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May 18, 2006

You Don't Fear What You Do Know

Bryan Caplan offers data showing that the more immigration in your state, the likelier you are to be pro-immigrant. "The simplest interpretation of this result," he writes, "is that people who rarely see an immigrant can easily scapegoat them for everything wrong in the world. Personal experience doesn't get in the way of fantasy. But people who actually see immigrants have trouble escaping the fact that immigrants do hard, dirty jobs that few Americans want - at a realistic wage, anyway." Speaking of realistic wages, it's a point I've made before, but Matt has more on the likely effect of closed borders: not better paying jobs, but fewer jobs. And while he focuses on services that demand will simply dry up for, I'm more concerned about industries where we're barely outcompeting global competitors, like agriculture. As the New York Times wrote, if the migrants weren't coming over the border to pick strawberries, it would be the strawberries coming over the border instead. That would, to be sure, be better for Mexico, but it wouldn't be that good for the US.

Caplan's post reminds me of the odd situation where the GOP's militaristic fear-mongering is, at least according to the vote totals, least effective against those who actually live in a city that suffered an attack on 9/11. New York, DC, even the targeted Los Angeles -- all went overwhelmingly for the Democrat, despite Bush's apparent advantage on terrorism issues. It's possible that those cities may have felt that Bush's failure to prevent 9/11 showed an incompetence on such issues, and so didn't trust him for protection, or they may have simply decided that scattershot belligerence wasn't likely to leave them safer.

May 18, 2006 | Permalink


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» Familiar Immigrants from CommonSenseDesk
I think that Ezra is correct. For those of us who live in the so-called gateway states, immigration is a familiar reality. In fact, for the most part the remarkable mix of cultures, cuisine, languages and perspectives makes for a [Read More]

Tracked on May 18, 2006 3:13:03 PM

» Linking Fool Friday from FoolBlog
You know what I'd love to see? Patrick Henry rising from the dead, and karate-chopping Pat Roberts in the neck. Intriguing item on the immigration hoo-hah: people from states that actually have immigrants are less likely to be all freaked... [Read More]

Tracked on May 19, 2006 3:28:14 PM


The alternative explanation, of course, is that most sane immigrants steer clear of places which are hostile to them, and move into areas that are friendlier.

However, geography probably makes this a much less probably causal chain (i.e. "what a coincidence that Texas and Florida are both convenient to major sources of immigrants AND friendly places for them to live!").

Posted by: Julian Elson | May 18, 2006 2:34:29 PM

A couple of thoughts:

a) There's a large segment of folks who oppose the President's plan who bristle at the suggestion that they are either racist or anti-immigrant. It's simplistic to say that people who believe enforcement of borders matter - and speak forcefully on the subject, left and right - are opposed to improvements to immigration, or making more people legal faster.

b) and that matters, because it's worth pointing out that there are some pretty large, vocal, and angry groups of folks in southwestern border states - not people who are exactly unfamiliar with recent immigrants, by and large. The suggestion that their issues with the immigration legislation can be dismissed out of hand is unfair, and people who have "personal experience" with a different sort of immigrant experience might do well to take in a variety of viewpoints on the topic.

I think this whole conversation has just become so badly structured, built on the wonrg discussion over the wrong topics, that the bill that's coming out is the worst of all things possible - a poorly thought through plan to "look tough" on enforcement, and a mess of "guest worker" and "amnesty" arrangements that ignore that the INS is so broken none of these folks could make their way through the system antime soon regardless. I'm hoping that waht's going on is Democrats keeping their powder dry for a re-framed, more thoughtful discussion of the topic. I suspect, though, taht Dems are enjoying the implosion of the GOP so much that we realy don't see any need to dive in and get our hand chopped off for any kind of alternative.

One other linked thought - I don't think this is like the issue for gays and lesbians, where lack of exposure in some communities drives fear and resentment and anti-gay legislation (as well as anti-gay violence). And even if it is like that for immigration, from the gay experience, I'd say you shouldn't get your hopes up that broad exposure will help break down steretypes or change minds, except in a painfully slow way.

