Category Archives: Immigration

Kimberly Clausing – Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration, and Global Capital

Kimberly Clausing – Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration, and Global Capital

This is a book that needed to be written. Progressives have long had a complicated relationship with trade and immigration. On one side, there is a free-trade tradition including progressive heroes such as Cordell Hull, FDR’s Secretary of State; President John F. Kennedy, who passed the 1962 Trade Expansion Act and after whom a major round of liberalizing GATT negotiations was named; and Bill Clinton, who signed NAFTA in to law.

On the other side, the progressive movement’s labor and environmental wings often have at best a transactional relationship with free trade, and at worst an outright hostility to it. Many younger people with social democratic leanings, as well as the older generation of presidential candidates, such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have views on trade that are almost identical to President Trump’s. This is a problem Clausing seeks to address.

She mostly makes the usual economists’ arguments in favor of free trade and immigration. This is fine; trade scholars are not her intended audience, progressives are. Clausing’s progressive credentials help to open the ears of an audience that is often closed to similar messages from different messengers. One particular reason that should resonate more than it does is that free trade and liberal immigration are extremely effective anti-poverty policies. And here, Clausing does a good job of explaining why. But she encounters two problems in her book, one of which is not her doing.

Part of the problem in getting more progressives to support pro-poor trade and immigration policies ties into a political realignment that is currently happening, as the historian Stephen Davies and my colleague Iain Murray have been arguing. For most of the post-war period, the dominant political debate was capitalism vs. socialism. Most people and political parties placed themselves somewhere on that spectrum, and thought of themselves in those terms. That dynamic is largely gone now. Just as conservatives under Trump are no longer a free-market-lite party, progressives are no longer a socialism-lite party, younger social democrats’ pretensions to the contrary. Their fight is on different grounds now.

People are beginning to realign themselves on a different axis—nationalism vs. globalism. Conservatives are rapidly taking over the nationalist side. But progressives haven’t quite chosen their path yet—this complicate’s Clausing’s job. Part of the problem is personality. Trump provides a strongly nationalist figure for conservatives to rally around. As of this writing the progressive side lacks such a figure, whether also a nationalist or more cosmopolitan. There is not likely room for two nationalist parties, but Democrats still haven’t made their choice. If Clausing pushes them in the cosmopolitan direction, she will have done a major service.

These political realignments happen every few generations. The current realignment is neither the first nor last time something like this will happen. But it does explain an awful lot of strange political bedfellows in recent years. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump essentially have the same immigration beliefs, and for similar reasons. Fox News host Tucker Carlson was surprised to find himself very much agreeing with Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s economic patriotism plan.

Large parts of Open also have little to with trade and immigration. I am unsure of whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Her digressions on taxes, regulations, and inequality are standard-issue, and progressives will find little to object to. On the plus side, this can make her market-liberal trade and immigration stances more palatable, especially to progressives still unsure about their place on the nationalism-cosmopolitanism divide. On the other hand, her proposed regulatory policies would reduce the benefits of open trade and immigration. And her views on inequality focus on ratios, rather than people, precisely opposite the liberal approach that would help the poor. For more on this, see Iain Murray’s and my papers on the subject, “People, Not Ratios” and “The Rising Tide.”

Flaws and all, Clausing has written an important book that has the potential to do a lot of good. Ideally, she will not only nudge progressives in a more free-market direction on trade and immigration policy, she will encourage them to take a more cosmopolitan stance in order to provide an effective opposition to an increasingly nationalist conservative movement.


Carrie Gibson – El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America

Carrie Gibson – El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America

The history of North America from the British perspective is a fascinating story. But it’s been done a thousand times. Gibson takes a different approach, visiting the period from the Spanish side. For a fuller picture of North American history than most people get, El Norte would pair well with Bernard Bailyn’s British-focused The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America–The Conflict of Civilizations. Bailyn’s book is a fascinating, if overly detailed, account of the early years on the Eastern seaboard—and the barbarism in his title applies at least as much to the British at least as much as the people they thought barbaric.

But when the British landed at Plymouth Rock, Spanish explorers had already been on the continent for a century. That’s where Gibson come in. She focuses mostly on North America, bringing in South America only where relevant, and also giving some attention to the Caribbean islands, especially Cuba and Puerto Rico. Their interactions with mainland North America have taken many turns over the years, many of which were new to this reader, who is not well-versed in Caribbean history.

