Emigration and Immigration

During the height of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall was built to keep the citizens of East Germany from leaving. We cheered as it and similar barriers to emigration from the Soviet to the Free World fell in 1989. But the right to leave awkwardly confronts the right of countries to choose who may or may not enter. The right to leave has little meaning if you have no place to go.

Immigration, especially in the U.S. and Europe, has become a very divisive and difficult public policy issue. Individual freedom and economic efficiency call for the free movement of people. The common market of Europe (the European Economic Community) requires the free movement of labor, capital, goods, and services among its members. This is a desirable and worthy goal, but in typically “take no prisoners” fashion, the European Union has applied this requirement without serious attention to the needs and sensitivities of recipient countries with regard to who enters and works in their country.

During the cold war, when our sympathies were with those behind the Iron Curtain wanting to get out, the East-West participants in the CONFERENCE ON SECURITY AND CO-OPERATION IN EUROPE in Helsinki in 1975 agreed to:

“Make it their aim to facilitate freer movement and contacts, individually and collectively, whether privately or officially, among persons, institutions and organizations of the participating States, and to contribute to the solution of the humanitarian problems that arise in that connection,

Declare their readiness to these ends to take measures which they consider appropriate and to conclude agreements or arrangements among themselves, as may be needed,…”[1]

The emphasis at that time was on “cultural exchange” and cross border employment. The right to emigrate, however, was a step too far.

Aside from the political dimension of a “right to migrate,” there are clear economic efficiency benefits from the free movement of labor, supplementing those of the free movement of goods and capital.[2] Leaving aside the special case of war refugees, people generally move, whether within their own country or to a new one, in order to take better jobs. One exception is the Brits who vacation or retire to sunnier parts of Southern Europe. They obviously bring their pension incomes with them. The Polish plumbers in England and the Filipina nurses throughout the world increase their own incomes but fill worker needs in their host countries as well. In short, immigration is generally a win win scenario.

Within the overall annual limits the U.S. has placed on immigration, the number of H-B1 work visas (those requiring high skills or education) has been squeezed by preferences to extended family members of existing green card holders, thus depriving American industries of the skilled workers they need. If foreign workers are not allowed to immigrate here, capital will tend to move abroad in order to produce what is needed overseas and import it. Opposition to immigrants by workers who fear that they will lose their own jobs are generally misinformed or motivated by other concerns.

Immigration can also ease the economic problems associated with an aging and shrinking population. Japan’s population is now smaller than it was in 2000 but more problematic is that it is also older. The percentage of those over 65 in Japan’s total population has increased from 17% in 2000 to 24% now. Its working age population has declined 9%. As a result, a growing share of income from those working is required to support those who have retired. This problem has been partially addressed by an increase in the number of Japanese women entering the labor force, but it has not been enough. Relaxing Japan’s very restrictive immigration laws would also help. As a general rule most Japanese are quite insular and not comfortable living and working with foreigners. According to The Economist: “The country has remained relatively closed to foreigners, who make up only 2% of the population of 127m, compared with an average of 12% in the OECD.”[3] But Japan’s demographic crisis is leading to a gradual liberalization of immigration requirements.

Workers who worry about immigrants taking their jobs are generally confusing the impact of technology on some existing jobs and job skills, and to a lesser extent the impact of increases in cross border trade. The disruptive, but income enhancing, impact of ever changing technologies does impose costs on those who must learn new skills, but it is the relative openness of Americans to such innovation and growth that has made America the wealthy country that it is.

However, there are limits to the pace of change (and the pace of immigration) that societies can comfortably absorb. The backlash of public concern with immigration, which played an important role in Britain’s recent vote to leave the EU, seems to reflect the upsurge in the pace of immigration in recent years. It also seems to have reflected misinformation about the extent of British control over that pace. While EU membership carried an obligation to accept the free flow of labor into the UK from other EU member countries, only half of the UK’s immigration was from that source. The UK government fully controlled the other half.

Donald Trump has linked his anti-immigration rhetoric to public concern with terrorism. His campaign website states that: “Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”[4] This statement, dated December 7, 2015, has been followed by increasingly nuanced (if that word can be used for Trump) formulations of Trump’s anti-terrorist immigration “policy” proposals. On April 16, 2016, “Donald Trump’s speech on foreign policy Monday focused in large part on his proposal to suspend immigration from dangerous parts of the world and impose a new system of ‘extreme vetting’ that would subject applicants to questions about their personal ideology.

