- What would “lesser Mexico” look like? Noel Maurer, The Power and the Money
- Picasso’s nudist streak Fiammetta Rocco, 1843
- In Asia, the copy is the original Byung-Chul Han, Aeon
- Pakistan’s Deadly Game with the U.S. Anthony Loyd, New Statesman
I just spent another two weeks in Mexico, in Puerto Vallarta to be specific, a town pretty much invented by Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. (See the movie “Night of the Iguana.”) The more time I spend in Mexico, the more I like Mexicans. I may have to repeat myself here.
Mexican cities are clean because people sweep in front of the their doors every morning without being told. Everybody there works or is seeking hard to work. Everybody is polite and friendly. One exception: an older taxi driver showed some discrete ill humor with me. I had mistakenly given him 15 cents (American) for a tip. That’s it. Every other interaction I had was gracious or better. (It’s true that my Spanish is good and that I was accompanied most of the time by my adorable 8 year-old granddaughter modeling a broad-brim straw hat.)
Every time I am in Mexico, I notice something new. This time, I was there during the summer vacation period and Mexicans from the US were numerous and very visible. They come to Mexico to kiss old grandpa and grandma, in one case, to get married, and to a large extent, for a vacation, like everyone else. They tend to be loud and better dressed than the locals. They are brisk consumers who buy their children the best beach equipment and all the tours available, like new consumers often do. Many are garrulous and strike up a conversation with strangers easily. They know their place in the sun. I may be dreaming but I think there is something distinctively American about them.
I also bumped into a surprisingly large number of “returnees for good,” including several who got stuck on the southern side of the southern border. Many more lived in the US (legally or not, we don’t often talked about that), made their pile, and took their savings and deliberately started life anew in the old country. One bought two taxis, several built houses, another acquired a ranch where some of his less urbanized relatives live and make a living. He mentioned cows, of course, but also horses. There is a whole program of upward mobility in the simple word “horses.” Unless you have a dude ranch (unknown in Mexico, I think), horses are only for recreation. Manuel, back from short-order cooking in Los Angeles, can even afford to have his children ride. All those brief Mexican acquaintances speak well of the US; they are proud of their stay in this country but they are happy to be back in Mexico for good. In 2009, my co-author Sergey Nikiforov and I had already stated about Mexican immigrants that Mexicans, by and large, would rather live in Mexico. (“If Mexicans and Americans could cross the border freely.” [pdf])
Returnees play all kinds of bridge roles where their American experience is useful. The main “client relations specialist” in my hotel was a 23 year-old guy who had been brought up (illegally) in Colorado. Of course, his English is perfect. Soon, he will open his own business, I think.
I don’t want to give the impression that the returnees’ fate is merely to serve the needs of American tourists and visitors. It seems to me that, like many bilingual people who have lived in more than one country, they are naturally cosmopolitan types who are useful in many non-domestic business situations. (I have modest qualifications to pass judgment here because I taught international business at an elementary level for 25 years. I also worked as a consultant in that field for several years.)
The average literate Mexican is an avid student of Americana. With the help of returnee relatives, he may actually excel there. Everyone below 30 in Mexico is studying English. I have said it before: in a few years, we will be begging them to come back.
Surprisingly little talk about “the wall.” Mexicans have a sense of humor. Of course, I, myself, believe that Pres. Trump will succeed. He will build a solar electricity-producing wall, sell the electricity to Mexicans at low cost (thus making them pay for the wall) and they will thank him!
A couple of thoughts about immigration. It seems that there is a widespread belief in the US that immigrants take jobs from Americans. It makes superficial sense if you also assume that the number of jobs to be filled is fixed and that just about anyone can do any kind of work.
Both assumptions are mostly false. Here is an example that illustrates why.
I keep hearing native-born Americans trained in various high-tech fields who claim that they are unemployed because of competition from low-cost H1B visa holders. H1B visas go to foreigners with skills deemed to be needed by the American economy. A large number of H1B visa holders are from India and many are from China; they also come from a wide variety of other countries, including Russia, France, Bulgaria, etc. The implicit affirmation is that were such visas stopped completely, those who complain would step right into the vacant jobs.
Two things. First the claim that foreign H1B visa holders work for less is largely unsubstantiated although it should be easy to investigate such abuse. Second, I think it’s illegal to pay H1B holders less than Americans. Why would many employers risk a distracting lawsuit? Of course, a few might because there are irrational people everywhere.
Next and last: Hundreds of thousands of high-tech jobs are going begging as I write. Are employers so vicious that they would rather have the work not done at all than to give it to a credentialed American? Or is it more likely that the unemployed native-born high-tech workers have skills that do not match demand? If the second supposition is correct, ending the H1B visa program would cause even more high-tech positions to remain empty. Of course, this would have a negative effect on everyone, on every American’s prosperity.
