There’s been a lot of criticism from free-market types since President-elect Trump announced the Carrier deal, which will keep around 1,000 jobs in
Ohio Indiana (see the Larry Summers take here). Some of that criticism is warranted–in an ideal world, it would indeed be ideal to let the market decide who the winners and losers are. But there is also a lot of hypocrisy in many of the over-the-top reactions.
As an obvious example, I don’t recall much hand-wringing about the excessive labor market manipulation built into the comprehensive immigration reform legislation that President Obama and Senators Schumer, Rubio, et al, tried to ram through Congress a few years ago. So I thought it’d be fun to illustrate just how visible the invisible hand became in that context.
This screenshot is from bill S.744, describing job categories to be covered by a proposed “agricultural worker program.”
And this screenshot is the section of the bill stating what the salary must be for such jobs–down to the penny and year by year.
It seems to me that if the objective is simply to criticize government intervention in the labor market, the comprehensive immigration reform legislation would have provided ample opportunities. Do we really need Stalinist five-year plans stating precisely what the wage rate must be in particular occupations?
Which brings me to a related question: Who paid whom to get those hourly wage rates written into law?
It’s not often that I have much to say about these types of high-level government appointments. Typically, all I know is what I read in the papers. But this is one case where I do have some valuable private information.
I have met and “talked shop” with Senator Sessions a few times in the past. Those conversations always struck me as unusual. Unlike some other influential people in the immigration arena whom I have talked to, where I quickly began to suspect that their grasp of the nitty-gritty details was somewhat foggy, it was obvious that Senator Sessions was knowledgeable with and understood precisely what was going on in the immigration field.
Regardless of how one views his policy vision, there’s one thing we know for sure: The man at the helm of the Justice Department in the Trump administration, in charge of enforcing the immigration statutes, will be someone who has spent years studying the nooks and crannies of this obscure (and often incomprehensible) set of rules and regulations, who understands precisely how the immigration system is put together and is used (and misused) in the real world, and who strongly believes that the laws should be enforced. As I argued in an earlier blog post that provided some (unsolicited) advice to President-elect Trump, it seems to me that “enforcement first”–and specifically greatly slowing down the inflow of illegal immigrants–is a necessary first step if we are to have a sensible discussion about how to reform immigration policy. There isn’t a better qualified person in Washington to handle this job and to inform President-elect Trump about the various options.
On top of that, the senator is a very nice and approachable man, both in a professional and social setting. I always came away thinking that this must be what the “Southern gentleman” type is all about.
More than a few people have asked me in the past few days what advice, if any, I would give to President-elect Trump about immigration. Here are some more-or-less random thoughts that touch on a few of the policy issues that have to be confronted:
Enforcement First. The first step must be immediate action to greatly reduce the inflow of illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration has had a deeply corrosive impact on the immigration debate; it has paralyzed any rational discussion of how we should proceed along all other aspects of immigration reform. The open borders approach that allowed the entry of millions of illegal immigrants makes legal immigration policy “a travesty of a mockery of a sham.” Why bother waiting years abroad for that green card in the mail—such as the 23-year wait that some Filipino visa applicants are now enduring—when one can accomplish much of the same goal by running across the border or overstaying a tourist visa? I am not sure that a wall—despite its signal that we are finally getting serious about illegal immigration—will do the job; many of the illegal immigrants do not enter through the southern border. But I am willing to bet that the mandated adoption of an electronic system (such as E-Verify) that would force all employers to certify the visa status of all hires, along with very large fines and criminal penalties for law-breaking employers, would go a long way towards stemming the flow.
Benign Neglect. What to do about the 11+ million undocumented immigrants already living in the country? I think the wisest answer is: For the most part, ignore them! I find it very heartening that we do not have the stomach for such large-scale deportations. Most of those immigrants have led peaceful and uneventful lives in our country and became part of our communities. Their sudden removal would certainly not represent the America that many of us envision. I am also old enough to remember Daniel Patrick Moynihan being vilified for using the phrase “benign neglect” to discuss policy options regarding black economic progress in the late 1960s. Maybe it’s time to resurrect those words in the context of illegal immigration. Sometimes inaction is the best action. Most of the illegal immigrants already here will eventually qualify (if they haven’t qualified already) for visas through the family preference system. If the “enforcement first” step of stemming the illegal flow is successful, there can perhaps be eventual agreement on legislation that would accelerate the process of granting family preference visas to the existing undocumented population.
Continue reading “Some Advice for President-Elect Trump”
The globalists have for far too long ignored that globalization, whether due to an increase in imports or an increase in immigration, has inevitably harmed some people in the industrialized countries. Angus Deaton has written an important essay that emphasizes the problem with what he calls “cosmopolitan prioritarianism,” which he defines as “an ethical rule that says we should think of everyone in the world in the same way, no matter where they live.”
