Monday, April 28, 2014

A Compromise Immigration Bill

     Suppose some people are  more concerned about the plight of poor Mexicans and others are more concerned about worsened job opportunities for poor Americans and increased transfer payments, so they disagree about immigration. (Immigration is from more places than Mexico, but let's use that country for concreteness.) How about this for a solution--- tighten immigration, but transfer funds from the US government to Mexico.  

This ends the problems with immigration, and would be preferred by the Mexicans, who would not have to leave home. It would costsome billions, to be sure, but less than the cost of social services for poor immigrants (3 million children (to take a guess) times $10,000/year and we're up to a cost of $3/billion from immigration immediately.) 

       It would be interesting to see how people lined up on this proposal. It would miserably fail to address two of the motives for immigration: 

1.  Higher profits and service-consumption utility for  firm owners and consumer employers in the United States. 

2. An increase in the number of  uninformed voters who will vote according to the preference of the ward bosses. 

         Both of those were very strong motives for immigration before the 1917 immigration act was overwhelming passed by essentially of Congress except the big-city representatives.  Claudia Goldin has a paper on the political economy of that act and the previous 20 years. 

Much of rural America was prorestriction from the 1897 vote. But the mid-
section of the nation-for example, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan,
Nebraska-was deeply divided on the issue, as was much of the far West. The
South switched sides, certainly by the 1906 vote, joining much of rural
America in its opposition to unrestricted immigration. The big cities moved
strongly into the pro-immigration camp as their ever-increasing foreign-born
constituency gained the vote or influenced the vote in other ways. In most other
urban and industrial centers, workers experienced downward pressure on
wages from the new immigrants but not the political pressure from the vast
numbers that clustered in the big-city districts. Eventually much of the rural
midsection moved against unregulated immigration, as did most of the smaller
and midsized cities. Capital maintained its pro-immigration stance to the bitter
end, when all but the big-city vote went to the anti-immigrant camp.

   Her paper focuses on aggregate effects too much, though. A lot of the paper is about how much wages fell because of immigration, but it's no news that native labor opposed immigration and big-city employers supported it.  Rather, there are tyhree things I'd like to see discussed:

 A.  Why didn't big-city employers have more influence, especially in the Republican Party?

B. Why did the Solid South oppose immigration, when immigration helped the Democratic Party? Prof. Goldin's paper points to part of the answer: Southern employers and industrial workers didn't want the competition from Northern immigrants and their employers. I wonder if another part was fear of losing influence within the Democratic Party, where its veto on race legislation was crucial to the South. 

C. What was the influence of the Progressives? They were opposed to the big-city machines, which were based on immigrant votes. Some Progressives were Republican, some Democrat, and they were espeically strong in elite opinion. Did that neutralize the big-city employer money?

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