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Diversity Really is Our Strength
Immigration destroys social cohesion. Good.
Some people are naturally tribal and don’t like immigration. So they’ll use whatever justifications they can come up with to argue against it. I’ve seen the topic of immigration make capitalists talk like trade unionists when thinking about wages, and people who’ve never shown any interest in climate policy start worrying about carbon emissions. There’s been a lot of controversy around whether immigrants litter too much, but I never see the people making this complaint talk about littering in any other context. It makes me suspect that it might not be their main concern.
It’s kind of pointless to argue about climate policy with people who don’t think that much about the climate, or wages with people who believe that one set of laws of economics applies when you’re dealing with citizens and another when you’re dealing with foreigners. Most anti-immigration arguments can be dismissed as emotional outbursts that mask concerns people don’t want to be completely honest about.
Of all the anti-immigration arguments that have been made, I see two that one should take seriously and are not just covers for other concerns. These are that immigrants vote for the left, and, relatedly, that they make the country poorer and less functioning due to their lower IQs. I don’t think these are great arguments, but they’re the best that restrictionists have, so they will be the ones I address here. In the end, I don’t think there’s much to suggest we should be concerned about how many immigrants are currently coming to the United States, or the characteristics of newcomers, and in fact we should be letting a lot more people in.
Public Opinion is Already Socialist
This argument that immigrants will make the country more liberal is straightforward and has a surface plausibility, but I think it sort of misunderstands why some countries have pro-market policies and others don’t in the first place. Restrictionists imply that America is relatively capitalist because it has a population that supports markets, which manifests itself in voting Republican. People who want to redistribute wealth support Democrats, and if you import more Democrat voters you’ll get more left-wing economic policies.
The bad news is that it’s true that in general, Hispanics and Asians do express more support for various forms of government spending than whites. Yet if the existence of markets depended on the state of public opinion, we would’ve become a social democracy a long time ago.
Here’s one poll of many showing that, when it comes to basically everything government does, the vast majority of the population wants to either increase spending or spend the same amount. There is no substantial constituency for small government.
There’s a left-wing polling firm called Data for Progress that keeps releasing survey results showing how much the public wants to bleed the rich and give to the poor. One poll from last year showed that 77% of registered voters supported caps on energy prices, and this included 83% of Democrats and 76% of Republicans. This of course would’ve been a terrible idea, and we thankfully didn’t end up doing it.
If public opinion is so socialist, why do we have markets at all? Why don’t government spending and economic regulation increase indefinitely until we’re the Soviet Union? This is the question we need to ask before we get into the topic of the likely impacts of demographic change. There several reasons, but I want to highlight four that I think are particularly important.
Experts have a disproportionate influence on public policy, and as Bryan Caplan points out in The Myth of the Rational Voter, economists, whether on the right or left, are more pro-market than the masses.
People vote on things other than their opinions on economic issues. Republican voters in particular choose politicians based on their tribal instincts and social values. Democrats in the 2020 primary may have agreed with Sanders more than Biden on some issues, but worried about electability and did not want to think of themselves as radicals.
Rich individuals and corporations lobby on behalf of their own interests. Sometimes this will involve fighting for crony capitalism, but other times it means just trying to be left alone.
Checks and balances. In some countries, the designers of system granted certain individual rights and made it very hard to change things. This places limits on what government can do, and sometimes hinders attempts at redistribution. The ghost of James Madison continues to frustrate the designs of the AOCs of the world.
Basically, one can understand democratic capitalism as elites continually having to run circles around citizens, who would destroy our standard of living if they ever truly got what they wanted.
The question about immigration, then, isn’t so much whether it will lead to a public that is less pro-market. That matters, but the gap between public opinion and policy is so large that this is only a minor concern. Rather, the question is whether changing demographics will help or hinder our ability to achieve pro-market policy outcomes in the world as it exists.
Smarter restrictionists like to point to the connection between national IQ and GDP, and they produce graphs like the one below.
It seems that all advanced nations basically converge on some kind of social democracy, and end up mediocre given their potential. The countries that are major outliers in the positive direction, that is, much richer than you would expect from their IQ, tend to have some weird quirks that hinder this natural process. UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are all monarchies with oil, and Singapore is a kind of soft dictatorship. Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Macao draw in tourist dollars and provide banking services for the globally wealthy.
