NOL’s newest feature: the Longform Essays

I want to quickly direct your attention to NOL‘s newest feature, the Longform Essays. In them you will find all of the n-part series that the Notewriters have done over the years, but they’ve been put together (by yours truly) into one long essay, for your convenience.

It’s still a work in progress. Jacques’ essays are done. Mary’s four-part essay on The State and education is finished, too. I am slowly, but surely, working on Barry’s and Rick’s essays.


Legal Immigration Into the United States (Part 12): The Shape of Anti-immigrant Hostility

After fifty years of participant-observation and of a scholarly reading, both, I have come to think that hostility toward immigrants tends to follow a U-shaped curve, with degree of hostility on the vertical axis and numbers of immigrants on the horizontal axis. The first immigrants, those who do not go unperceived, evoke hostility because we are hard-wired to mistrust strangers and also because they are usually culturally incompetent. (Only usually; see my description of Indian immigrants in Silicon Valley who often land functionally capable). They don’t know how to act properly, often they don’t even know how to ask for help to learn how to act. In addition their newcomer status usually places them near the bottom of the relevant employment pyramid. Frequently, they perform unpleasant work. They are the disagreeable poor. Even rich immigrants may be summarily rejected for being “vulgar.”

As their numbers rise, the early instinctive hostility diminishes among many of the host population. Immigrants’ manners improve as the first comers coach the recently arrived. They do so directly and also through ethnic publications and via their churches. In the meantime, the host population learns that the immigrants are mostly not dangerous. With rising numbers also, there are growing opportunities for the native population to observe immigrants fulfilling useful functions, such as digging ditches in the hot sun and practicing medicine. At the same time, the opportunities for personal, face-to-face interaction rise exponentially. At some point, many in the host population begin to create exceptions in their own minds to their remaining hostility: Deport them all, except Lupita; she is a good housekeeper and I trust her with my possessions; Mexicans are lazy, except Diego, he is a really hard worker. After a while, exceptions have become the rule. Soon, hostility toward the immigrants is at its lowest. Fewer natives resent them and they don’t resent them deeply. (I think this is a useful distinction; ask me.)

If the number of immigrants continues to increase, however, more and more of the host population begin to feel that they are not at home anymore. They are like strangers in their own  land, the land of their ancestors. Unavoidably, with large numbers, some of the immigrants will turn out to be talented, or lucky, and they will occupy visible positions of power, like bank branch president. Many will rise faster than the members of the original population. Envy makes matters worse, of course: He got here only fifteen years ago, he still has an accent, and he is the School Principal (or better, the president of a big university, a real case). My people have been here for two hundred years and….Hostility increases again; it’s become anew a simple function of too many of the other kind.

I think California has reached that area of the U-shaped curve, near the top of the second branch of the U. The three most common last names here are said to be: Garcia, Hernandez and Lopez, instead of the normal Smith, Williams, Anderson, or Miller. Many of my neighbors (many) think that not knowing Spanish has become an unfair work handicap. As I said, local hillbilly women with a high school education (Did I say “hillbilly”?) used to find reasonably good employment as receptionists in medical offices. Those jobs have dried up because the daughters of Mexican immigrants who know enough Spanish to deal with Spanish-only speakers cost no more than they. Some mothers also claim that the use of Spanish by other kids isolates their children at school. It’s probably rare because Spanish speakers are generally a minority but impressions matter, however devoid of basis.

Accordingly, it seems to me that, in my area, there is more hostility to Mexicans and Central American immigrants now than there was ten years ago. It’s dangerous hostility because it’s now fairly well informed hostility. Some of the derogatory ethnic stereotypes may well be realistic: Mexicans drive without insurance. (I don’t have hard figures but I would easily wager on this.) The hostility also remains somewhat abstract, for the moment. It hinders but little face-to-face, personal interactions. The exceptions regimen is still holding up to a large extent. The proof is that the number of anti-Mexican jokes remains remarkably low, steady, and repetitive, kind of boring, really. Bitterness, however seems more and more freely expressed in the social media where there is almost no price to pay for doing so. Incidentally, I don’t know where the inflection point is, where the hostility curves turn up. I wish I knew. It’s a doable study. Someone else will have to do it. Good topic for a doctoral thesis, maybe.