“We should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people,” said Trump, proposing what he called an “ideological screening test.”[5]

Typical of Trump’s campaign, he is either ignorant of existing visa requirements or deliberately misleading his audience. At least since 9/11, visa applications from all but a few countries, whether work or tourist, require an extensive background check.[6] All green card recipients swear to uphold the American Constitution and its laws. These are reasonable and appropriate requirements and they have been in place for a long time.

And then there are concerns about the preservation of a country’s culture, a legitimate goal. And then there is plain old racism and protectionism (the protection of monopoly returns to jobs from entry restrictions via closed shop unions or licensing requirements and to firms from import tariffs).

So what should a country’s immigration policy be? Aside from war refugees, whom the U.S. and most countries have taken a moral/humanitarian obligation to accept,[7] a country’s immigration policies should serve the economic needs of the country and respect the cultural traditions and security concerns of its citizen’s. The United States has benefited enormously and famously by accepting all people seeking a better life who are committed to our laws and values. However, pragmatism calls for regulating the rate of immigration to numbers that can be readily assimilated and limiting it to people of good character committed to abiding by our laws and values.[8]

U.S. immigration laws suffer from a number of defects. The overall number of immigrants permitted per year has not kept pace with the growth in our population and economy. But more important, as noted earlier, the number of actual workers, and especially high skilled workers, has been seriously crowded out by a preference for extended family members of existing residents (not core family, but extended family).

The U.S. has a special problem because of a relatively large number of illegal immigrants who have become an important part of our labor force for some time. It is important for our laws to effectively limit immigration to legal channels while enlarging those channels. It is also essential to resolve and normalize the status of those who came here illegally in the past. Several years ago a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, the so-called Gang of Eight, fashioned immigration reform legislation that addressed these issues. Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 No one was happy with every provision of the draft law but it enjoyed broad support as a compromise and was passed by the Senate. It was never brought up in our dysfunctional House of Representatives.

The Senate immigration bill is a good basis upon which to renew the discussion of immigration reform in the U.S. Hopefully, following the November elections in the United States its Congress can return to the important business of fashioning laws that promote economic growth, well being, and fairness. This should include adopting a comprehensive immigration reform law.

[1] CONFERENCE ON SECURITY AND CO-OPERATION IN EUROPE FINAL ACT concluded in Helsinki, Finland, August 1, 1975, Page 38.

[2] https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/trade-and-globalization/

[3] The Economist, August 20, 2016, page 31.

[4] https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/donald-j.-trump-statement-on-preventing-muslim-immigration

[5] The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/trumps-immigration-plan-raises-many-unanswered-questions/2016/08/16/754fba76-6382-11e6-b4d8-33e931b5a26d_story.html

[6] Some countries, such as England and German and other parts of Europe do not require a US visa to enter the US, though they should have criminal checks when applying for a Passport in their own country.

[7] Of the 4,812,993 Syrian refugees registered outside of Syria (several million displaced Syrians remain inside Syria) as of March 2016, only 7,123 have settled in the U.S as of July 2016. Germany has accepted 600,000 and about 4.5 million have been registered in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. It is estimated that there are an additional 2 million Syrian refugees that are unregistered. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refugees_of_the_Syrian_Civil_War

[8] Six years ago I wrote these proud words about our immigrants. Please note the last sentence: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/a-nation-of-immigrants/ My comments on Syrian refugees almost a year ago are also worth rereading (in my humble opinion): https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/what-to-do-about-syrian-refugees/ as are my comments on immigrants and terrorists two months ago: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2016/06/11/the-challenges-of-change-globalization-immigration-and-technology/

The challenges of change: Globalization, Immigration, and Technology

“Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”  Alvin Toffler 1970

Some people welcome change as a challenge and embrace the adventures it provides, while others resist it as threatening and disruptive. In addition to differences in temperament, some people gain from specific changes while others lose. Starting with the industrial revolution in the mid eighteenth century, the worlds’ economic life has undergone dramatic changes that continue to this day. As a result the average family’s material well-being has sky rocketed to unbelievable heights. But in the process equally troublesome changes were imposed on almost everyone. To maintain (or regain) public support for the policies that allow these beneficial but disruptive changes, we need to carefully consider what policies would ease or compensate for the costs that often accompany them.