Missing from this narrative: the possibility that high power, accelerated re-training programs would bring unemployed Americans the skills the high-tech sector requires.
I have to begin a confession that’s going to make me even more unpopular locally than I already am. I mean unpopular among my conservative friends. I taught in an MBA program in the middle of Silicon Valley for 24 years, two quarters each year. It was an evening program squarely directed at the ambitious hard-working. During that span of time, I must have had 150 students from India. I remember only one who was a bad student. I was intrigued, so I made inquiries. Sure enough, he had an Indian first name and last name, and the corresponding appearance but he was born in the US.* I cannot report so glowingly about other, non-Indian students that sat in my classroom through the years.
This little narrative proves nothing, of course. Consider it food for thought. Do it especially if you voted for Pres. Trump – as I did.
Reminder: H1B visas are awarded to individuals with an occupational qualification deemed to be in short supply in the US. Right now, it’s likely that most of those who get an H1B are trained in some IT area but that’s not all. For a long time, farriers from everywhere could easily get one. (If you don’t know what a farrier is, shame on you and look it up.)
There are other – presumably non-specialized – categories of immigrants who are widely suspected of taking jobs from Americans. The truth is not always easy to discern, not even conceptually. Five or six miles from where I live in Santa Cruz, there are growers who are tearing off their hair. Their problem is that they can’t figure out who is going to pick the crops they are now putting into the ground. As I have said repeatedly, the Mexicans they counted on in years past have largely stopped coming.
A quarter of a mile from where I live, and in the same direction, there are dozens of perfectly healthy US-born Americans who are working as “sales associates.” The apparent conceptual issue is this: sales associates earn $10/hr while a moderately experienced crop picker earns $15. The question arises of why we don’t see a full exodus from the sales positions to jobs that pay 50% more?
I think it’s lazy to call the US-born sales associates “lazy.” The reality is that the Mexicans who came, and are still coming, to pick vegetables and fruits in California overwhelmingly came from a rural population. They were reared under conditions where almost everyone around them labored in the fields. When they arrive in the US – legally through family reunion – or illegally, they are ready to take picking jobs. They then just do here more or less the same work they would do at home but for five times the pay or more.
In American society that kind of population disappeared several generations ago through mechanization and, of course, through the importation of foreign labor, precisely. Native-born Americans won’t do the work because it’s alien to their background. I think US-born people of Mexican ascendancy whose parents labored in the field won’t do the work either. Their parents do what they can to make their own work experience alien to their children. I am not surprised, that’s another expression of the American dream. It’s what many would do back in Mexico but then, why emigrate?
I am pretty sure that any immigration reform should include a temporary agricultural program, a sort of H1A ( “A” for “Agriculture”) visa. It would allow foreigners to come to the US legally, just to work in the fields and for a set period only. It would not lead to permanent residency, nor, of course, to citizenship. Such a program existed between the forties and the early sixties, if memory serves. It was called the “Bracero program.” I don’t know why it was terminated. (Perhaps a reader can tell us.)
Mexicans would be the first to take advantage of such a program. As Mexico’s economy develops, they may be replaced by Central Americans and, eventually, by Africans. Such a program would sidestep the kind of assimilation problem France, for example, is facing right now with its North African population.
PS Personally, I think Mexicans make good immigrants to the US. I would bet than in ten years we will be begging them to come.
* Disclosure: I am married to an Indian woman. She is not in high-tech unfortunately.
President Trump was elected for a variety of reasons but any observant person knows that the general topic of immigration played a significant role. Mr Trump appears unfamiliar with the current American immigration system and he is ignorant of the economic benefits of immigration, or he downplays them. Below I address modest parts of both topics. I aim for sensationalism rather than for completeness.
First a little bit about the American immigration system such as it is in January 2017. There are two main bizarre ideas among Trump supporters about the real system: One regards who is allowed to come into this country (legally, I mean); the other strange misconception has to do with how aliens become US citizens.
The system by which the US admits immigrants is a little complicated and its description relies on a specialized legal jargon. In my considerable experience, few people have the patience to sit through a lecture on American immigration policy. So, let me cut to the chase:
THE NON-EXISTENT ORDERLY QUEUE
There is no way, zero way, the average married Mexican can legally immigrate into this country.
This is worth mentioning because many are under the impression that illegal immigrants are cheats who cut through the line instead of patiently waiting their turn.
The “average Mexican” does not have American-born children, children who are US citizens by birth. Mexicans who do have such children and the children are minors go to the head of the line. There is no (zero) line for those who don’t have close relatives who are Americans or legal immigrants. This example illustrates the US immigration policy that accounts for most legal immigrants in most years: Family re-unification.
