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How Many People Would Want To Immigrate to the U.S.?

I asked this question earlier this year (stressing that it's just a question and not an answer):

Say that we consider largely removing limits on immigration, as I've heard some people suggest, and as was indeed the law throughout much of the nation's history. (Let's set aside narrow limits, such as on people with criminal records, terrorist connections, or easily communicable diseases.) Say also that we will offer these now largely legal immigrants those social welfare benefits that are in fact politically likely — not the bare minimum that some libertarians might like, nor the vast amount that some welfare-state proponents might suggest, but those benefits that are likely: Public education for their children, emergency health care, whatever nonemergency health care is likely to be broadly offered under either current health subsidy plans or under whatever plans are likely in the future, and the like.

Say also that we maintain the traditional liberties that we have long offered legal immigrants, such as the right to settle wherever they want (which likely means where they can find relatives, people from their home country, and jobs), rather than requiring them to stick to (say) South Dakota and avoid already crowded places like New York City or Southern California. And say that we likewise maintain the various traditional restraints that are in fact unlikely to be politically changed, such as imperfectly enforced minimum wage laws, imperfectly enforced tax laws, imperfectly enforced housing laws, and the like.

Of the world population of 6 billion, how many people are likely to want to come to the U.S., and stay for the indefinite future, under this model? Ten million? One hundred million? More? Less? Is it even possible to estimate this? Relatedly, if one goal of allowing broader immigration would be to avoid the problems caused by illegal immigration, would capping the limit at some number (2 million per year? 5 million per year?) dramatically decrease illegal immigration by offering the prospect of legal immigration to those who stand in line? Or would it increase illegal immigration, as people see more of their acquaintances and family members living in the U.S., and thus conclude that moving here illegally would be easier and less painful than it once was?

I understandably didn't see much of an answer in the comments, though some were quite helpful. Now the Reader's Digest reports on the results of a poll, which asked people in other countries, among other things, whether they "would be interested in moving to America if economic and political barriers were non-existent." (That's just the Digest's paraphrase, I should stress; please let me know if you know the exact text of the question, and more broadly whatever else you may know about the survey, since I recognize it might well be flawed.) The Digest gives answers for 17 countries, but let me just give the biggest one, India: 73%.

Now I strongly suspect that Indian immigrants to the U.S. have given the country a great detail, and that the country is on balance better for letting them in (as I hope is the case about Russian Empire immigrants like me). But, let me say again: 73%. Of over a billion people.

Naturally, economic barriers would never be nonexistent. But say that political barriers were removed, and only 10% of those people would actually come. That would be 80 million new Americans, quite likely in the span of only a few years. And that's just from India. Where would they all go? What freeways would they drive on?

So let me ask a slightly different question than I asked before. Say that you support dramatically easing restrictions on immigration, whether it's on libertarian grounds, liberal humanitarian grounds, or whatever other grounds. Say that we take for granted the assumption that legal immigrants will be entitled to at least some public benefits, such as public education, emergency health care, whatever nonemergency health care is likely to be broadly offered under either current health subsidy plans or under whatever plans are likely in the future, and the like. And say that we maintain the traditional liberties that we have long offered legal immigrants, such as the right to settle wherever they want (which likely means where they can find relatives, people from their home country, and jobs), rather than requiring them to stick to (say) South Dakota and avoid already crowded places like New York City or Southern California.

Would you have no immigration caps at all? If you would, how would you make the caps work?

Elliot123 (mail):
If we couple unlimited immigration with single payer government health care, then we are providing medical care to the whole world. Anyone whe gets sick can come here for free treatment, and compete with citizens who finance the limited medical resources resources.

The survey also makes me wonder about the folks who say the reputation of the US has been trashed around the world over the last eight years. How do they know?
10.13.2008 9:08pm
abcdzyxw:
If you allow unlimited immigration, then the population will grow until the country becomes unmanageably crowded, at which point it will become a less desirable place to live, thus decreasing the number of people who want to come here. Eventually we reach a population equilibrium.
10.13.2008 9:25pm
The Cabbage (mail):
Can 73% of Indians afford the passage? The survey sounds like "If you and all your family and friends could be magically transported to the US, would you go?"

Sure, lots of people would move here. But there wouldn't be a BILLION people moving here overnight.
10.13.2008 9:27pm
Obvious (mail):
Right now, I'd allow free immigration and citizenship to all people who would buy a house, 20% down, and hold it for 5 years. Our economy would improve, we'd have more productive citizens (they could afford 20% down), and the housing glut would be quickly eliminated.
10.13.2008 9:35pm
Dave N (mail):
Now the Reader's Digest reports on the results of a poll, which asked people in other countries, among other things, whether they "would be interested in moving to America if economic and political barriers were non-existent." . . . The Digest gives answers for 17 countries, but let me just give the biggest one, India: 73%.
Which would be good news for Bobby Jindal.
10.13.2008 9:36pm
A Smith (mail):
73% of a billion is about 72.99% too many in my book. India's an overflowing country that brings the old Soylent Green movie to mind in places. Why would we want so many more people here - on any grounds?
10.13.2008 9:37pm
paul lukasiak (mail):
exactly who are these people who want no caps on immigration?