For example, the baseball bug bit Cuba early, with the game becoming its national pastime and the island exporting star players as early as the 1920s; Fidel Castro’s passion for the game did not emerge from a vacuum. Today’s Cuban major leaguers, including stars such as Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman, Jose Abreu, and Yoenis Cespedes, are part of a long tradition that predates Cuba’s disastrous revolution that they defected from. Gibson also goes into what Cuban cultural and economic life was like before the revolution. Cuba was well on its way to emerging from a brutal sugar-based economy to one with vibrant business, entertainment, and tourism sectors when the 1957 Revolution turned out the lights, often literally.

Gibson also goes into Puerto Rico’s complicated relationship with the United States that is somehow both close and distant, even today, and the origins of its large expat community in New York City.

The meat of the book dances around from state to state across the southern United States. Gibson spends a lot of time on Louisiana, which spent time in Spanish hands as well as French, as well as in Florida, which remained a Spanish possession even after American independence—Spain and the U.S. were once technically neighbors.

The Southwest also gets its due. The political, ethnic, and cultural boundaries between Mexico and Texas were more fluid back then they are today; today’s border is essentially an accident that stayed in place. There is nothing special about the Rio Grande river, as anyone who has been there will likely tell you. Gibson takes the read from Texas’ Gulf coast through the hill country, and on through New Mexico, Arizona, and California, including the Baja peninsula, from roughly the 16th century up to the present.

Gibson does tie Hispanic-American history somewhat into current events at the vey beginning and end of the book. This makes some sense given the tensions over immigration and nationalism the Trump administration has been stirring up, which will almost certainly outlast it. But Gibson’s focus is more on the history. This is ultimately more effective. Besides being mostly free of off-putting political posturing, Gibson shows that borders, when seen in larger context, are not so sacred. People, language, and culture are fluid, always in motion, and always evolving. The same cannot be said of parochial politics.

Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith – Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration

Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith – Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration

A graphic novel about immigration policy, and a superbly done one at that. Caplan, a former professor of mine at George Mason, wrote most of the words. Weinersmith, creator of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal web comic, did the artwork and many of the jokes.

This book is aimed at skeptics, and Caplan and Weinsersmith do a much better job of appealing to them than most people do. In some ways, Open Borders is an example of what happens when someone is able to pass an ideological Turing test—a concept Caplan coined in 2011. They are routinely charitable to their opponents, and confront their strongest arguments as their proponents actually present them. This is much more effective than building up straw men and knocking them down, leaving the original argument untouched. It is also more difficult, which is why many people do not bother.

If immigration restrictionists pick up the book—and early sales figures suggest some of them are—Caplan and Weinersmith should allay a lot of peoples’ fears with their calm, accessible presentation that is rigorously backed with data and research (interested readers can consult roughly 30 pages worth of notes at the back of the book). They convey a tone that is light-hearted and serious at the same time, which is not an easy balance to strike. And even if they don’t convince very many people to embrace open borders, the sheer weight of data, theory, philosophy, and morality in their favor should at least push most readers a little bit in their direction at the margin.

Caplan and Weinersmith make a very good team. Hopefully they collaborate again in the future.

Trump Threatens up to 25 Percent Tariff on Mexican Goods, Jeopardizes NAFTA/USMCA

Things have been moving quickly on President Trump’s top legislative priority, the NAFTA/USMCA trade agreement. The key was rescinding steel and aluminum tariffs against Canada and Mexico. On Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau moved to introduce the agreement to Canada’s legislature for ratification, prompting a Thursday visit from Vice President Mike Pence. Also on Thursday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador introduced NAFTA/USMCA in Mexico’s Senate. He is requesting that the body, on recess until September, hold a special session to ratify it.

Within hours of Lopez Obrador’s announcement, President Trump may have torpedoed his own agreement. Shortly after markets closed, he threatened, via Twitter, a new tariff against Mexico that would dwarf the steel and aluminum tariffs:

1/2: On June 10th, the United States will impose a 5% Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP. The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied,..

2/2:….at which time the Tariffs will be removed. Details from the White House to follow.