Sophisticated people noticed long ago that there is an instantaneous way to acquire an American relative. It’s to marry an American. Doing so for the purpose of gaining admission to the US is illegal for both parties involved. I don’t know if anyone ever goes to jail for it but it’s ground for immediate deportation. Nevertheless, I am told by some of my immigrant friends that there is a thriving little cottage industry of visa brides and grooms for a fee in some parts of the country. I cannot verify this rumor but I believe it.
Similarly, there is only one way the average married Irish man or woman may immigrate into this country: Winning a lottery. (You read this right: a lottery which one may play as often as one wishes; it has not entry fee.) In 2015, only about 49,000 people, all from Europe and Africa, gained admission on the basis of winning that lottery.
Some legal immigrants gain admission under the broad category of “employment related reasons.” This category includes high-level programmers as well as farriers. (Look it up.) It’s a small number. In 2015 they made up about 15% of all one million-plus legal admissions. Our average Mexican and our average Irishman does not qualify here either.
You may have heard of an “investor’s visa” accorded to foreigners who will create employment in the US. That’s always a tiny number, about 10,000 in 2015. It’s not always open. Congress decides about if every so often.
There is a third main, amorphous way by which foreigners are admitted, “asylum” broadly defined. I call it “amorphous” because the definition of who is a refugee or an asylum seeker can be changed by Congress in a very short time. The President decides how many can be admitted in either category. The number admitted under this category is accordingly highly variable. It was about 150,000 in 2015. It could have become 500,000 in 2016 because of a new crisis anywhere in the world. (It didn’t.) The current, Trump figure of 50,000 seems just about normal historically. Yet, there is wide variation about the average.
There is thus no orderly queue that Felipe or Ahmed could join on their own if they wanted to avoid becoming illegal aliens.
That’s it, folks. If you want to know more about the raw numbers, study the relevant pages in the Statistical Abstract of the US.
So, contrary to what I suspect is a widespread idea among conservatives, it is not the case that there is an orderly, wide-open legal way to immigrate into this country that illegal immigrants perversely ignore. Illegal immigrants are not rudely jumping to the head of the line; they come in through a side-door the US does not seem able to close.
One more thing, a programmatic idea: Instead of the present admission policies (plural) based on viciously absurd selection we have, we could take a page from the Australian and from the Canadian playbooks. That is, we could coolly decide what kind of immigrants we want and try and tailor a door to those precise dimensions. Presently, we are doing very little of this, however unbelievable it may sound. Such a rational procedure would not not need to eliminate refugee and asylum seekers admissions.
I am personally in favor of such a reform . I also think special policies should apply to our proximate neighbors to the north and to the south. I developed this idea with Sergey Nikiforov in an article [pdf] published in the Independent Review several years ago.
Incidentally, I am a product of a rational immigration policy myself. I was admitted on merit alone. I rest my case! Thank you for asking. OK, truth be told, I tried to come in as a spouse of an American citizen but she dumped me.
On to the next misconstrued idea. I keep hearing (on talk radio, I confess) irate citizens affirming that foreigners who don’t want to take American citizenship should not be admitted. The case hardly arises.
In fact, in reality, to be allowed to become a US citizen, to take American citizenship, requires several years of residence in this country after being legally admitted. (See above.)
Hence, personal preference plays little role in determining which immigrant does not become a US citizen. I don’t have the numbers but I am sure that, as a rule, the vast majority of legal immigrants adopt American citizenship shortly after they are legally empowered to do so. It is true that, in theory, some hesitation or some problems may arise in connection with some countries of origin who do not wish to recognize dual citizenship. In practice, depriving anyone of his passport is low on the list of priorities of most countries from which new US citizens originate. (India may be an exception – a curious exception – as if the country were facing an unbearable burden of immigrants of all sorts.)
The consequence of this scenario is that, contrary to what I think is a widespread notion, there is no horde of legal immigrants living in this country and peevishly and disloyally refusing to take American citizenship. It also follows that there is no mass of illegal immigrants who obstinately refuse American citizenship. It’s not available to them, period.
I think it’s legitimate to be opposed to illegal immigration and even to legal immigration but it’s best to do on the basis of correct information.
There are two meanings here. I’ll define them below:
- There are open borders, where borders are open and anyone can move between them
- There are Open Borders, where borders to rich states are open to people from poor states, but the borders to poor states are closed to immigration
Open borders are fairer than closed borders. If people can move from poor states to rich ones, that’s good. But what about people who want to move from rich states to poor ones? Open Borders addresses the first issue but not the second one. Libertarians are enamored with the second type of open borders these days, for a couple of reasons. The main reason, and the only one I’m going to name here, is that most of us are pragmatic and therefore support any kind of liberalization in labor markets we can get. If we can get our respective polities to open up their borders to poor migrants, so be it. Let’s do this in any way we can.
