Should Freedom-Loving Americans Fear the Mexican Voter?

At Distributed Republic, Curunir cites this study by Erzo Luttmer and Monica Singhal finding that immigrants’ preferences for redistribution tend to be predicted by the average views in their country of origin. They also find a similar but weaker effect on the children of immigrants. Curunir writes:

Now, there are several possible reactions one could take to this finding, assuming it holds up, which is always tricky in social sciences. One is to find that the net benefit of immigration for libertarians is still positive. Another is that free movement of people is simply a basic civil right, consequences be damned (I’m not wholly unsympathetic to this view). A third would be to blame this entire problem in the existence of the state, which strikes me as true but irrelevant (since anarchy isn’t coming any time soon, I fail to see why we shouldn’t consider how our policies on immigration will effect the world as it currently is).

But what is unacceptable is to just sweep aside concerns over the cultural and political effects of immigration as simple racism. What this study shows us is that it really does matter who constitutes the voting public, and that immigration could easily change the beliefs of the people in ways libertarians will find discomforting.

I think there’s some confusion in this response.

First, it is wrong to take a preference for redistribution to say much about liberty at all–even economic liberty. Take the example of Denmark, which has the lowest level of income inequality in the world due to a population with a strong taste for redistibution. But, setting tax rates and government as a percentage of GDP aside, Denmark has a higher level of economic freedom than any country in the world. And the latest Heritage index puts Denmark at 8th in economic freedom, with no really meaningful difference from the U.S’s 6th or Canada’s 7th.

Of course, nobody in the U.S. is worried about the electoral effect of Danish immigrants. The immigration debate in the U.S. is almost entirely about Mexicans. And I think it’s better to not talk in code about abstract foreigners and just face up to the fact that we’re talking about people from the much poorer country along the United States’ southern border. It is both clarifying and refreshing to talk about the real subject at hand. So what do Mexicans think about redistribution?

Take a look at the World Values Survey. On a 1-10 scale going from “Incomes should be made more equal” to “We need larger income differences as incentives,”  Mexicans average 6.1, the same as Americans. However, Mexican answers tend to cluster toward the ends of the scale, in every income group, while American answers tend to cluster toward the middle, in every income group but the richest (of which there is a very small sample). A larger proportion of poor Mexicans strongly believe there ought to be more inequality than poor Americans. Also, a larger proportion of poor Mexicans strongly believe incomes should be made more equal. On average, poor Mexicans are more pro-redistribution than poor Americans, but less pro-redistribution than poor Canadians. Canadians in general are rather more pro-redistrubution than Americans, but Canada has the same level of economic freedom as the U.S. and arguably more freedom overall. There is, as far as I can tell, little reason to think a large influx of Mexican voters would much change the American median voter’s preference for redistribution, which is not in any case a good proxy for a preference for freedom.

But this is all to take for granted Curunir’s sadly common confusion between residency and citizenship. It is almost impossible for a low-skilled Mexican to work legally in the U.S. without family ties. There is so much family chain migration and so many “border babies” because that’s what it takes to get access to U.S. labor markets.  If we finished the work of Nafta and unified North American labor markets, there would be very little reason to worry about the electoral effects of Mexican immigration, since most Mexicans who come to the U.S. come to work, not to vote, or become American citizens. Labor migration and citizenship are separate issues. If Curunir’s worry about diluting the electorate’s taste for freedom had force, it would apply to the question of the distribution of citizenships, not the question of openness to foreign workers.

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24 thoughts on “Should Freedom-Loving Americans Fear the Mexican Voter?