[Editor’s note: in case you missed it, here is Part 11]

Ottomanism, Nationalism, Republicanism X

In my last post in this series, I discussed Turkey of the 1970s, starting with the 1971 Coup by Memorandum. Now I will move onto the Turkey of the 1980s, starting with the 12th September Coup in 1980, its impact and the foundations of civilian politics after the military left government. The coup was in reaction to political violence in the streets, political deadlock in the National Assembly and a worsening economic situation. It was overwhelming popular when launched, but since has become thought of as the darkest moment of the Turkish state. Despite its retrospective unpopularity and the ways that Recep Tayyıp’s Erdoğan AKP (along with Islamist predecessor parties) has positioned itself as the biggest victims of the coup, there are clear continuities with the current illiberal Erdoğanist-AKP regime and the 12th September regime.

At the time of the coup the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces was Kenan Evren, and he became head of the military council which administered the country until 1983. He also assumed the office of President of the the Republic, which he retained after the return of civilian rule in 1983. He was still respectfully known as Evren Paşa to some when I first came to Turkey in 1997, but all lingering respect and affection has disappeared. There is some ingratitude here as Erdoğan’s way of running the country clearly owes a lot to Evren and the 1982 constitution promulgated by the coup regime, with its lack of restraints on executive power, enabled Erdoğan to take over the state and turn the kind of power Evren exercised during a military regime into the permanent power of a civilian president, based on a crudely majoritarian understanding of democracy. Majoritarian in two senses, which will be discussed below. The regime became famous for abuse of human rights, including mass detentions, widespread torture and widespread use of the death penalty for political linked crimes, including a man of only 17 years. The brutality and the crude political understanding of the generals in power undermined the idea that a full scale military coup was acceptable and it never happened again, though the story of military involvement in politics was not over.

The 12th September regime stabilised the economy with the help of Türgut Özal who was then a professional economist and then the first civilian Prime Minister when elections returned. The original plan was presented to the last pre-coup government and so the coup regime’s initial economic plan was a continuation of ideas entering the centre-right civilian political sphere sphere. This reduced some forms of state intervention in the economy and opened it more to the world economy, so could be labelled neo-liberal, a term now used largely as a term of abuse, but which can be used in a more meaningful way. Inevitably, there are left-wing analysts who treat the economic changes that came out of 1980 as the equivalent of the economic changes introduced in Chile after the September 1973 coup. This conceals more than it illuminates. The military adopted Özal’s plans out of pragmatism of the moment rather than conviction, soon moving away from economic liberalism, when a military figure replaced Özal as head of economic planning in 1982.

The 12th September regime organised a referendum in 1982 to pass a constitution which was far less liberal than that of 1961 (itself introduced by referendum during a period of military rule). It retained the role of the army in influencing the government through a National Security Council, introduced by the 1961 constitution. The 1980 constitution is still in place, though heavily amended. The 1982 constitution retained the centrality of the National Assembly as the expression of the national will, going back to the constitutional ideas at the beginning of the Republic. It increased executive privilege though in over-ruling court decisions and gave the Presidency just enough power so that once Erdoğan came to power with a strong willingness to ignore precedent and the norms guiding the constitution, he could turn Turkey into a de facto presidential republic with a weak national assembly, even before the 2016 referendum which formalised the change.

The electoral rules for the National Assembly were changed to exclude parties with below 10% of the vote. The system of proportional representation introduced (a version of the d’Hondt system), favoured the largest party so that it could take the majority of seats with about 35% of the vote (lower is possible but that in practice is how it has worked, depending on the distribution of votes between parties), which is how the AKP gained a majority. The rules were biased towards rural constituencies over urban constituencies, so favoured the right-wing parties.

