Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Offense is in the Eye of the Offended

The current brouhaha over NFL players’ various postures with respect to the singing of the national anthem and attention or inattention to the flag has the Hatcher inspired to share more opinions no one ever asked for. 

The first observation which should be obvious to everyone but seems to always be lost is that criticizing an act of free speech is not a call to take away free speech.  You are entitled to speak freely, but you’re not entitled to never face criticism, which is of course something everyone understands when they are doling out the criticism.  That understanding seems to get lost when it is your own speech being criticized, and the leap to claim some mantle of victimhood with your fundamental rights being deprived is just evidence that your speech can’t be much worth listening to.

When Trump called for owners to fire their players who chose to use the national anthem as a protest venue, the NFL players in many cases doubled down with more joining the fray to make the next week a protest of Trump’s purported call to take away their first amendment rights.  A private employer has a right to restrict the free speech of its employees while on the job, and Trump was calling for such private employers to exercise that right.  He was not bringing the cold hard hand of government down on said players to restrict their first amendment rights.  The fact that protest then morphed into a protest of a straw man only serves to prove that really good football players by and large manage to get college degrees without mastering the basics of logic.  But then again, they are not alone in that regard.

All that said, mark me down in the column that says that while I disagree with this chosen mode of protest, I don’t care so much that I won’t watch the NFL or that I will hold certain players in contempt for their actions.  (If I don’t watch the NFL, it would be due to the damage Roger Goodell is doing to the reputation of gingers throughout the land).  You are allowed to disagree with someone without wishing that all manner of tragedy befall them, despite the fact that the social norms of Facebook debates seem to suggest that any degree of disagreement entitles you to extreme righteous hatred. 

Hating everyone you disagree with politically reduces people’s value to a function of opinions they hold that in most cases are not well thought out, or even particularly important in the grand scheme of their own life.  So now you’ve become aware of one voter who may choose opposite to you in a population of 300 million, and for that reason you choose to hate someone who for all you know may spend all his free time rescuing cats caught in trees?  Hate people because they beat defenseless puppies – it’s a pretty safe bet that is probably very well correlated with being an asshole in all phases of life; but voting R or D doesn’t correlate strictly with any virtue or vice.

The counter-argument to peaceful or even admiring tolerance of such protests is that those who take the most offense to such protests, soldiers and their families who have sacrificed their lives for the country, are at least culturally (if not legally) entitled to a veto over such acts as outside the pale of acceptable behavior.  That puts those who claim offense in the position of judging the unseen motivation of the act itself, notwithstanding the fact that most NFL players do not likely view their own kneeling during the anthem as disrespect to soldiers, or even perhaps the country as a whole.  Some would no doubt say that they are doing what they are doing out of a love for their country, and that a small peaceful act that may call attention to an issue where America can improve is an act of love rather than disrespect or hatred.  Personally, I’m inclined to believe the best motivation underlies actions that I still disagree with, rather than assuming the most sinister of motives truly applies.

With respect to the underlying issue sparking these protests – which I take to be a claim of systematic police abuse of African Americans – it is instructive to see that those in sympathy with the protests for this issue tend to deny the implicit veto claims of those offended by such protests.  That same crowd, however, is not above granting that veto power in certain circumstances.  For example, many who fly the Confederate flag insist that it is not for white supremacist reasons, and that they do so to identify with ideals held by the old South that are distinct and apart from slavery.  There were many natural tensions economically and culturally between the North and South that went beyond slavery, some of which still persist, making non-racist motivations at least plausible.  And yet, and rightfully so in my opinion, the visceral offense that such flag waving causes to African Americans is such that despite the possibility that someone might wave that flag for sincerely non-racist motives, there must be some other way to identify your allegiance to the forgotten virtues of the old South that does not provoke or offend.  But one must recognize that this puts one group (the offended) in the position of vetoing another over perceived motivations, even if the perception is inaccurate.  And the same argument can be made with respect to the flag issue – the visceral offense felt by a group we should hold in high esteem should be enough to call for a different mode of protest.

