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STEVEN CAMAROTA: Well, I’d like to thank you all for coming. I’m Steve Camarota. I’m director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies here in Washington. The center is sponsoring this panel today. We are here to discuss Dr. Phil Cafaro’s new and some would say provocative book, “How Many is Too Many? The Progressive Argument for Reducing Immigration to the United States.”
Dr. Cafaro is a philosophy professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. He is a fellow with the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at Colorado State. And he is president of the International Society of Environmental Ethics. He is a self-described liberal who has broken ranks with most Democrats and progressives to make the case that reducing the level of immigration into the United States would help American workers, especially the poorest workers, and is necessary also to protect the environment.
Now, joining us on this panel to discuss Dr. Cafaro’s book is well-known author Michael Lind, who is to my right. He is a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., which he co-founded. And he’s a contributing editor at Politico and the National Interest, as well as a columnist for Salon Magazine. He has written numerous books including, “The Next American Nation,” and “Up from Conservatism: Why the Right is Wrong for America,” and, most recently – his most recent book is, “Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.”
Now, also on the panel is author and commentator David Frum, who is to my far left. That is not a political representation; it’s just where he happens to be sitting. Mr. Frum was formerly a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He has authored a number of books, including “Dead Right,” a biting critique of the Republican Party. His most recent book is “Why Romney Lost (And What the GOP Can Do About It),” which, among other things, points out that Republicans are out of touch with a large fraction of working-class Americans. He is currently a senior editor at The Atlantic and chairman of the board of trustees of the British think tank Policy Exchange.
With that, I will turn it over to Dr. Cafaro for a discussion of his book and then to our other two panelists for their comments. Thank you.
PHILIP CAFARO: Thanks, Steve.
I’d like to thank Mark Krikorian and the Center for Immigration Studies for sponsoring this panel, and especially Steve for organizing it. Also, I’d like to thank my distinguished fellow panelists, David and Michael, for participating, and the National Press Club for hosting this event.
Let me just begin by sketching the argument in my book and then briefly discuss some possible reasons why its message is so difficult for most political progressives to accept. So what’s the main argument of the book? Well, currently immigration into the United States runs at approximately 1 ¼ million annually, on a conservative estimate. That’s the highest rate in U.S. history and it’s about five times the rate of 50 years ago, in 1965. Contrary to popular belief, most immigration into the United States is legal immigration. That means it’s occurring at levels set by Congress. So in other words, immigration levels are a policy choice. They can go up or down and they varied widely over the past century.
In “How Many is Too Many?” I argue that the current U.S. immigration rate is much too high and that it should be substantially reduced. So among other measures, I propose decreasing legal immigration from about 1.1 million annually to 300,000 annually, mandating use of the federal E-Verify program for all new job hires and steep fines and jail time for employers who knowingly break the law by hiring illegal workers. As the book’s subtitle indicates, the argument is really directed primarily at political progressives, arguing that key progressive political goals will be difficult or impossible to achieve if we don’t significantly reduce immigration into the United States.
So on the economic side, it seems there’s good evidence that mass immigration has drive up unemployment and driven down wages for poor Americans, and thus it’s contributed significantly to growing inequality in the United States. In my book, I explore the evidence for this from a number of economic sectors, including construction, meat packing, landscaping, the hospitality industry, et cetera. Crucially, post 1965 immigration has been concentrated among less skilled, less educated workers. For instance, according to one study between 1980 and 1995 immigration increased the number of college-educated workers in the workforce by 4 percent and it increased the number of workers without a high school diploma by 21 percent.
And the results of this have been predictable. In economic sectors with large percentages of immigrant workers, wages have been driven down and benefits have been slashed. Just as one example, slaughterhouse workers earn on average 44 percent less today than they did in 1970. And there’s a whole story about how that’s happened, how the big meat packing plants broken unions. Crucial to that story was the ability to replace workers relatively easily. And that’s – it seems as if it’s also crucial to why those wages are staying low today. We found that after major ICE investigations at some of the meat packing plants, finding the hundreds of workers at some of these plants were illegal workers, when they were taken out of the workforce wages rose very quickly at those plants because the owners needed to get them going again quickly. And so they spent the money to make that happen.
So long-term unemployment among poor Americans has been greatly increased as new jobs has been filled by immigrants rather than by unemployed citizens. So mass immigration isn’t the sole cause of these trends of increased inequality and lower opportunities, but it seems to have played an important role. Harvard’s George Borjas contends that during the 1970s and 1980s each immigration-driven 10 percent increase in the number of workers in a particular field in the U.S. decreased wages in that field by an average of 3 ½ percent. More recently, there was a study done by a team that looked at the impact of immigration on African-Americans. And it found that a 10 percent immigrant-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group reduced the wages of black workers in that group by 4 percent and lowered the employment rate of black men in that skill group by 3 ½ percent. And there are other similar studies that have been done in recent years.
In contrast, wealthier, better-educated citizens have mostly been spared that kind of strong downward pressure on their incomes, at least so far. So according to an analysis by CIS immigrants account for – today account for 35 percent of workers in building, cleaning and maintenance, but only 10 percent in the corporate and financial sectors. They account for about 25 percent of workers in construction, but only 8 percent of teachers and college professors. So, you know, meat packers might be making 44 percent less than they did in 1970, but medical doctors are making more than twice as much. Again, not all of that can be laid at the door of immigration, but some of it seemingly can.
By flooding labor markets and undermining our society’s commitment to a fair distribution of wealth, mass immigration has contributed significantly to increased economic inequality in the U.S. And my argument mostly simply is that this should matter to political progressives. In an era of gross and growing economic inequality, stagnating wages, persistently high unemployment among less-educated workers, we should resist any policy that makes all of this worse. So just as with proposals to further liberalize trade policies, it should raise a red flag for progressives with Democratic political leaders join the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and The Wall Street Journal, advocating for higher immigration levels.
Turning now to the environmental side, the key issue is really immigration’s contribution to U.S. population growth. If they think about population growth at all, most Americans think about it as an issue for the developing world. But with a population of 320 million people, the United States is the third most populous nation in the world. And that population is growing at a quite rapid rate – about 1 percent annually. If you project that out, that means we’re set to double our population in about 20 years. That’s higher, actually, than many developing nations today. So give our already high population, and given our high rates of resource consumption, you can make a pretty good case that the U.S. is the most overpopulated country in the world right now.
Whether we look at air pollution or wildlife habitat losses, greenhouse gas emissions or excessive water withdrawals from western rivers, Americans are falling far short of creating a sustainable society now. And our large and growing numbers seem to be a big part of this problem. In my book, I detail this for a whole range of environmental issues, ranging from suburban sprawl to species extinction. And overall, what I find, pretty unsurprising, is that more people put greater stress on natural systems and make it harder to share habitat and resources fairly with other species.
Now, the good news is that in recent decades American citizens have freely chosen a path toward population stabilization. So if you look at fertility rates in the U.S. in the 1950s, American women on average were having about three and a half children per person. Today American women are choosing to have about two children per woman. And so that’s right around replacement rate for a modern society with modern sanitation and medical care. That means if we reduced immigration rates to the levels of 50 years ago, America’s population would very likely peak and then stabilize by about mid-century. So that’s the good news. We’ve freely chosen to stabilize our population, which is one key component to creating an ecologically sustainable society.
The bad news is that just as Americans have chosen to do this, succeeding Congresses have chosen to increase immigration, thus keeping our population on a path – our country on a path of rapid population growth. In the book, I actually run some new population projections out to 2100 taking standard Census Bureau figures for mortality rates and fertility rates. And I run different population projection scenarios with different immigration levels. So at our current immigration rate of about 1 ¼ million annual and running this out to 2100, our population increases from about 320 million to 525 million. That’s an immense increase in just two, two and a half generations.
And you might ask, well, how much of a difference would changing immigration rates be, given that you’re talking about relatively small annual changes – a million up or a million down. Well, it turns out that for every extra half-million people you bring into the United States annually, and if you do that over the rest of the century, that leads to 72 million more citizens in the United States in 2100. That’s sort of a ballpark way to think about it. So for instance, we’re on track to increase our population to about 525 million.
