The glaring problem in the eyes of HBD realists, of course, is that it is more than just 'rules' that make Haiti Haiti--Haitians themselves play a big role. Relative performance of immigrant groups in the US is similar to the performance of the home countries those immigrants come from. Moving pockets of the underclass into middle class suburbia does not turn the hood rats into burghers--turns out you can take the underclass out of the hood, but you can't take the hood out of the underclass. Likewise, it's easy to get Mexicans out of Mexico, but taking Mexico out of Mexicans is not so simple.
Because it operates under the presumption that human populations are completely interchangeable, the hour long discussion is almost worthless intellectually. But the content isn't all forgettable flotsam. Worse that that, much of it is civilizationally masochistic (28:33):
I think it would be great if we let poor people come to the United States. As [Romer] say[s], their incomes usually jump manyfold. They're very productive. They make our lives better.Yes, clearly importing poverty on a massive scale is the best way to increase the quality of life in the US! The only reason places like Zimbabwe and Somalia are such hellholes is because they have governments that are too heavy-handed and too feeble, respectively, for a Western standard of living to be realized. Since we have a poor track record when it comes to changing the governmental structures of other countries, a better way of fighting poverty is to take the world's impoverished and put them within the borders of the developed world. What could possibly go wrong?
Roberts goes on to agree with Romer that just allowing a few hundred thousand poor migrants into the US each year is merely a drop in the bucket, that there are one billion people who would benefit from coming here. Those we are unable to take in should be transported to these charter cities (presumably on the developed world's dime, although that's not fleshed out in the podcast). Because they become much wealthier upon taking up residency in the US, largescale immigration of impoverished third-worlders not only carries with it a putative economic benefit (because everyone knows that it is countries where labor costs are lowest are the same countries where standard of livings are the highest!), it also brings a humanitarian one.
The same logic can be applied to wealth redistribution at the individual level. If a bunch of indigents are free to take up residence on Bill Gates' Lake Washington property and use the facilities for their own well-being, it will markedly increase their quality of life. It won't even break Bill's bank. But it will bring down the value of his property, cause him to devote more of his energy to addressing the issues that arise as a result of having indigents living under his roof, decrease the trust existing within the household (Bill's not doing the same thing with his spare time as the indigents are), and disincentivize the behaviors that allowed him to acquire the property in the first place.
I suspect that in response Romer would point out that such indigents being allowed to take up residency on Bill's property is a violation of his personal property rights. But are property rights at the individual level principally different from the rights of a national sovereign to the territory that comprises it? If the majority of the Gates' household was in favor of allowing the indigents to move in, the political argument would be different. When it comes to illegal immigration in the US, however, it is clear that the majority of the Gates' are opposed to hosting the indigents. Forced against their will to accept their new housemates, the Gates' will be prone to move to sections of the house where the indigents don't frequent, such as the northeast quadrant of the property.
The American Southwest is approaching the Deep South in terms of poor scholastic performance, public indebtedness, unemployment, and criminal activity. White flight has been an element of California's existence for over a decade now, due in part to unskilled immigration from Mexico and Central America, most of it unregulated or based on family reunification rather than any measure of merit. The negative externalities listed previously (in addition to accentuated economic and social inequality) associated with largescale unskilled immigration is why laws like the one recently signed in Arizona are created--residents of the states on the front lines realize the transformation from first-world United States into third-world Mexico is not a desirable one.
That Northeastern professors existing in the most unrealistic setting imaginable--the university setting--see no meaningful difference between Ellis Island Jewish immigrants from Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries--before the modern welfare state came into being, when a couple percent of aspiring immigrants were actually turned away in fear they'd become public charges, and when the need for physical labor was rapidly rising--and the immigration patterns today is unsurprising.
While I generally enjoy EconTalk podcasts, Roberts regularly makes empirical assertions that are simply incorrect (although to be fair, he usually prefaces them with something along the lines of "I think, although I'm not familiar with the latest data..."). The one theoretical problem he sees with unfettered immigration--although his comments show he really only thinks it's a political, not a legitimate, problem--into the US is the potential for abuse of the welfare system. After asserting that immigrants in the US improve the lives of natives, he insinuates that welfare use among immigrants is not an actual problem (28:42):
As long as they didn't live off our welfare system, which is a big handicap--I don't think they want to live off our welfare system, but the fact that they could, means people aren't going to let them in. We don't have that luxury [the realization that current immigration patterns are beneficial for natives] right now, politically, I don't think.A graph comparing usage rates of various welfare programs in the US from the Center for Immigration's impressive 2007 report profiling the US' foreign-born population demonstrates, however, that while it may not be the case in Fairfax, on the whole immigrants make considerably better use of welfare programs in the US than natives do: