June 17, 2004

Immigration Cost Analysis

Over at NRO's The Corner, Andrew Stuttaford misses the point of Bush's new immigration initiative. I always pegged the immigration initiative as a twofer, neither of which is what Stuttaford thinks the initiative is about. The reasons to support the initiative are that it will increase the proportion of people coming into this country via legal means and thus dry up the protective camouflage that terrorists sneaking into the country need and that it is a more effective means of foreign aid than traditional government disbursements.

The first is a pretty clear benefit but the latter requires a bit of explanation. Large corporations have long known that if you want to train people to behave in significantly different ways (to counter a national culture, for example) it is very useful to take them out of their normal environments and train them in an environment where the desired behavior is the cultural norm. Once they've gotten used to that norm, they are much better equipped to maintain their new behaviors when they go home.

This dynamic works the same whether the training program is a formal bout of instruction or it consists of the informal lessons in capitalism and freedom that all immigrants get in the US. So Stuttaford's observations of lower wages for americans needs to be tempered by the real benefits to our foreign policy of trying to lift other nations out of tyranny and poverty. The relevant facts are as follows:

On the cost side:
How much money has been lost in wages by the excess immigrants who would not otherwise be in the US?

On the benefit side:
How much foreign aid money would we have had to spend to get the equivalent good effect of the people who go back and, with their new found wealth, fund pro-freedom politics in their own country, inspire others who have never gone to the US to fight more for their own freedoms, and generally enhance the probability of a government and culture that is happy with the US?

If you only examine the gross cost without also throwing in the benefits of the plan, it's neither a useful, nor persuasive, analysis. Stuttaford's (and the LA Times' article on which they arebased) error is twofold.

On the cost side, noncitizens are not a monolithic category. One example is that our pathological tort system has driven out enough domestic doctors that we cannot run our medical system without importing doctors. You could close the borders down very tightly and you'd still need to import doctors.

There is also the phenomenon of permanent residents who simply haven't applied for citizenship. My parents became citizens after 10 years, my wife will be doing it after 6. Since Hispanics seem to have very low voter participation rates, I strongly suspect that they also are not jumping quickly on the citizenship process and there are plenty of people who keep renewing their green cards many years after they qualify for citizenship.

The benefit side is completely unexamined, both from a security standpoint, and as a more efficient form of foreign aid. This isn't to say that the numbers absolutely would justify the program. But without the relevant numbers and an honest examination of them, all we have are dressed up, adult versions of playground arguments.

Posted by TMLutas at June 17, 2004 07:08 AM