If we had gone ahead and passed the Gang of Eight immigration bill from the last Congress, that might have increased immigration to about 2 ¼ million annually and that would have led, instead, to an increase to 670 million Americans in 2100. Now, conversely, if you cut back immigration, if you reduced it to the levels of 50 years ago – so let’s say you reduced immigration to about a quarter-million annually, you would instead have a population in 2100 of about 380 million.
So that’s – and it would stabilize. So, I mean, that’s just a huge different – again, that should make a difference to environmentalists who are concerned about creating an ecologically sustainable society. And I should emphasize that if we continue on a path of population growth, even if we can manage to sort of stumble to 2100 with 500 million or 600 million or 700 million Americans, we’d be on a very unpromising trajectory of continued population growth.
So fortunately such overpopulation, like flooded labor markets, isn’t inevitable. Americans can stabilize our population by reducing immigration – not ending immigration, but simply reducing it. And that in turn could help revitalize an environmental movement that kind of like organized labor is mostly in a defensive crouch these days, fending off bad proposals and sort of trying to protect past accomplishments, instead of achieving new ones. So if you imagine an environmental movement with a demographic wind at its back, I think it’d be much more likely to secure the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that we’d like to secure, much more likely to create new national parks and protected areas and in general much more likely to do the things that we think are necessary to create a sustainable society.
Similarly, if you imagine a labor movement with – in the context of tight labor markets, I think it would be much more able to organize workers effectively, negotiate wages and benefits from a position of strength and in general advance an agenda that would – designed to increase economic inequality and spread society’s wealth more fairly. I don’t mean to suggest that reducing immigration into the U.S. would guarantee any of this. My claim is that continued mass immigration will make achieving these liberal political goals impossible, and that therefore reducing immigration should be part of a progressive political agenda going forward.
So, OK, you might ask: If all this is true, why don’t progressives typically support immigration reduction? Why is the AFL-CIO arguing for passing bills that would increase immigration? Why is the Sierra Club and why are other environmental groups often supporting this kind of legislation, which would increase immigration? And I think the answers are complicated. Some of it just has to do with realpolitik. And we can talk about that a little later. Some of it has to do with both the strengths and weaknesses of progressive political thinking in the U.S. today.
So on the positive side progressives, I think, are compassionate. We care about people, whether or not they’re our fellow citizens. We see would-be immigrants who want nothing better to come to this country and make a better life for themselves and their families and we just naturally want to help them and not stand in their way. Beyond that, it seems as if most progressives feel guilty about any policies that smack of selfishness.
So one environmentalist I interviewed for my book – and he argued for reducing immigration and strongly enforcing our immigration laws – but he still had the following remark: The fact that I was fortunate enough to have been born on the north side of the border and other people were unfortunate enough to have been born on the south side strikes me as unfair – just a stroke of luck. It’s just arbitrary, he said. Another environmentalist said my great grandparents were immigrants and I feel hypocritical saying to other people: You shouldn’t be here. And I heard a lot of those kind of comments from progressives in writing in the book.
So that’s, I think, the positive side of progressives’ reluctance to limit immigration, our soft-heartedness. And then on the negative side there’s our soft-headedness. I think progressives share Americans’ general inability to think clearly about limits – whether those are limits to how much we can improve the world or limits to how many people our landscape can support. So for instance, in the face of increasing water scarcity in California, most environmentalists there naturally look to technological or managerial fixes, rather than considering whether their state is simply full-up of people.
And the result is that over the past 40 years, Californians have used a wide range of efficiency improvements to create a much more crowded and less-livable state, and that I think is farther away from real ecological sustainability than it was 40 years ago. So we had the idea that we were doing something good being more efficient in our resource use, but you have to decide what you’re going to use that efficiency for. You can – you can use it to build a more livable society. You can use it to keep a little bit more water and landscape for other plants and animals. Or you can just fill it up with more people, and that’s what California’s chosen to do. That’s what California’s still choosing to do.
Similarly, progressive politicians pin their hopes for reversing growing economic inequality on a range of good policy proposals – from a more progressive income tax structure to a higher minimum wage – while basically ignoring the role flooded labor markets play in driving up inequality and also undermining the role that immigration plays in undermining the social cohesion necessary to pass some of their favorite policies. This is something that Michael’s talked about in his work. So essentially, progressives accept mass immigration’s negative economic impacts as a given and, against all the evidence, they assume that they’ll be able to enact redistributive policies strong enough to move society in a more egalitarian direction, despite the drag that that exerts – that’s exerted by our immigration policies.