There is a difference between advocating a humanitarian approach to our undocumented alien issue, and saying "no immigration restrictions".
10.13.2008 9:42pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
So let me ask a slightly different question than I asked before. Say that you support dramatically easing restrictions on immigration, whether it's on libertarian grounds, liberal humanitarian grounds, or whatever other grounds. Say that we take for granted the assumption that legal immigrants will be entitled to at least some public benefits, such as public education, emergency health care, whatever nonemergency health care is likely to be broadly offered under either current health subsidy plans or under whatever plans are likely in the future, and the like.

Allowing effectively-unlimited immigration while also offering "public benefits" is folly. The reason our liberal immigration policy worked in the 1800s was because the Land of Opportunity included the opportunity to starve: potential immigrants knew they would sink or swim on their own efforts, so the ones who came were prepared to swim.

The problem with safety nets is that they can and will be used as hammocks. Get rid of the entitlements, and then, sure, open the borders wide open.
10.13.2008 9:44pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
There are a lot of people who advocate unlimited immigration. There are others who make pro-immigration arguments without realizing the logical consequences of their arguments.

Or they will say that immigration is a self-correcting problem. That is, we would not have 700M Indians coming here because the first 50M of them will ruin the country and no one else will want to come here after that.

The survey illustrates the necessity of having immigration caps. The only sensible argument is over how large the caps should be.
10.13.2008 9:51pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
Like anything else, we can learn with a pilot program of some sort. That we can support so many illegal aliens suggests that our current quotas are too low. Raise the quotas. See what happens. Rinse. Repeat as necessary.

At a minimum, we will draw our immigration pool less predominantly from one country, Mexico, which should help with assimilation.

Full disclosure: I have two sons in their 20's from Romania, and so have a particular prism I am viewing this from.
10.13.2008 9:53pm
q:
We have plenty of space to accommodate those Indians who can afford to migrate here. And Indians are, on the whole, quite educated; their human capital will outweigh whatever public benefits they'd be qualified for.
10.13.2008 9:55pm
TheOneEyedMan (www):
If we added to your modest list of immigration restrictions the requirement that you had a 6 month lease (no more than two adults per bedroom), a six month work contract (with direct deposit required, no working for cash), and basic English facility (and their immediate families) it would go a long way to keeping the resulting torrent manageable. This would encourage them to settle more widely and would keep the count to millions a year instead of hundreds of millions.

But huge immigrations have been successful even without a common language. Israel experienced a population growth rate in the 1990s from immigration of about 20%. My understanding is that is the largest large scale immigration as a percentage of country population recorded in modern times. In the US that would be about 12 million a year. We wouldn't have the common religion but with the requirement above we could confine the pool to those more prone to fitting in well.

I don't know that the restrictions would be enough. According to Wikipedia there are about 1,100 million English speakers, but most of them live in rich countries. Only about 40 million live in poor countries, and so this restriction could be highly effective, at least until there was a massive increase in the number of people who spoke English. The requirement to restrict it to the families of the employed would likewise act as a buffer over the short and medium term.
10.13.2008 9:56pm
guest j:
I would like to see the United States grow to be a nation of a billion people, speaking English, Mandarin, Hindi, and many of the other languages of the world.

If some nations are to have populations of over a billion people, the United States might as well be one of them.

Economists and politicians sometimes forget that those people most likely to actually take the tremendous risk and come to the United States, overcoming whatever hurdles there will be, along with the cost increases that could be expected in finding a place to live and so forth, would first be those most likely to have some way of making a good living or growing rich. Open (or more open) immigration would be a massive shot in the arm to the U.S. economy as we welcomed masses of enthusiastic enterpreneurs and workers with skills and/or creativity and original ideas.

The U.S. is substantially larger (in area) than China. There's no reason it couldn't be a nation of over a billion people. Given our much better standards on pollution, human rights, freedom, and nearly everything else, it's certainly far better that those additional hundreds of millions should live here than in China. If they are people with talent and intelligence to offer the rest of the world, they can probably better realize their dreams here.

The U.S. could grow by 4% in size every year from natural growth as well as immigration, and would reach a billion people in about 30 years. A bit under one percent would just be due to reproduction. Another 3%+ would be due to immigration. This is only a couple of percent higher than the immigration rate we have now (or, looked at another way, a tripling of the immigration we currently have). In any given year, could the U.S. welcome and assimilate 3% of its population in newcomers? Why not?
10.13.2008 9:58pm
q:
On the other hand, such massive immigration from Indians would probably be quite disconcerting to most Americans. Perhaps to the point of political upheaval. On that basis, some immigration cap would be tolerable.
10.13.2008 10:02pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
AVI: What did you mean when your wrote "That we can support so many illegal aliens suggests that our current quotas are too low."? I'd agree that:

1. Life in the US as an illegal immigrant is still better than live in many of the immigrants' countries of origin.

2. The burdens of illegal immigration are nowhere near levels which will cause breakdown in civil order or national insolvency.

But, you're a sensible fellow, so I suspect you meant to make a somewhat more ringing endorsement of immigration than the above. Could you elaborate? What in your view would be an indication that we had the correct number of immigrants?
10.13.2008 10:06pm
q:
Sorry for the multiple posts, one final note.

