The next administration and Congress need to reach a compromise on immigration. The continuing battle on the status of illegal immigrants is leading to enormous political divisions and fueling the identity politics of multiculturalism on the both the left and right. For me the compromise must reflect four imperatives. First, it should recognize the reality that we cannot deport millions of people without turning ourselves into a temporary police state—harmful not only to illegal aliens but to our citizens. Second, it should make sure there is a substantial penalty for those who broke the law. Third, the compromise must secure the border of the United States against further such immigration on a massive scale and contain a trigger to verify that security has taken place before those who broke the law benefit from the compromise. Fourth, the compromise should make it easier for highly skilled immigrants to come to the nation, because welcoming more such immigrants will benefit America, not least by continuing our tradition of assimilating talent from overseas.
First, ultimately the compromise will have to provide a legalized status to many aliens who entered illegally so long as they have not violated other laws. Catching all those who have come here illegally is impractical. It would also require a law enforcement presence so heavy as to affect adversely many law abiding citizens, particularly those who share the ethnicity of immigrants who have come here illegally. Moreover, since many of those who came here illegally have had children born here who are citizens by virtue of the 14th amendment, mass deportations would result in the tearing asunder of children from parents.
Second, the legislation should make it clear that coming into America illegally was wrong. Fines will not prove adequate to make this point either expressively or practically.
The next two Republican presidential debates, including this evening’s, will focus on the economy, a testimony to the weakness of our recovery from the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the continued relevance of James Carville’s campaign advice to Bill Clinton over 20 years ago (“It’s the economy, stupid!”), and the all-but-universal assumption that American Presidents can, should, and must create the conditions for widespread prosperity.
Last Friday I had the great pleasure of participating in a panel at the Federalist Society’s National Convention with Chris DeMuth of the Hudson Institute, David Weisbach of the University of Chicago Law School, and Judge Frank Easterbrook on intergenerational equity and old age entitlements, like social security. My talk had two parts. I first rejected a common claim about old age entitlements: that they transfer resources from a poor generation to a richer one, because young people today will be less well off than their elders. I, then, nevertheless showed that old age entitlements as presently structured raised substantial problems for the young and old. In this post I summarize the first part of the speech.
The history of economic growth in the United States suggests that, as they age, the young today will be much better off than the old are today. Since 1950 – less than a lifetime – real GDP per capita in the U.S. has tripled. And economic growth continues, even if the statistics suggest that it is slowing down. But this slowdown is to a substantial extent an illusion, because it fails to fully account for the two greatest ongoing revolutions of our time—the improvements in health care and the exponential increases in machine intelligence that are rapidly expanding throughout the economy.
First, take improvements in health care and longevity: they do not even show up in the GDP. And yet they are massive: as Larry Summers once remarked, it is not at all clear that one would choose to have the health care of 1950 and the income of today rather than the income of 1950 and the health care of today.
The Chief Executive of Hong Kong recently lamented that permitting democratic elections there would permit too many relatively poor people to vote. He fears that this group – comprised of those earning less than $1,800 per month, in his view – could vote themselves excessive benefits and endanger Hong Kong’s prosperity.
The irony is delicious – the Chief Executive, vetted for his position by the Communist Party of China, opposes democracy because it empowers the poor. May the communist slogans in China rest in peace!
But does the Chief Executive have a point, at least in the Hong Kong context?
Recently the California Senate retracted a bill that would have called for a referendum to reverse Proposition 209, the famous initiative banning racial, ethnic and gender preferences in public education and contracting. This decision came in response to second thoughts from Asian-American state senators who got an earful from constituents. These citizens feared that reversing Proposition 209 would lead to lower numbers of Asian-American students at elite institutions, like Berkeley, where Asian-Americans are overrepresented as a percentage of the population.
The dynamics of this event reveal several things about the struggle between classical liberalism and the forces of government intervention and redistribution. The great old fear of classical liberals is that democracy permits majorities to redistribute wealth and opportunities to themselves at the expense of freedom and prosperity. The great new fear is that coalitions of energized, concentrated groups that are not even a majority can engage in such redistribution because they will have substantial leverage in a political system, where the majority may be uninformed, apathetic, and rationally ignorant of politics.
The forces for liberty in society, however, do have a significant structural advantage, even in the face of these substantial concerns. A coalition for redistribution can more easily develop internal tensions that prove fatal to its success. For instance, even if California becomes a so-called majority-minority state, not all the minorities will have similar interests. The failure to go to vote on the referendum shows that concentrated groups cannot get their way when a conflict develops between the groups. Democrats are thus overconfident that the demographic rise of minorities will make Democrats the natural party of government.
Public sector unions and minorities represent another important coalition for the Democratic party in urban areas. Yet this coalition has already begun to fracture, most notably because of education policy.