Thursday, March 28, 2013

Immigration is not Euvoluntary, Political Externalties Edition v. 1.2

Favoring open borders these days is, at the risk of understatement, let's call it a radical position. Even among fringe libertarians, it's a minority position. When folks talk about immigration policy, the changes they advocate are typically marginal, and carefully partitioned by status: folks tend to be more favorable to high-achieving foreigners and generally wary of the below-average: below average wage earners, below average education attainment, below average IQ, below average literacy. There are piles of arguments to keep strict border controls in place (and often to increase their intensity), many of which are based on implausible empirical claims like increased risk of crime (demonstrably and eminently false) or statistical irrelevancies like shifts in median wages. Value or taste-based arguments like cultural externalities can't be addressed with empirical evidence, so I'll stow comments on these in my footlocker for the time being.

 One sticky empirical wicket is the risk of political externalities. That is to say, immigrants flood in and have kids who turn around at the age of majority and start voting for the sorts of policies that wrecked their home countries. I've written a little about it before here. This is indeed an objection we might worry about and now that I've got a brand-spanking new copy of STATA 12 complete with its excellent MARGINSPLOT feature, I can refine some of the claims I made in my Econlog guest post. Here goes (all data from GSS).

Question 1: Are immigrants in more favor of greater wealth redistribution than native respondents?

Hm. That image isn't particularly clear, but that's a margins plot of how first generation immigrants (red line) stack up against native-born Americans (blue line) on the question of "Should government redistribute income?" when the answer is "agree strongly", broken down by political party affiliation (reference party is "strong democrat"). The margins across immigrant status are statistically indistinguishable.

How about when the answer is "agree", "neither", "disagree" or "strongly disagree"? For the sake of space, I won't post all four of those plots, but the pattern is the same: first-generation immigrants are statistically indistinguishable from the native-born population (and curiously, they tend to favor less wealth redistribution, which is sort of encouraging, I suppose).

Let's move along to second-generation respondents. Same question, same response. Here's the margins plot:

Here we have a statistically significant difference, with second generation immigrants marginally more likely to strongly agree with more redistribution than native-born folks (though still less likely in absolute terms to return this answer). When I break it down by response, second-generation immigrants are statistically more likely to oppose wealth redistribution ("disagree" and "strongly disagree") than native-born respondents.

Here's the same plot for third-generation respondents.

It looks like just one line, but on the hi-res .png image, I assure you there are indeed two lines. Same story for all the other response categories: third-gen "immigrants" have exactly the same attitudes as native-born Americans towards wealth redistribution.

And the pattern isn't limited to party affiliation. It holds for gender, educational attainment, religion, age, and (log) income. Nor is this pattern limited to just attitudes towards wealth redistribution. It applies equally well to spending on law enforcement, social security spending, attitudes towards the institution of democracy, even attitudes towards government spending on space exploration.

So will greater immigration rend asunder the fabric of American society? This evidence doesn't support that claim. There is a bit of an issue with immigrants and their children being attracted more to the political left, but as you can see in the middle graph, there is some second-gen departure from party orthodoxy, suggesting that perhaps, just perhaps certain political parties might well be alienating a chunk of their constituencies. Could it be that immigrants shun the Republican party because the leadership chooses to deploy inimical rhetoric? Might they attract more immigrants if they performed a heel-face turn?

Immigration: still not euvoluntary, but this helps scratch uncompensated externalities off the list, leaving BATNA disparity the big item.

[dictated but not read]

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?