Sunday, August 30, 2015

Doing Something

A recent news story has a presidential candidate flirting with the idea of building a wall along the U.S. border—the northern border. His explanation:
Walker has long said that securing U.S. borders, especially the southern border with Mexico, is not only a deterrent to illegal immigration but also a way to ensure that terrorists and international criminals do not enter the country. 
The U.S. hosts about 75 million tourists each year, coming from a wide variety of countries. Does anyone seriously believe that we can filter out from that flood one, or ten, or a thousand bad guys? All a competent terrorist needs is a passport in a name that isn't on a list of people to keep out. I do not know what country in the world is currently the least expensive source of bogus passports, but I would be surprised if the price was high enough to discourage someone supported by ISIS or al Qaeda or ...  .

As in too many other cases, the underlying logic is:

Something must be done.

This is something.


Shaddox said...

> Something must be done.

> This is something.

The funny thing is that I don't even see any reason to believe the first claim. Why does something need to be done about illegal immigrations (except perhaps to make it go away by making legal immigration extremely easy)? Are any of the complaints about illegal immigrants even true? Do they really "leech from the system without paying in" or "take jobs from Americans" in any meaningful sense? While I haven't seen any convincing data either way, I would suspect that illegal immigrants are a significant net benefit to the economies in which they participate.

Kaiser Derden (aka TDL) said...

except a significant percentage of illegals do not participate in the economy ... even the ones with jobs send much of their money overseas ... yes they leech from the system without paying into it ... of course they take jobs away from Americans ... only an ignorant fool would think otherwise ...

David Friedman said...

Shaddox: The problem I was discussing with which "something must be done" wasn't illegal immigrants but terrorists. Border controls probably can reduce the number of illegal immigrants, although not to zero. But getting ten terrorists into the country is a lot easier than getting a million immigrants in, and my point was that the proposal would have essentially no effect on the problem it was supposed to solve.

As it happens I agree with you that illegal immigrants are not a problem, but I expect Walker doesn't.

Kaiser: Why do you think immigrants sending their money abroad hurts us? Mexicans can't eat dollars. If a Mexican earns money in the U.S. and sends it to his family in Mexico, that money eventually gets used to buy U.S. goods or other U.S. assets, that being what dollars are good for.

Do you similarly believe that if you buy something from abroad, you are hurting the American economy? If so, your economic theory of trade is about two centuries out of date--18th century mercantilism rather than the 19th century analysis, based on the idea of comparative advantage, originated by Ricardo and accepted by economists ever since.

Joey said...

Or try my Chuck E Cheese analogy on someone who is against dollars being sent abroad:

Would a Chuck E Cheese establishment be helped or harmed if someone acquired thousands of dollars worth of their tokens only to hoard them and never exchange them for prizes?

Keith said...

My thoughts are for every culture that ignores their own well being for whatever reasons...(in ours it is for mostly political correctness)...

there are many more who will gladly take whatever they can from us to the point we have nothing left...and they can then replace our culutre.

We are letting these other cultures (did I say letting them?) replace our childrens heritage.

Anonymous said...

What if the terrorists do not plan to attack the US, rather they only want to get inside to buy some weapons and then they leave to attack other countries?
Should those kind of terrorists be barred from entering the US?

Tibor said...

Sorry for continuing the off-topic thread (also, this turned out to be unexpectedly long, so I had to divide it), but since it has already been brought up:

I more or less share the opinion of Milton Friedman, who said that you have to choose between free immigration and a welfare state. Now, the choice is very simple for me since I regard free immigration as a net gain and the welfare state as a net cost. So I would just get rid of the welfare state, reduce taxes and expect the private charities and individual savings to provide for the "social safety net" and pensions about as well or even better in some respects than the state does today.