Posted by: weboy | May 18, 2006 2:44:09 PM

I don't think that the questions asked in the survey can be used as a proxy for pro or anti immigrant feelings.

It also seems, as has been noted, that the border states have a pretty strong anti-illegal immigrant following. Believing illegal immigrants do the work Americans won't do does not automatically translate to wanting illegal immigration or having other concerns about a large influx of illegals.

One could even surmise a degree of racism in answering the question that way. 'Those Mexicans will do jobs real Americans won't.' for example.

Posted by: Dave Justus | May 18, 2006 3:19:39 PM

In addition to the relationship you note, there's also a large Southern regional effect. None of the survey instruments are wonderful, but the relationship so far seems robust across data sets.

Posted by: Keith Hurt | May 18, 2006 3:38:00 PM

It has nothing to do with the work "Americans won't do". It has everything to do with state services being authorized (thereby milked) to spend tax money on providing services to those who do not pay taxes:

- subsidized education
- health care
- roads
- waste management

When someone immigrates illegally and takes advantage of these services, they take it away from someone else (who paid those taxes) and thus are stealing. I live in Phoenix, AZ, and would love more than anything to see the illegals sent back home.

I fully support any troop initiatives to police our border. Furthermore, I support the use of deadly force to keep them out.

Posted by: Garrett | May 18, 2006 3:39:15 PM

Garrett I wouldn't trade you for your attitude. The deadly force quip tells me you have no sense of perspective. Nor do I agress that using public utilities deprives others of the services ; what, they went out of operation ? The only resentment you state I agree with is that it's unfair. Yep. The condition under which they live precludes fair assessment and remuneration both.
All that said, getting workable concensus on this issue isn't something for which I have high hopes. A bear to mediate at the best of times, it would take the wisdom of Solomon to fix. I don't see that sort of leadership on hand.

Posted by: opit | May 18, 2006 5:01:47 PM

agress = agree

Posted by: opit | May 18, 2006 5:03:31 PM

Lets consider the phrase "Mexicans do jobs that americans wont do"

This is a red herring argument. On its face, its true, but its totally warped argument.

Consider the 1950s, before massive waves of Mexicans came across the border.

Do you guys think we had fruit pickers back then? I think we did. Do you think it was Mexicans/foreginers doing the picking? I think not. It was americans doing the agricultural work, by and large.

So what happened between 1950 and 1990 that caused agricultural work to be a job that "americans wont do?"

The answer is wage suppression.

Back in the 50s, being a fruit picker didnt pay great, but it did pay a living wage. It was possible to be a fruit picker and not live below the poverty level.

But after the border opened and Mexicans started streaming across, the wages for fruit pickers steadily declined, enough to the point where americans no longer chose the work.

So although its true that mexicans now take jobs that "americans wont do" thats true ONLY because the mexicans came and introduced massive wage suppression in the first place.

Consider this: farm wages in terms of real income levels are hte same in 2000 as they were in 1950! Thats amazing, no other industry sector has anywhere close to that level of wage suppression

So the cause/effect relationship here is not:

Americans wont do jobs --> mexicans fill job void

The REAL cause/effect relationship is:

Americans WILL do the jobs --> mexicans come in --> wage suppression --> americans wont do jobs --> mexicans take over the industry

Posted by: joe blow | May 18, 2006 5:13:53 PM

I'm more concerned about industries where we're barely outcompeting global competitors, like agriculture.

But are labor costs really the problem with agriculture? I'm no expert, but from this obesity paper out of UC Davis I read a while back, it seems even rather large wage increases, even if passed on to the consumer would result is rather trivial price increases.

"Average farm-worker earnings were $7.56 an hour for US field and livestock workers in 2000, according to a USDA survey of farm employers, and a 40 percent increase would raise them by $3 to $10.58. If this wage increase were passed fully to consumers, the 5 to 6 cent farm labor cost of a pound of apples or a head of lettuce would rise to 7 to 9 cents, and the retail price would rise by 2 to 3 cents."