The question posed and my arguments are America-centric; would such immigration benefit America? To those advocating strong limits on immigration (or even the status quo, with its ridiculous quota of skilled workers), the increased wealth of the immigrants shouldn't be ignored.
10.13.2008 10:06pm
NowMDJD (mail):
What I find interesting about the poll is that the Europeans polled, many of whom want to come here, also want us to elect the candidate who would make the United States more like a European nation.
10.13.2008 10:13pm
DLL Circulation Worker (mail):
No thanks. If 73% of all Indians were to move here, I'd move where they used to live just to get away from them. That's not xenophobia, either. It's the simple desire to be left alone and to have spaces to go to. You exclude them from New York and force them into places like South Dakota, places where one could actually live authentically. No thanks. I'd go straight to their depopulated rural centers and begin to plant a forest, or into Mongolia to fly fish and hunt bear.
10.13.2008 10:22pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
guest J:

I agree, if your criterion is global human happiness, nearly unrestricted immigration to the US would probably be the best policy.

But, if your criterion is the welfare of those people who are already citizens of the US, things look different. Why?

1. The country will become much more crowded. I like my space, as do many Americans. That's why we're a nation of suburbs. To maintain my current, uncrowded, standard of living, I'd have to spend a lot more money.

2. A massive increase in population will lead to much stiffer labor competition, particularly in low-skill jobs. Poorer Americans will be worse off. You've seen innumerable reports that immigrants, even low skill illegal immigrants, are "net contributors," meaning that they raise the GDP. I don't doubt that, but it isn't the relevant question - the relevant question is whether they raise (at a minimum) the *per capita* GDP. High-skill immigrants are a different story, but we're not discussing a targeted immigration policy.
10.13.2008 10:28pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
from Gabriel M

allowing effectively-unlimited immigration while also offering "public benefits" is folly. The reason our liberal immigration policy worked in the 1800s was because the Land of Opportunity included the opportunity to starve: potential immigrants knew they would sink or swim on their own efforts, so the ones who came were prepared to swim

In the 1830's, depending on the port in the US you were going to, there would be a "poor tax" you would have to pay prior to admission. This tax ostensibly was to assure that you had means and would not be a burden to society. The steamship company would have to return you back if you did not pay, so they collected the tax up front. This tax was, as I recall, about 1/8 of an adult fare on the steamship (from Bremen). (5 vs 40 of whatever the currency was at the time) The tax and the cost of the fare would also have some effect on the sorting process.

The immigrant then still had to finance or work his way to where he was intending to settle. This was all known in advance to the immigrant. If the came they knew it would not be easy, but they accepted the terms. "Hard" and "difficult" were more certain than their chances where they came from. (Germany for the immigrants I was reading about)
10.13.2008 10:30pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
TheOneEyedMan:

So, are the Israelis going to pay us to build houses in Canada for all of these new immigrants? :)
10.13.2008 10:34pm
MarkField (mail):

At a minimum, we will draw our immigration pool less predominantly from one country, Mexico, which should help with assimilation.


I agree with this. Variety in our immigrants is a good thing.
10.13.2008 10:37pm
q:

1. The country will become much more crowded. I like my space, as do many Americans. That's why we're a nation of suburbs. To maintain my current, uncrowded, standard of living, I'd have to spend a lot more money.

There's plenty of space to accommodate you. As long as people have somewhere less crowded to move to, overcrowding is not a real externality.

2. A massive increase in population will lead to much stiffer labor competition, particularly in low-skill jobs.

You say "much stiffer," I say "less distortions in the labor market." In any case, some of that is offset by the poor benefiting from cheaper goods, moreso than the rich. Other offsets include wealth-producing activities from the immigrants, especially important inventions. Let's not forget the increased incentive to develop skills. If the poor remain poor, it is not because of immigration.
10.13.2008 10:41pm
Guest J:
PDXLawyer:

If large numbers of unskilled workers were allowed to come, it would cease to be desirable for them to move across the world to come. The costs would be too high and payoff too low.

It would, however, remain desirable for those either highly skilled, already wealthy, or simply possessing some good idea (in lieu of a skill) or a tremendous work ethic and moderate skills to come. This would be the dominant case, and so those people would predominate.

Also, I think you overestimate the increase in crowding. A gradual, year on year 3% increase in population, say, would not be noticeable most places in any given year, or even decade. I wonder whether more of the world's population than 3% of the current U.S. population (or about 10 million people, for starters) would be ready, willing and able to move to the U.S. in any given year, even if we flung open the portals to all and sundry.
10.13.2008 10:47pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Like anything else, we can learn with a pilot program of some sort. That we can support so many illegal aliens suggests that our current quotas are too low. Raise the quotas. See what happens. Rinse. Repeat as necessary."

Why bother?
10.13.2008 10:49pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
1. Here in Southern AZ, the flood of illegal entrants is absolutely unbelievable. That's despite risks of death from thirst, being robbed (and there are robberies by gangs taking place this side of the border), etc. Just in this sector there are usually upwards of a hundred deaths a year in crossing. Folks from deep in Mexico, or in South America, trying to cross a desert when they have no knowledge of desert survival (i.e., if you can walk easily, you don't have enough water).

2. I'm informed the going rate for smuggling an illegal entrant from nearby areas of Mexico is $1500. More if you come from farther south, and a lot more if you come from another country. Increase that by 50-100% for a guarantee (if caught, the smuggler runs off, will meet with you on the other side of the border and try again until you get through. Since 80-90% get thru per try, and 99% of entrants caught are just returned to the border, this works nicely).