The 10% rule is sometimes seen as aimed against Kurdish based parties, but if we look at the election results before 1980, it would be more reasonable to think of it as aimed against Idealist Hearths/Grey Wolf Turkish ultranationalists and National View Islamists. Preventing radical left parties and Kurdish based parties from entering the National Assembly may have been an aim in 1982, but surely only secondary to a wish to keep the far right out of the National Assembly. The system had adjusted to a kind of absolutist majoritarianism in which the ‘majority’ could be a plurality with much less than half the vote. The less formal design was to make Turkey a permanently majoritarian country in the sense that it would be dominated by forces rooted in the Sunni religious majority and dominant Turkish ethnicity resolutely committed to a very homogenous understanding of the nation in which the more extreme versions of ethnic nationalism and religious conservatism would be marginalised but so would religious minorities (most significantly Alevi Muslims), ethnic minorities (most significantly Kurds), and open non-believers. Evren himself publicly quoted from the Koran, completely against the spirit of Kemalism, and suppressed the teaching of evolutionary theory in schools. Erdoğan has imitated him in both these respects.

The coup regime created its own national-conservative party with a left-Kemalist (national republican party) as the preferred opposition, both of which disappeared before long. Özal was allowed to create a middle ground party, Motherland (which now exists only as an on-paper micro-party satellite of AKP). This gathered members of the Menderes-Demirel centre-right tradition along with three other pillars: ultranationalists who had been active in the Grey Wolf  associations, former members of the left (including far-left) turned ‘liberal’, members of Sunni religious communities. All the pre-coup parties were illegal during the 1983 elections and the Motherland Party was the only legal party led by people with political experience and talents, so it was in the ideal position to get the most votes, to the irritation of the military leaders who nevertheless accepted the result.

Özal himself was a member of the Nakşibendi Sufi lodge (a very old religious community linked to very orthodox Sunni Islam, originating in the Ottoman lands but also present in other Muslim areas) so was the first Turkish leader from the world of religious communities in the history of the republic. More on Özal and the politics of the 1980s in the nest post.

Is this patriotism?

I’ve always had a weird relationship with patriotism. As a Canadian kid I wondered if the thing I was supposed to be proud of was that Canadians weren’t so brashly patriotic. Later I moved to America and jumped on the “we’re #1” bandwagon. I got off after first realizing that politics is messy and there aren’t any leaders worth admiring, then realizing that that’s always been true (and may even have been worse in the past). My default position over the past few years (before and after getting citizenship) has been “America The world is a nice place, with nice people. And America has one of the better (deeply flawed) political systems.” But I’m not the sort of person who goes out of his way to say the pledge of allegiance.

But I might have stumbled on a secret patriotic feeling that swells in my heart nearly every time I read the news: a profound embarrassment.

Maybe bureaucratic reports have worn me thin, but I’m increasingly shouting “Get it together America! You’re embarrassing me!” any time I encounter news.

When crazy people do crazy stuff I’m not inclined to feel embarrassed, because I don’t know that angry lady who doesn’t understand traffic lights! But family can embarrass you. Embarrassment is an expression of your fear that you’re more like Uncle Joe than you feel comfortable with.

If this is what patriotism feels like, I don’t get it.

Legal Immigration Into the United States (Part 7): An Exemplary Social Science Attempt to Disentangle

Using estimations of the relationships between several sets of good data to infer causation is an old endeavor, of course. The difficulties to which I pointed above are not new. For a little over one hundred years, the social sciences have emerged largely with the mission to solve or circumvent such difficulties. Their efforts have been broadly productive; inferences of causation based on quantitative estimations that respect state-of-the-arts social science rules are more trustworthy than practically everything else. In brief, the more complex the issues under study, the more back-of-the-envelop calculations suffer in comparison with modern social science methodology. Issue of comparative immigrant vs native born criminality are pretty much at a level of complexity for which those methods were developed.

The rules of social science include an obligation to publish in scholarly journals where the findings will be subjected both to pre-publication and to post-publication critical assessment. (See my didactic essay on scholarly submission: “What’s Peer Review and What it Matters) Publication in scholarly journals also facilitates eventual attempts at replication with its potential to root out major research-based fallacies. I realize that duplication is a rare event, but the threat of it keeps researchers on their toes. Note: This doesn’t mean that the degree of confidence one should award to serious social science products should be high, in absolute terms. There is a difference in practice between, “bad,” and “very bad.” Also, in spite of formidable recent successful hoaxes against pseudo-journals, some disciplines hold the line, including left-leaning Sociology. (Read Gabriel Rossman’s “Sokal to the Nth Degree” in the November 8th-11th issue of the Weekly Standard.)

