Thursday, December 20, 2007

Immigration and Jason Riley's reliance on dubious WRF study

Yesterday's WSJ op/ed board chides President Bush for allowing the Senate's version of the "omnibus" spending bill to exceed what he had declared would be the maximum amount he would tolerate in discretionary spending for next year:

Oh, and Congress is also funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the tune of $70 billion -- something Democratic leaders had vowed not to do. White House sources add all of this up and say that sooner or later a President has to take yes for an answer -- or else he looks unreasonable. The howls of frustration coming from liberal interest groups suggest they have a point.

And yet this is hardly a lean or mean budget. When combined with the Defense spending bill that has already been signed, Congress will still exceed Mr. Bush's $933 billion "top-line" thanks to about $11 billion in budget gimmicks and "emergency" spending. (Such spending isn't added to the "baseline" budget.) This includes $2.9 billion for "border security," $100 million for security for the Democratic and Republican conventions next year, $500 million for California wildfires, plus more for home heating oil and other political favorites.

Instead of $31 billion for Afghanistan, we get $70 billion for both theatres (and $55-$60 billion of that will end up being spent on the disastrous Iraq war). The board cheers this. Then it inexplicably puts border security in quotes and groups it with more dubious expenditures, as if to suggest this $2.9 billion for a partial fence along the southern border that should've been built more than a year ago is an example of fiscal profligacy, in contrast to the $60 or so billion going on $2 trillion for Iraq! It does illustrate where the board is coming from, though, that's for sure.

Unlike the $70 billion grant to help in the continual buildup of Iraqi and Afghani armed forces, the $2.9 billion for barrier construction has strings attached:

A provision sponsored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, would modify the law that requires at least two layers of fencing and specifically spelled out where that fencing should be built in Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona. ...

It allows the Homeland Security secretary to dispense with fencing, physical barriers, lighting, cameras and sensors at particular parts of the border where he determines those
resources are not needed. ...

The bill would require the department to consult with the Interior Department and Agriculture secretaries, local governments, Indian tribes and property owners to reduce the impact of fencing on the environment, culture, commerce and quality of life for communities and local residents.
Restrictionists (myself included) worry that a Huckabee Administration would encourage Homeland Security to do a lot of dispensing indeed. The WSJ's Jason Riley, however, thinks Huckabee is sounding entirely too tough on immigration. Riley contends that Huckabee, who has orchestrated the most surprisingly successful campaign of the Presidential race, doesn't know what he's doing:
With polls showing his lead gone in Iowa and narrowing in other early primary states, Mitt Romney has stepped up attacks on Mike Huckabee in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. ...

[Huckabee's] response was the "Secure America Plan," which involves fencing off Mexico by 2010, hiring more guards to patrol the Rio Grande, and giving the estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S. 120 days to go back where they came from. Like Rudy Giuliani and Mr. Romney, Mr. Huckabee is convinced that tough talk on immigration, however irrational, is necessary to win the nomination. And while such rhetoric may indeed earn you support from nativist groups like the Minutemen, who endorsed Mr. Huckabee last week, there's a danger that it also could consign the GOP to minority status in Washington for some time.
If only the former Governor would support what the vast majority of the American public opposes, he'd really win them over! He'd do much better than he has done thus far, foolishly vowing to support the same things they support. That "irrational" strategy has, after all, only vaulted him from second-tier obscurity to first place in Iowa (and the national polls as well) in a couple of months!

Debunking the myth of the all-important Hispanic vote is a tired trick now. Hispanics comprise 6% of the voting electorate. More than half of the nation's Hispanics live in either California or Texas, both of which are electoral locks.

Of the ten closest races in the 2004 Presidential election, only two--New Mexico (third) and Nevada (seventh)--have proportionally larger Hispanic populations than the nation as a whole. The other eight states have smaller Hispanic populations--and proportionally larger white populations--than the rest of the country. So that 'key' 2%-3% of the electorate, is actually less important than the numerical figure alone might otherwise make it appear!

Open borders advocates on the Republican side commonly point to GOP gains among Hispanics in Presidential elections from 1996 to 2004 as 'evidence' that immigration enforcement is politically suicidal. What they forget to mention is that GOP gains among whites over the same period dwarfed the Hispanic increase.

From Dole's run to Bush's re-election, Republicans picked up more than 11 million white voters, as well as just under 1.3 million Hispanic voters. The Hispanic vote, which tends to mirror the white vote (slide 19) shifted 25 or so points to the left, did just that over those eight years. The 800-pound gorilla was, and continues to be, the white vote.

Although the Hispanic vote is of minor significance, Riley should take note of the fact that even Hispanic Republicans are miles apart from the op/ed board on taxation and governmental growth. A Pew poll found (slide 21) that while only 17% of white registered Republicans stated that they'd favor paying more in taxes for a larger government, 52% of Hispanic registered Republicans said they would. No te olvides de cancelar el periodico, I guess!

Presumably, Hispanics who don't support the GOP are even bigger tax-and-spenders. As affirmative action eligible, relatively impoverished, relatively uneducated, non-English speaking ethnic minorities with significant concentrations in urban areas, it is hardly surprising that Hispanics tend to favor the Democratic party.

