Legal Immigration Into the United States (Part 4): Bad and Worse Immigrants, and Fallacies

A study by the Center for Immigration Studies indicates wide variations in immigrant families’ propensities to receive welfare, according to their country of origin. Unfortunately, the study was published in 2011. Based on the Center’s appearances on television, it’s fair to say that it’s mostly anti-immigration although I am sure this is an oversimplification.

The score for Mexicans is 57%, 33% for Russians, 19% for Chinese, 14% for Indians, and only 12.5% for (the ever-saintly) Canadians. But the report of these seemingly clear differences may harm rational decision making in the way I warn against above. There are three reasons.

First, by emphasizing country of origin, the table seems to assume that different national groups have been in the US for the same length of time. In fact, nearly all immigrants arrive poor. Now, suppose that the average time in country for Mexicans is one year, and ten years for the Chinese. The 38 percentage point gap might vanish if the Chinese immigrants captured by the table had also been in the country for only one year.  Obviously, those are made up figures. I don’t know what we would find if proper control for length of stay in country had been applied. It would have to be an average length of stay which complicates both data gathering and interpretation again although it can be done.

Second, immigrants from different countries probably belong to systematically different classes. This would affect their propensity to go on welfare, irrespective of national culture of origin. Suppose that all Indian immigrants are medical doctors or engineers, and all Mexicans casual laborers. This difference would suffice to account for the 43 point welfare gap between the two groups. The statement, “Indians are much less likely to go on welfare than Mexicans,” in this case, may be more about doctors and laborers than about Indians and Mexicans. That’s irrespective of time in-country. Note that I am not arguing that the two groups are equally desirable as immigrants but that their respective desirability may have nothing to do with the national propensity to go on welfare by Mexicans, specifically. I can think of arguments in favor of admitting more doctors and also arguments in favor of more laborers, factoring in the cost of their possible landing on welfare for a while. Note that the gap in two categories’ propensity to go on welfare may have no ethical meaning associated with nationality of origin. After all, we don’t know what the welfare participation of Mexican immigrants would be if they were at all doctors.

Third, we have to look at immigrants contributions, positive and negative, across several generations, as we do in connection with Latino youth gangs, for example. In fact, immigrants of the same national origin may be objectionable today while their children may be desirable for American society tomorrow. An example: Suppose all Mexican immigrants are young, married, unschooled laborers from rural backgrounds. Such people tend to have many children – more than, say, unmarried, older men from the best engineering schools in India. The first group will be more likely to go on welfare than the second and it will supply America society in the next generation with more contributors to the Social Security fund. In this scenario, paradoxically, the large number of Mexican immigrants may compensate for the likely lower income of their children compared to both the native-born and other immigrants’ children.

[Editor’s note: In case you missed it, here is the link to Part 3]

This week in ‘libertarian straw man fallacies’

It’s a goodie. It comes from William Falk, the editor-in-chief of the right-of-center The Week magazine. After castigating Senator Rand Paul and libertarian parents for their responsibility in the measles outbreak in California (with its epicenters in Left-wing Marin county and Left-wing City of Santa Monica; how libertarians came to be blamed for the outbreak I’ll never know), Falk writes:

Libertarians are absolutely right that personal freedom is important — and easily eroded. Left unchecked, government does indeed presume too much control over our decisions, our money, and our privacy. But in a country of 320 million souls, what we do affects each other — sometimes profoundly. In a libertarian paradise, Americans would still be free to smoke in enclosed offices and restaurants, and 50 percent of the population would still be lighting up — sticking society with their health-care costs. No one would be required to wear a seat belt in the car. And yes, vaccinations would be strictly optional, and the nation’s “herd immunity” would disappear. As an old adage points out, your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of another person’s nose. So go ahead, swing your fist — but good luck finding a space that doesn’t have a nose in it.

Ouch! Falk is such a good daddy. He gives libertarians the spanking they deserve: not too hard, not too soft, but juuuust right. Imma break this one down point-by-point.

Libertarians are absolutely right that personal freedom is important — and easily eroded. Left unchecked, government does indeed presume too much control over our decisions, our money, and our privacy.

Notice Falk’s all-too-reasonable lead-in. He gives off the vibe that he is the moderate one here, because he understands the libertarian argument and that, therefore, he is in control.


Ah yes. While Falk is in control, libertarians themselves are not in control. They have no idea what they are doing. Falk understands this about libertarianism. Libertarians do not.

in a country of 320 million souls, what we do affects each other — sometimes profoundly.

Again, Falk is kindly explaining a concept to libertarians that they don’t understand. Falk knows libertarians don’t understand this because he understands libertarianism better than libertarians do. Falk, a moderate conservative, or perhaps a moderate Leftist, knows that libertarians cannot possibly grasp this concept. I do wonder though – even with all of Falk’s superior knowledge of how societies work – if he realizes that government actors are just people, and that they are beholden to the same laws and institutions as the rest of us. Or is Falk’s omnipotent point about 320 million souls one that only applies to those he disagrees with?

Does he include support for bad laws in this maxim?

In a libertarian paradise, Americans would still be free to smoke in enclosed offices and restaurants, and 50 percent of the population would still be lighting up

Lol! In a libertarian paradise, the owners of the offices and restaurants would decide who gets to smoke what where. I can’t add much more to the 50 percent claim, except to laugh out loud again.

sticking society with their health-care costs.

Wait. In a libertarian paradise, wouldn’t each and every atomized individual be stuck paying their own bills in a Darwinian fashion? Even Falk’s straw man is knocking down straw men.

No one would be required to wear a seat belt in the car.

True, and not a day too soon, either. Ralph Nader is a mommy’s boy.