On July 1, the 5 percent tariff would rise to 10 percent. It would then rise by an additional 5 percent at the beginning of each month until reaching 25 percent on October 1. It would remain there until President Trump is satisfied with Mexico’s immigration policies. He did not set specific criteria for Mexico to meet. And as mentioned earlier, Mexico’s Senate is out of session until September. But the administration’s statement indicates that this threat isn’t entirely about immigration (capitalization of “tariff” and typewriter-era extra spacing between sentences in original):

If Mexico fails to act, Tariffs will remain at the high level, and companies located in Mexico may start moving back to the United States to make their products and goods.  Companies that relocate to the United States will not pay the Tariffs or be affected in any way.

By way of context, this tariff would be nearly twice as large as the recent 25 percent tariff on $200 billion of Chinese goods. Mexico annually exports roughly $346.5 billion of goods to the United States.

NAFTA and the NAFTA 2.0/USMCA both require near-zero tariffs among the three member countries. Trump has invoked the Jimmy Carter-era 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act as legal authority for the tariffs, claiming that that bill’s emergency powers supersede possible NAFTA violations.

As I’ve mentioned before, Trump has a habit of using dramatic last-minute threats as a negotiating tactic. Sometimes he follows through, as with the recent 25 percent tariff on $200 billion of Chinese goods. Sometimes he withdraws, as he did with a threat to close the entire U.S.-Mexican border, and an April threat of a 25 percent tariff on Mexican-assembled automobiles—which are often made largely of U.S.-made parts.

For obvious reasons, a new tariff against Mexico will not make its government more likely to ratify NAFTA/USMCA. Tariffs are usually met with retaliatory tariffs, not the policy action Trump wants. The U.S. economy is risking yet another instance of double damage from President Trump’s announcement—once from his tariffs, and again from retaliatory tariffs.

Further complicating matters, Mexican President Lopez Obrador largely shares Trump’s negative view of free trade. His support of NAFTA/USMCA is not deeply held. His going along with the agreement is largely a kindness to his predecessor, Enrique Peña-Nieto, who negotiated the agreement and signed it on his final day in office. Lopez Obrador’s NAFTA/USMCA support is easily lost, and this tariff gives him an easy out.

The tariff also complicates matters in America. Also on Thursday, President Trump issued a Statement of Administrative Action. This opens a 30-day waiting period, after which Trump can send NAFTA/USMCA to Congress at any time for a mandatory ratification vote within a set period (Politico has a handy timeline). Members from both parties opposed the steel and aluminum tariffs, and they will likely oppose the new tariff, which is potentially much larger. If Congress is required to vote, it may well vote no due to the new Mexico tariffs.

Democrats already hold the upper hand in negotiations due to the administration’s high prioritization of a low-stakes agreement; USMCA contains no major changes to trade policy. Even without Trump’s tariff threat, they could hold up the agreement to add trade-unrelated provisions to benefit favored labor and environmental constituencies. Or they could condition ratification on a more important matter, such as must-pass appropriations bills or other Democratic policy priorities such as health care or the minimum wage.

A new tariff is Trump giving Democrats free ammunition to hold up not just NAFTA/USMCA, but other administration priorities as well.

We’ll find out by June 10th if Trump walks back a major economic and political mistake, or goes through with it.

Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan – In Defense of Openness: Why Global Freedom Is the Humane Solution to Global Poverty

Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan – In Defense of Openness: Why Global Freedom Is the Humane Solution to Global Poverty

Argued from a philosopher’s point of view, though both authors are economically literate. They argue that the most effective poverty-relief policies involve positive-sum interactions. A more open approach to trade, immigration, and entrepreneurship are the most important positive-sum policies, and they back them with strong moral and consequentialist arguments.

People have the right to make deals with each other, or to move somewhere else if they like. For a third party to get in the way and forcibly stop them requires a very strong reason. The burden of proof is on that third party.

Conservatives and nationalists offer few strong justifications for their force-happy trade and immigration policies. Progressives also come off poorly for preferring zero-sum redistribution policies even when positive-sum policies are readily available. Both authors argue instead for a more permissive, open, and liberal approach–liberal in its original, correct sense.

Is This What Amnesty Looks Like?

