1. Armistice Day John Quiggin, Crooked Timber
  2. The Second Hundred Years’ War Nick Nielsen, The View from Oregon
  3. When the World Tried to Outlaw War Stephen Wertheim, the Nation
  4. Blood, Oil, and Citizenship Kenan Malik, Guardian

Legal Immigration Into the United States (Part 18): Reforms I Would Favor

Now, here is what I, personally, a US citizen and an appreciative immigrant, as well as a small government conservative, would like to see happen: As I pointed out before, most liberals and quite a few conservatives perceive allowing all immigration as a sort of altruistic gesture. That includes those who do not overtly call for open borders but whose concrete proposals (“Abolish ICE.”) would result in a soft state that would provide the equivalent of open borders. As far as I can tell – with the major exception of Tabarrok, discussed above – many pure libertarians whisper that they are all for open borders, but they only whisper it. I speculate that they are forced to take this principled but unreasonable position to avoid having to defend the nation-state as a necessary institutional arrangement to control immigration.  Frankly, I wish they would come out of the closet and I hope this essay will shame some into doing so.

The most urgent thing to my mind is to separate conceptually and bureaucratically with the utmost vigor, immigration intended to benefit us, American citizens and lawfully admitted immigrants, and beyond us, to promote a version of the American polity close to the Founders’ vision, on the one hand, from immigration intended to help someone else, or something else, on the other. The US can afford both but the amalgam of the two leads to bad policies. (See, for example the story “The Refugee Detectives: Inside Germany’s High-Stake Operation to Sort People Fleeing Death…” by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic, April 2018.)

Next, I think conservatives should favor, for now, an upper numerical limit to immigration, one pegged perhaps to the growth of our domestic population. Though my heart is not in it, it seems to me that this is a prudent recommendation in view of the threatening prospect of a Democratic one-party governance.

The first category of immigrants would be admitted on some sort of merit basis, as I said, perhaps a version of the system I discuss above. The second category would include all refugees and asylum seekers, and, to a limited extent, their relatives. Given a strictly altruistic intent in accepting such people, Congress and the President jointly would be in a better position than they are today to apply any strictures at all, including philosophical and even religious tests of compatibility with central features of American legal and philosophical tradition – if any. (Of course, in spite of the courts’ interventions in the matter, I have not found the part of the Constitution that forbids the Federal Government from barring anyone it wants, including on religious grounds. Rational arguments can be made against such decisions but they are not anchored in the Constitution, I believe. (See constitutional lawyers David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey’s analysis: “The Judicial ‘Resistance’ is Futile” in the Wall Street Journal of 2/7/18.)

I think thus both that we could admit many more people seeking shelter from war and other catastrophes than we do, and that we should vet them extensively and deeply. We could also rehabilitate the notion of provisional admission. Many of the large number of current Syrian refugees would not doubt like to go home if it were possible. Such refugees could be given, say, a five-year renewable visa. As I pointed out above, some beliefs system are but little compatible with peaceful assimilation into American society. This can be said aloud without proffering superfluous insults toward any group.  National hypocrisy does not make sense because it rarely fools anyone. In general, I think all American society has been too shy in this connection, too submissive to political correctness. So, think of this example: French constitutions, most of the fifteen of them anyway, proclaim the primacy of something called “the general interest,” a wide open door to authoritarian collectivism if there ever was one. There is no reason to not query French would-be immigrants on this account. I would gladly take points off for answers expressing a submissiveness to this viewpoint. (Yes, I am one of those who suspect that the French Revolution is one of the mothers of democracy but also, of Communism and of Fascism.)

Similarly Muslim religious authorities as well as would-be Muslim immigrants could be challenged like this: Just tell us publicly if Islamic dogma welcomes separation of religion and government. State, also in public, loudly and clearly that apostasy does not deserve death, that it deserves no punishment at all. Admission decisions would be a function of the answers given. Sure, people would be coached and many would cheat but, they would be on record. The most sincere would not accept going on record against their doctrine. Sorry to be so cynical but I don’t fear the least sincere!

The underlying reasoning for such policies of exclusion is this: First, I repeat that there is no ethical system that obligates American society to commit suicide, fast or slowly; second, probabilistic calculations of danger and of usefulness both are the only practicable ones in the matter of admitting different groups and categories. (I don’t avoid jumping from planes with a parachute because those who do die every time they try but because they die more often than those who don’t.) Based on recent experience (twenty years+), Muslims are more likely to commit terrorist acts than Lutherans. (It’s also true that there is a very low probability for both groups.) Based on common sense and the news, most Mexicans must have acquired a high tolerance for political corruption. Based on longer experience, many Western Europeans have extensive and expensive expectations regarding the availability of tax supported welfare benefits. Based – perhaps- on one thousand years of observation, the Chinese tend to favor collective discipline over individual rights more than Americans do. (See my: “Muslim Refugees in perspective.”)

Pronouncing aloud these probabilistic statements does not shut off the possibility of ignoring them because immigrants from the same groups bring with them many improvements to American society, of course. I could easily allow a handful of well chosen French chefs to come in despite of their deep belief in the existence of a common public interest. I even have a list ready. Admitting facts is not the same as making decisions. I can also imagine a permanent invitation to anyone to challenge publicly such generalizations. It would have at least the merit of clearing the air.

Last and very importantly: Invalidating the generalizations I make above, to an unknown extent, is the likelihood that immigrants are not a true sample of their population of origin: Chinese immigrants may tend to have an anarchist streak; that may be the very reason they want to live in the US. Mexicans may seek to move to the US precisely to flee corruption for which they have a low tolerance, etc. The French individuals wishing to come to the US may be trying to escape the shadow of authoritarianism they perceive in French political thought, etc.