3. Had a friend whose husband was a naturalized citizen from India. She said he was amused at parties, when non-Americans would start out on how the US was so awful, and by the end start asking "So you became a US citizen. Hmmm... how hard is that to get?"

4. While the US has a LOT of land, remember that major portions are government owned (I think about 80% of Arizona is, and far more of Nevada), and there are also problems with things like water out here.
10.13.2008 10:54pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
PDXLawyer - Take the estimated number of illegal immigrants each year. Divide that by two and add that to the immigration quota for next year.
10.13.2008 10:58pm
Can't find a good name:
guest j: The United States is not substantially larger in area than China. In fact, depending on how you measure the area, it may even be smaller.

From the CIA World Factbook:

China:
total: 9,596,960 sq km
land: 9,326,410 sq km
water: 270,550 sq km

United States:
total: 9,826,630 sq km
land: 9,161,923 sq km
water: 664,707 sq km

Thus, the U.S. is only larger than China if you include our water area, and I don't think we're going to start settling all the immigrants on houseboats on the Great Lakes.
10.13.2008 11:00pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
I don't think that we are going to settle a lot of immigrants in the Alaskan tundra either.
10.13.2008 11:15pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
My guess is the 73% number comes from an urban poll.
Most Indians live in villages. They think that they were lucky to have been born in India, well not lucky but very very good in a past life. Still, US immigration policy has had a racist tendency to overexclude people from asia, and if the gates were opened, as they have been to the Irish and Slavs, it would be good for both countries. Many Americans are materially rich, but are oblivious to how well off they are, because of racial segregation via immigration laws.
I haven't actually been to India and maybe my perspective is naive.
10.13.2008 11:20pm
Guest J:
Can't find a good name:

I stand corrected. Nonetheless, it should be much easier to comfortably fit 1 billion people in the U.S. (with our better technology, and wealth) than it is to fit 1.3 billion in China.
10.13.2008 11:21pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
Of course, if there were open immigration, at some point wages for low skill labor would reach a new equilibrium. Because of endowment effects, the new equilibrium low skill wage in the US would probably still be somewhat higher than that in India or China. The point is, the new equilibrium would be lower than present wages for low skill labor in the US.

Again, I agree that increasing immigration of high skill workers is not nearly as bad as increased immigration of low skill workers. It could be that if all barriers were removed, gains from increased high skill immigration would outweigh drawbacks from increased low-skill immigration. But surely in this case the best policy would be to allow high skill immigrants, while excluding low skill ones.

Personally, I'm somewhat wary of allowing massive immigration of even high-skill workers. I understand the point that such immigrants can be a net benefit if they raise the average skill level in the US, and also that there are some positive network effects. But, I think most of the network effects can be captured by trade, which is much less disruptive than migration. And, I'm not sure how beggar-thy-neighbor immigration policies which encouraged high skill workers to concentrate in the US would work out in terms of global stability.

As to crowding, of course I could always move to South Dakota, but that would impose a real cost on me.
10.13.2008 11:31pm
q:
The Western half of China is mostly uninhabitable anyway.
10.13.2008 11:31pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
AVI: So we keep allowing immigration until low skill wages here drop to the point where it isn't worth making the trip from Mexico? I agree that'd be nice for the immigrants, but isn't it a little harsh on poor people presently in the US?
10.13.2008 11:37pm
q:

But, I think most of the network effects can be captured by trade, which is much less disruptive than migration.

Certainly less disruptive (but then again, look at all the anti-trade sentiment in the US today), but the marginal immigrant may have more difficulty developing such benefits in their home country. They'd be poorer and the infrastructure (of various forms, i.e. human capital, financial) is weaker or non-existent.

And, I'm not sure how beggar-thy-neighbor immigration policies which encouraged high skill workers to concentrate in the US would work out in terms of global stability.

Good point, and one shouldn't forget about national security.

As to crowding, of course I could always move to South Dakota, but that would impose a real cost on me.

Only because you're actually benefitting from crowding.
10.13.2008 11:39pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Simply do the equivalent of figuring out how much an immigrant costs and charge them that to come in. It's really that simple. We can still let a limited amount in at less than that, as a wise long-term investment. But there's no reason to say "no" to an immigrant who can pay his way.

The test should be this simple -- does this immigrant cost us? If it doesn't in the short term, medium term, or long term, there is no reason to say no. If it does in the short term, but it likely profitable in the long term, then let in as many as we can afford to invest in.
10.13.2008 11:42pm
Guest J:
PDXLawyer:

I don't know who you're agreeing with, but when you phrase it as less bad, rather than better, you're not agreeing with me.

You seem to me to be ignoring or downplaying the massive costs of moving to a new country.

It seems wrong to me to suggest that all low-skill workers would be in the same boat as any newly arrived low-skill worker.

Finally, if you're so fond of trade, why are you proposing to limit the trade between people with housing or land to sell, lease or rent to immigrants and immigrants with on-site labor to sell to Americans?

Finally, I think you're downplaying the network effects, which could be truly massive.
10.14.2008 12:10am
Blue:
"Also, I think you overestimate the increase in crowding. A gradual, year on year 3% increase in population, say, would not be noticeable most places in any given year, or even decade."