You know a regulatory system is broken when this qualifies as liberalization:

Click here if the embedded video doesn’t work.

CEI Podcast for May 8, 2013: The Debate Over Undocumented Immigration

Have a listen here.

CEI Immigration Policy Analyst David Bier is critical of a new Heritage Foundation study that estimates that giving legal status to America’s undocumented immigrants would cost $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years.

CEI Podcast for March 7, 2013: The Three-Sided Immigration Debate

Have a listen here.

There are more combatants in the ongoing immigration debate than the usual progressives and conservatives. Immigration Policy Analyst David Bier recently wrote for USA Today about a third side in the debate: population control advocates who oppose immigration altogether.

GOP Evolving on Immigration

The hardline stance that many Republicans hold on immigration policy has long struck me as immoral, not just economically harmful. High-skilled immigrants are the most entrepreneurial group in America. Low-skilled immigrants not only improve their own lives by coming here, they improve everyone else’s by further refining the division of labor. Economics jargon aside, it is unethical for some people to decide where other, peaceful people may or may not live — and to use force to do so.

Tuesday’s election results are causing many GOP leaders to reconsider their nativist leanings. Just look at these Politico stories from the last 24 hours or so. Their sheer number is surprising, since immigration isn’t a particularly hot issue right now:

  • Haley Barbour urges immigration reform
    “[W]e are in a global battle for capital and labor, and we need to have what is good economic policy for America on immigration because we do need labor. We not only need Ph.Ds in science and technology, we need skilled workers and we need unskilled workers. And we need to have an immigration policy that is good economic policy, and then — and then the politics will take care of itself.”
  • Rick Santorum: GOP must reach Latinos
    “Yeah, I think we did lose a lot of [the] Hispanic vote,” he said. “I think one of the reasons [is], we didn’t talk about all the issues that that community, which, as all immigrant communities are, there are a disproportionate [number who are] middle and lower income who are trying to struggle to rise. We didn’t have a strong message for those folks. And I’m not just talking Hispanics, I’m talking writ large.”
  • Can Marco Rubio save the GOP on immigration?
    Rubio and his advisers are well aware of the risks: He must thread a needle as he tries to portray an open, tolerant party while not incensing the ultraconservative base who want tall fences, closed borders and nothing that looks like amnesty for illegal immigrants.
  • Krauthammer pro-amnesty, not citizenship
    “I think Republicans can change their position, be a lot more open to actual amnesty with enforcement — amnesty, everything short of citizenship — and to make a bold change in their policy.
  • Hannity: I’ve ‘evolved’ on immigration and support a ‘pathway to citizenship’
    “The majority of people here, if some people have criminal records you can send them home, but if people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, first secure the border, pathway to citizenship, done.”

This is big. I suspect that their motives for opening up are electoral, rather than from economic knowledge or humanitarianism. It could even be that they’ve always been on the tolerant side of things, but thought until now that saying so wouldn’t fly with the median GOP voter. I don’t much care if motives are pure or impure; results are what matters. It may have taken the GOP until Tuesday to learn that threatening mass deportation tends to alienate Hispanic voters, but at least they’re learning. And their new political calculus could result in positive reform.

Immigration is not the only issue where the GOP is evolving in the right direction. Aside from Rick Santorum and a few others (and even he’s coming around on immigration!), the party took great pains to de-emphasize its traditional stances on social issues such as same-sex marriage and drug prohibition. Given how those issues fared in a number of states, this was a wise move.

Going forward, it looks like the GOP will continue to restrain its worst impulses. They’ll become politically irrelevant if they don’t. The rising generation of voters is very tolerant on social issues, regardless of party affiliation. This is unlikely to change as they age. No going back now.

Usually I bemoan the fact in a democracy, voters get what they want. But on immigration and many social issues, this is turning out to be a good thing. At the very least, Republicans are becoming a little less noxious than they used to be. They’re certainly becoming a little less embarrassing.

CEI Podcast for October 11, 2012: More Americans

Have a listen here.

Policy Analyst David Bier thinks the world could use more Americans. And an easy way make happen is through increasing legal immigration. America’s superior economic institutions give immigrants the ability to create more wealth and value than they could in their home countries. Expanding legal channels would also curb dangerous immigration black markets for labor and human smuggling.