Across the world the standard of living saw virtually no change for thousands of years. Starting with the industrial revolution 250 years ago incomes and individual welfare have exploded. From $712 in 1820, world annual GDP per person shot up to $7,814 by 2010 (in 1990 dollars). The number of people living in extreme poverty, which peaked at 2.2 billion in 1970, has been cut in half since then. The percent of the world’s population living on less than $2 a day has plunged from 61% in 1980 to 13% in 2012.[1]

These dramatic gains are the result of increases in what each person was able to produce. Individual output has dramatically increased in the last several centuries because trade has allowed more specialized and productive ways of organizing work to serve larger markets (factories, etc) supported by new technologies (including improvements in public health and medicine) and better transportation infrastructure. We might summarize these factors as expansions of product markets because of cheaper and freer trade, improved labor output from freer labor mobility to move to the best paying jobs and better tools from investments in technical innovation. If we extend these factors across national boundaries we call these “globalization,” “immigration” and “technical innovation.”

On average, the world’s population has benefited enormously from each of these, i.e., from “globalization,” “immigration” and “technology.” But each of these has also disrupted the status quo, imposing sometimes-painful adjustments on business owners and workers whose products or skills are no longer wanted or needed, not to mention many misstarts and failure along the way.

Those who have lost jobs to technical innovations, cheaper imports, or immigrants are understandably unhappy at the changes, though in the longer run better, higher paying jobs may have been created in the process. Donald Trump’s promise of a Mexican wall and high tariffs on Chinese imports seem to resonate with many of these people. Given the enormous, widely shared benefits from globalization, immigration and technology, it is very desirable to adopt policies and approaches to promoting these activities that minimize and mitigate their damage to specific individuals. I will lightly touch on this need with regard to globalization and technology as a prelude to the particularly challenging issue of immigration.

Technology: While displaced workers have long complained about the hardships imposed on them by improved technology (though manufacturing output in the U.S. is at an all time high, improved productivity has resulted in a continual decline in manufacturing employment), the benefits to society as a whole are so obvious that few would propose freezing or slowing technological progress in order to protect their jobs. Of course, the adoption of new technologies concerns more than its impact on employment (e.g. public safety) but the case for allowing such progress basically makes itself. Instead we attempt to ease the transition to the skills needed for newer jobs through adapting educational programs and adopting retraining programs to the changing employment needs (though firms tend to do a better job providing such training themselves than does the government) while providing temporary unemployment compensation.

Globalization: The impact of freer and more extensive cross border trade on employment is similar to the impact of technology and the policy approaches are similar. The freer mobility of capital aspect of globalization will not be discussed here while the freer mobility of labor is discussed under the heading of immigration. While the benefits from trade are enormous and those from further liberalization of trade are still worth the effort, these benefits are less obvious to the general public than are the costs to a limited number of individuals. While strengthening those programs that help displaced workers find and qualify for the new jobs created (essentially the same programs needed for adjusting to technical improvements) is desirable, we also need to make a more convincing case for the benefits of trade. All studies of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement forecast increases in American income from its adoption (and obviously in the incomes of our trading partners as well), but such projections are more abstract and thus carry less emotional and political impact than would examples of the specific industries and firms that would benefit from increased exports (though it is not always possible to anticipate what these will be).

The benefits of trade and globalization are not just economic. Countries that trade with each other and companies that operate around the globe are less likely to go to war with each other. Robert Samuelson noted that “If there was an organizing principle to U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War, it was globalization.” Balancing China’s growing influence in Asia is clearly an important motivation for TPP. /us-presidential-candidates-shouldnt-put-globalization-in-retreat/2016/06/05/

Immigration: The issues raised by immigration are much more complex and challenging. Capital and labor mobility are necessary for maximizing the output of existing labor and capital resources (deploying each where its marginal product is highest). But along with the immigration of hard working people looking for better opportunities and greater freedom, the United States has enjoyed the extra benefit of attracting to its shores the world’s “best and brightest.” This has been true from its founding to this very day. Nonetheless, immigrants sometimes displace existing workers from their jobs, who most often (but not always) move to better ones.

The flaws of the U.S. immigration laws (preference for extended family is crowding out the quotas for badly needed skilled workers, the status of the undocumented MUST be resolved, etc.) are well known. The bill passed by the U.S. Senate in 2013 (S-744), which was drafted by the bipartisan gang of eight (which included Marco Rubio back when he cared about legislating in the American interest) deserves serious consideration.

The economic/jobs aspect of immigration is only part of the challenges it raises, however. Our genetic clannishness, which arouses our fear and hostility toward “others” can be softened and overcome by our genetic curiosity. Exposure to other peoples and cultures can be exciting and enriching. Deriving the economic as well as the cultural benefits of immigration both depend on the success with which immigrants are assimilated into the economy and culture of their new home. The host population needs to be confident that new arrivals embrace its laws and culture. With its more liberal labor laws and active civil society support, the United States has been more successful at assimilating immigrants than have most other countries. British complaints a few years back about a flood of Polish plumbers have largely faded away. In fact, the hard working Polish plumbers proved to be very advantageous for Britain.