I think these views are profoundly unrealistic, but they allow progressives to avoid considering hard choices and tradeoffs. And they’re facilitated by how immigration is typically framed in the public sphere. So it’s rare to see people in the media connecting the dots between immigration levels and U.S. population growth, between population growth and our impacts on the natural environment. In recent years, it’s been a little bit more – you’re a little bit more likely to see people connecting the dots between mass immigration and stagnating wages and declining employment opportunities for poor Americans. And that’s actually good to see. But one reason I wrote my book was to just bring these kind of arguments to the forefront and try to present them in a way that progressives could understand and maybe appreciate.
So there’s a lot more to say about all this, but I don’t want to take up all of our time here. So maybe I’ll stop here and we’ll hear what Michael and David have to say.
MR. CAMAROTA: Well, thank you, Phil. (Applause.)
MICHAEL LIND: How long do I have?
MR. CAMAROTA: Ten minutes, but if you need a little more that’s fine. So, thank you.
MR. LIND: Well, thank you. I highly recommend this book, “How Many is Too Many?” which I think is actually two books. It’s two very well-reasoned arguments, each argument directed at a different constituency among progressives – one directed at environmentalists and the other directed at the traditional social democratic labor liberals. I disagree fairly strongly with the environmentalist argument and I agree almost completely with the labor market argument. So let me explore my disagreements before I go into my endorsements of what Professor Cafaro has written.
I think the basic disagreement is whether you think that most environmental problems are primarily technological problems with technological fixes or technological problems with demographic or behavioral fixes. So let’s look at two, there are others but I don’t have time to go into it now. We can talk about it later. Let’s look at wilderness conservation and re-wilding, increasing the area of wilderness – and greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States is not suffering from the destruction of wilderness by urban and suburban sprawl. About 3 percent of North America is devoted to cities, including the most semi-populated exurban areas. At the same time, 40 to 50 percent of the land area of the United States is devoted to agriculture, both pasture and crop land. What we have seen since the 1930s is – in the New Deal era, actually – the amount of acreage that was being cultivated in the United States peaked in the 1930s. It has declined every decade since. Same thing has happened in Western Europe.
We are seeing a massive reforestation of Europe and North America. And it’s entirely the result of more industrialized, intensive, technological forms of agriculture which, by using artificial fertilizers and by tractors and so on, have allowed far more food to be grown on ever-diminishing areas of land. Now, one can oppose this, as many environmentalists do, because there’s a tradeoff with all technologies. And here you have the poisoning of some streams and rivers by fertilizer runoff. You have – obviously there’s, you know, the gasoline that goes into tractors and harvesters and so on.
But the problem is, the romantic environmentalist alternative, which is labor-intensive organic agriculture in order to sustain even the population we have, would require us to destroy much of the Earth’s remaining wilderness and replace it with peasant-type or 19th century-type farms. So, you know, my own view is that given the population we have, even if you have negative population growth in the developed countries, it’s going to be so slow that you cannot possibly feed Western populations using pre-industrial, organic techniques without destroying much of what remains of wilderness.
And conversely, if you become more and more intensive – and there’s in-vitro meat. I mean, there’s food now being grown from stem cells, you know, sort of a science-fiction possibility. You could free up a lot of this farmland. So my own view, as a – someone who owns some rural property that has been re-wilded, combating farm sprawl is much more urgent than combating suburban sprawl.
So now, greenhouse gas emissions. Here, I think the argument for a demographic fix, in the American case, to greenhouse gas emissions as opposed to a technological fix is mistaken on several grounds. To begin with, the intervening factor is a machine. It’s a machine using energy, right? So if a population of 400 million Americans who got all of their energy from nuclear power plants – which do not generate CO2 – would be – have a quite different impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions that one that gets it entirely from coal. Natural gas has about half the CO2 emissions of coal.
So again, this is a technical problem. And if you’re really concerned about mitigating, and not just adapting to anthropogenic global warming, and if you think that there’s an urgency of time, then cutting back on U.S. immigration and population growth takes too long, right? You know, you should be immediately doing things like switching form high-CO2 to low-CO2 energy generation, increasing cars – fuel economy standards, things like that.