As it happens, there is a recent study that addresses the topic of immigration and criminality that fulfills good social science criteria. It’s Michael T. Light and Ty Miller, “Does Undocumented Immigration Increase Violent Crime?” published in Criminology, March 3, 2018. The study relies on data from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, collected from 1990 to 2014, inclusive. Its design is reasonable; it allows for the observation of change over time in the relationships of interest. The 24-year period of observation is a convenience sample of any longer period one would prefer, but it’s not known to what extent it is representative of a longer period. This is a common limitation on interpretation. Twenty-four years of observation is a lot better than one year for the purpose of generalization though. The estimation methods used in their study to express the relationship between numbers of illegal immigrants, on the one hand, and several well accepted measures of serious criminality, on the other, are up-to date. The same methods allow for the elimination of alternative formulations – that is, they allow for “controlling” for variables other than the main variable of interest, the number of illegal immigrants. The article contains a useful and thorough review of the literature. It’s written with remarkable clarity, given the inherent complexity of the endeavor it describes.

The study gives a straightforward answer to the straightforward question it poses:

The increase in the number of illegal immigrants (in the US) is associated with a decrease in serious crime.

The authors dispose fairly well of an interpretation of these counter-intuitive findings based on the idea that more illegals results in less crime reporting in the relevant populations, rather than in actual decrease in crime. This explanation would make their startling main finding practically spurious.

It is not equally clear to me that the authors have disposed completely of the hypothesis that an influx of illegal immigrants is causally linked to stepped-up law enforcement, and only thence to crime reduction. This formulation has important policy implications. It says: Illegal immigration does not increase crime, provided you do what needs to be done about it. And, you may be lucky and overshoot your mark. Ideally, I would  have liked to see a measure of cost per some unit of crime reduction included in the estimation models.

It’s unfortunate for my purpose that this study focuses on illegal immigration specifically, since my own primary interest is in legal immigration. It matters little in the end because a secondary analysis within this study indicates that increase in legal immigration (considered separately from illegal immigration) is also associated with a decrease in serious crime.

As quantitative social scientists are unfortunately inclined to do, Light and Millet give us a literal expression of their main finding, like this (I think this practice, of making findings shout instead of whispering should be heavily taxed.):

A one-unit increase in the proportion of the population that is undocumented corresponds with a 12 percent decrease in violent crime.

We don’t have to take literally this metric wording and the causality it suggests. For example, there is no need to believe that if enough additional illegal immigrants enter the US, at some point, serious crime will disappear completely. It’s enough to acknowledge that a very good study on the relationship between immigration and serious crime leaves little room for the possibility that the more of the one, the more of the other.

Note, however, that the Light and Miller findings do not exclude this formulation completely. It’s possible that in some states an increase in illegal immigration is associated with a surfeit of serious crime. It’s possible even that for all states, but for a brief period, an increase in illegal immigration is quickly followed by a rise in serious crime. Because of these possibilities, the public perception and the startling results of this study may well be compatible. These would probably not be casually detected. Few regular observers, be they politicians, journalists, or public servants are likely to have a clear view of events in 51 separate entities sustained for twenty-four years. Intelligent, rigorous minded observers may be right about what they know and drastically wrong about what they have not studied through hard facts.

Light’s and Miller’s is a classically good article. It’s thorough without sacrificing detail; it offers a good quality and a useful review of the relevant sociological literature; it’s tightly reasoned. The estimations it reports on seem impeccable. I think Light and Miller is the standard against which all reports on the relationship between immigration and crime should now be assessed. Practically, this article should contribute to switching the burden of proof: Although they are less educated, poorer, and younger on average than the native-born population, immigrants appear to commit less serious crime than the latter. More surprisingly to some, illegal immigrants, who begin their American career by demonstrating their willingness to violate American law, do not appear to be prone to criminal violence.  But, as I have mentioned before, an illegal status is a strong incentive to keep one’s nose clean.