The globalization that has rescued so many in poor countries has harmed some people in rich countries…Like many in academia and in the development industry, I am among globalization’s greatest beneficiaries – those who are able to sell our services in markets that are larger and richer than our parents could have dreamed of.
Globalization is less splendid for those who not only don’t reap its benefits, but suffer from its impact. We have long known that less-educated and lower-income Americans, for example, have seen little economic gain for four decades, and that the bottom end of the US labor market can be a brutal environment.
Citizenship comes with a set of rights and responsibilities that we do not share with those in other countries…We can think about these rights and obligations as a kind of mutual insurance contract: We refuse to tolerate certain kinds of inequality for our fellow citizens, and each of us has a responsibility to help – and a right to expect help – in the face of collective threats…When citizens believe that the elite care more about those across the ocean than those across the train tracks, insurance has broken down, we divide into factions, and those who are left behind become angry and disillusioned with a politics that no longer serves them.
This is precisely one of the key themes in We Wanted Workers. My recent exchange in Reason Magazine with Shikha Dalmia addresses this very question. At the end of the exchange, I leave no doubt as to which side I am on:
Espousing any specific immigration policy is nothing but a declaration that group x is preferred to group y. It is easy to avoid clarifying who you are rooting for by trying to reframe the debate in terms of amorphous philosophical ideals about mobility rights and the like. But this is where we go our separate ways. When push comes to shove, I will side with policies that improve the well being of the American worker.
This sounds like big news to me. I’ve always found libertarians to be the most unpersuadable people when it comes to immigration; their religious-like attachment to open borders seems totally impervious to facts. So it was a bit of a shock to come across this news article describing Charles Murray’s change of heart when it comes to low-skill immigration:
Charles Murray announced his support for a moratorium on low-skilled immigration…“I want to shut down low-skilled immigration for awhile,” Murray said, explaining it was the only way to find out if it would actually help native low-skilled workers…”I have had to undergo a great deal of re-thinking…The thing that has gotten to me over the course of this year… has been the idea, the very simple idea, that the citizens of a nation owe something to each other that is over and above our general obligations to our fellow human beings. That there is a sense that we should take care of our own, our own in this case being Americans.”
Doesn’t this sound an awful lot like the responsible nationalism now advocated by Larry Summers:
A new approach has to begin from the idea that the basic responsibility of government is to maximize the welfare of citizens, not to pursue some abstract concept of the global good. Closely related to this is the idea that people want to feel that they are shaping the societies in which they live.
Who would have thought it would take the rise of Donald Trump for these very wise men to see the obvious?
Politico publishes an annual list of the 50 “thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics,” and I made this year’s list at #17. And why did I get chosen? “For telling it like it really is on immigration.”
A few weeks ago, Politico asked me if I could excerpt some of the themes from my new book, We Wanted Workers, framing the discussion in terms of the immigration debate in the presidential campaign. Here is the excerpt they also published today. The last few paragraphs capture the essence of the policy argument:
We’re worrying about the wrong things, with policy fights focused on how many and which immigrants to accept, and not enough on how to mitigate the harm they create along the way.
[We] cannot ignore the reality that immigration has made some natives poorer. A policy that keeps them in mind might tax the agricultural and service companies that benefit so much from low-skilled immigrants, and use the money to compensate low-skilled Americans for their losses and to help them transition to new jobs and occupations. Similarly, Bill Gates claims that Microsoft creates four new jobs for every H-1B visa granted; if true, firms like Microsoft should be willing to pay many thousands of dollars for each of those coveted visas. Those funds could be used to compensate and retrain the affected natives in the high-tech industry.
But let’s not be naive…To even partially compensate those Americans who lose from the current policy would require massive new government programs to supervise a massive wealth redistribution totaling tens of billions of dollars. The employers that profit from the way things are won’t go along with these transfers without an epic political struggle. And many of the libertarians who obsessively advocate for open borders will surely balk at such a huge expansion of government. To make this work, Clinton and her supporters will have to acknowledge that our current immigration policy has indeed left some Americans behind. And Trump and his supporters will have to acknowledge that a well-designed immigration plan can be beneficial. All this is probably not going to happen. But only then can we have a real debate over immigration policy.
And I even have a catchy name for the legislation. How does “No Native Left Behind” sound?
Politico gave me the opportunity to elaborate and extend some of the arguments made in my previous post that considered Donald Trump’s proposal for “extreme” vetting of immigrants. Here is the Politico deluxe edition of the essay.