Immigration and Assimilation

by Russ Roberts on May 23, 2006

in Immigration

Jeff Jacoby at the Boston Globe has a lot of interesting things to say about immigration. And as always, he says them very well. The most interesting point and unfortunately he doesn’t have room to explore it fully, is that assimilation and the melting pot aren’t what they used to be. He’s right. Legislation of various kinds has made it easier to stay unassimilated and encourages people to identify either culturally or politically with their own ethnic groups.

I think there’s another point to be made as well about assimilation. Some argue that we need public schools so that all of us can have a common vision for America and to aid the process of assimilation. But the public schools common vision for America is that there is no common vision. Everything is sacrificed to the god of tolerance. The common education children receive in public schools is that there should be no common vision of America. Everyone is entitled to a unique vision and no one’s vision is better or worse than anyone else’s.

The other problem, and this is much more serious, is political. When government’s power is limited and when there is respect for the Constitution, the political impact of the growth of this ethnic group or that one, or this religious group or that one, is unimportant. But when government is powerful and the Constitution is just a piece of paper, the growth of groups that are hostile to freedom and liberty is no longer unimportant. That is one reason why Europe is threatened by religious fundamentalism in a way that America is not. As of now, the ability of religious fundamentalists of any stripe to impose their views on others is highly limited in America. But that is only true because we remain something of a republic. As the Constitution becomes weaker, the threat of ethnic or religious political power is serious.

Some of the scaremongers on the immigration debate talk about the percentage of America that will be Hispanic by 2050 if we don’t "do something." But why should I care if America is more Hispanic in the coming years? Or more Christian? Or more Islamic? The answer, tragically, is that I should care if our political system allows a group to channel money or power to its own group at the expense of others.

The answer to this challenge is not to close our borders. The answer is to strengthen the Constitution and reduce the power of government.

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{ 28 comments }

Brian Moore May 23, 2006 at 12:04 pm

I agree entirely. The problem is, most people in the US seem to believe that they are part of a group that does need to control the process. This is why Democrats/Republicans don't react to the other party's majority by trying to restrict governmental power, but by simply trying to argue that their usage of it is incompetent or malicious, so that hopefully they get back in charge of that oh-so-tempting power.

The "third way" viewpoint that says that the mere fact that we're having this fight means that we're all going to lose is not a very popular one.

Brian Moore May 23, 2006 at 12:11 pm

Also, this mirrors the debate in the post below that describes immigrants getting a "free lunch" at government services. If that (or immigrants taking over the political system and abusing it) are indeed negative consequences of immigration (and I'm not convinced that they are), then it seems that our goal should be to eliminate the features of our government that enable abuse/exploitation.

Even if this is a political non-starter, (and it is) the issues of excess governmental power and unsustainable handouts will have to be addressed sooner or later, because some group (if not immigrants, than someone else) will eventually be able to "break" the system.

spencer May 23, 2006 at 12:47 pm

I do not understand his conclusion that political correctness is what has caused the present crisis.

The only way I can see that it makes any sense is to assert that political correctness interfers with assimilation. But as you have quoted on this blog yourself that the next generation of immigrants assimilate almost completely — especially in regards to the use of english.

The only way I can figure that political correctness plays a role in the current "crises" is that knowledgable people are polite or politicaly correct in the way they treat the "know-nothings" trying to create a crises.

TGGP May 23, 2006 at 1:19 pm

Russel Roberts wrote: "The answer to this challenge is not to close our borders. The answer is to strengthen the Constitution and reduce the power of government."

Oh how I wish we could do the latter. Not a chance of that happening though, and as I pointed out earlier, you can look on the Inductivist blog to see that the General Social Survey shows clearly that the more Hispanic the U.S becomes, the lower the probability of such desired reforms occurring is. The majority of the U.S is currently in favor of limiting immigration though. It is mostly the elites who are in favor of open borders. If Russ and other economists and libertarians could continue to be honest about the problems of immigration under a welfare state, perhaps at some point we could resolve such problems and make a free economy with few externalities associated with immigration a problem.

