G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Ron Unz wrote a long piece at The American Conservative covering policy prescriptions to handle illegal immigration in an unconventional way, by increasing the minimum wage. I want to note up front that none other than liberal leading light Michael Dukakis has previously suggested a policy solution similar to Unz’s. While my knee-jerk reaction was to blast the suggestion of a higher minimum wage, there may be something to this proposal – as libertarian Alex Tabarrok suggested when he expressed amusement at a progressive like Dukakis finally admitting that minimum wage laws do cause unemployment (a short post on progressives’ true goal for minimum wage laws). Basically, minimum wage laws will work to stem the tide of illegal immigration and loss of party power. But if you want to get a little dirtier and aren’t worried about political backlash, there are other solutions to the problem.
Reihan Salam (here, here, and here), Dennis Mangan and hbd chick touch on Unz’s article which attempts to explain the reasons that a large percentage of whites vote Republican and what that means for immigration policy – with the latter two disagreeing with Unz’s arguments. Unz reviews the political developments of the immigration issue and its place in the Republican plank and touches on the “Sailer Strategy”. Steve Sailer hypothesized that the Republican Party would persist by playing to white voters rather than Hispanic voters and by taking a hard line on illegal immigration. But contra the Sailer Hypothesis – an offshoot of the Sailer Strategy which suggests that largely white states would vote Republican – Unz offers evidence that whites in states with larger proportions of blacks vote Republican in larger numbers. To sum up that point succinctly, Portland, Austin, or Vermont are Whitetopia’s – outposts of sanguine white liberalism and easy, pro-community living – because there aren’t very many blacks there. The Deep South is the Solid South – a bloc of states with high black populations that are Republican strongholds. White liberals living in Whitetopia’s have the privilege of being able to preach from on high their ideals while living a cushy reality of not having to confront blacks. To borrow Donald Rumsfeld’s line, they don’t know what they don’t know.
While many don’t agree with what they see as Unz’s soft line on immigration, I have the sense that whites do tend to prefer to live around Hispanics rather than blacks, and that Republican politics are largely shaped by the black-white divide. El Paso, Texas – 80% Hispanic – is the second safest major city in the country whereas Detroit, Birmingham, St. Louis are among the most dangerous. As Unz has shown elsewhere, Hispanic crime rates – at least in the South – are in line with white crime rates (the same can’t be said of blacks’). As Unz has also pointed out elsewhere, the one city that is most widely known for its Hispanic crime, Los Angeles, exhibits a high murder rate in part because of the proximity between Hispanics and blacks in South Central L.A.
As Unz points out, there is very little inherited racial tension between whites and Hispanics. The lack of this internal hostility means that there is no while guilt that fosters alienation between disparate white groups. One underdiscussed aspect of the black/white issue is that those whites who take the hard line on black people (through recognizing that a lot of blacks adhere to a sick culture, an outcome that may not be able to be remedied due to genetics) feel alienated from whites they perceive as overly accommodative of blacks. Basically, a two-front war is being waged in this regard.
Those issues largely don’t exist in the white/Hispanic dyad.
Unz gets interesting in his policy prescriptions – which present a conundrum for libertarians and liberals alike. He doesn’t entertain the notion of fence building or deportation because he conceives political backlash down the line. Whereas whites’ median age is somewhere in the early 40s, Hispanics median age is in the mid-20s; Republicans will have to live with hostile Hispanic (and liberal white) voters in the future. Unz cites the 1994 California gubernatorial election and Gov. Pete Wilson’s hard anti-immigration rhetoric as evidence that the Sailer Strategy of appealing to white voters with a hard line on immigration does not work.
Instead, Unz takes the interesting tactic of leveraging liberal sentiments to quell illegal immigration before it happens. He doesn’t explicitly discuss it as an overt strategy to force liberals to give up immigration in favor of higher wages, but the plan would crucially stifle liberal opposition. To do all of this, Unz suggests raising the minimum wage; his arbitrary figure is $12, up from its current $7.25. Unz’s is not an original suggestion, though. A 2006 NYT op-ed by Michael Dukakis and Daniel Mitchell suggested that the minimum wage be increased from the then $5.15 per hour to $8.
As Unz discusses, this strategy also pits conservative constituencies against each other. Small government conservatives (and libertarians) are usually strongly opposed to minimum wage laws. But many conservatives, Unz suggests, would vote for whichever candidate sought to deal with the immigration issue. Unz gives a detailed explanation for why the minimum wage would have a positive impact besides its impact on immigration. Unz argues that the net costs of a higher minimum wage – increased white and black unemployment – are lower than the net savings gained by not servicing marginal immigrants. Unz also suggests that the overall impact on employment will not be so great. With loose ties to this country and with no incentive to stay, immigrants would naturally head back to Mexico or Central America with its more affordable living.
While Unz implies that the optimal wage floor would sit below the point where manufacturing companies would be compelled to outsource, he doesn’t address the tradeoff from labor to technology. As labor costs increase, employers would have greater incentive to automate – not to mention, reduce the number of workers by increasing productivity requirements on those who stay on. The question at the end of this is whether or not the cost of the job losses of Americans would be less than the savings from reducing the number of immigrants in this country (Unz throws out any cultural actuarialism – a fact which is probably the sticking point among those who vehemently disagree with Unz).
Unz’s argument is not readily palatable to any side because it is so obscenely pragmatic. Liberals would like an immigration policy based on ideals – multiculturalism, diversity, no borders. Conservatives would like an immigration policy based on ideals too – strict enforcement of borders and law. Libertarians would prefer that the welfare state not be involved and that the government didn’t institute wage controls.
Myself? I started out shaking my head at Unz’s minimum wage suggestion. But pragmatically, it might work. The question for me is do I want to settle for pragmatics or move full steam ahead in a principled direction?