And the non-CO2 energy sources, you can try solar and wind. The problem is it requires enormous diffuse catchment areas. So I’m a supporter of nuclear energy. And if you’re really worried about global warming in the next few decades, you would support building nuclear power plants like crazy and you would live with the toxic waste that results if you really think that the alternative is something much worse – catastrophic global warming.
But let’s say the U.S. does all of this, OK? Professor Cafaro has a chapter, “Defusing America’s Population Bomb or Cooking the Earth.” Well, in an otherwise very reasonable book, that is an unreasonable title. I have the statistics from the OECD and PricewaterhouseCoopers. These are estimates for the U.S. share of GDP in the year 2050. And Professor Cafaro quite rightly points out that Americans have a much larger carbon footprint than poor people. But this is reflected in GDP, particularly – and these are – purchasing power parity, which reflects actual economic activity.
So between now and then, according to PwC, the U.S. purchasing power parity share of global GDP shrinks from 16 percent to 13 percent. The OECD has it shrinking from 16 percent to 12 percent of global GDP. Even if you shrink the U.S. population by 50 or 100 million, it’s not going to make that much of a difference in terms of global GDP. So America’s contribution, even though we’re a big – the third-most populous nation and have a huge carbon footprint, is just limited. And one shouldn’t over-hype this.
And my final point on this is, if you’re really concerned about the carbon footprint of Americans – and this is a progressive argument – one billionaire with seven houses and a personal jet consumes vastly more energy and responsible for more CO2 emissions than, I don’t know, maybe dozens of poor immigrants from Guatemala. So you can make a case against having more poor immigrants from Guatemala in the labor market, but to argue that they’re, you know, radically increasing U.S. CO2 emissions, you know, seems kind of dubious to me.
So that is – that is my disagreement with the environmental argument. I agree with Professor Cafaro, everything he says about the wage impacts – and it’s not just me. So does Professor Paul Krugman, who wrote in 2007 in his New York Times column: Immigration is an intensely painful topic for a liberal like myself because it bases – places basic principles in conflict. But nevertheless, he cited the research.
And he said: I’m afraid the three negative conclusions I stressed – in a previous column he wrote – are fairly robust. First, the benefits of immigration to the population already here are small, perhaps as little as 0.1 percent of GDP. My second negative point is that immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who complete with immigrants. That’s just supply and demand, says the Nobel Prize-winning New York Times economist.
By the way, in 1993 with Elise S. Brezis, Paul Krugman wrote an NBER working paper – National Bureau of Economic Research – about immigration to Israel, then Russia post-Soviet immigration. And he says – and they write: When a country is the recipient of large-scale, politically motivated immigration, as has been the case for Israel in recent years, the initial impact is to reduce real wages. So Paul Krugman does not find this controversial.
And what I have found over the years is that actual Democratic economists have a much more nuanced view than the pundits and the editors who refuse any criticism of any economic effects on wages or benefits or union strength to be published now. You cannot publish this in most liberal publications. And this has changed in my career since the 1990s.
So what are the actual pro arguments for increasing, particularly – we can debate high-skilled workers. It’s kind of a negligible part of the – but let’s just talk about low-wage workers. What are the arguments for admitting low – more low-wage workers in the United States, where wages have not grown for a generation, where we’re still recovering – we have mass underemployment as a result of a global crisis?
Well, there are just two arguments. And it’s just naked – it’s either producer interest or a class interest. And to – as evidence for this, in 2013 the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal Sentinel wrote: Seeking workers, Wisconsin dairy farmers call for immigration reform. Now, if you didn’t know this was the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, you would think it was a satire from The Onion. (Laughter.)
They quote a farm owner, Mark Crave, saying: It’s challenging to find qualified help, even in a rural community where many people were born and raised on a farm – he says with a straight face. According to the newspaper article, more than 40 percent of the workers on Wisconsin dairy farms are immigrants, nine-tenths of them from Mexico and half of them illegal.
So we have a – Kristi Boswell, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau recently said this. Ms. Boswell noted that it’s still very humbling any time I go out and talk to farmers, and the politics are so challenging. And you look at their faces, and they don’t care about the politics. They want a labor force. They need access to a legal labor force. They want that stability. It’s real. It’s real life and people are losing their fruits and vegetables in the field because of labor and that’s not right.