Regarding assimilation, what I've heard is that they are assimilating to the standards of America's inner-city underclass. Higher rates of illegitimacy, crime, welfare dependency and so on (the first generation are higher than average for America, but their kids are even worse). Maybe we should figure out how to assimilate our native underclass before bringing in more.

JohnJ May 23, 2006 at 2:20 pm

Immigration is a problem in any democracy. This is why every nation has a right to control its borders.

The Unbeliever May 23, 2006 at 2:28 pm

"But the public schools common vision for America is that there is no common vision. Everything is sacrificed to the god of tolerance. The common education children receive in public schools is that there should be no common vision of America. Everyone is entitled to a unique vision and no one's vision is better or worse than anyone else's."

Excellent analysis, and exactly right as it relates to immigration and assimilation. (OT, this is also one of the best arguments for school vouchers: parents and students who wish to excerise their freedom of speech (and assembly?) should not be forced to pay for and put up with the "everything is equal and unique" worldview if they don't want to.)

Robert Cote May 23, 2006 at 3:57 pm

¿Cualquier persona tiene una sensación econométrica para el coste de un niño muerto en un crosswalk porque alguien los compinches te ayudó a engañar en la prueba española de los conductores de California de la lengua? Hay un coste a la comodidad.

Steven M. Warshawsky May 23, 2006 at 4:33 pm

Very good analysis, but misses the larger point, which is that demography is destiny to a much larger extent than we are prepared to admit in our politically correct era.

The United States is not Mexico because the people who settled and developed this country were *different* that the people who settled and developed Mexico. The same is true of Germany, China, Ethiopia, etc. And vice-versa.

If we want to remain a "republic" in the tradition that Russell points to, then we need to make sure that the vast majority of our population believes in the principles and values upon which such a republic is built. That means that we must educate (or propagandize) the people who already live here into this belief system, and make sure that we don't allow too many people with incompatible beliefs into the country (e.g., fundamentalist Muslims).

Hence, Russell much too cavalierly dismisses concerns about the demographic composition of the country. While many readers will consider these sentiments to be "nativist" or "racist," they are reality. Just look at the world today.

Robert Cote May 23, 2006 at 4:37 pm

Si deseamos seguir siendo una “república” en la tradición a la cual Russell señala, después necesitamos cerciorarnos de que la mayoría extensa de nuestra población crea en los principios y los valores sobre los cuales se construye tal república.

Viva Aztlan!

Half Sigma May 23, 2006 at 4:41 pm

Should the white people in Zimbabwe have been concerned that they were a minority? The answer, of course, is yes.

Dr. Dean May 23, 2006 at 4:47 pm

"When government's power is limited and when there is respect for the Constitution, the political impact of the growth of this ethnic group or that one, or this religious group or that one, is unimportant"

???

You are afraid because of "GROWTH"?

Robert Cote May 23, 2006 at 10:28 pm

First post:
Anyone have an econometric feel for the cost of a dead child in a crosswalk because someone's buddies helped him cheat on the Spanish language California drivers test? There is a cost to accomodation.

Second:
If we want to remain a "republic" in the tradition that Russell points to, then we need to make sure that the vast majority of our population believes in the principles and values upon which such a republic is built.

Viva Aztlan.

To the last I add; Quebec.

Who wasn't inconvienienced by Spanish language postings? Imagine now if I were a militant and noticable segment of this blog and started insisting on dual language accomodation would the quality of the discussion go up or down?

Russell Nelson May 24, 2006 at 1:18 am

Robert asks "Who wasn't inconvienienced by Spanish language postings?"

Me, and I can spel in English, too.

Russell Nelson May 24, 2006 at 1:24 am

Wash writes: make sure that the vast majority of our population believes in the principles and values

That would be a change from the current state of affairs. We home-school, and think very little of government schools. When we tell somebody that we home-school, they invariably have a story about how their relative's or their own child had trouble with the rigid structure of school. Then they'll go on to say how important it is that everyone get a government education.

You'd be surprised how often that happens. Before we can make any progress on the "principles" and "values" of America, we need to shut down the socialist school system.

Russell Nelson May 24, 2006 at 1:27 am

JohnJ: I would say it instead like this: "Immigration is a problem with democracy. This is why every democracy needs to close its borders." An anarcho-capitalist society wouldn't have a problem with immigration. With no public land, there is no right to be present. You can only be there if you have convinced someone to let you be there.