[Editor’s note: in case you missed it, here is Part 17]

Legal Immigration Into the United States (Part 16): Toward a One-Party System?

There exists a prospect that continued immigration of the same form as today’s immigration could provide the Democratic Party with an eternal national majority. The US could thus become a de facto one-party state from the simple interplay of demographic forces, including immigration. There are three potential solutions to this problem, the first of which is seldom publicly discussed, for some reason. As the European Union has been showing for thirty years or so, residence in a particular country should not necessarily imply citizenship, the exercise of political rights, in the same country. Ten of thousands of Germans live permanently in France and in Spain. They vote in Germany. (In July 2018, a German woman, thus a citizen of the European Union, who had lived and worked in France for 25 years, and with a French citizen son, was denied French citizenship!) This arrangement, separating residency from citizenship, seems to pose no obvious problem in Europe. (Nikiforov and I discussed this solution in our article in the Independent Review.)

Curiously, in the current narrative, there are no loud GOP voices proposing a compromise with respect to some categories of illegal aliens, I mean, legalization without a path to citizenship. This is puzzling because this is precisely what many illegal aliens says they aspire to. Latin Americans and especially Mexicans frequently say they want to work in the US but would prefer to raise their children back home. (See, for example the good descriptive narrative by Grant Wishard, “A Border Ballad” in the Weekly Standard, 3/9/18.) The simple proposition that easy admission could go with no path to citizenship has the potential to transform immigration to the US, to dry up its illegal branch, and to facilitate border control to a great extent. Yet, there is no apparent attempt to wean immigrants away in this fashion from their Democrat sponsors. The GOP does not seem to have enough initiative to try to reach agreement with immigrant organizations on this basis thus by-passing the Democratic Party. Again, the silence concerning this strategy is puzzling.

In early 2018, President Trump seems to be seeking an answer to the problem of a permanent Democratic takeover by combining the two next solutions. First, would come a reduction in the absolute number allowed to immigrate. Fewer immigrants, fewer Demo voters, obviously. Small government conservatives like me, and rational libertarians also, might simply want to favor reduced immigration as the only sure way to avoid a one-party system even as we believe in the economic and other virtues of immigration.

The second conceptual solution consists in the broad adoption of so-called “merit-based” immigration. There is an unspoken assumption that a merit-based system would produce more middle-class immigrants and, therefore more conservatively oriented immigrants. This assumption is shaky at best. The example of  much of the current high-tech Indian immigrants  is not encouraging in this respect. More generally, immigrants with college degrees, for example, might turn out more solidly on the left than the current rural, semi-literates from underdeveloped countries who are also avid for upward mobility. The latter also frequently are religious, a condition the Democratic Party is increasingly apt to persecute, at least implicitly. At any rate, reducing the absolute size of immigration carries costs described throughout this essay and merit-based immigration is no panacea, as explained below. I fear that some significant trade-offs between political and other concerns are going to be implemented without real discussion.

[Editor’s note: in case you missed it, here is Part 15]

Legal Immigration Into the United States: Introduction (Part 1 of 6)

This an essay about legal immigration. It includes a theoretical framework, essential facts, and subjective opinions. In this old-fashioned piece, there is no pretense of scholarly detachment. It’s a personal endeavor that I hope will be useful to others. I don’t have a hidden agenda but topical preferences I think I make clear. Footnote 1 describes my qualifications to discuss immigration. You might surmise that I have a more pro-immigration bias than most small-government conservatives but not than most libertarians (but who knows about them?). I deal with American immigration, specifically. I present rough figures only, trying to add some orders of magnitudes to the current complicated media narrative, and to establish distinctions that don’t always occur naturally. I don’t aim at precision. If mistakes of fact slip into my story, I hope readers will draw attention to them and thus, perhaps, start a conversation here. My few policy recommendations are all tentative but I hope they are logically linked both to orders of magnitudes and to conceptual distinctions.

I choose to address legal immigration specifically for two categories of reasons. First, there are reasonably good, trustworthy figures regarding legal immigration, while numbers for illegal immigration are largely estimated from data gathered for other purposes and often according to wobbly rules. Second, the relationship between legal immigration and illegal immigration is complicated enough to justify an essay all of its own. Here is a sample: Many illegal immigrants, especially many Mexicans, argue that there would be less illegal immigration into the US if there were more doors open through legal immigration. Yet, as I show below, to a considerable extent legal immigration facilitates illegal immigration and thus increases the numbers of illegal immigrants. So the numerical relationship between the two appears both negative and positive. In a co-authored article (referenced in Footnote 2) I examined the complex links between legal and illegal immigration in the special and numerically important case of Mexicans. Though that article dates back to 2009, it remains remarkably current in some respect. In the present essay I only refer tangentially to illegal immigration and only insofar as it serves my main object. Continue reading


  1. Death of a Marxist Vijay Prashad, The Hindu
  2. We’re on the threshold of a third wave of globalization. What should we expect? Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
  3. Turkey kills PKK’s leader in Iraq Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor
  4. France’s second-class citizens Haythem Guesmi, Africa is a Country


  1. Turkish underworld joins war on journalists Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor
  2. Turkish underworld has long history of working for Ankara Barry Stocker, NOL
  3. Russia meddles in Greece-Macedonia name bargain Kerin Hope, Financial Times
  4. The ugly plight of Turkey’s hidden Armenians Kapil Komireddi, the National


  1. Belgium struggles to manage its burgeoning Islamic scene Bruce Clark, Erasmus
  2. Juul Madness John Tierney, City Journal
  3. Citizenship is the new caste system Rachel Lu, the Week
  4. Hope and fear in a world of uncertainty Kenan Malik, Guardian