By Ilya Somin
Conservative and libertarian critics of immigration like to cite Milton Friedman’s observation that “[y]ou cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state,” which co-blogger Ken Anderson recently endorsed. The fear is that, given relatively open borders, immigrants from poor countries will flock to wealthy ones and undermine their economies by consuming huge amounts of welfare benefits.
I am a great admirer of Friedman and his scholarship. But he was not an expert on immigration, and, as far as I can tell, he never systematically studied the evidence on the impact of immigration on political support for the welfare state. That evidence overwhelmingly shows that ethnic heterogeneity greatly reduces support for welfare state spending because voters are less willing to support welfare programs if they believe that a large percentage of the money is going to members of a different racial or ethnic group.
I cite some of the relevant studies in a recent article in the International Affairs Forum on Immigration (pg. 43). The research shows that this effect holds true even in a strongly left-wing country like Sweden. This book by political scientists Donald Kinder and Cindy Kam presents the evidence for the United States (and to a lesser extent, several European countries). Historically, the greater ethnic diversity of the US is one of the main reasons why we have a smaller welfare state than most European nations; the evidence on that point is summarized in a well-known study by Edward Glaeser and Alberto Alesina. Because people are most likely to support welfare programs when the money goes to recipients who are “like us,” immigration actually undermines the welfare state rather than reinforces it. Even if the new immigrants themselves vote for expanded welfare state benefits (which is far from always a given), their political impact is likely to be offset by that of native-born citizens who are generally wealthier, more numerous, and more likely to vote and otherwise participate in politics.
- Read More: Why Trump’s Strategy Against Immigration is Misguided
- Read More: To Solve the Immigration Conflict in the US, Just Look to the Constitution
This feedback effect creates a difficult dilemma for liberals and leftists who support immigration but also want to expand the welfare state. Paul Krugman calls the welfare-immigration tradeoff an “agonizing issue” for liberal Democrats. But for libertarians and other supporters of economic liberty, immigration is a win-win game. It is both an important exercise of economic freedom in its own right, and has the secondary effect of constraining the welfare state.
It may be lamentable that immigration fails to expand the welfare state primarily because of ethnic bias. I would rather that voters had more admirable motives. But in politics, we often face tradeoffs where it’s better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than not do it at all. Moreover, it is no more bigoted to oppose welfare state benefits because they go to members of other ethnic groups than to support them because they go to members of your group. For example, Kinder and Kam find that strongly “ethnocentric” white voters are more likely to support Social Security benefits than other whites, because they see it as a program that primarily benefits non-Hispanic whites like themselves. In relatively homogeneous states, voters tend to support higher levels of welfare benefits than they would otherwise because they see them as supporting members of their own ethnic or racial group. In more diverse societies, the public supports relatively lower benefits because of a perception that too much of the money goes to racial or ethnic “others.” The former attitude is no less biased than the latter.
Finally, it’s worth noting, as Bryan Caplan emphasizes, that we need not choose between limiting immigration and cutting welfare benefits across the board. We can, instead, selectively deny such benefits to new immigrants and/or require them to pay special taxes to offset any fiscal burden they might impose on natives. Conservative critics of immigration who recognize these alternatives fear that they won’t be politically viable. But the feedback effect discussed above implies that their political prospects are quite good. Most voters are quite happy to support cutting welfare benefits for recent immigrants or making the latter “pay for themselves.” That’s why the extensive restrictions on immigrant welfare embedded in the 1996 welfare reform act were very popular, as are similar measures proposed in various European countries.
Some on the left fear that such measures are inhumane or unfair to immigrants. That may be so; I’m not an unequivocal fan of these policies myself, particularly the taxes (I’m more sympathetic to welfare restrictions). But they’re a lot less unjust than consigning would-be migrants to a life of Third World poverty and oppression, which is what happens to those whom we deny the right to enter in the first place.
ILYA SOMIN is Professor of Law at George Mason University. His research focuses on constitutional law, property law, and the study of popular political participation and its implications for constitutional democracy. This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.
On May 5, Bampumim Teixeira, a Guinea-Bissauan immigrant, entered a luxury apartment complex in a posh South Boston neighborhood, and viciously and sadistically murdered an engaged couple; the pair were well-known and respected doctors, Richard Field and Lina Bolanos. The crime generated headlines nationwide for its bloody brutality. Police are still investigating how Teixeira was able to enter the high-security building, and what, if any, was his relationship to the victims, but Boston radio host Jeff Kuhner is now reporting that Teixeira was angered over the results of a surgery performed on his relatives. The greatest tragedy of all is that this crime was entirely preventable. Teixeira, hardly a model citizen, was fresh out of prison for committing two bank robberies at Boston-area branches. Yet, in an indication of ultra-liberal Massachusetts' incredibly lax criminal justice system, Teixeira was sentenced to a mere year in prison, and served just nine months of that sentence. This was after liberal activist judge Lisa A. Grant altered his sentence from 365 days to 364 days in order to thwart an automatic deportation order which would have been triggered by the full year sentence. Read More: Why Trump's Strategy Against Immigration is Misguided Read More: To Solve the Immigration Conflict in the US, Just Look to the Constitution In anticipation of the social justice warrior hysteria over where I'm heading with this article...no...Teixeira's actions should not tarnish the reputation of millions of hardworking immigrants in the United States. Immigrants bring invaluable talents, skills, and investment to the country, and it would be fundamentally unfair to stigmatize them for the isolated actions of Mr. Teixeira. However...what should be abundantly clear regardless of whether you are a Republican, Democrat, independent, liberal, conservative, moderate, anarchist, or socialist...is that the United States has the right to establish its own rules and regulations on immigration policy AND that it would behoove the nation to exercise selectivity in whom it accepts into the country. Furthermore, it hardly seems draconian to suggest that immigrants who commit crimes on American soil should not be welcome to stay. The 95% of the world's population that does not dwell in the United States should be considered for permanent residency status based on merit. Immigrants who fill positions where qualified Americans are in short supply. Immigrants who bring capital in order to open businesses and provide jobs to Americans. Immigrants who have family or spouses in the US. And yes, in certain circumstances immigrants who apply for refugee or asylum status. What were the criteria used to bestow upon Bampumim Teixeira permanent residency in the United States? Why was he given a green card when millions of well-qualified applicants wait years or decades to receive their permanent residency? Yet the real tragedy in this case is this: Bampumim Teixeira should have been deported to Guinea-Bissau the day he finished his prison sentence. Clearly a green card holder who masterminds two bank robberies before he's 30 is not the kind of immigrant that we want in the United States. But because it was not a "violent crime" he received a slap on the wrist. However, according to what Boston radio host Howie Carr has uncovered in court documents, Teixeira wrote a note telling the bank teller that he would shoot her if she did not turn over the money. It hardly seems like a non-violent crime. In what kind of world can you move to a new country, rob two banks, threaten to shoot the bank employees, get less than a year in jail, and then be sent on your merry way back onto the streets of America? Who was the judge who, first handed out the unbelievably lenient sentence? Why was Mr. Teixeira allowed to stay in Boston following his release? The American Left and its liberal activist judge allies are doing a great disservice to all citizens and lawful residents of the United States. They are aiding and abetting criminals, putting political correctness and identity politics ahead of the safety and well-being of Americans. Yes. The United States is a nation of immigrants. Unless you belong to the 1% American Indian population of the United States, you are a descendant of immigrants. This is not in doubt. But it is hardly racist or nativist to suggest that immigrants like Bampumim Teixeira are not welcome in the United States of America. Call me crazy, but a green card holder who robs two banks should be returned to his or her land of birth.