Finally, Trump was an ass in calling for the players to be fired, but he is a consistent ass, and he was playing like all politicians to his base, which regards the flag protests as a step too far.  Given the fact that it is very well paid athletes making such protests, he chose a safe target.  I am firmly convinced he knew when he said it no single owner would heed the call, and that he would do nothing beyond making additional blowhard statements decrying the cowardice of the owners.  That said, there is no doubt his statements feed into the overall Facebook debate culture in going so far as calling for the denial of people’s livelihood over a difference of opinion.  I’ve never seen that from a Republican before, and it is not pleasing to see it now. 

If you feel the same, and you are a person on the political left, I would ask you to consider the treatment of Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla, who was essentially run out of his livelihood over a stance against gay marriage made at a time when said stance was in line with that of every single mainstream Democratic politician in America, including Obama and both Clintons.  Or consider the occasional baker or florist who over the same issue have seen their livelihoods jeopardized by the state or a mob that seeks an extreme form of retribution over a difference of opinion.  In these instances, it was not mere tough talk on Facebook or a political rally that posed no real threat, and I hope I am wrong in assuming that few on the left viewed these ramifications as extreme and unjust.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

One Billion Muslims

Shortly after Trump was elected, I remember reading an article describing the Muslim ban he had suggested during his campaign as a proposed policy to ban over 1 billion Muslims from immigrating to the U.S.  Now, literally a ban on Muslims would potentially apply to over 1 billion Muslims, but practically there are fewer than a billion Muslims seeking entry to the U.S.

In that regard, the claim seemed purposefully inflammatory, intentionally trying to put Trump’s reticence on allowing all comers from the Middle East into the country as a policy that practically shuts the door on 1 billion would-be immigrants.  No doubt the author regarded any proposed Muslim ban as motivated by some combination of racism (even though Whities like Beau Bergdahl can join with Allah!) and discrimination against a marginalized religious minority (which is also mistaken, as most Muslims live in Muslim dominated countries). 

The description of the proposed ban in that extreme way suggests a useful thought experiment that I believe gives the lie to the knee-jerk accusation that setting limits on immigration from certain demographics is somehow morally reprehensible.  The experiment is simple – suppose that all 1 billion plus Muslims outside our shores sought to immigrate to the United States tomorrow.  Are you for it or against it?

If you are for it, let’s take the example one step further.  Let’s suppose that every single person of those billion immigrants has a preference for settling in your home state.   Still for it?  What if they all want to be in the same county as you?  And if you have in mind slyly moving to another state while professing your love of immigrants, suppose still that wherever you seek to move within the country, they will similarly see as a greener pasture and be on your heals.

Now, clearly putting 1 billion people of one religious faith in your 50 square mile county makes you an exceedingly small religious (or non-religious) minority within that county.  Maybe your county had as many as 1 million professed Christians (which is probably higher than any one county in the US).  Your religious group just went from a dominant and tolerant majority in the county to 0.1 percent of the population, with 99.9 percent Muslim presence.

Are you still OK with this?  Let’s say that you are.  Can you name for me any country in this world where an exceedingly small religious minority of Christians is able to freely practice their religion without persecution in a Muslim dominated country?  Can you name for a dominant Muslim country that Christians currently seek to immigrate to?  Or is it the opposite – are Christians generally fleeing such countries if possible?  Does the fact that no Christians are immigrating to Muslim dominated countries suggest something about the nature of living in Muslim dominated countries? 

If you think it is OK for one billion Muslims to move next door, but have no desire yourself to move to a Muslim country, what makes you think the end-result politically and culturally would not be the same? 

Anyone uncomfortable with these questions has been so indoctrinated by the concept that America’s diversity is its strength that they are blind to the obvious limitations of that propaganada.  And it is propaganda.  The Borjas book was largely about the economic effects of immigration, but he did touch on issues such as assimilation.  Discussing the research of a Harvard sociologist who was loathe to draw these conclusions from his research:

Immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to “hunker down.” Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. Putnam goes on to provide a long list of the seemingly harmful effects of increased ethnic diversity: lower confidence in government, lower voter registration rates, a lower probability of giving to charity or volunteering, and a lower chance of participating in community projects.