Interestingly, ethnolinguistic diversity seems to be common among overperformers. Citizens in Qatar make up less than 15% of the population. In contrast, if you look at countries under the line, many seem to suffer from an excess of homogeneity. The worst performing country relative to IQ is easily North Korea. It’s probably the most socially cohesive nation in the world too. Had they had some diversity, perhaps it would’ve been harder to form a totalitarian state based on a socialist ideology that starved its own people. There would’ve been too much discord and instability for one family to turn everyone into slaves.
The US is the largest outlier in the positive direction for any large nation, that is, one with at least 50 million people. It’s good to think about why we’re so exceptional, which is something the IQ crowd tends to ignore.
See also this table comparing the per capita GDPs of various American states to those of advanced countries. This is from 2014, but nothing much has changed since then.
Alabama, which is more than a quarter black with most of the rest of the state not exactly composed of the highest performing whites, is wealthier than Japan or South Korea. Tennessee and Missouri are just above Germany and Sweden. Clearly, demographics don’t explain everything.
What’s going on here is that the US has freer markets than most other advanced countries. It historically has had less government spending as a percentage of GDP, a weaker social safety net, and fewer economic regulations. The US is particularly good on labor law. It’s easy to hire and fire people, and unions have relatively little power. The few places where they are strong have led to disastrous societal consequences. Here’s something called the “Labour Rights Index,” put out by a pro-union organization, and you can see that the “worst performing” countries on labor rights tend to be places that are richer than you would predict from their IQ.
Why We Didn’t Become a Social Democracy
We might be able to tell ourselves a story in which American whites are just more freedom loving than other people. Yet history makes clear that white Americans did not turn against big government, or at least the idea of big government, until after the rise of modern liberalism in the 1960s. The twentieth century was marked by two consequential presidents who made Washington into the behemoth it is today: FDR, whose administration gave us Social Security and the National Labor Relations Act, and Johnson, who gave us Medicare, Medicaid, and the Civil Rights Act. If you look at the federal budget today, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid together make up the majority of domestic spending, and their share is growing. We got the most consequential expansions of government back when the country was at its most unified.
After the 1960s, it became impossible to get overwhelming majorities in favor of major additions to the welfare state. Republicans in particular went far to the right on economics, and they started winning more elections. This wasn’t because white Americans suddenly decided markets were good. Again, all populations hate markets, because it takes too high of an IQ to appreciate them, and even among those smart enough, you still have to be more interested in truth than supporting things that sound good in order to give capitalism its due. Rather, white Americans, particularly in the South, had a negative reaction to affirmative action, urban disorder, and other indications that the liberal establishment had turned against its own citizens.
In the 1990s, we saw the beginnings of a backlash to immigration that added to the list of standard complaints of Republican voters. Years later, there was the rise of the Tea Party. While liberals pointed out that many of the voters who identified with the movement supported entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, the Tea Party elevated right-wing ideologues hostile to government spending to positions of power. Political scientists have clearly shown that attitudes towards race are highly correlated with opinions on government spending and partisan identification, yet white Americans are in favor of welfare for the old. This isn’t an accident.
Not that Republicans have actually cut spending. But I think the successes of the conservative movement have to be placed in their proper context. People dislike markets, and like government redistribution. For a democracy to go over half a century without any new massive government welfare programs at the level of Social Security, Medicaid, etc. is quite the accomplishment. I don’t think it would’ve happened without diversity. The biggest drivers of government spending are now the entitlement programs that an overwhelmingly white country supported in the 1930s and again in the 1960s.
None of this guarantees that we can expect immigration to always have a positive effect on our politics and make it more difficult to have a welfare state. Only that one can’t simply predict what our politics are going to be like decades from now by looking at how people vote today and then extrapolating into the future. When you have demographic change, you have a backlash to it, and no one can say what the end result of all this will be. If someone in the mid-1960s was told that the country was going to become much less white, and new arrivals would be much more likely to support government welfare programs, they would’ve likely predicted many more FDRs and LBJs. But we fortunately haven’t had one, thanks to the fact that Republicans were able to take advantage of the backlash to the 1960s, and libertarian orthodoxy became well represented within the party.
