Anti-Immigration: The Argument From Labor Quality

Some who oppose immigration appeal to immutable poor labor quality as a reason against easing U.S. immigration policy.  For instance, in the comments to an earlier post on immigration, The Utilitarian writes

North African immigrants in the E.U. exploit the welfare states at much higher rates, commit more crime, underperform in education, do badly economically, etc. Some of these problems are exacerbated by bad policy, e.g. rigid labor laws that boost unemployment, but the basic issue is differences in ability and attitudes tied to cultural markers for tribal feelings.

Even Roissy floats the hypothesis

Hypothetically speaking, if average human population group differences in aptitude, temperament, personality and decision-making exist and are immutable over generational timespans, and those group average differences are greater when the population groups being compared are larger (i.e. ethnicity versus race), would anything change about principal economic theories and concepts (e.g. free trade, externalities, free movement of labor…

The most important element of these arguments involves the means of plunder–which is to say, democratic institutions.  The thought is that the misguided enfranchised poor will vote for redistributive policies.  These policies will then suck the soul out of any wealth producing economy. But even if we assume that labor quality is immutable, how is this an argument against immigration?  Isn’t it instead an argument against a system that provides the means of plunder? 

Furthermore, what historical examples demonstrate that labor quality is immutable? If the quality of labor among immigrants increased in the past–witness the first 200 years of American growth–then why wouldn’t it continue in the future?



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2 responses to “Anti-Immigration: The Argument From Labor Quality

  1. Utilitarian

    “Isn’t it instead an argument against a system that provides the means of plunder?”

    Please don’t quote me if you’re then going to write as though I didn’t make the related arguments that directly addressed the concerns you raise as unanswered questions. I strongly endorsed massive immigration (hundreds of millions of immigrants, including relatively low-skill ones, for the U.S.) along Singaporean lines, which separates working in the city-state (with huge benefits to the immigrants) from entry into the electorate.

    It’s worth arguing for that policy, but doing so is not inconsistent with arguing against U.S. immigration reform plans that center on providing amnesty (and thus voting rights) to the unskilled and greatly increasing unskilled immigration through family reunification.

  2. Utilitarian

    Also, ‘immutability’ is a slippery term. Labor quality can be increased for all, and even deep-rooted cultural or genetic differences could be eliminated eventually through social and genetic engineering.

    The question is malleability over the near to medium term, during which the new voters would have their influence. Despite many attempts worldwide over multiple generations (in the cases of Africans in Europe and Mexican-Americans) no one knows how to eliminate group disparities yet. Once such methods are developed the situation will be very different.

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