I’ve read about Putnam’s conclusions before in a funny little book called We Are Doomed.  The author described Putnam’s article as having a curious structure with three main sections:

The Prospects and Benefits of Immigration and Ethnic Diversity (three pages)
Immigration and Diversity Foster Social Isolation (nineteen pages)
Becoming Comfortable with Diversity (seven pages)

He then suggested a similar structure for a publication in a health journal with comparably self-contradicting section titles:

Health benefits of drinking green tea
Green tea causes intestinal cancer
Making the switch to green tea

Putnam, after all, understands the implications of bucking the diversity mob in academia, and so had to go through the hand wringing of drawing normative conclusions or recommendations that were clearly at odds with the positive findings of his research.

The diversity concerns are not separate from the underlying economic aspects of immigration.  This decline in social capital is happening in the low-rent neighborhoods where poor immigrants are forced to settle by economic necessity.  And it is not merely a racist reaction from whities wishing it was 1950s Happy Days again, as all groups – even the immigrants - find themselves hunkering down.  All rich liberals want diversity in very small doses for themselves, if at all, but in large doses for others whether they like it or not.  The costs of diversity all fall to a specific group.   The group that incurs none of those costs meanwhile safely preens about its high-mindedness, when in reality the issue doesn’t touch them.   

I think it would be absurd for anyone to argue that the importation of a billion Muslims would not fundamentally change the country for the worse.  Our Constitution wouldn’t protect us in a democracy where one billion culturally distinct people have common political interests that are antithetical to most of our best political and cultural traditions.  It is not wrong to keep people who view such traditions as obstacles and major flaws out of the country in the first place.  It’s not racist, it’s not oppressive, it’s common sense.  Some cultural differences imply the best approach is to keep such cultures separate, or otherwise to prudently manage the degree to which you allow immigration from Muslim countries to occur.  We should all agree that 1 billion is not the right number.  I would say 100 million or 10 million is still too high.  Whatever your number is, having a number beneath 1 billion doesn’t make you a racist.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Immigration - It's About the Money Not the Race

More than any other issue, illegal immigration is the reason Trump won the presidency. The anti-immigrant vibe in the country has a lot of people whipped up into a righteous outrage, as they see it exclusively in terms of race, and view opposition to a porous border as racist.  Racism may be a motive to oppose immigration, but it aint the only reason.  Immigration, like any other issue, implies economic tradeoffs for the citizenry – it creates winners and losers.  If enough people feel they are on the losing side of the tradeoff, they will justifiably and quite rationally vote to curb their losses. 

There is an economist by the name of George Borjas, himself a Cuban immigrant, that has a short and interesting book called We Wanted Workers that provides the data and the facts surrounding the redistributional effects of immigration.  Borjas put it bluntly: “Devoid of all the ideological trappings and all the deliberate obfuscations, immigration can be viewed for what it plainly is: another redistributive social policy.”  However, the redistribution in this case is from the working poor to the well off.

Whether you win or lose with immigration largely depends upon where you sit in comparison to the dominant immigrant group flowing into the labor market. When the immigrant influx is dominated by low-skill workers, as the wave of illegal immigration over the last twenty years had been, the losers from this are other low-skilled workers who see their wages and employment opportunities depressed.  The winners are the immigrants themselves, who come here for better employment prospects, and those in the workforce whose skill sets are such that they face no increased competition from said workers, but benefit from lower prices for services that they can and do outsource to low-skill labor. 

Every week I have teams of non-English speaking landscapers who manicure my lawn on the cheap, and clean the house.  Take those people out of the labor pool, the price of these services go up, and I let the lawn and the house go to hell, or I otherwise have to divert time away from making no money writing pointless blog posts for free.  Come to think of it, I’m not sure that would be a bad thing.  But still you get the point – it’s all at least potential upside for the Hatcher on the consumer side.  On the community side, the relative affluence of the hood keeps the public schools largely self-segregated by income, and therefore there is no downside of the schools being inundated with non-English speaking kids that create resource allocation issues for the schools.  Now, in private a guy like me could be a flaming racist, but the economics make a guy like me favor the immigration status quo.