Well, with all due respect to Ms. Boswell, America’s farmers already have access to a stable and legal labor force. It’s called the American labor force. They’re not losing their fruits and vegetables in the field because of labor. They’re losing their fruits and vegetables in the field because of their own greed. They’re unwilling either to pay decent wages or to invest in productivity-enhancing technology so that, like the Japanese and the Australians, you can, you know, harvest tomatoes and strawberries without importing, you know, indentured servants from foreign nations at poverty wages.
So that’s the producer side. And then particularly among the punditariat, there’s what might be classed the class side. And I find this not so much among rich people as among the upper middle class in the United States. So here is – Ezra Klein, very thoughtful founder of Vox, writing in Washington Post Wonkblog a few years ago, he wrote an approving review of a book by a right-wing libertarian, Jason Riley, titled, “Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders.”
Well, why is a progressive pundit praising a right-wing libertarian? Well, according to Klein, to put it simply: If there were no Chinese immigrants, the result would not be Chinese restaurants staffed mainly by native Iowans. You wouldn’t have many Chinese restaurants at all in Iowa. And folks who like Chinese food would eat at home more often. So there you go. (Laughter.)
You know, Klein also endorsed another argument of this libertarian author, which is that while some native or naturalized citizens – also, legal immigrants lose out to the next wave of low-wage immigrants – they can move up because now they can supervise them. And I’ve seen this myself. When I was a kid growing up in Texas, even bank vice presidents mowed their own lawns. We had small banks in Texas. A lot of them went out of business in the savings and loan, but they mowed their own – they had really fancy lawnmowers. They had machinery.
And then as our class mores changes, people like me as teenagers would mow the lawns for them. Then it became largely Latin American immigrants were mowing lawns in suburban Texas. Now you go back and you see crews – gardening crews, right, because of the collapse of wages, often with one native white working-class person with folded arms supervising them from nearby. And according to Ezra Klein and Jason Riley, this is – this is a good thing.
Klein paraphrases Riley’s arguments: Additionally, you’d have – if you had less immigration you’d have more native workers laboring for low wages at the bottom of the occupational ladder rather than being pushed up into management and supervisory roles, as happens now. So in other words, the working-class native would be mowing the lawn instead of standing there watching the guys from Guatemala or Salvador mowing the lawn and telling them, you know, you missed a spot.
So there we are. And just to wrap up on the politics of this, this is a trans-Atlantic phenomenon. If anything, it’s more advanced in Western Europe. David could speak to this in the British and European situation perhaps. I think what has happened, just to conclude, is that what was called the progressive movement in the mid-20th century, it had some intellectuals but it was largely a coalition of farmer and labor – that is, about two-thirds of the population were family farmers and industrial workers.
And these were economic blocs and they had not gone to college and been educated into thinking that they should put the interests of people in foreign countries that – so it was perfectly acceptable in their small-R republican Democratic civic consciousness to promote their own interests as farmers or as industrial workers. Harry Truman in 1948, his slogan was: Vote your interests. He didn’t say vote your guilt, it was vote your interest. (Laughter.)
What is called progressivism in 2015 comes out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the 1970s. It doesn’t come out of this farmer-labor economic populism. And it has the civil rights paradigm. And at some point in the late 20th century, for the people calling themselves progressives, although it’s a different movement from the older progressives, the idea that the border is a new color line, a phrase that you can find sometimes – that is, immigration restriction is the new racism.
It fits into a kind of progressivism that consists of a metropolitan upper middle class of white natives in Britain and the United States and Western Europe, allied increasingly not just with domestic minorities whose goal was integration into the larger society, but also with immigrants. And Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute calls this pity charity liberalism, that is it’s this very hierarchical thing in which the elite preens itself on its virtue by finding helpless groups on which to bestow their help.
And in some cases gay rights – I think this is a great thing, civil rights – but what it means is you really go – move away from an economics-based self-interested kind of progressivism towards a new kind of identity politics. And I think that’s ultimately what’s going on here.
MR. CAMAROTA: Well, thank you, Michael. (Applause.)
David, go ahead.