The flood of war refugees into Europe and fear of terrorism are adding a new element to the fears of immigrants. The Western world, especially Europe, faces serious challenges to accommodate the rapid inflows of refugees, which we all have a moral and legal obligation to house and protect, and immigrants seeking a better life from the predominantly Muslim Middle East and North Africa at a time when a fringe of the Muslim world (ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc.) has declared war on the rest of us. Thus the fear of terrorist attacks, especially following the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., has become a real factor in public attitudes toward immigrants. Donald Trump and right wing nationalist parties across Europe have attracted growing support exploiting these fears.

Western fears of Muslim immigrants are not limited to the fear of admitting terrorist. Donald Trump’s recommendation to stop all Muslim’s at the border “until we figure out what is going on” either reflects ignorance of the exhaustive process such visitors must go through to get visas and the much easier ways for terrorist to enter the country if they are not here already, or deliberate exploitation of public fears. With Trump it is probably both of these. https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/what-to-do-about-syrian-refugees/ These fears also concern whether the prescriptions and doctrine of Islam are compatible with liberal, western, democratic values. /2016/03/24/fighting-terrorists-part-ii/

Some statements in the Koran seem to be incompatible with “Western Values” just as are some statements in the Christian bible. Muslims, like Christians, have developed different interpretations of the meaning and requirements of their faith in today’s world. Some American’s and Europeans worry that the Salafi (Wahhabi), fundamentalist interpretations of Muhammad’s teachings and some of the provisions of one or the other versions of Sharia (Islamic law) that are incompatible with the American constitution, laws and traditions, will come to dominate Muslim beliefs and that they will attempt to impose them on the rest of us. These are serious concerns and are shared by many Muslims as well. Immigrants and residence of any faith should only be welcomed if they accept the laws of their host country. Mainstream Christians are not generally blamed for the fanatical and racist beliefs of the Ku Klux Klan. Quoting from Wikipedia: “Although members of the KKK swear to uphold Christian morality, virtually every Christian denomination has officially denounced the KKK.” The same should be true for Muslims, though they need to make a bigger effort to distance themselves from their minority of radical jihadists than they seem to have so far.

The growing fear of Islam has begun to take on a form and tone reminiscent of the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany: /trump-like-opposition-to-islam-is-growing-in-europe/2016/06/06/. The key question is what to do about it. Just as the overwhelming benefits of globalization and technical progress were not enough by themselves to win broad public support without addressing the accompanying costs, the benefits of immigration and the moral obligations to house and protect refugees, will not be enough by themselves to over come the growing public fear of immigrants (especially of Muslims). Attempting to push immigration on a reluctant public seems to be creating the backlash that we are now seeing in America and Europe.

The Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade abortion decision short-circuited the state-by-state process of liberalization that was already moving in the same direction. Forcing a mother’s legal right to an abortion on states that had not yet come to that view has been counter productive and created a protracted debate that most likely would have faded away long ago. The partisan forcing of Obama Care on Americans without a broad consensus on its new directions provides another example of ill-advised legislation lacking broad support. The Court’s decisions striking down restrictions on interracial marriages (Loving vs. Virginia) and more recently extending equal protection of the law to same sex marriages (United States vs. Windsor and Obergefell vs. Hodges), were only taken after a much wider public acceptance of these freedoms had developed. They have been accepted with far less controversy. What are the lessons for our immigration policies?

The previous waves of immigrants in the U.S., generally concentrated from particular geographical areas, have always complained about the next one, generally concentrated from a different geographical area, and there have often been religious tensions and concerns. What is new this time (in addition to terrorist concerns) is the fear that Muslim immigrants seek to overturn our laws and customs with those of a radical fundamentalist understanding of Islam that is incompatible with liberal Western values. To address these concerns the United States (it will be more difficult in Europe) needs to update its immigration laws (as in the Senate bill already passed) and continue to build on its previous successes in assimilating immigrants, and Muslim communities need to more clearly differentiate and separate themselves and their beliefs from those of the radical jihadist. The U.S. and Europe need to undertake a frank and reasoned discussion of the rules for immigration that best serve the needs and interests of each country. It will not do to force more immigrants on an unwilling public even if it is to their benefit in the long run.