If you are a high school dropout, you are in the opposite situation.  You compete directly against the incoming immigrants, and moreover you live in the same neighborhoods that feed into the same schools.  As a landscaper yourself, you don’t relish the fact that now you can have your lawn mowed on the cheap, as the same is true for all of your customers who are either beating you down on price or dropping your service.  From an economic standpoint, it’s all downside for you.  You could be the most racially tolerant guy on the planet, but the economics of the issue for you are such that you will fight against the immigration status quo tooth and nail. 

It is flattering for me in my community to say keep the border open (even as you need a code to get into my neighborhood) because I am open-minded and not a racist hick.  And if I am prone to pointing out the flaws in others, I might also accuse anyone who is against the status quo as being a racist hick.  All of this appears to be consistent with other pieces of evidence. For example, I live in an urban region, while all of these hicks are living in rural areas where everyone talks real slow.  I went to college where the administration carefully cultivated a diverse campus environment so that we could all pat ourselves on the back for our high-mindedness, whereas the high school dropouts on the farm only see black people on TV.  All of the evidence points to me as open-minded, and them as racist.  But all of the economic evidence also points to me as a clear economic beneficiary of immigration, and to them as clear losers.  Racist or not, they have a beef.

What is startling about the immigration debate is the lengths people go to in order to deny this underlying economic dynamic.  The laissez faire immigration policy (or lack thereof) carries with it massive redistribution effects on the citizenry that simply are ignored or glossed over.  If the same redistribution were achieved via a combination of tax and subsidy, it would be considered an outrage by most on the left who are concerned with income inequality, as it amounts to a tax on poor citizens to the benefit of well-off citizens. 

What’s the bottom line on immigration?  According to Borjas, once you factor in the increased reliance on welfare among the immigrant population, there is no net economic benefit to the native population.  However, there is a $500 billion redistribution from the lower-skilled native workers who compete against the dominant immigrant labor group, to the native population that faces no such competition.  If you assume this cost accrues evenly to a quarter of the native population (approximately 75 million people), this comes to $6,667 per person; that is no small tax.  Borjas boils one’s stance on immigration down to one question:  “In the end, the choice of an immigration policy is driven by the answer to: Who are you rooting for?”

Borjas also chronicles the efforts to ignore, deny, or obscure this evidence by pro-immigration media outlets (which include the Wall Street Journal – i.e., it’s not all liberal media; any libertarian leaning or pro-business leaning media will also be in this camp), which of course is not surprising.  In general, the people who comprise the media are not intelligent enough to follow and discern the economic debate among professionals, and therefore if there are professional economists who give the media the pro-immigration answer that they seek, they run with this as settled science.

Unfortunately, there is no lack of well-credentialed economists from reputable institutions with publications in refereed journals that cloud the issue.  Borjas makes quick and easy work of exposing the obvious flaws in the methodologies of the studies that purport, for example, to show that immigrant labor has had no effect on the wages of domestic labor.  One famous study that purported to show no effect involved a look at the labor market in Miami in the aftermath of the Mariel boat lift, when 125,000 Cubans immigrated to the Miami area in the early 1980s, almost two-thirds of which were high school dropouts.  The study looked at the wages for a broad group of native workers, rather than at the wages of the labor group that one would predict would be most affected by the competition with the Cuban immigrants – that of native born high school dropouts.  When Borjas revisited the issue and narrowed the focus to the correct labor group, of course he found a profound and negative effect on its wages. 

The pro-immigration economists, rather than being agnostic scientists going wherever the evidence leads, are also not shy about the fact that they are hell-bent on reaching a certain conclusion.  Borjas quotes two economists who have argued against Borjas’ analysis of the Mariel boatlift:  “We think the final goal of the economic profession should be to agree that . . . we do not find any significant evidence of a negative wage and employment effect of the Miami boatlift.”  Another economist, who looked at the issue and was surprised to find everyone sweeping the redistributive aspects of immigration under the rug, noticed the same: “A rabid collection of xenophobes and racists who are hostile to immigrants lose no opportunity to argue that migration is bad for indigenous populations. Understandably, this has triggered a reaction: desperate not to give succor to these groups, social scientists have strained every muscle to show that migration is good for everyone.”

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