  1. But, setting tax rates and government as a percentage of GDP aside, Denmark has a higher level of economic freedom than any country in the world.GAH!It's because their methodology is biased towards banking regulation and trade. Lowland countries like the Netherlands and Luxembourg were forced into the bank game a long time ago due to geography and the advantages their neighbors had. As such their long time support of freedom in these areas is a historical artifact and merely a comparative advantage.It is no different then the US's strong support of our Aircraft industry. If we measured economic freedom by say, regulation and taxes on aircraft manufacturing, I'm sure the US would be #1 in this area.A true measure of economic freedom would be in measuring the support of non-comparative advantage trade industries. Like say, what is the nature of Denmark's real estate market, to just give one example.You find it convenient to keep pushing “Denmark is a free country and also happy” because you already started with the conclusion that market freedom = happiness and so I don't think you really question the methodology of the surveys in a way you might do to others. IT is not to say that free markets don't have a causal effect on happiness, but that it isn't the only thing that matters, nor would it justify impeding on free trade even if it made most people unhappy.==The issue with Mexican immigration is loss aversion.As this recent blogging heads diavlouge explains conservatism very well:http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/20405?in=49:30…Americans who oppose immigration don't see or know what they are gaining, and if they do, they don't think what they're gaining is as much as they lossed, even when the data doesn't back it up. When an American goes back to say, the place where they took their first girlfriend on a date and see it's now a whole in the wall Taco Shop, or the place where they had a job sacking groceries and everything is in a foreign language, and the everything look poorer or dirtier, and music is playing that sounds like noise and people are dressed wrong. I don't doubt them when they say they feel like they lost 'something.'And the thing is, even if we had a surge of poor Canadians cross the border and do everything exactly the same, they would at least be able to recognize the new. It would not 'feel' like a simulacrum. Instead it would layer over it in a way that one wouldn't be able to recognize the fake from the real. At this point Canada is so good at faking America, that we film all our TV and movies there! I wouldn't have to suspend must disbelief that Canada is America then I already do when I flip on the television.They feel they've lost something. And, maybe they honestly have. When they complain about a job lost to immigration, there is something actually lost, even if something better is gained. We should recognize that it bother's people a bit more when it's a person who does it, and not a machine, since they can't get mad a computer for doing their job better then them.As libertarians we can keep speaking out to these people that we are gaining more then we lose, that we're better for the change, but people feel losses more then they feel gains. Every time we run into opposition in free trade, either in terms of the freedom of movement of labor or freedom of exchange of goods or monetary issues, we keep falling back on these old habits pointing out the good, and pointing out that it's 'really not all that different', and to them it looks like we're not emphatic to their position.Maybe we should start with the position of empathy towards their loss, first, before we try to convince them that we're right. Maybe if we honestly actually said, “Yes, it is in a way a sad thing that the past is not recognizable, but that is the way the world is, and we're better for the change. To be static is to die. Some of the changes will be bad, but you have to take the package as a whole. Just as it was with your ancestors when they came here. In many ways that was a harder pill to swallow…”and so on.Otherwise a good post. Just wanted to get these two things off my chest.

  2. First, it is wrong to take a preference for redistribution to say much about liberty at all–even economic libertyI disagree. Maybe it doesn't matter all that much but who is to say? Thats the problem with determining quantitative values for ambiguous concepts like “economic liberty”, preferences differ across individuals. This is why these indexes tend to be kind of silly, weighted averages of different variables can't be done objectively. If you want to measure a certain variable and compare then do so, but why stuff several variables, with subjective weights into a single average and call it the such-and-such-index? What do I really get from this?To take an absurd example, what if I come from a region that produces 99% of all global goods and services, yet levies a 100% tariff on all imports, the value received for “trade freedom” in this scenario would be about zero. What weight should I attach to this value? The Heritage index would give it 10%, I would give it zero. I would say I don't feel any less free from this tariff. In addition, as Andrew Gelman has pointed out,sometimes the variation in some variables across regions may be quite small but relatively large for other ones. So what winds up happening is that the the index becomes a measure of only a couple of the variables yet reports to be a measure of a wider range. I consider this misleading. Although, I should say, this is a a complaint about relative ranking indexes in general, I haven't had the time to go through the Heritage index properly. As for whether or not Mexican immigration will increase redistribution pressure in the American political system, no one really knows. You don't think it will, I do, I guess only time will tell. Lets say for arguments sake that Mexican immigration does increase redistribution, I see no reason why someone concerned with “economic liberty” couldn't oppose it as a result.

  3. ” A larger proportion of poor Mexicans strongly believe there ought to be more inequality than poor Americans. Also, a larger proportion of poor Mexicans strongly believe incomes should be made more equal. On average, poor Mexicans are more pro-redistribution than poor Americans, but less pro-redistribution than poor Canadians.”But aren't economic migrants from Mexico by definition skewed to the poor end of this scale? Not saying that these claims are valid, but if we're looking at the economic views of any group, we should be looking at the views of those who are actually coming here, not some abstract “average Mexican”

  4. What first, second, third generation Mexican Americans tend to believe has been consistently and predictably different from what Mexicans believe.

  5. I think part of the idea of ending racism is that even if it would benefit you in the moment you shouldn't be given a job over a well qualified person of a different race simply because of your race. Even if you can show that America would be more free if we exclude Mexicans, or send all our Blacks to Nigeria, it doesn't make it not racism.

  6. So immigrant preferences for redistribution are irrelevant if we ignore taxation and the size of government? I don't quite get the point. Did I overlook data showing immigrants favored Danish levels of regulation and free trade?Craig, speaking of that the Inductivist has a recent post on preferences among blacks, whites & hispanics for preferential hiring.