I am not proposing here that Light and Miller’s article should forever block the progress of more conventional ideas  to the effect that more immigration is associated with more crime. All it would take would be a single study of similar quality to overturn this remarkable study’s findings. In the meantime, it would be reasonable to shift the burden of proof  away from where it has implicitly stood: immigrants tend to be criminal.

[Editor’s note: in case you missed it, here is Part 6]

Legal Immigration Into the United States (Part 6); Immigrants, Crime and Incarceration: Another Mostly Local Cost and a Causal Tangle.

There exists a widespread impression, deliberately fed by some conservative media and sometimes by President Trump himself, to the effect that illegal immigrants are especially prone to crime, and to violent crime. By extension, by illogical implication, immigrants in general are tarred with the same brush.

Immigrant crime agitates for different reasons that are not always disentangled from one another. First, there is the general social disorganization that any crime causes and the worsening of the quality of life it entails. Second, mostly youthful immigrants could have the power to reverse the general decline in crime that accompanies the aging of American society. They might be the agent of a step backward for American society. Third, capturing, trying, and incarcerating anyone is very expensive, more expensive than schooling, for example. Immigrant crime in general is especially apt to disturb emotionally because it seems to involve a kind of crass ungratefulness: I let you into my living room, or you enter while I am not paying attention, and you show your appreciation by stealing the silverware, and worse.

Belief in the criminality of immigrants as a group is not necessarily the result of a kind of emotional prejudice. Immigrants are predominantly young, ill-educated, and poor, all known ingredients of criminal propensity in any context. (To my surprise, current immigrants are not predominantly male, although maleness is a strong factor of criminality.) So, if immigrants to the US are like just about every population of the same age, income, and education ever studied, they should exhibit a higher crime rate than the native-born population that is, on the average, better educated, more prosperous, and, especially, considerably older.

It’s difficult to figure out the basic truths about immigration and crime because gross miscounting by partisan journalists is common. For instance, in his 2018 article in Reason on a report based on 2009 figures, Alex Nowrasteh shows how easy it is to make horrendous but simple mistakes of enumeration: Counting single events of incarceration as if they were individual immigrants, for example, as if illegal immigrants could not be repeat offenders. (“Restrictionists Are Misleading You About Immigrant Crime Rates.” Reason, Feb. 1, 2018.)

I explicitly do not accuse the authors cited below of such miscounting.

In his 2006 article in Liberty, Cox showed that about 2.6 % of inmates in federal prison and an astonishing 12% of people incarcerated in local jails and prisons were illegal immigrants in 2002. That’s 14.6% of all persons then incarcerated in the US. The highest estimate of the number of illegal aliens I could locate for any year is 15 million. With that estimate, conservatively, incarcerated illegal aliens would be about 5% of the then US population of 293 million. Roughly, illegal aliens, according to Cox, were thus incarcerated in 2002 at almost three times the rate of their occurrence in the general population. This rate did not include incarcerations for merely being illegally present in the US (which must have been a small number since that was only a misdemeanor). Cox’s study is based on figures for only one year for the whole country.

At any rate, Cox’s incarceration figures concern mostly illegal aliens. It’s not clear whether illegal immigrants’ propensity to commit crimes is similar to the corresponding propensity of legal immigrants, nor if their crimes are similar. Legal and illegals may come from different countries and regions. Even if they come from the same places, they may issue from different classes in their societies of origin. Even if from the same places and same classes, they may constitute different samples of the populations of origin from the standpoint of motivation and thus, of personal psychology. It takes different virtues to arrange for legal immigration via whatever path, on the one hand, and to swim the Rio Grande, or coolly to overstay one’s visa, on the other. These different virtues could easily be associated with different levels of different criminal tendencies. Finally, legal and illegal immigrants have different incentives to break the law or not, the latter being in a good position to not draw attention to themselves. That’s at least until the sanctuary movement.