Brian Moore May 24, 2006 at 11:33 am

Robert:

"Anyone have an econometric feel for the cost of a dead child in a crosswalk because someone's buddies helped him cheat on the Spanish language California drivers test? There is a cost to accomodation."

Of course there's a cost. There's a cost for everything. You could similarly argue that we should not allow cars, because without them, the child could not be run over. Is bad driving a symptom of only hispanic immigrants? The chance that something bad may happen because of immigration is not a compelling argument. If it were, we would have to ban a lot more things than immigration. Make a convincing argument that, in toto, immigrants bring more bad than good to America.

"If we want to remain a "republic" in the tradition that Russell points to, then we need to make sure that the vast majority of our population believes in the principles and values upon which such a republic is built."

Why do you think this is true? There are already massive segments of the population who hold beliefs contrary to the spirit upon which our nation was founded. Should we deport all of them as well? The entire point is to have a government that doesn't allow those people to inflict their incorrect views on everyone else, and that's precisely what the original post is about. If you argue that immigrants will come in, change the laws to oppress others, then your problem is the laws. Unless you fix them, stopping immigration won't help because some other group (and frankly, already has) will use these laws to oppress others.

"Who wasn't inconvienienced by Spanish language postings? Imagine now if I were a militant and noticable segment of this blog and started insisting on dual language accomodation would the quality of the discussion go up or down?"

No one was inconvenienced. The only person who was — was you. Assume no one here speaks Spanish. Your arguments were completely lost on them, and they ignored you. You even recognized this and translated. This is the choice immigrants make — and why nearly all of them learn to speak English. Because it's very, very convenient.

And what if you did demand that this be held in Spanish? Since it's private property, the host could choose to accomodate you or not. So what? If his patrons thought the "quality" went down, they could leave or stay.

If you're talking about public services, then at least you have a point. And you should vote against tax increases for accomodating Spanish speakers, if that's what you want. To me, though, the amount of money spent on doing this is so tiny compared to the amount of money I think is wasted on doing totally useless (and many times destructive) things. If you think this is a compelling argument in the face of the billions wasted by government on other things, then go right ahead and make it. I have bigger fish to worry about.

QJH Thompson May 24, 2006 at 12:31 pm

I don't have a problem with immigration, legal or illegal. The problem I have is with libertarians using the analysis of how immigrants contribute to the burdening tax system we have today as a positive.

Its is no wonder tax reform is a non-starter, since you have libertarians and free marketeers using the existing system in a positive light in this immigration debate. There is more advocacy for low wage labor than revamping the tax system.

I used to think that libertarians were advocates for reducing the big government tax burden on Americans. However, it seems that low wage illegal immigrant labor has taken center stage.

Using immigrants' contribution to the existing tax system, in my opinion, just give cause of not reforming it.

Bumbler May 24, 2006 at 2:44 pm

Brian Moore says:
"Is bad driving a symptom of only hispanic immigrants?"

Go to google. Type in "hispanic immigrant" and "dwi" or dui. Or type in "hispanic" and dwi or dui (though I realize hispanic != hispanic immigrants). The results may point you towards your answer.

Bumbler May 24, 2006 at 2:47 pm

Note: I realize Brian said "only", so a direct answer to his question would obviously be no, hispanic immigrants to not only drive bad. But that is irrelevent. There is nearly no large group that is "only" responsible for any given thing under the sun. But relative propensities matter.

Half Sigma May 24, 2006 at 4:26 pm

"But why should I care if America is more Hispanic in the coming years?"

The reason is obvious Russell. If Hispanics believe that they have aggregate interests different than other Americans, they'll vote their interests, and this can transform the nature of our government.

Based on what's going on in the rest of the Americas south of Texas, Hispanics seem to favor leftist governments.

TGGP May 24, 2006 at 5:11 pm

Why free-marketeers should be concerned with recent immigration legislation: http://www.heritage.org/Research/Immigration/wm1088.cfm

Dain May 24, 2006 at 6:43 pm

"Based on what's going on in the rest of the Americas south of Texas, Hispanics seem to favor leftist governments."