In attacking Romney, Riley points out a major benefit with regards to illegal immigration of a national consumption (or sales) tax to replace the federal income tax:
But even illegals working in the cash economy can't avoid paying consumption taxes, which are levied on the purchase of goods and services.
That Huckabee is the only 'top tier' candidate openly embracing the FairTax idea (Tom Tancredo also supports the plan) is at least one positive for him on the immigration front.

Riley cites a study by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (which focuses on "economic, racial, and social justice") to argue that illegal immigration has economically benefited Arkansas:
Yet a study released earlier this year by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation found these newcomers to "have a small but positive net fiscal impact on the Arkansas state budget."

Taking into account both education and health care expenditures, the report found that immigrants "cost" the state $237 million in 2004, but made direct and indirect contributions of $257 million.
There are a host of problems with that study. Most blatantly, only direct (accounting) costs are figured, while both direct and indirect sources of revenues are counted on the contributions side. If you're going to include the ripple effect from immigrant contributions, shouldn't you also include ripple effects on the expenditures side (like the opportunity costs of not spending that money elsewhere, the deleterious effects on academic rigor in public classrooms, or the increase in public consumption by the businesses who are indirectly contributing on behalf of these immigrants)? An apples-to-apples comparison (page 17 of the pdf) shows an immigrant shortfall of $44 million ($193 million directly contributed to the $237--or more, see below--spent).

On the contributions side, all governmental receipts are included. On the expenditures side, however, 4% of state government expenditures (referred to as "remaining government" expenses) are apparently not allocated to immigrants. Including that, and assuming the same usage rates as are applied as are estimated for other categories like education, brings the debit side up to more than $246 billion, cutting the putative net benefit in half.

Only state spending is considered. Benefits like the EITC and SSI, among other federally bankrolled programs, aren't factored in. At the federal level, the Center for Immigration Studies found that illegal immigration created a net fiscal deficit of over $10 billion in 2002 alone.

There is also the question of worker displacement, as Hispanics in Arkansas are only one-fifth as likely as other Arkansans to own their own businesses. What happens to the torpid American Joe being replaced by Juan if Juan has his job by way of accepting a lower wage and doing better work than Joe? Joe goes on welfare (is heavily subsidized) and Juan keeps the job (is subsidized to a lesser degree). I'll take the American being subsidized, even to a greater degree than Juan would have been, and Juan in Mexico. If I could magically swap Juan for Joe, I probably would. But working poor immigrants do not replace working poor natives, they compete with them and augment the total size of the American working poor.

This study isn't convincing for the reasons stated above, but even if it were, Arkansas is hardly representative. It has the fifth highest poverty rate in the country. It is 16% black, and its white population performs poorly (41st among states) on scholastic measures of academic performance, while its Hispanic students do relatively well (eighth among states). It's certainly not Massachusetts.

Riley dares not breach the issue of what an increasingly Hispanic population portends for the US' economic future. NAEP tests, probably the best source of information serving as a proxy for IQ on a nationwide scale, suggests an average IQ of 93 for Hispanic eighth graders as of 2005. In an ever more competitive international marketplace, that could be a lot more costly than a dollar amount on the debit or credit side of a state's annual budget today.

Open borders advocates often point to the fact that second generation Hispanics do better than the first generation does. But they still do worse than the average citizen. Even four generations in, a gap similar to the one for those in the second generation remains. If a QB's passer rating starts at 20 in preseason but has the potential to get to 40 with a couple seasons in the backup spot, you probably still shouldn't keep him.

While it is encouraging to see Riley touch on quantifiable data, something that tends to be lacking on the open borders side, he still laces the editorial with plenty of invective:

... tough talk on immigration, however irrational [oh, the irony!]...

...voters can't be expected to support a Republican Party that takes its marching orders from Lou Dobbs populists [Dobbs, the bane of the Republican establishment, controls the GOP?]...

... it's not taking them from xenophobic fringe outfits [the Minutemen, viewed favorably by more than half of the public] animated by reconquista conspiracy theories.
The WSJ's op/ed board has supported the Bush Administration on almost everything: Open borders, messianic democracy, the war in Iraq, surveillance wirtetapping, taxes, social security reform, opposition to increasing the minimum wage, and on and on. The President's approval rating hasn't gotten beyond the thirties for a couple of years. There has been an exodus among his 'inner circle', and under his leadership the GOP has given up the House and couldn't hold on to the Senate. Not exactly a proven track record on how to attain political dominance.


Anonymous said...

Maybe 'voters can't be expected' means that their 'betters' won't feel like telling them to vote republican if the right is for loyalty to citizens and not to international amoralism. JSBolton

savage said...

I cannot help but wonder if a single issue here raised is entertained at the editorial board meetings. Is there not a devil's advocate? Not even one who at least gives a half-moment's thought to objection? It is as if the only argumentation against borderlessness is what this Riley lays out, which is really nothing.

Audacious Epigone said...


I remember seeing some footage from an editorial board meeting. I think it was on Michelle Malkin's site. It certainly sounded like an echo chamber, at least from the video she had (they were discussing immigration).

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