Here’s a plausible argument of how we might get an American Hugo Chavez, based on a coalition of new immigrants and white socialists. It’s not impossible, but one might also think that more diversity will increase social tensions, enough to continue making new expansions of the welfare state impossible. It seems that, historically, people either focus on class or they focus on other forms of identity. Some leftists think that emphasizing class is better, so will criticize wokeness for being a distraction, arguing that poor people of all backgrounds need to come together and fight the rich. From my perspective, class based politics is much worse. Affirmative action is a tax that market economies can afford to pay, while trade unionism, anti-competitive regulations, and redistributionist policies are fundamentally larger threats to systems that produce wealth.
America is Already Low IQ
One might say that even if immigration makes socialism less likely, if you become a stupider country in the process then you can still expect to be poorer. The problem with this is that America is already lower IQ than most other advanced countries. And immigration doesn’t make us dumber to any great degree.
Many restrictionists seem to be operating under the assumption that the US has the same demographics it did in the 1960s. But today, only around 52% of births are white, 23% are Hispanic, 15% are black, and 7% are Asian. Let’s peg white IQ at 100, Hispanics at 92, blacks at 85, and Asians at 105. We still have 3% for other, and let’s just give them an IQ of 95.
This alone means that the average IQ of newborns in the US is already around 95. It’s actually probably lower than that due to dysgenic fertility, which seems to be knocking at least 1 IQ point off each generation. We can therefore estimate the IQ of American newborns to be 94.
According to a recent nationally representative sample of 10 year-olds, children whose parents are from Central or South America have an IQ of 95, and White Mexicans, White Cubans, and “Other Hispanics” are all around 92. So Hispanic immigrants aren’t really that far below the national average of the next generation of Americans, if at all. With immigration, you basically have a lot of Asians coming in above the national average, some Hispanics maybe a bit below, and it all approximately balances out. This is assuming that Hispanics don’t make any IQ gains as they assimilate, which seems unlikely. Of course, this calculation would be different if you’re Japan and thinking about opening your borders to sub-Saharan Africa, but in America current immigration policies mean you’re basically treading water on average IQ, with the added benefit of improving your smart fraction, which may be more important than the average.
All of this accepts the premise that having more low IQ people is automatically bad for natives. Unless they’re committing a lot of crime or bringing economic leftism, however, that’s usually not true. The Hispanic crime rate doesn’t seem to be high at all once you adjust for age, and this essay argues against the idea that one can be sure about what the political impacts of immigration on the country will be. I think that the IQ and income data suffers from the basic problem that people see an average change and focus too much on that, instead of whether people are actually better or worse off.
To see what I mean, imagine you have two countries. Country A has a GDP per capita of $40K, while Country B has a GDP per capita of $10K. An engineer making $15K a year moves from Country B to Country A. What happens? The average GDP in both countries goes down. Someone might look at that and say that the engineer should stay in Country B. But you haven’t actually shown that anyone in either country is worse off by him moving.
Poor people by definition reduce GDP per capita. But they don’t necessarily make natives worse off. They might for reasons Garett Jones talks about in Hive Mind, but it’s not automatic, even if they’re poorer than the national average. The question then is whether migration has negative externalities, which is what we need to argue about. There are some Mexicans who mow my lawn and do the gardening for like $60 a month, and they reduce the average income of my town, but I’m better off because of them.
Moreover, the influence of immigration on any particular community will depend on both the traits of the newcomers and what kinds of people already live there. It’s a mistake to focus too much on the country as a whole as if it’s a single neighborhood. Major cities tend to be the most culturally and economically important areas of any country, and when immigrants replace natives in American urban areas, they generally reduce the crime rate and improve the economy.
Ron Unz has made the argument that low-skilled immigration was just as important for Silicon Valley taking off as high-skilled immigration. As he’s explained,
The small city of Palo Alto is one of the most desirable local residential areas, home to the late Steve Jobs, as well as the current CEOs of Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and a host of other companies; by some estimates, it may contain the world’s highest per capita concentration of billionaires. On three sides, Palo Alto abuts communities of a similar character: Mountain View, containing Google; the Stanford University campus; and Menlo Park, the center of America’s venture capital industry. But on the fourth side, mostly separated by Highway 101, lies East Palo Alto, which for decades was a dangerous ghetto, overwhelmingly black.