With the realization that Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to love big government, what is that supposed to mean?

Should evangelicals be allowed to breed because they have no understanding of economics and redistribution, and prefer a morally activist government? What about the vast majority of the white middle class who think Social Security and financial aid for college are a given?

Stop scapegoating immigrants.

Mike Z May 24, 2006 at 7:55 pm

"But why should I care if America is more Hispanic in the coming years? Or more Christian? Or more Islamic?"

As to the last, it all depends on whether you want your children to recognize the country as the one their grandparents grew up in.

Europe is finding out – to their despair – that immigration without assimilation leads to the end of a country.

"Stop scapegoating immigrants."

We don't "scapegoat immigrants". We scapegoat illegal immigrants. If you don't see a difference, there's no hope. In fact, Brian is the only one who used the word "illegal".

It would be nice, here in the SouthWest, if it weren't required to print ballots in 6 or 7 different languages (though I think that's a Federal mandate). The cost is far from negligible. Nor is the cost to set up and maintian all those "press one for Spanish…" phone systems, both government and private. Companies can bear the burden in the usual way – by passing on the cost to the consumer. Governments do the same – by increased taxes and "fees".

Since illegal immigrants tend to pay federal income taxes more so than local, it's the local governments – state and city – that have to bear the burden. Here in California, hospital emergency rooms have shut down, and our schools are crowded with children of illegal immigrants – children who don't speak English. That makes the whole class slow down. It's small wonder that California is number 40 or thereabouts in the national standings.

An economist said that no society can withstand an endless influx of poorly-educated poor people.

Robert Speirs May 24, 2006 at 9:44 pm

Want to get a precise picture of the state of any parts of the US that become Hispanic-majority? Look at Puerto Rico, and subtract the tourism. That will tell you all you want to know. Puerto Ricans are all US citizens, too.

Dain May 24, 2006 at 10:44 pm

"We don't 'scapegoat immigrants'. We scapegoat illegal immigrants. If you don't see a difference, there's no hope. In fact, Brian is the only one who used the word "illegal'."

Well, I could care less about arbitrary political borders. And if Ireland were located beneath the US, my ancestors would have smuggled across too, instead of waiting years for the paperwork to go through and dealing with asshole border guards. But that's the difference between law and order "libertarians" and the real thing I guess.

Your complaints about state spending should be directed against the general socialist trend in the U.S., regardless of immigrants. Most of it by the intellectual and political class of whites of generations past. Your typical whining white suburbanite is a larger beneficiary of welfare, across the board, than some under the radar illegals. Not so easy to collect financial aid for college, social security benefits, civil service incomes, corporate welfare and all else when you're breaking your back providing cheap labor, your comparative advantage. You (probably) and I went to state schools too, and should feel no sense of special entitlement just for having been born here.

"It's small wonder that California is number 40 or thereabouts in the national standings."

And Alaska is 44, at least according to this: http://www.morganquitno.com/edrank.htm. What say you?

"An economist said that no society can withstand an endless influx of poorly-educated poor people."

Which economist is that? And is he or she aware of the history of the U.S.? Most economists are in agreement on the benefits of immigration. This country is LESS generous now on the immigration front than it has been in years past, not more. Bring em' on!

Brian Moore May 25, 2006 at 12:26 pm

Mike Z:
"An economist said that no society can withstand an endless influx of poorly-educated poor people."

We've done pretty well with that scenario for 200 years. I'd make the assertion that most of the immigrants of the past are far less educated than today's immigrants, illegal or legal.

"We don't "scapegoat immigrants". We scapegoat illegal immigrants. If you don't see a difference, there's no hope. In fact, Brian is the only one who used the word "illegal"."

I think I (and the original poster) would counter that most illegal immigration today should not be "illegal," in the same way we would have argued in the past that interracial marriage, while illegal, should be made legal.

Secondly, many of Robert Cote's points (to whom I was replying) DO lump illegal and legal immigrants together. He describes Spanish speakers as a problem (because of accomodation costs), for example, which may include legal, illegal and just plain US citizens.