The bottom line here is that the clear benefits to society at large of globalization, immigration and technology are not sufficient to insure their continued support. Though the flow of economic immigrants have been responsive to economic needs, open borders are unfortunately not likely to be acceptable to the general public yet. Despite the racist comments of Donald Trump, between 2009 to 2014, 140,000 more Mexicans left the U.S. than came, largely to reunite with their families in the face of a drop in the demand for their labor in the U.S. There has been no net immigration from Mexico between 2007 and 2014. Most immigration in recent years has been from south of Mexico, East and South Asia and to a lesser extent from Africa and the Middle East. Important public policy decisions should be openly, frankly and thoughtfully discussed with the goal of gaining broad public support. The costs that fall on some in the course of broad gains for the many should be minimized, and fears should be honestly addressed. It is critically important in this regard that mainline Muslims distance themselves from the radical Islamists.

[1] http://humanprogress.org

What to do about Syrian refugees?

When frightened most people take or support steps to reduce risks to their security even at the expense of their liberties or other normally valued principles. Failure to do so might even be considered foolish if such steps might actually increase their safety. On the other hand, we regularly accept small risks in exchange for more interesting lives. The fact that 92 people died every day on average in the U.S. in traffic accidents in 2012 (about the same number who died from falling) has not kept most of us home, where we would have faced the risk that an average of 7 people per day died from home fires.

I am prompted to return to this subject (for an earlier blog see: https://wcoats.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/are-we-becoming-a-nation-of-cowards/) by a recent Bloomberg poll in which the majority of adult American’s surveyed (53%) following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people said that “the nation should not continue a program to resettle up to 10,000 Syrian refugees.” Leaving aside that this is an almost unnoticeable share of the more than 3 million Syrians who have fled their country and the 6.5 million displaced within Syria, and leaving aside the causes of the horrors from which they are fleeing, are we justified in refusing to accept refugees if it makes us safer? But before taking that on, we should have a clear understanding of whether it is likely to make us safer.

The concern, of course is that among these poor desperate souls, terrorist might pose as refugees in order to gain entry to the U.S. (or Europe) in order to wreak havoc. Despite best efforts this possibility cannot be ruled out any more that we can rule out dying by fire if we lock ourselves in our homes. But the recent Paris attacks were carried out by French and Belgian citizens, not refugees. “Then there was the curious case of the Syrian passport found near the body of a suicide bomber. Who takes a passport to a terrorist operation? Someone who wants it to be found.” (Frida Ghitis, CNN, November 18, 2015: http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/18/opinions/ghitis-isis-self-destructive/index.html)

Gaining entry to the U.S. as a political refugee is a time consuming and difficult process. I have written a number of letters in support of applications by Iraqis and Afghans I have worked with and that is a very small part of what is required. Ms. Ghitis’ very interesting article continues: “The Paris operation had multiple objectives. The passport was a way of provoking the West to turn against refugees. The attack sought to provoke France, NATO and Europe to fight ISIS and the public to turn against the Muslim population and against refugees. ISIS wants a war between Islam and the rest of the world, with Muslims on its side, as a way of creating and expanding its so-called ‘caliphate.’ ISIS wants the world’s Muslims to feel they are at war with the modern world. It also wants to stop the flow of Syrians to the West, because it’s more than a little embarrassing that Muslims are fleeing its utopian Islamic ‘state.’”

In short, the risks of terrorist attacks (or attacks by deranged students at schools, etc.) in the U.S. come almost totally from our own citizens, just as do virtually all other crimes, violent or otherwise, in the U.S.  We call their perpetrators criminals and have vast and expensive programs to minimize such acts and to protect us to the extent compatible with our values from the crimes that nonetheless still take place. Aspects of these programs are the promotion of respect for the rights of others and for law and order and addressing and minimizing injustices toward individuals or groups that might provide the basis for grievances and hostility. For the rest we rely on the police to maintain order and arrest those who persist in crime (violent or otherwise). Crime and its perpetuators have always been and always will be with us. Some approaches to containing them have worked better than others and we should continuously strive to find the most effective balance between our freedom and our security.

So will ending the already negligible immigration of Syrians or Muslims improve our safety? If anything at all, it will worsen it by alienating and angering some of the almost 3 million Muslim’s already living here. The cry by some Governors and Presidential candidates and others to close the door to Muslims is much more likely to turn an American Muslim into a terrorist than to prevent one from entering the country from abroad. Thus these ugly cries by understandably frightened people fail on all counts (the promotion of American values and the promotion of security).

We need champions of the “Land of the free, home of the brave.” We have been the “Home of the free because of the brave;” not the brave young men and women sent off as cannon fodder to fight wars all over the place by deranged neocons but those brave enough to stand tall for the values of human respect and freedom that have (and hopefully still will) define America.