I moved back to Palo Alto from New York City in 1992, and that year East Palo Alto recorded America’s highest per capita murder rate; although relatively few of the homicides, robberies, and rapes spilled across the border, enough did to leave many people uneasy. Gated communities and even street fences are quite uncommon in the region, and for years anyone who wished could go to the home of Steve Jobs and walk around his yard or even peer into his windows. Meanwhile, the sort of harsh racial profiling widely practiced in some large cities was completely abhorrent to the socially liberal citizenry. One may easily imagine a scenario in which escalating street crime from the ghetto next door might have produced a collapse in high housing prices and sparked a massive flight of the wealthy.
One reason this did not occur was the vast influx of impoverished immigrants from south of the border that swept into the less affluent communities of the region during those same years and rapidly transformed the local demographics. Between 1980 and 2010 the combined Hispanic population of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties nearly tripled. A city offering cheap housing such as East Palo Alto saw far greater relative increases, reversing its demographics during that period from 60% black and 14% Hispanic to 16% black and 65% Hispanic. Over the last twenty years, the homicide rate in that small city dropped by 85%, with similar huge declines in other crime categories as well, thereby transforming a miserable ghetto into a pleasant working-class community, now featuring new office complexes, luxury hotels, and large regional shopping centers. Multi-billionaire Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife recently purchased a large $9 million home just a few hundred feet from the East Palo Alto border, a decision that would have been unthinkable during the early 1990s. Technology executives are highly quantitative individuals, skilled in pattern recognition, and I find it difficult to believe that they have all remained completely oblivious to these local racial factors.
Immigrants change urban areas more than they change the country as a whole. Even setting aside the problems with black urban areas, the two whitest major cities in the country are Portland and Seattle, not exactly conservative paradises. If you care about making cities in this country livable, replacing natives with Asian and Hispanic newcomers doesn’t seem like a bad thing. Of course, problem populations may go elsewhere, but there are major costs associated with concentrating people prone to violence all together in dense areas, in addition to the interactive effects of pro-crime white liberals and urban blacks with high crime rates living side-by-side.
In sum, even though IQ is real and important, people who are aware of what the data says tend to put too much emphasis on it. Whether the US gains or loses two IQ points over 50 years or whatever is not as important as, say, what we’re going to do about entitlements, and whether our cities will continue to think it’s racist to fight crime. They also ignore that the US is already low IQ for a developed nation, while overlooking the positive population shifts that immigration can bring to our cities.
Even if you do want to focus on IQ, as alluded to already, dysgenic fertility seems to be knocking about 1 IQ point off the white score each generation, and 1.5 points off the black score. Even lower IQ immigrants are being selected for something positive, that is, the ambition to come and start over in a new country. The IQ decline that’s the result of dysgenic fertility seems to have no silver lining at all. This is something that deserves more focus. The potential impact of immigration on the likelihood of us adopting measures to improve national IQ, like subsidizing or at least allowing research on genetic engineering, further adds to the uncertainty inherent in trying to predict the effects of demographic change.
Win Hispanics and Asians Like You Won Whites
The discussion about the politics of immigration above assumes that newcomers and their descendants will continue to vote Democrat. I think that’s far from a sure thing, and to the extent that it is, it’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Republicans make clear that they don’t want immigrants, so they of course don’t vote Republican.
To repeat the arguments from earlier, whites ended up Republican due to a backlash against black crime and black identity politics, and we can add that the party has also benefited from resistance to radical liberal positions on issues having to do with gender and sexuality. White Americans did not wake up one day and suddenly all start reading Hayek, even though one might be fooled into thinking that’s what happened by looking at polls that show that many of them have adopted pro-market talking points as a kind of tribal signifier. There’s no reason to think that the same can’t work on immigrants. If Democrats’ main problems are that they’re too beholden to LGBT craziness and inner-city dysfunction, immigrants are probably just as likely to have a negative reaction to those things as white people are.
In Florida, the NBC exit poll shows that DeSantis won not only 68% of Cubans in 2022, but 56% of Puerto Ricans, and 53% of “Other Hispanics.” Why was Florida unique? If I was going to guess what happened, it would go something like this. You already had Cubans as a conservative Hispanic population. When other migrants came into the state, they got plugged into Spanish-speaking networks and media. The recent influx of Venezuelans fleeing Maduro had the same effect. Puerto Ricans in Florida weren’t subject to the same history, but assimilated into the dominant Hispanic culture of the state. DeSantis being associated with anti-wokeness, rather than immigration restrictionism like the national party is, likely helped too.