Never really grasped the power of compound interest, did you?
10.14.2008 12:12am
Big Bill (mail):
Why don't you try something easier to start with, gentlemen?

Why don't you persuade Israel that it will benefit from mass immigration of high skill Hindus, Christians and Muslims?

Why don't you persuade them to get rid of the Law of Return and other artificial barriers against a Wonderful Diversity and Multiculturalism? Just think of the highly efficient University of Chicago economy all the New Israelis will provide: double the population with 6 million gentiles and just think of the New Israeli market!

You won't succeed, of course, since the Jews of Israel have already had a taste of genocide, a taste of providing lebensraum for many hellhole cultures throughout history that have "immigrated" themselves into Jewish houses, businesses, towns and wallets -- most recently in Europe 60 years ago.

But believe me, it would be far easier to persuade the Israelis to genocide themselves by mass gentile immigration that to persuade we Americans to genocide ourselves.

If anyone does try to replace/genocide us in America with your elite Asians, Middle Easterners, Africans and South Americans, we will make the antics of the nationalist Stern Gang and Irgun look like a pattycake party.
10.14.2008 12:13am
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
I didn't read the other comments, but I'm going to guess that this is the first comment pointing out that allowing MassiveImmigration from other countries gives those sending countries a tremendous amount of PoliticalPower inside the U.S.

There are several CA state elected officials whose actions are more or less indistinguishable from the actions that de facto agents of the MexicanGovernment would perform. For instance, GilCedillo is constantly trying to give benefits to IllegalAliens, which in CA's case are mostly from Mexico. Those benefits include school aid, a better deal on car towing expenses, and making IllegalAlien a protected class under the UnruhAct.

And, one of the major IL groups - linked to the IL gov't and many other NGOs - is headed by someone linked to the MexicanGovernment.

And, BHO spoke at a march which was organized by that group as well as by representatives of Mexico's three main political parties. But, wait, there's more: he's proud of having spoken at that march.

Those who promote MassiveImmigration will never tell you any of that; most of them are either delusional ideologues or on the take.
10.14.2008 12:19am
GetABrain:
I've never seen so many brain-impaired people assembled in one place. Let's start with this quote:

"...You've seen innumerable reports that immigrants, even low skill illegal immigrants, are "net contributors," meaning that they raise the GDP. I don't doubt that, but it isn't the relevant question..."

Do you honestly think every illegal is generating $10,000 per child in tax revenue to the state to pay for their children's education? Never mind all the other tax supported programs from which they benefit. I guess there's no reason to worry. Although we are losing money on each one, we can make it up on volume.
10.14.2008 12:25am
q:

But believe me, it would be far easier to persuade the Israelis to genocide themselves by mass gentile immigration that to persuade we Americans to genocide ourselves.

If anyone does try to replace/genocide us in America with your elite Asians, Middle Easterners, Africans and South Americans, we will make the antics of the nationalist Stern Gang and Irgun look like a pattycake party.

Why, yes, us Chinese are looking to "genocide" you "Americans." We meet secretly on all the elite university campuses that we have infiltrated to discuss your doom and declare the United States a colony of China (or is it Taiwan? Eh, who can tell?). How did you ever see through our ruse?
10.14.2008 1:05am
q:

Do you honestly think every illegal is generating $10,000 per child in tax revenue to the state to pay for their children's education? Never mind all the other tax supported programs from which they benefit. I guess there's no reason to worry. Although we are losing money on each one, we can make it up on volume.

GetABrain, it would be wise for you to listen to your own advice. The proper measure isn't whether each potential immigrant pays enough in tax revenue, but whether they generate enough wealth for the rest of the populace to cover the cost. Moreover, this discussion isn't simply about illegals, who are invariably low-skilled; a more liberal immigration policy will attract higher-skilled workers than a more restrictive one.
10.14.2008 1:12am
q:
24AheadDotCom:

Why is Mexico's support of amnesty somehow nefarious? It's quite obvious it's in Mexico's interest. It's less obvious that it's in America's interest, but the two are hardly mutually exclusive. WEALTH GENERATION IS NOT A ZERO-SUM GAME.
10.14.2008 1:17am
PDXLawyer (mail):
Guest J:

Sorry if I was unclear - I'm not a pure internationalist libertarian. I believe that US politicians have a fiduciary duty to adopt policies based on what is best for the present citizens of the US. I advocate free trade in goods because I think the evidence is strong that such trade in the aggregate helps all classes of present US citizens.

I take your point that low skill foreign immigrants incur real costs in immigrating. And, once here, they are at some disadvantage vis-a-vis low skill workers already in the US. All of this is just deadweight loss inherent in migration. It doesn't change the fact that low-skill immigration depresses wages for low-skill workers already here. It's certainly not an argument for encouraging more migration.


GetABrain:

Relax. I agree with you. I was pointing out how statistics which seemed on some level to show that immigrants were net contributors didn't really tell the whole story. Immigration does increase GDP, so long as any of the immigrants are employed at any positive wage. If the US annexed Bangladesh, US GDP would increase immediately by, roughly, the GDP of Bangladesh. That doesn't mean it'd be a good deal for us to do it.
10.14.2008 1:21am
q:

I advocate free trade in goods because I think the evidence is strong that such trade in the aggregate helps all classes of present US citizens.

