christopher heiser <christopher AT heiser DOT net>
Date Published: May 26th, 2007
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Don't Be A Jerk

One of the themes that strongly forms my philosophy about humans is that we have a very hard time thinking about large groups. While we have developed a powerful set of abstractions to help us deal with our modern lives, it's difficult for us to actually perceive what is represented by those tools.

For example, advertising. It seems like every billboard, every TV program, and every magazine are filled with beautiful people. So many beautiful people, in fact, that it would seem at everyone is beautiful--except of course you and me.

But what percentage of the population needs to be beautiful to fill TV and print? Let's say that there are 300,000 gorgeous people in the country, enough to cover all the magazines and sitcoms. That's still less than a tenth of a percent of the population. The other 99.9% of us are not very well represented.

But our primitive animal brains have a hard time distinguishing between what seems like a lot of something, especially when in proportion to a very large sample set.

So, what's my point? Well, there's a very important existential debate simmering on the subject of immigration. One of the strongest (and most visceral) anti-immigration arguments is that by allowing people into the country, we are going to reduce the quality of living for existing citizens. This can be very persuasive when we hear that some 3,000 illegal immigrants cross our borders every day. We are overwhelmed with these numbers and can almost visualize our own towns overrun with immigrants who will make jobs harder to find for citizens, and place downward pressure on wages across the board.

Well, a group of economists have analyzed the effect of immigration on the existing US natives. I won't pretend to understand the hardcore math of their argument. But the major question they ask is:

Suppose we transfer one person from Mexico to United States (illegally or otherwise). As a result his wages increase compared to what he was making in Mexico. Let us also suppose that as a result of this transfer the wages of some unskilled worker in US fall. Furthermore we will ignore the aggregate gains from immigration that occur and which all economists, including Borjas admit exist. We do this to make our job harder, not easier.

How much do you have to weight the native's welfare relative to that of the Mexican immigrant in order to oppose moving this migrant into US?

Using a very conservative (i.e., assuming the worst possible impact to the US natives) they show that you you could offer the American Dream and fulfill the promise inscribed upon the Statue of Liberty twenty six times for each native who suffered.

Or, to put it more simply, you would need to consider the welfare of the native at least 26 times as important as the immigrant in order to oppose a more open migration policy.

Which begs the question: exactly how much more important are Americans than other humans on this planet? Fifty percent more? Twice? Five times? Twenty-six times?

You decide.

by Christopher Heiser on May 26 01:30
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