  7. a) The trick of ignoring both the very big government and the very high taxes in order to conclude that “Denmark is all in all a very free country”, is one we see a lot (I'm a Dane). It's a load of horse****. Ignoring government size and taxation in the case of Denmark is like ignoring Gulag and the show-trials when evaluating Russia under Stalin. It doesn't make any sense.b) The reasons why most Americans who know anything about this subject know that they need not fear anything from Danish immigrants regarding redistribution is a) It's the highly educated Danes who get fleeced by the government that flee to America, not the poor redistributionists living off the welfare state, and b) Denmark isn't very big, so there's no way for you to ever import enough of us to make any noticeable difference either way.

  8. No. I said preferences for redistribution don't map on cleanly to preferences for freedom generally or economic freedom in particular. Denmark was probably a confusing example. So just take Canada and don't ignore taxes and size of government. Canadians have significantly stronger pro-redistribution preferences than Americans', and stronger than Mexicans', but their economy overall is as free or freer that the U.S.'s.

  9. US, Regarding a) I was just pointing out that Denmark's economy is freer than the US's on most dimensions of economic freedom. I don't mean to minimize the importance of tax rates and size of government. And I don't think the indices minimize them (if anything, they're counting the same thing more than once.) That's why Denmark rightly ranks below the U.S. and Canada.

  10. Let's make this simpler. How well have Mexicans done at running a country?I would say not very well.

  11. Mexicans probably do a better job than Cubans. Yet the average Cuban faces fewer immigration hurdles from the US government. Then again, Mexican immigrants are not likely to have ever been involved in running Mexico. Does that count for or against their favor?

  12. Actually, Cuba was run pretty well before Castro took over. It had a positive rate of immigration even from Europe back then. Both Batista and Castro were dictators, so it makes less sense to credit Cubans with the performance of either. Perhaps we might fault them for having a society that only produced dictatorship. I am willing to blame Mexicans and many other poor countries for their bad public policies.

  13. It seems silly to blame the the woes of the motherland on people who are leaving. Why does this standard not apply to everyone who emigrated to the US in the past 200+ years? After all, how many folks came to the US because things were going so well in the Old Country? Can I blame you for the crappy state the US is in, since collective punishment seems widely accepted even among critics of redistribution-friendly furriners?

  14. There is indeed little reason to lay off blaming previous immigrants to the U.S. My ancestors, for example, came from Ireland and while they were being ruled by the English at the time, the moment they achieved any rule for themselves they demonstrated their incompetence in self-governance (this has changed recently, but it took quite a while). To my mind it is not at all conclusive that native-born Americans and their descendants benefited from Irish immigration.The people who are leaving seek better economic opportunities, but that doesn't indicate that they don't support the policies that led to reduced economic opportunities. In relatively democratic countries policies, perhaps even especially the worst policies, are broadly popular. Refuseniks/dissidents/refugees might be a different story, but that does not describe most of our immigrants. Even in that case, I think it was our misfortune to take in the “Forty-Eighters” from Germany in the 19th century.

  15. Actually, Cuba was run pretty well before Castro took over. It had a positive rate of immigration even from Europe back then. Both Batista and Castro were dictators, so it makes less sense to credit Cubans with the performance of either. Perhaps we might fault them for having a society that only produced dictatorship. I am willing to blame Mexicans and many other poor countries for their bad public policies.

  16. It seems silly to blame the the woes of the motherland on people who are leaving. Why does this standard not apply to everyone who emigrated to the US in the past 200+ years? After all, how many folks came to the US because things were going so well in the Old Country? Can I blame you for the crappy state the US is in, since collective punishment seems widely accepted even among critics of redistribution-friendly furriners?

  17. There is indeed little reason to lay off blaming previous immigrants to the U.S. My ancestors, for example, came from Ireland and while they were being ruled by the English at the time, the moment they achieved any rule for themselves they demonstrated their incompetence in self-governance (this has changed recently, but it took quite a while). To my mind it is not at all conclusive that native-born Americans and their descendants benefited from Irish immigration.The people who are leaving seek better economic opportunities, but that doesn't indicate that they don't support the policies that led to reduced economic opportunities. In relatively democratic countries policies, perhaps even especially the worst policies, are broadly popular. Refuseniks/dissidents/refugees might be a different story, but that does not describe most of our immigrants. Even in that case, I think it was our misfortune to take in the “Forty-Eighters” from Germany in the 19th century.

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