I, too, am a strong advocate in free trade, but the evidence is not as strong as you think it is. There are definitely losers in globalization, much for the same reason there are losers in immigration. The benefits are similar as well. All things being equal, movement of labor is probably cheaper than movement of goods, though I see no reason to not have liberal policies for both. Certainly, some restrictions on immigration are necessary, but not to the extent they are today.
10.14.2008 1:32am
Walter G (mail):
Let them come if we:

1: Eliminate welfare
2: Register visitors
3: Restrict citizenship to non-troublemakers with income
4: Deport non-citizen troublemakers
10.14.2008 1:38am
Malvolio:
Is this really that difficult? Take a random stab at good immigration cap, say, 100,000 a month. For January, 2009, sell off 100,000 Get-In-Free cards for for $20,000 each, with the following conditions:

+ No serious criminal record
+ No contagious diseases
+ If you are convicted of a felony in the first five years, you're deported, no refund
+ If you apply for government services in the first five years, you're deported, no refund

For $5,000 extra, we'll pick you in anywhere in international waters or smuggle you out of our embassy in the diplomatic pouch.

If January sells out, the price for February is higher; otherwise, it's lower. If after a year, the number of immigrants seems too high, we lower it. Boom, problem solved.
10.14.2008 1:44am
Gabriel McCall (mail):
It doesn't change the fact that low-skill immigration depresses wages for low-skill workers already here.

I'm not sure we can just assume this as a given. If there's an upsurge in the supply of unskilled labor, it's at least possible that some enterprising capitalists will find work for them to do.
10.14.2008 1:45am
Guest J:
PDXLawyer:

"I believe that US politicians have a fiduciary duty to adopt policies based on what is best for the present citizens of the US."

All else being equal, yes, though there may be times when other duties are even more important (e.g. following the Constitution may at least in some cases conflict with whatever is "best" for the present citizens. Some consideration might be given to future citizens, and, also, the citizens may not want what's "best" for them. So all of these may partly or wholly countervail such a consideration.

"It doesn't change the fact that low-skill immigration depresses wages for low-skill workers already here. It's certainly not an argument for encouraging more migration."

That depends, too. There may be some Americans who would benefit from this situation. It could even be a majority.
10.14.2008 2:33am
cls (mail):
You vastly overestimate based on the poll because the poll offered people a scenario where there were NO obstacles of any kind to emigrating. That includes no obstacles like having family that will cause you to want to stay and having the resources to make the move. In other words, the poll said, ""If there were zero cost involved of any kind to emigrating to America would you want to do it." So they offer them something which offers great potential benefits at absolutely no cost. Of course the number of people wanting to do so is very high. Far, far higher than it would be if they actually had costs.

Of course there are always costs including the emotional costs of leaving the home you know, the people you love, jobs that you hold, etc.

I lived in South Africa for sometime and there is massive crime there. Many people talk about leaving constantly. I would guess that around 75% of the people I know said they wanted to go. And with friends being killed and many of us suffering violent crime, there was a strong motivation to go. But when it came down to doing it only a very tiny percentage even tried. It wasn't that they faced political blocks but many feared new cultures, had elderly relatives they didn't want to leave, felt attached to the home they lived in, etc. So, even with very high motivation and many having the resources they never even investigated whether their were regulatory obstacles. Sure, many have left, but only a small percentage of those who said they would.

In reality, of all the people I knew when I lived there, who talked constantly about wanting to leave, only one person did so. The rest are still there and still making excuses for why they haven't even tried. The poll is pretty worthless.

The poll offered people a good (emigration to America) and absolutely zero cost of any kind. And then it said would you take this bundle of benefits under those conditions. It's amazing they didn't get higher percentages. It's like asking people if they want government to give them free health care and telling them it won't cost anybody anything. Of course they jump at the chance right up unitl they figure out that it really does cost something and suddenly those biting at the bit are reduced dramatically.
10.14.2008 3:13am
Modus Ponens:
Everybody on this site is a Libertarian until you mention immigration.

Go figure.
10.14.2008 7:13am
Mark T (mail) (www):
I flatly reject the notion that quotas are desirable or necessary. (As an aside, it amazes me how willing some of my fellow libertarians are to toss aside every admonition Hayek ever made against central planning when it comes to immigration...quotas are the epitome of central planning).

The notion that even 10% of those who say they desire to live in the US would emigrate if we removed political barriers is deeply flawed. First, I think it substantially underestimates the economic hurdles to immigration. But more importantly, it implicitly relies on the flawed assumption that everyone who desired to immigrate would immigrate all at once. This, of course, is not how immigration works or happens. Instead, it occurs gradually over the course of many years. Moreover, immigrants go where the jobs are, ie, where there is greater demand for a particular type of labor than the local market can supply. Not surprisingly, they also come from where the jobs are not - where supply of labor outstrips demand.

As people gradually emigrate, both locations move towards a greater equilibrium. As this happens, the benefits of immigrating become significantly less, reducing the numbers who wish to emigrate rather rapidly - not only because of less excess demand in the host country, but also because of less excess supply in the home country.

