheap labor, it displaces American workers."
But recent research suggests that the economic impact of immigration is not so simple. The effects are difficult to disentangle from other factors that have dampened wage growth for most workers in recent decades, including new technologies, the decline in manufacturing jobs, the drop in unionization, globalization and recessions. Yes, an influx of immigrants has helped depress the incomes of the lowest-skilled workers in recent decades, many economists agree. But they argue about the magnitude of the effect; some say it's big while others see it as slight. Meanwhile, increased immigration -- legal and illegal -- helps keep inflation low, boosts rents and housing values, and benefits the average U.S. taxpayer while burdening some state and local governments, other research finds...
My assessment of Henderson:
Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: The Immigration debate (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?): The problem, of course, is that Henderson's is a "he said, he said" article. Henderson doesn't provide readers with any information to help them evaluate the reasons why Borjas and Card have different views of what the data say. I like George Borjas and Larry Katz, but I do wish that Henderson had written that the large minus eight percent estimate of the effect on the wages of high-school dropouts reported by Borjas and Katz in http://papers.nber.org/papers/w11281 is imprecisely estimated: their data are fuzzy, and give an approximately one-sixth chance that the effect on high-school dropouts is positive. I like David Card, and do wish that Henderson had quoted enough to allow us to see why Card thinks the effects are small...
Paul Krugman on immigration:
North of the Border: I'm instinctively, emotionally pro-immigration. But a review of serious, nonpartisan research reveals some uncomfortable facts about the economics of modern immigration, and immigration from Mexico in particular. If people like me are going to respond effectively to anti-immigrant demagogues, we have to acknowledge those facts. First, the net benefits to the U.S. economy from immigration, aside from the large gains to the immigrants themselves, are small. Realistic estimates suggest that immigration since 1980 has raised the total income of native-born Americans by no more than a fraction of 1 percent. Second, while immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration -- especially immigration from Mexico.... George Borjas and Lawrence Katz... estimate that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration. That's why it's intellectually dishonest to say, as President Bush does, that immigrants do "jobs that Americans will not do." The willingness of Americans to do a job depends on how much that job pays -- and the reason some jobs pay too little to attract native-born Americans is competition from poorly paid immigrants...
Alan Krueger on Immigration
Alan Krueger on Immigration: Immigration policy involves fundamental issues about what and who we are as a country. There are no simple answers on immigration policy because different people can legitimately assign different weights to the welfare of new immigrants, recent immigrants, and various groups of natives. In addition, there is considerable debate disagreement among economists about the economic impacts of immigration...
Gianmarco Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri:
Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Immigration Once Again: Greg Anrig directs us to "the most significant new study about" immigration by the excellent and hard-working Gianmarco Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri:
Gianmarco I.P. Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri: "Rethinking the Gains from Immigration: Theory and Evidence from the U.S.": The standard empirical analysis of immigration, based on a simple labor demand and labor supply framework, has emphasized the negative impact of foreign born workers on the average wage of U.S.-born workers (particularly of those without a high school degree). A precise assessment of the average and relative effects of immigrants on U.S. wages, however, needs to consider labor as a differentiated input in production. Workers of different educational and experience levels are employed in different occupations and are therefore imperfectly substitutable.
When taking this approach, one realizes that foreign-born workers are "complements" of U.S.-born workers in two ways. First, foreign-born residents are relatively abundant in the educational groups in which natives are scarce. Second, their choice of occupations for given education and experience attainments is quite different from that of natives. This implies that U.S.- and foreign-born workers with similar education and experience levels are imperfectly substitutable. Accounting carefully for these complementarities and for the adjustment of physical capital induced by immigration, the conventional finding of immigration's impact on native wages is turned on its head: overall immigration over the 1980-2000 period significantly increased the average wages of U.S.-born workers (by around 2%)...
Arnold Kling gets medieval on George Borjas:
George Borjas writes:
Immigration policy is just another redistribution program. In the short run, it transfers wealth from one group (workers) to another (employers). Whether or not such transfers are desirable is one of the central questions in the immigration debate.
There is an isomorphism between immigration, outsourcing, and free trade in general. In each case, overall economic efficiency is increased, due to the law of comparative advantage. There are distributional effects, to be sure, but no nation has been able to demonstrate an ability to use trade restrictions of any sort to reduce overall poverty. Redistribution implies that trade is a zero-sum game. Borjas implies that immigration works like a tax on low-income workers and a subsidy to high-income employers. Of course, in any sort of competitive market, employers do not profit from lower costs but must instead pass them onto consumers. But why let a little economics get in the way of a folk-Marxist story?
Immigration, like all other forms of trade, is positive-sum game.... Immigration restrictions may change the composition of the least-well off. Overall, however, by weakening the economy immigration restrictions are likely to produce more poverty rather than less. I am not a passionate supporter of open immigration as an economic policy. I do not think that the gains are huge. But I am angry any time an economist misleadingly describes trade as a "redistribution program." At that point, you forfeit your identity as an economist and instead become a demagogue...
Singing the National Anthem in Spanish:
President Bush, 4/28/06:
I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English, and I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English.
But in his book American Dynasty, Kevin Phillips notes that during Bush's first presidential campaign, he would often sing the national anthem in Spanish. From pg. 142:
When visiting cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, or Philadelphia, in pivotal states, he would drop in at Hispanic festivals and parties, sometimes joining in singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish, sometimes partying with a "Viva Bush" mariachi band flown in from Texas...
Peter Baker of the Washington Post:
Administration Is Singing More Than One Tune on Spanish Version of Anthem: President Bush declared last week that the national anthem should be sung in English not Spanish, but he evidently never told his own government or campaign organizations. The State Department posts four Spanish versions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" on its Web site, and accounts from the 2000 election suggest that the song was at times performed in Spanish at Bush campaign events. Critics even turned up one reference to Bush himself singing the anthem in Spanish on the trail, but there was no confirmation.
The furor over a newly released Spanish version of the anthem has underscored once again the power of symbols in American politics. At a time when the immigration debate in Washington has divided Republicans on Capitol Hill, drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets and triggered a nationwide boycott, all sides are scrutinizing the words and records of the president and other politicians for signs of inconsistency.... Responding to a reporter, Bush said: "I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English. And I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English, and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."
And there seems little evidence that the matter had concerned Bush before. The Center for American Progress, a liberal group run by Clinton chief of staff John D. Podesta, posted on its blog a reference to Bush singing the anthem in Spanish. In his book, "American Dynasty," Kevin Phillips wrote that Bush "would drop in at Hispanic festivals and parties, sometimes joining in singing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' in Spanish, sometimes partying with a 'Viva Bush' mariachi band flown in from Texas."
White House spokesmen and former campaign operatives said they could not recall whether that happened, though given the level of Bush's Spanish proficiency, they seemed dubious.
"Honestly, I don't remember him ever singing the national anthem in Spanish," said Leonard Rodriguez, who was national director of Hispanic Coalition for Bush/Cheney 2000. "I can't see any of his advisers recommending it." But he added: "They may have played it. That's certainly in the realm of possibility." And Rodriguez said he does not recall Bush ever objecting to it.