And yes, vaccinations would be strictly optional, and the nation’s “herd immunity” would disappear.

Why would people stop getting vaccines? And here, at last, with this question, we come to the root of all fallacies. The implicit assumption in Falk’s entire argument is, of course, that without government coercion people would be too stupid to get vaccines. People would be too stupid to do a lot of things Falk deems necessary for a good life. Therefore Falk is forced to rely on government, on law, and on society to justify his blatant authoritarian impulses, and if these fallacies are challenged, as they have been for the past twenty five years or so, then Falk and other authoritarians turn to more base fallacies.

The Week‘s alexa ranking is 4,024. Notes On Liberty‘s is 811,551. The lower the number, the higher the rank.

This is what we’re up against.

From the Comments: Fallacies in the Threads

We don’t get as many trolls here as we used to, but every once in a while somebody will throw their garbage out the window as they drive by our humble consortium. Marvin’s comments in Dr Foldvary’s recent post on myths about libertarianism is a case in point. Attempting to take me to task for committing a logical fallacy, he  writes:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Dr Foldvary quit arguing with you because he has seen your fallacies over and over again throughout a long and distinguished career as an academic economist.”

Again, appealing to authority is not making a reasoned argument. You seem to be taking offense that anyone who would dare to disagree with or question anything he or you have said. Taking offense where none has been given is also rhetoric, not reason.

Just two things:

  1. An appeal to authority would have to involve me stating that Dr Foldvary is correct because he is an economist. I obviously made no such argument. I was merely trying to point out Marvin’s boorish manners and Fred’s subsequent, predictable reaction.
  2. I don’t see where I have “taken offense” in this thread. Marvin falsely charges me with doing so, and then goes on to suggest that I am angry because he disagrees with me. Now, Marvin would have a decent point if it were true that I was angry with his argument, but as it stands he is simply invoking his imagination in order to make his argument look better.

There is a reason Marvin has done this (I doubt it was a conscious one). He writes:

Brandon [again, quoting me]: “What exactly are you trying to refute, and which aspect of your argument refutes Dr Foldvary’s?”

First, it’s not Dr. Foldvary that I am having difficulty with. It is rather the unsubstantiated myths promoted by Libertarians generally that are the problem. For example, “In my judgment, when most people recognize natural moral law as the proper basis for governance, we will be able to have a truly free society.”

It is nothing but a rhetorical claim to say that my personal collection of moral laws are “natural”, “God given”, or “inherent”. Jefferson was speaking rhetorically (to sway emotional support) when he said “endowed by their Creator”. But when he said, “to secure these rights, governments are instituted” he was speaking of practical rights.

Can you spot the fallacy? I ask for an example of what Marvin is arguing against and he replies by changing the subject (from Fred’s argument to “Libertarians generally”). This particular fallacy is known as a red herring fallacy. In it, Marvin goes from ignoring Fred’s original argument to knocking down a “general” argument that he attributes to libertarians. How convenient!

Now, that’s two separate fallacies in one reply. Is it worth my time to respond? A fallacy is defined as being either a false or mistaken idea, or  as possessing a deceptive appearance. Marvin’s fallacies are a mixture of both, I think, and it would seem, based on his reasoning and on his dogmatic beliefs, that he is, in the words of alcoholics everywhere, fundamentally incapable of being honest with himself.

Nevertheless, I’d like to think that Marvin’s fallacies are based more on a false idea than on deception (I think the deception is largely for himself, anyway). So I’ll humor him one last time:

Brandon [quoting me]: “Being prohibited from killing another human being is not a restriction on freedom (same goes for stealing) because killing restricts the freedom of others.”

Actually, being prohibited from doing anything is a restriction upon the freedom of the person who wants to do that thing. The OD says, for example, freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”. Obviously if someone wants to steal and is prohibited from stealing, then his freedom is restricted.

You seem to have adopted a different definition, in which a rule against stealing is not really a restriction on freedom because it promotes the optimal freedom for everyone. I don’t think you’ll find that in the OD.

On the other hand, I do agree that all rules are intended to improve the total good and reduce the total harm for everyone. But to achieve that benefit, the rule diminishes the total liberty of everyone.

This is a much more sophisticated fallacy, but it is a fallacy nonetheless. Marvin is trying to discredit libertarianism by arguing that total freedom allows for individuals to steal and kill as they please. This is utterly false, and I’ll get to why in just a minute, but first I think it is important to highlight Marvin’s underlying logic behind this fallacy so that in the future we can all do a better job of rooting out dishonesty from our debates on liberty.

Marvin argues that total freedom must allow for killing and stealing, and only restrictions upon killing and stealing are able to prevent such occurrences from happening regularly. By framing the debate in this way, it then follows that restrictions upon other freedoms (ones that may come to be deemed harmful to society by some) are a logical and beneficial response to social problems. Do you follow? If not, you know where the ‘comments’ section is.

Marvin’s fallacious reasoning in this regard is on full display throughout the thread (please read it yourself).

Yet killing and stealing are not actions that can be found in total freedom (“the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”). Killing and stealing are actions that can be found throughout the animal kingdom. Does this make animals free?

Of course not, and this is because freedom is a distinctly human notion. Rules and agreements do not diminish total liberty. There is the possibility that total liberty can be diminished by rules. Nobody disputes this. To suggest that (capital-L) “Libertarians generally” do dispute this is disingenuous. It’s also convenient for Marvin’s fallacy.

Total freedom will not be achieved in our lifetimes. It will not be achieved in our grandchildren’s lifetimes. This doesn’t mean it should not be held up as an ideal to aspire to. Ignoring or ceding the ideal of total freedom means that the Marvins of the world will continue to get their Social Security checks in the mail.