So what did DeSantis do after the election? He started shipping off Venezuelans fleeing socialism to other states like they were garbage, and passing laws to clamp down on illegal immigration. There’s a good chance that this will have negative electoral consequences, and conservatives will then conclude that immigrants will always dislike them.
Something like this has already happened in California. Hispanic voters were once more evenly divided, and winnable for Republicans until the party went nativist in the early 1990s.
To cast doubt on this story, some restrictionists have pointed to this study by Iris Hui and my old adviser David Sears. But if you read the paper, you’ll see that all Hui and Sears are arguing against is the idea that what happened can be blamed primarily on Proposition 187. They don’t dispute that Republicans were making inroads with Hispanics, until the late 1980s or early 1990s, and things then reversed. The only debate in the literature is whether it was Proposition 187 that caused a sudden shift, or the change was more gradual. Either way, the story is the same. Republicans were making gains, and then turned on immigrants, at which point they lost Hispanics.
Asian political identity also seems fluid. A plurality of this demographic preferred Dole in the 1996 presidential election. Given what massive differences we see across such short time scales and across different states, it would clearly be a mistake to write off new arrivals.
Of course, when discussing minority voting patterns, everything that has happened must be understood in the context of civil rights law having created economic incentives and psychological nudges towards identifying with the left. If Republicans were smart, they would go to war with civil rights law and combine it with outreach to immigrants, which would involve comparing them favorably to gender fluid liberals and urban blacks. This really shouldn’t be a hard sell. But here’s Vivek doing the opposite, going to Chicago and trying to get blacks riled up about immigration. They instead told him that they weren’t interested in his agenda, and what they really wanted was reparations and to empty the jails.
Restrictionists used to sell something called the “Sailer strategy,” which argued that Republicans could ignore minorities and run up the score with whites. Recent years haven’t been kind to this view, as whites have shifted Democrat over the last few election cycles, and it’s become increasingly clear that many of them are true believing liberals. The Sailer Strategy rested on the assumption that if you scratched the surface of most whites, you would find a kind of soft white nationalism, but this makes less sense in the era of the Great Awokening. The white race is not only demographically declining, but it is also extremely divided. I think conservatives working to reassure moderate whites that they’re not mindless racists, and there are in fact some dark-skinned people that they actually like, would probably help in winning them over.
Everyone now knows that there is no silent conservative majority among whites, which may be why we don’t hear much about the Sailer Strategy anymore. But restrictionists haven’t really replaced it with anything. They’re just going to keep complaining about immigrants and young people and LGBT and blacks and white people too now and…somehow win? The far right increasingly believes elections are fake anyway, which I suspect might be a cope that they’ve developed upon coming to the realization that things are looking very bleak in the long run. They’re going to need to try something different.
Immigration Affects Our Politics in Unpredictable Ways
Of course, based on what I’m saying here, it might be a bad thing if immigrants and their descendants truly assimilated and started to vote Republican. This would mitigate the backlash to the left, and might make socialism more likely. Maybe the best system is one in which Republicans stay xenophobic, and immigrants keep coming to the country, and this will somehow give us a flat tax or something.
I’m not trying to predict the future, but rather say that you shouldn’t be making decisions based on how you think people will vote twenty or thirty years into the future, and assuming that nothing else about our politics or society changes. Hispanics and Asians are not, any more than whites, hopelessly going to be Democratic voters because of their views on social welfare spending. How they vote will depend on how conservatives approach the issue of immigration, in addition to what Democrats do to either repel them or win them over.
And even if immigrants do vote left, that would not be the end of the analysis either, because it could radicalize the Republican Party further and make it even more hostile to government spending. An increasing non-white share in the Democratic Party might also have a moderating effect, making it less beholden to urban black interests and the craziest white liberals. If both those things happen, a more conservative Republican Party and a more moderate Democratic Party could shift the country to the right, even if Democrats win more elections. Not only does how people vote and the power balance between the parties change over time, but so do internal party dynamics. The fact of “ethnic attrition,” where people become less likely to identify as minorities the longer they stay in the country, makes forecasting the future even more complicated.
The point of all this is that I have no idea what the ultimate effects of immigration on our politics will be and neither does anyone else. It may cause more social divisions, but American history indicates that this would probably do more good than harm. If that’s true, there really aren’t many plausible arguments left for restricting immigration.
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