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Immigration, economics, history

June 25, 2018

Europe over the last thirty years provides an interesting testbed of the economic effects from taking in refugees and more usual immigrants. Different nations there have taken in different numbers, in multiple waves. French economists looked at that data and found what most economists would expect, in a new study (cite):

Soon after a spike in migration, the overall strength and sustainability of the country’s economy improves and unemployment rates drop. Its conclusions contradict the idea that refugees place an excessive financial burden on a country by sucking up public resources.

That comports also with what US studies have found. There simply is no economic case that immigration is hurting us economically. Just the opposite. Granting permanent status to the Dreamers and increasing immigration would be a large step to resolving social security funding.

The US itself was a long-running experiment on the impact of immigration. For most of its history, until the 1920s, the US had essentially open borders. Anyone (except someone Chinese) could move here, without papers, and become American. Many of the alleged explanations of why that wouldn’t work now don’t hold water. Public services, including public schools, the one the studies above as being the most expensive, long predate the end of that policy. It wasn’t until 1929 that there was any crime at all against illegal entry. The history of that law is none too savory.

Demonizing immigrants

That European research, quite correctly, takes a long term view. When people immigrate, they have a lifelong impact on their new nation. People typically migrate as young adults, sometimes already with young children, or likely soon to have children. Those children will indeed present a burden to their local school system. And then become productive adults. The fact is that every one of us failed to pull our own weight in our first few years of life. When Trump complains about the cost of immigrants, he distorts an National Academy of Science report that correctly notes that, and that also notes the overall economic benefit.

So why the opposition to immigrants? Part of the explanation is that there is large political benefit to creating an enemy, in this case, both within and without. Trump has used that to large effect, painting immigrants as rapists, labelling them an infestation, falsely blaming them for a large share of murders in the US. Despite the fact that immigrants in the US, both documented and not, are less likely to commit crimes than US citizens, Trump held a special ceremony for their victims. That kind of propaganda has an ugly history, mirroring the way Nazis highlighted Jewish crimes, and the way the US press during Jim Crow highlighted black crime. Paul Krugman aptly labels that kind of propaganda as a blood libel. It’s almost unbelievable that when Sessions was asked how his policies are different from Nazi policies, he explained it was because “they would keep the Jews from leaving the country.” Forgetting that their final solution wasn’t their first solution.

A receptive audience

Many Trumpistas no doubt accept these lies. When lies are so blatant and so easily exposed, it is hard to know whether that means they take them as true, or that they take them as convenient to their own politics. They quickly latch onto a largely imaginary immigration “crisis.”

There are ordinary reasons that Trump’s populism has an appeal. Many American whites are sensing the decline of their numbers and influence. For the first time last year in the US, deaths among whites outnumber births. Part of this is a recent decline in the US fertility rate. Part of it is just change, felt especially hard in rural areas.

And people resist change.

When people resist change, they fall back on traditional values. Such as deference to authority and protection of one’s group. Immigrants who haven’t dotted every i and crossed every t can be made to seem an affront to both.

When we think of authoritarian movements, we tend to think of the radicals who were at their forefront or the militants who performed various dirty deeds. But every modern authoritarian movement rides on the drives of ordinary people, thinking they are defending their group and upholding good values.

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