However, this is a fringe opinion, even more in Europe (maybe with the exception of Switzerland) than in the US. That means abolishing the welfare state is simply not a choice. Combine the belief in the welfare state for everybody, free immigration and a recent influx of asylum seekers in the EU and you have a problem. Let me paint a little picture:

Actually most of the asylum seekres simply want to Germany and Sweden which provide the best benefits. In Germany,even if one is not granted asylum, it takes the offices about half a year to process the request during which time the people are given 330 € monthly, accommodation, language courses and so on. This also means that even people from the Balkan, who have basically no chance at obtaining the asylum status, come in droves and currently represent about 50% of the asylum seekers in Germany. 330€ is above the average wage in a country such as Albania and even if you are sent back after 6 months, you can save up some money. Sure beats being unemployed in Albania. Also, you can try "losing" your documents and pretend that you come from Syria. The projected number of asylum seekers in Germany is 800 000 for this year (that is an estimate done by the federal government which probably has an incentive to keep the estimate down rather than up) and the projected costs are in billions of Euros a year. At the same time, the number of people coming to Germany this way keeps rising and it creates a lot of problems both within Germany and the EU in general. In the country, one sees it especially in its former GDR part, where people are strongly against more asylum seekers which leads to both actual xenophobic violence at times and also some of the western German media depicting the Eastern Germany as a land of primitives who yet have to be resocialized and educated in the "European values". My guess that their opinion has more to do with the fact that some parts of Eastern Germany have an unemployment rate of over 10% and purchasing power more or less the same as the one in the Czech republic (despite being subsidized by a special tax), whereas the West is much richer. Unemployment and frustration always leads to more instances of extremist behaviour such as some attacks by neonazis, or at one instance a car of a local politician (who was supporting the idea of having more asylum seekers in the town) was blown up by a plastic explosive. In any case, it represents a problem and apparently a significant part of the population does not wish more asylum seekers in Germany, but basically the only response of the government (and most media) is more or less calling everyone who disagrees with the current policy a neonazi or something similar. At the same time, the problems with the financing of the influx of asylum seekers might now lead to a change in the German constitution (so that it becomes easier for the state to pay for it all).

Tibor said...

Within the EU, the problems are essentially similar, with Germany, Sweden and the European Commission pursuing the policy of accepting all the asylum seekers who come to the EU and trying to set up quotas that would distribute them among the member countries. How they would then make sure those people do not simply lose their documents again and move to Germany I don't really know. Many other EU countries are against it however, which leads to major accusations within the union and to a certain degree threats the continued existence of the Schengen zone (although I don't think the danger is actually that high).

Now, of course there are ways to go around that if there is a political will and both the welfare state and free immigration can be salvaged. One could for example grand welfare only to those immigrants who have been living in the county for a period of time and have a stable job. This is accidentally exactly the Czech law (the initial period is 5 years), although the people who are granted asylum are excluded from this restriction. This still can be fine as long as the asylum procedure is both fast (how it can take 15 days in Netherlands and 6 months in Germany is beyond me) and relatively stern - i.e. the asylum seeker has to prove that he is persecuted at home and having no documents is a hindrance rather than an almost sure asylum guarantee. However, these conditions already dig quite deep into the belief in the welfare state for all and although I am not exactly sure what the "average German" thinks about the issue, it is not even quite clear that the majority of people would support such a measure in Germany and the current government and media definitely do not.

In this case, limiting immigration, immigration of the asylum seekers in particular
does not seem to be a politically feasible option in Germany either. However, it still seems more likely to happen than cutting down of welfare (or a sensible "middle of the road" policy such as the Czech one). Sadly, if I had to venture a guess, I would expect to see Europe with about the same kind of a welfare state but with much more restricted immigration in the next 5-10 years and with it also the rise of parties who are very isolationist and nationalist and want more than just restricting immigration. Particularly Marine Le Pen of Front National in France pursues more or less a mercantilist policy, the Danish Folkeparti, which won most of the votes in the last elections, seems to be a mild version of the same, although to be honest I do not know that much about them to make a fair assessment (my only knowledge about Folkeparti comes from German media). But I think it illustrates the kind of problems one runs to if one combines free immigration with unrestricted access to the welfare state.