Another major problem I see with this hypothetical is that it ignores that many/most of these individuals would have an equal or greater preference to emigrate to some other country besides the US, whether it be the UK, Dubai, or whereever.
10.14.2008 11:58am
TheOneEyedMan (www):
I multiplied the wrong column in my spread sheet. Poor countries have about 210 million English speakers not 40 million as I said above. I don't think this changes my point much, but a correction was warranted.
10.14.2008 1:27pm
$900,000,0000 Write Down (mail) (www):
Let's set aside narrow limits, such as on people with criminal records, terrorist connections, or easily communicable diseases.)

And Icelanders. Let none of those damn bankrupt bog-cutters in this country.

Otherwise, add me to the chorus that favors open borders for people willing to pay a large sum to the treasury for citizenship.
10.14.2008 1:54pm
Reality Czech (mail):
The blogosophere is full of insanity which breeds in self-reinforcing echo chambers isolated from reality.

This discussion is a textbook example. A billion people in the USA? Are you crazy? (Rhetorical question; the answer is obvious.) Anyone proposing this hasn't a clue about the massive problems caused by the population already here, which a billion people would aggravate at least three-fold:

- Falling water tables across the Southwest, which will eventually lead to exhaustion of supplies and require abandonment of most or all of those areas.
- Inadequate food production for a billion people at anything like an adequate diet.
- Massive pollution from the food production we already have, causing e.g. anoxic zones in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay.
- Inadequate energy supplies for the population already here, let alone three times as many.
- Existing trends toward ethnic conflict and eventual Balkanization of the nation.
- A growing list of endangered species.

This short list does not include the impact of conflicting requirements and diminishing returns. For example, putting more land under housing decreases the amount of land for food and timber. Putting 3 times as many people on a river doesn't just require treating 3 times as much sewage, it requires reducing pollutant loads to 1/3 as much as before to avoid adding more to the river. This means more per-capita investment and energy cost just to keep up. In a very real sense, more people means less wealth.

The claim that immigrants will make things better here begs the question, why didn't they make their original country such a great place? It's obviously not just the raw bodies. If the difference is a mind-set, why not export that instead of importing people? Why import people who will make the USA like the countries they fled? People already complain about parts of the USA having the sexism and corruption (and dangerous macho behavior like drunk driving) of Mexico, and don't even think about the Islamization problem caused by immigrants such as Somalis.

China's ecological situation is already critical in many areas. It is building engineering projects to get energy with little regard for either the displaced population or the damage to ecology (e.g. Three Gorges Dam). Doing this requires dictatorial powers. I get the feeling that some here wouldn't mind this. Why? Because, despite their libertarian posturing, they see themselves as the dictators?

There are as many as twenty million illegal immigrants in the USA right now. They are causing massive problems in the education and health-care systems, and they or their offspring account for a disproportionate fraction of the people in jails and prisons. Legalizing such immigrants will just make them harder to deport, increasing our costs.

The American people have chosen, through their actions, to limit the number of people in the nation. The elites have tried to override this choice by importing a new population, against all the laws on the books. The native-born are angry about this, and getting more so.

So go ahead, you crazy people. Go ahead and argue for 700 million imported bodies to squeeze the 300 million Americans already here. If you think the popular outcry against "immigration reform" (the shamnesty) was loud in 2007, you ain't seen nothing yet.
10.14.2008 2:09pm
Helene Edwards (mail):
What I have noticed, in the Bay Area, is that dark-skinned immigrants from India and the middle-east are the only people willing to openly disparage the behavior patterns of American blacks. ("there's something wrong with those people.") I'm in favor of more such immigration if it will help roll back the leftist project of immunizing blacks from criticism. In short, black super-citizenship is a bad idea that can only be challenged by newcomers.
10.14.2008 3:34pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
The problem is, the immigration debate is not conducted in the airy quarters where Professor Volokh wants it to be conducted. Rather, it's conducted at this level:

There are as many as twenty million illegal immigrants in the USA right now. They are causing massive problems in the education and health-care systems, and they or their offspring account for a disproportionate fraction of the people in jails and prisons. Legalizing such immigrants will just make them harder to deport, increasing our costs.

In other words, people believe things that aren't true about current immigrants. They stereotype. They complain about things that aren't actually happening or that would still happen even without immigration.

And the reason, of course, is because this issue is driven by a steady undercurrent of ethnic animus.

Look, I would use skill and language tests, waiting periods (but of reasonable lengths), and economic incentives to ensure that we weren't overwhelmed with immigrants. But I have no problem with another 8-10 million hispanics from Latin America coming here, which is what the immigration debate is actually about.

Also, bear in mind that the more that people send back to these countries in remittances, the wealthier those countries become. So even though 73 percent of Indians might want to come now, that number will go way down if we let a much smaller number of Indians in.
10.14.2008 3:51pm
Ken Arromdee:
Everybody on this site is a Libertarian until you mention immigration.

Aside from the issue of immigrants being drawn here by social services (which aren't libertarian), libertarians only need to approve immigration from countries which have libertarian governments. Otherwise you have a non-libertarian government using immigration to impose the cost of their policies on us.
10.14.2008 3:58pm
Helene Edwards (mail):
Dilan Esper,

you are a leftist ideologue displaying the disingenuousness for which the breed is known. Since the ritual incantation of those who "have no problem" with hispanic immigration is that "no one is illegal," what basis exists for imposing "skill and language tests" on such immigrants? For those on your side of the debate, the checks you offer are delegitimized by the presumptive legitimacy of the influx itself.
10.14.2008 4:09pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
you are a leftist ideologue displaying the disingenuousness for which the breed is known. Since the ritual incantation of those who "have no problem" with hispanic immigration is that "no one is illegal," what basis exists for imposing "skill and language tests" on such immigrants? For those on your side of the debate, the checks you offer are delegitimized by the presumptive legitimacy of the influx itself.

