Thursday, January 24, 2008

Letters from the Crypt

I think letters to the editor are the most interesting part of the newspaper. I don’t normally attack folks to write letters to the editor, but there was one this week that is so ridiculous that it begs for comment:

Science trumps sentiment in immigration debate

Regarding immigration and the Jan. 10 letter "We should welcome those who come to work hard," I feel compelled to add that although the sentiments in this letter are nice, they are just that: anecdotal sentiments of which much of the immigration debate consists.

The facts are simple. The United States is four times as wealthy as Mexico. This is what powers the smiles and eagerness of the 12 million immigrants.

I am always surprised that in these immigration debates there is very little mention of the effect on wages. This is a reality, not a subject for debate. Professor George Borjas of Harvard University in 2006 authored a study that said "Our analysis suggests that a 10 percent immigrant-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group reduced the black wage by 4.0 percent, lowered the employment rate of black men by 3.5 percentage points, and increased the incarceration rate of blacks by almost a full percentage point."

These are numbers, not sentiments.

First of all, the underlying premise of this letter is that supporters of immigration reform are basing their arguments in “sentiment”. The implication here is that cold, hard scientific reasoning leads to the conclusion that immigrants are bad for the economy. Anytime we are dealing with a “should” questions, like “should immigration be reformed”, we are not talking about scientific precision. We can use scientific evidence to base our decisions, but there is no right or wrong answer to a “should” question. It is really a moral judgment. So right away, by implying scientific precision that does not exist, the letter has fallen flat on its face.

Secondly, the letter writer cites some economic statistics, the implication of which is that hiring immigrants puts downward pressure on wages. This true, buy why is that a bad thing? This is the same fallacious argument used to attack Wal-Mart’s low prices. Lower wages means that goods and services can be provided cheaper.

Finally, the part I was most taken with is the nature of the statistics cited. Each statistic noted the race of a “victim” of immigration. Wages did not decline 4%- wages of race X declined 4%. Employment did not decline 3.5%- employment of race X declined 4%. Ignoring the racial component, at least there is an economic cause and effect relationship between the supply of labor and wage rates and employment rates. But the final statistic really dropped my jaw- employment of immigrants raises the incarceration rate of citizens by 1%! And not only the incarceration rate a generic citizen- the incarceration rate of a particular race!

I would love to know the chain of events that cause employment of immigrants to increase crime by citizens; but perhaps not as much as I would also like to know the chain of events that lead someone to write such a simple minded letter.

3 comments:

jim adams said...

Good post F.M.

I would like to move slightly off course, and ask what I believe to be a related question.

Tonight, I will come home at a relatively late hour, when it is much darker and colder than it is now.

But I will be coming home to a place that is warm, confortable, and into a place that I fell secure.

Now my question. Should there be someone in my home, a person who I don't know, someone I did not invite, should I offer them the conforts of my home, kick them out in the cold, call the cops, what should I do???

What ever I do, isn't it a measure of my character?

I am not offering the question to attack or defend illegal immigration.

I want to present the question in a micro instead of it's normal macro frame of thought.

Let's hear some well thought out respones.

Freemarket said...

I would call the cops or shoot the person, depending on if I could get to my riot gun or my cell phone faster, but as you imply, I am not sure how this relates to illegal immigration.

No one, least of all white people, were invited to this country. Immigrants come here to work- to provide us goods and services. To the extent that they get a free ride, as a small percentage do, that the fault of our legislators. There is only a difference between a legal immigrant and an illegal immigrant because of a law.

jim adams said...

The writing style of your pragmatic approach, tickles my funny bone.

But I think you touched correctly all points, the most important point for me, is we have to hold legislators responsible.
( I don't own guns and my cell phone battery is normally dead).

Don't pick on the white people, they were only looking for cheap realestate, they could over
develope, and like you said the difference is in the law. The Indians believed in natural law, meaning the land had no boundaries.
White people believed in zoning, and see all the "benefits" that has brought.