Everyone in the country is against "illegal" immigration. We just all have different definitions of what types of immigration should be illegal. I personally prefer the definition to only include violent criminals or people with links to terrorism. The problem is, the vast majority of the people who "illegally" immigrate here are neither of those things.

"Europe is finding out – to their despair – that immigration without assimilation leads to the end of a country."

I actually completely agree with you here. You and I simply define assimilation differently. If you can point out how immigrants (legal/illegal) are rioting and burning thousands of cars a la France, then you'll have a point. But they aren't. Whatever we define assimilation as, we're doing a massively superior job to Europe.

Bumbler:
"Go to google. Type in "hispanic immigrant" and "dwi" or dui. Or type in "hispanic" and dwi or dui (though I realize hispanic != hispanic immigrants). The results may point you towards your answer"

I can get the same results by typing in "asian driver." Should we not allow Asian immigration either? There are hundreds of groups already in America who have bad traits associated with them. Nearly all serial killers are white males. Should we deport that group? No — but we can prosecute those who break the law.

To Half Sigman and others who say "immigrants will come in and vote for left wing stuff." Okay, let's make that assumption. I bring up the same contention that I made above, and that Dain makes. If our laws are so easily twisted to destructive ends, we have a far greater problem than immigration, illegal or otherwise. You seem to think we have some great free market system that the immigrants will change — no, we don't, because totally "native" groups already have abused that power to change it.

I'm far more worried about current citizens/leaders messing up our country than a bunch of immigrants 20 years from now. And I'm FAR more concerned about rolling back the terrible policies and laws that were enacted 20, 50, and 100 years ago by genuine American citizens.

I agree that demographic changes can change the course of our nation for the worse. The problem is, this has happened decades ago, when people started raising their kids as religious right idiots or left wing simpletons. The negative result you fear has already happened. We have already lost. I fail to see how moronic leaders elected by some future hispanic majority will be any more incompetent and destructive than ones elected today by Americans, or 50 years ago.

TGGP May 25, 2006 at 3:26 pm

"With the realization that Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to love big government, what is that supposed to mean?

Should evangelicals be allowed to breed because they have no understanding of economics and redistribution, and prefer a morally activist government? What about the vast majority of the white middle class who think Social Security and financial aid for college are a given?"
Hispanics are more in favor of larger government intervention than the average American and they are more socially conservative, so that is the direction both partiest will move in when they need their support. The children of Hispanics also become considerably more leftist than their parents. The stats are at inductivist.blogspot.com

Stopping people from breeding is going to be a very difficult thing, and evangelicals are less likely to be tax consumers rather than tax payers than Hispanic immigrants.

"I fail to see how moronic leaders elected by some future hispanic majority will be any more incompetent and destructive than ones elected today by Americans, or 50 years ago." Do you seriously believe this? Are you aware of the political situation in virtually all of Latin America? Do you know why people are leaving that area? Have you heard of some fellows named Chavez or Morales? Did you know that in Mexico there is a holiday commemorating the nationalization of oil? Hate the idiot white Americans all you want, but immigration is not an idiot-exchange program, and even if it was we'd be still be getting a bad deal.

"To Half Sigman and others who say "immigrants will come in and vote for left wing stuff." Okay, let's make that assumption. I bring up the same contention that I made above, and that Dain makes. If our laws are so easily twisted to destructive ends, we have a far greater problem than immigration, illegal or otherwise. You seem to think we have some great free market system that the immigrants will change — no, we don't, because totally "native" groups already have abused that power to change it."
You're right, that is a bigger problem. Unfortunately there is little support for undoing most of the idiocy or removing the right to vote from all non-libertarians. There is very considerable support for limiting immigration. This will increase freedom in the short run due to government intervention already in place and in the long run by making the voting populace more favorable to rolling back government. Once again, if the market was already as unfree as it can possibly get, why do people want to come here?

Russell Nelson May 27, 2006 at 10:09 am

The single sentence "When immigration is outlawed, only criminals will immigrate." addresses most of the concerns here about the attributes of illegal immigrants. Doctors, lawyers, and engineers don't immigrate when it's illegal.

http://blog.russnelson.com/economics/criminal-immigration.html

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