Posted by: gswift | May 18, 2006 10:19:33 PM

Let's change the cliche to:

>>>Illegal alien Mexican nationals are more willing to work for peanuts and be exploited by greedy employers than American workers.<<<

Here's another NYT gem:
"As the New York Times wrote, if the migrants weren't coming over the border to pick strawberries, it would be the strawberries coming over the border instead. That would, to be sure, be better for Mexico, but it wouldn't be that good for the US."

Huh? Oh, heaven forbid we lose the agriculture jobs. It's OK that the U.S. already lost the electronics industry, textile industry and now the automobile industry. But, if we lost all those GREAT ag jobs, well, that would signal the coming of the apocalypse and even worse, a decrease in quarterly earnings for all the coporate farms.

And what would all those minimum wage field workers do? Perhaps, they would return home to Latin America. That's inhumane, having somebody return home!!!

Great entertainment! - Liberals discussing economics. Keep it up Ezra, you're slaying me.

Posted by: jazzy | May 18, 2006 10:38:49 PM

I agree with Dave. Those questions are two simple to indicate people's actual opinions on the subject. I think this is because there is no clear left/right divide here. I know some lefty liberals that share my viewpoints (same as Ezras) and lefty's that are downright hostile to them. This makes dividing people into different camps on this issue rather difficult.

Posted by: Adrock | May 19, 2006 11:01:36 AM

But people who actually see immigrants have trouble escaping the fact that immigrants do hard, dirty jobs that few Americans want - at a realistic wage, anyway

I think there is a large amount of people in the U.S. that might "know" this as your title says but don't really give a crap. Nor do I think its safe to assume that this is a matter of fearing the known or unknown.

At least thats what I get from interacting with people who disagree with me. This connects with one of Ezra's first posts on this subject a month of so ago where he said he was ambivalent on the issue because he thought it would be difficult for people to say bad things about a seriously impoverished group of human beings. The short, sweet and simple response to that is that some people just don't care.

Posted by: Adrock | May 19, 2006 11:10:18 AM

"Back in the 50s, being a fruit picker didnt pay great, but it did pay a living wage. It was possible to be a fruit picker and not live below the poverty level."

Back in the 50s, fruit picking was done by Blacks and poor white people (many who were immigrants). It did not pay a living wage, unless you lived under a fruit tree!

Posted by: CParis | May 19, 2006 12:17:58 PM

I don't know if any of you live in the areas where these criminals are taking over. I do. And i used to depend on those jobs you say Americans wont do for a reasonable wage . I got one question for you? Do you know how much it cost to live these days. We cant afford to do some of the hardest jobs out there and not even make enough to pay the day care not to mention the other bills. Now lets talk about reasonable wage. lets look at one industry they have dominated. Construction. Are you aware of how much lets say a house goes for. Even when they were paying us a reasonable wage profits in the housing market were up. Now houses are valued even higher. The criminals are getting payed less the investors are making much more and the middle class is being pushed out into poverty. So in the end what you get is really rich people and really poor people. I was recently beaten by wet backs just for simply trying to apply for a job. I was immediately met with aggression simply because i was white. WHO'S THE RACIST? To Me It's not about race. I would think the same of these pathetic violent low life group of criminals even if they were white boys from England. Trash is trash no matter where it comes from. Now i have another question for you. Who is going to pay for my six broken teeth? The law wont even look at the situation because of sanctuary laws. The police are frustrated here because they all use fake names so even if they were given a court date they don't show up for court. Then a poor American who's name they used gets picked up for a warrant. So they sit in jail for a few days until the courts figure out some dumb ass criminal just wasted more tax payers money. Same problems accrue when the individual files there taxes, Or tries to get assistance. That brings up another subject a lot of these people are steeling s.s. numbers. i had a friend , single mom lost her assistance because some criminals stole her s.s. number. She is now homeless because of this. So you may get a deal on a new deck or a housekeeper in your community but take a look at how it affects our community. It's not worth it!!!

Posted by: jeremy stovall | May 7, 2007 1:31:40 PM

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