But what we are advocating for is not open borders. It’s labor market liberalization. I understand the need for sloganeering these days. I get it. Y’all are thinking on the margin. I’m all for Open Borders.
How, though, do we get actual open borders?
How can senior citizens from the US have the freedom to choose retirement in not only Florida or Oregon, but Tamaulipas or Veracruz, too?
How can middle class Californians have the freedom to choose between not only Texas or Colorado for relocation, but Chihuahua or Neuvo Leon?
My answer is, of course, federation, but I also realize my argument is politically unfeasible for the time being (even though it’s an old argument). Any other ideas, or is Open Borders the best we can do for now?
Many of you already know that two of NOL‘s Senior Editors are associated with Econ Journal Watch, thus making its publication a family affair. Fred is on the editorial board and Warren is its math reader. Here are some of the highlights I found worth noting in the latest issue:
Eli Heckscher’s Ideological Migration Toward Market Liberalism: Benny Carlson explores the intellectual evolution of a great Swedish economist.
Classical Liberalism in Econ, by Country: Authors from around the world tell us about their country’s culture of political economy, in particular the vitality of liberalism in the original political sense, historically and currently, with special attention to professional economics as practiced in academia, think tanks, and intellectual networks.
Young Back Choi and Yong Yoon: Liberalism in Korea
Pavel Kuchař: Liberalism in Mexican Economic Thought, Past and Present
(All of the papers from this symposium, which has carried across multiple issues of EJW, are collected at this page.)
You can download the whole issue here (pdf).
Dr Khawaja, an Editor-at-Large for Reason Papers, reports (2/2/16) on the latest issue over at Policy of Truth:
The latest issue of Reason Papers, vol. 37, number 2 is now out; officially, it’s the Fall 2015 issue, but we only just managed to put it up on the website last night. This link will take you to a monster-size PDF to the whole issue (almost 250 pages). This link will take you to the journal’s Archive page, where you can access individual articles for this or any past issue (you have to scroll down a bit). Finally, this link will take you to three (time sensitive) Calls for Papers issued by the journal’s editors: one on “the philosophy of play” (March 1, 2016); one a fifteen-year retrospective on 9/11 (July 1, 2016); and one an Authors-Meet-Critics symposium on Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen’s forthcoming book The Perfectionist Turn: From Meta-Norms to Meta-Ethics (February 1, 2017).
My own small contribution to Reason Papers can be found here (pdf).
John: If I did not know better, I would think you are patronizing me. God will make you fall off your bikes if you do. Don’t say you were not warned.
The policies in existence for the past thirty years have gotten this country the worst of several immigration worlds: A large population that sinks into illegality because it or its parents committed a small misdemeanor. (A population that is illegal will quickly start competing with others in ways that cannot be resisted, among other things.) And it’s growing and it’s forbidden to have a stake in this country’s future, or in any country’s future. The current conservative alternative is to “close the border.” That’s a useless blowhard dream. Most illegals now just get a tourist visa, come by plane and stay. (It’s not a legend, I know some.) Do you really want a police state with no tourism at all? There used to be one. It was called the Soviet Union.
I am arguing that few Mexicans want to live in the US, first. Second, the few who do make good immigrant as compared to almost (almost) everyone else. Look into your heart: Is it the case that you really want to stop all immigration? That’s another discussion we could have, just not today and not until you declare yourself.
I repeat that the European Union has been operating for at least twenty years on the model I propose for Mexicans and for Americans only: Free movement, no path to citizenship. The EU suffers from many ills but , remarkably, that is not one of them. The strong anti-immigrant sentiment there that you read about is directed almost entirely at illegal immigrants and at refugees who are not natural neighbors of the EU, and against people who have no intention of going home ever.
No one in France is bitter about the English couple who came to open a pub. No one is disturbed by the so-called Polish plumbers in England who stay long enough to save for a down payment on a house in Poland.
I really hate to use the word (OMG, I do!) but many native-born Americans who are afraid of immigration seem to lack a basic form of sensitivity: Pulling up roots, leaving many relatives behind, learning a new language, being routinely patronized, is both very difficult and emotionally costly. Very few people want to endure this if they can avoid it. (The privilege of living say, in Detroit, does not always make up for it.) If you let them go back and forth, Mexicans will mostly not stay and will return to Mexico where, for one thing, they already know the language.
Fences don’t always make good neighbors. Fences are often so bad they make you lose control of what you wish to control. Bad fences are worth than no fences.
OK, John I have now chastised you much beyond what your own sins required. It’s just that you gave me an opportunity and I took it. Almost everything I hear in the US today about immigration is error-ridden, uninformed and downright childish.
This comes from Jacques’ post on Mexican immigration from a few months back, and is worth highlighting given all of the demagoguery to be found in the US presidential election (on both sides of the aisle).