A study published by the libertarian Cato Institute in February 2015 examined criminal conviction data provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety. It found that native-born residents were much more likely to be convicted of a crime than immigrants in the country either legally or illegally. For all crimes together, the legal immigrants’ score was less than one third that of the native-born. The difference in the likelihood of being convicted of homicide, specifically, was very large between legal immigrants and the native-born. The former were 15 times less likely to be convicted of homicide. Even illegal immigrants were only 70% as likely as the native born to be convicted of homicide. (“Two charts demolish the notion that immigrants here illegally commit more crime,” Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post on-line accessed circa June 28 2018.)

Note that the Cato Institute study is for one state only and for only one year. Cox’s figures cited above are also for one year only but for the whole country.

It’s not obvious how one should relate these contradictory sets of findings to one another. (There are many more such studies. I chose two researchers on my side of the political fence that seemed to me to have worked with seriousness.) First, figures about comparatively rare events such as homicide are notoriously unstable. The corresponding homicide figures for 2004 or for 2014 might be very different. Moreover, both sets of figures, Cox’s and Cato Institute’s use the heterogeneous categories “legal immigrants” and “illegal aliens.” To generalize from their findings requires making the silent assumption that the composition of both is stable from year to year. This assumption is unwarranted. Nothing regulates the composition of illegal immigration and little insures that the composition of legal immigration will be similar from year to year. The varying numbers of refugees alone could sway the legal figures one way or the other.

Here is a realistic scenario: For a period of a few years, both immigration flows consist mostly of rural, mountain Mexicans from rural areas where crime is scarce. In a subsequent and contiguous period, a large flood is added, through both refugee legal immigration and through illegal immigration, of urban Central Americans (thus, of people from some of the highest crime areas of the world). Both the frequency and the nature of immigrant crime may change swiftly as a result  of this sudden (and realistic) change in  the composition of immigration, legal or illegal, or both. The composition of legal immigration may change drastically in a single year because of the influx of refugees from a single location hitherto unrepresented in the US. The composition of illegal immigration may also change suddenly because of a disaster in a region that the American federal government does not recognize as a legitimate source of refugee status. It’s hazardous to extrapolate from one period to any other period. Hence both Cox’s and Cato Institute’s findings may be correct but, at the extreme, each of them for one year only.

It’s also risky to extrapolate from one domestic location, for example, Texas, to another, for example, the whole United States. Here is one reason among others why it is so: The (innocent) rural mountain Mexicans I mention above are likely to move to the Central Valley of California and to similarly agricultural areas in Florida. Crime-prone Central Americans, on the other hand, may seek their fortune in the more familiar big cities anywhere, including, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston. In this imaginary scenario, immigrant crime in Texas (Houston and Dallas, per chance) may be grossly unrepresentative of immigrant crime anywhere else in the US.

Finally, as Cox pointed out to me in a personal communication, the comparison category, “native-born” is itself heterogeneous with respect to crime. The rates for African-American  – most of whom are native-born – are several times as high as others’. Perhaps, the native-born would far better for incidence of crime if blacks were excluded from the comparison. I suspect this is true but I don’t know according to what theoretical principle, this exclusion should be made.

[Editor’s note: In case you missed it, here is Part 5]

Small thought on the fundamental revolution of Blockchain

Mankind made a huge leap forward regarding human organization when it implemented the Constitution. Man was no longer to be ruled by kings and despots, but by a document that stipulated the rule of law. Still, we had the issue of who was going to interpret these laws and who was allowed to add new rules.

Now, we have made another revolutionary leap forward in human organization. We don’t need a third party – kings, governments, courts – to interpret the laws anymore if we have self-executing smart contracts that eliminate the need to trust these third parties. Trust is established through mass collaboration and clever code. On top of that, everyone is free to opt-in, to submit new rules, and to participate in a set of rules. No one is forced to participate. You can always secede. We have had many secessions in the blockchain space. Bitcoin Cash seceded from Bitcoin Core, Ethereum seceded from Ethereum Classic etc. It is therefore a peaceful means to organize human beings.

This is, in my opinion, the fundamental revolution of blockchain: a peaceful trust machine for social agreements and human organization.

Blockchain trust