Helene, are you off your meds again?

More seriously, I never said that there is no such thing as an illegal immigrant. I simply said that I have no objection to increased levels of hispanic immigration to this country. But I would regulate the flow in a very different manner than our current policy, using short-term waiting lists, language tests, and skill criteria to make immigration more orderly.

There's no contradiction there.
10.14.2008 5:04pm
R. Czech (mail):
In other words, people believe things that aren't true about current immigrants.

What you actually mean is that saying those things is taboo.

If the 20 million figure is false, it is a falsehood told by a Georgia state senator (Zamarripa) and corroborated by the count (800+ thousand per year) and estimated captured fraction (20-25%) of illegal border crossers. Some 30% of federal prison inmates are non-citizens (a total which does not include criminal naturalized immigrants), and the fraction in local jails is higher than reported due in part to "sanctuary cities" which do not collect such data.

If the education problems are not there, you have to explain why California's schools have fallen from best in the country to 49th out of 50.

If the health-care problems are not there, you have to explain why the price of health insurance is skyrocketing to pay for un-compensated indigent care, and why almost all illegal immigrants and a great many legals work in jobs without insurance. This is a hidden tax on people who are mostly citizens.
They complain about things that aren't actually happening

It is actually happening, it's just taboo to admit it.
or that would still happen even without immigration.

Great argument for admitting anyone, and putting all prisoners back on the streets. We're going to have crime anyway, right? And since traffic deaths are inevitable, let's get rid of crash standards, passive restraints, and driver testing. What do rates matter if they're above zero? (end sarcasm)

And the reason, of course, is because this issue is driven by a steady undercurrent of ethnic animus.
In other words, anyone who opposes open borders is a racist? Taboos are maintained by demonizing anyone who dares to question them, which you have just done.
10.14.2008 5:14pm
Reality Czech (mail):
Dilan Esper did not dispute the facts about water tables, energy consumption, endangered species and other reasons why the US population should not be increased by any means (including immigration). Can we assume that he has stipulated to these points?
10.14.2008 5:43pm
q:

Dilan Esper did not dispute the facts about water tables, energy consumption, endangered species and other reasons why the US population should not be increased by any means (including immigration). Can we assume that he has stipulated to these points?

Perhaps the idea of giving "water tables" more priority than human welfare doesn't warrant a response. Besides, if you're that worried about overpopulation, you should be all for allowing immigration, because it'll increase the fortunes of the migrants, which in turn decreases their birth rate, relative to the level it would've been had they stayed in their home country. Or is Mother Earth more concerned about the US than the Indian subcontinent?
10.14.2008 6:22pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
If the education problems are not there, you have to explain why California's schools have fallen from best in the country to 49th out of 50.

Proposition 13.

If the health-care problems are not there, you have to explain why the price of health insurance is skyrocketing to pay for un-compensated indigent care, and why almost all illegal immigrants and a great many legals work in jobs without insurance. This is a hidden tax on people who are mostly citizens.

Health care costs are up all over the country, for well-documented reasons (mostly the cost of technology and fancy new treatments, a patchwork regulatory system, perhaps a bit of malpractice insurance costs). Medicare costs are way up. Nobody who knows anything about thinks that these costs have any significant relationship to illegal immigration.

In other words, anyone who opposes open borders is a racist?

Not at all. It's just that vehement opposition to illegal immigration, paranoid thinking that it is the cause of all sorts of problems that it actually isn't, etc., is generally motivated by ethnic bias.
10.14.2008 6:53pm
SG:
Perhaps the idea of giving "water tables" more priority than human welfare doesn't warrant a response.

What does it mean to prioritize human welfare over sufficient water? Without water, human welfare is only a concern for 3-4 days. After that it's a moot point.
10.14.2008 7:30pm
Nobuddy:
q said:
if you're that worried about overpopulation, you should be all for allowing immigration
The TFR for Mexicans in Mexico is 2.4, but for Mexicans in the USA it's 3.5 (per the Center for Immigration Studies, http://www.cis.org/articles/2005/back1105.html).
10.14.2008 11:51pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Nobuddy:

It's more like 2.9. (See page 83 of this paper.)
10.15.2008 12:12am
Nobuddy:
Regardless, the Mexicans are approaching ZPG much faster if they remain in Mexico than if they immigrate to the USA.
10.15.2008 1:33am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Nobuddy:

Not necessarily. The succeeding generations' birthrates are lower.
10.15.2008 3:00am
Reality Czech (mail):
If the education problems are not there, you have to explain why California's schools have fallen from best in the country to 49th out of 50.
Proposition 13.

If funding is responsible for the decline, explain why there is little correlation between spending and achievement and the worst school systems in the nation have the highest per-student expenditures.

Prop 13 is a red herring. The real problem is the change in student population, not funding.
10.15.2008 2:42pm