Tibor said...

EDIT: I checked the Folkeparti and they seem to have won the last European Parliament elections but were only second in the last Danish national elections. Sorry for the misinformation.

Power Child said...

The "border fence to keep out terrorists" argument seems to be something immigration restrictionists use when they want to advocate for a border fence but for whatever reason don't feel like arguing about immigration. (Hey, sometimes it just gets tiring, and variety is the spice of life.) Keeping out terrorists is something even immigration enthusiasts are usually on board for, so maybe it seems like less work to use that argument instead sometimes.

As an immigration restrictionist, I agree that this argument doesn't make much sense, though a border fence probably wouldn't make it EASIER for terrorists to come here.

Also, a border fence does more than its physical duty. It also sends a message: "We care about and are prepared to heavily invest in our borders and our national security." Surely that has some deterrent power as well.

David Friedman said...

"Should those kind of terrorists be barred from entering the US?"

I believe that under U.S. law they in theory are. It was an issue in the past with regard to people raising funds, and probably buying weapons, for (arguably) terrorist purposes in northern Ireland, the U.S. having a large Irish-American population. My impression is that it was illegal in theory but largely tolerated in practice.

David Friedman said...

As I pointed out in an old blog post, the interaction between free immigration and the welfare state goes in both directions. The existence of a welfare state makes free immigration less attractive from the standpoint of domestic voters. But the existence of free immigration, de jure or de facto, makes high levels of welfare less attractive from the standpoint of domestic voters, since the higher the level of welfare the more poor people will be attracted to go on it. It looks as though the logic of that situation is currently playing out in the EU, and it will be interesting to see whether the eventual result is more restrictions on immigration or lower levels of redistribution.

David Friedman said...

I forgot to give the URL of the old post:

Tibor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tibor said...

David: That is an interesting argument. However, judging from the rising popularity of Marine Le Pen and similar politicians, I would expect the redistribution to stay more or less the same with border immigration restrictions increasing.

On the other hand, Germany, or at least the current German government seems to be quite determined not to limit asylum related immigration. This above all supported by the left who are also against any cuts to the welfare for those given asylums (or against welfare cuts in general). Since the estimate of the number of asylum seekers for this year in Germany in total is 800 000 people and the inflow of immigrants actually seems to be increasing every day, even if they decide to change the asylum rules after the next elections it could potentially mean over a million of new permanent residents, many, perhaps even most of which are likely to be long-term welfare recipients. Given that deportation of those who were denied asylum does not seem to be working in Germany at present (the people simply do not leave the country and re-register somewhere else with no documents on them), it might be even more than that.

Personal income taxes are already very high in Germany, in fact currently they are probably higher than in the Nordic countries. Increasing them further might prove difficult and if Germany is to maintain a balanced budged it might then have no other choice but to cut welfare down a bit (or make it more sensible by replacing it with something like a negative income tax but I do not find that very likely). Also, many Germans move to Switzerland to find a job there instead. Switzerland has one of the lowest taxes among the 1st world countries, is a neighbouring country and a part of the country speaks the same language (more or less, I understand German fairly well, but SwitzerdĂĽtsch is almost incomprehensible for me). The higher the taxes in Germany get, the more high-qualified Germans will look for work in Switzerland and other places. Switzerland is probably too small on its own to make a difference for a country of 80 million people, but distances are not so great nowadays as they used to be and countries such as the US or Australia might also contribute to a "brain drain" in Germany. This also means being able to collect less on taxes to fund the welfare. Since Germany also seems to be quite keen on keeping the federal budget balanced, this again might prove problematic without cuts to the welfare.

So I guess it might actually be interesting. If I had to venture a guess, I would expect Britain and France to restrict immigration (given the rise of Le Pen and UKIP, both of which are anti-immigration in general) but I really have no idea about Germany.