DAVID FRUM: Thank you. To my way of thinking, the most suggestive sentence in Professor Cafaro’s book was an observation that the effect of immigration upon the United States has been to increase the proportion of the poor who are not citizens. The political ramifications of this observation seem to me to very large and very profound. And that is what I want to talk about this morning.
Both Phil and Michael have talked about some of the sources of progressive, liberal enthusiasm for wider immigration. And I think they – everything they’ve identified is correct. But progressives are not quite as soft hearted and soft headed as Phil suggests. I’m not a progressive. There is an element of political calculation at work as well, that what they believe is that they will, by increasing the number of newcomers to the United States who poor and who are predominantly non-white, they will build the emerging Democratic majority. That was the title of a famous book by my friend Ruy Teixeira and his co-author John Judis.
Centrist authors like Ron Brownstein, my colleague at The Atlantic, have observed this as well. Often in American politics it is written as if it is somehow an automatic thing that the electorate is going to change and it is going to change in ways that it is assumed are favorable to Democrats, and Republicans will have to adjust and adjust in ways that progressives find congenial. The Republicans will have to become a more racially diverse coalition, a more ethnically diverse coalition, a coalition more accepting of multiculturalism. And so that is the political win that is hoped for from this giant demographic change.
And my observation to progressives is this is an extremely naïve way to think about how politics works. Politics does not move in smooth, steady increments. It is not a set of clockwork. It is a very dynamic force with feedback effects that are going to surprise the authors of this change. Let me start with Europe, as Michael suggested, and then move to the United States.
Europe is in deep economic malaise since the – since about 2010, driven by the euro crisis and by deeper rigidities in its economy behind that. Unemployment through the eurozone is about 11 percent. In Italy, which is now the main immigration-receiving country unemployment is about 13 percent among young people. A lot of younger people in Southern Europe have just given up on the formal labor markets, so we can’t really be sure how many of them are unemployed. But it’s a good guess that in Southern Europe it’s probably a quarter to a third of people under age 30 who are out of work. Certainly, they are out of the formal labor market.
What is the response? Across Europe, you are seeing the rise of anti-party nationalist parties. Sometimes they’re called far right, sometimes – Syriza in Greece, they are called far left. But I think they all have – you know, I think they have much more in common. I think the national – to me, the National Front and the Scots nationalists look very similar because what they are are parties that – they basically call for two things: One is to assert the interests of the old-stock inhabitants of the nation and in particular they’re interested to defend such portions of the welfare state as defend them. They are right-wing parties, but they are parties that defend the welfare state as it existed in, say, 1980, in the interests of the people who lived in Europe in 1980 and their children.
I call these parties of incumbent claims. And they – and they are the most dynamic force in Europe. You might be misled by the British election, for example, in which the U.K. Independence Party saw its number of seats that – they had hoped for a big breakthrough in numbers of seats and they were disappointed. But their share of the vote rose to 13 percent, an unprecedented high. UKIP, again, is identified often as a right-wing party. And there’s a certain amount of libertarian rhetoric about them. But when you look at what they stand for, it’s the same thing that the Scots nationalists, the same thing that Syriza stands for. It is the defense of the welfare state for people already here by excluding those who might come.
And this really should not surprise us. The effect of immigration is to introduce ethnic competition. Now, you might believe – I think as a progressive, Phil believes, and I partly believe this myself – that a lot of ethnicity is a completely imaginary construction. These are imagined communities, and the famous phrase, the great Marxist theorist Benedict Anderson. But the things – our minds are hardwired to perceive these groups, whether or not they have deep and transcendental meaning, the same way that our minds are hardwired to perceive the hues of the spectrum, even though they may not have any independent objective reality. That is the way we are made.
And in the competition between these groups, what you see is that this inter-ethnic competition displaces the traditional organization of European politics around class. Parties based on class are fading. Parties based on ethnicity are rising. Look what has happened to British Labor, look at what has happened with the French socialists, look at what has happened to the Italian social democrats. They are being crowded out by – they are either being crowded out by or are being converted into parties that represent the newcomers. And the old-stock inhabitants are coalescing, regardless of their traditionally at variance economic interests, into new parties to defend incumbent claims.
And I think we see that in the United States as well. I have been – I’m a Republican. I’ve not been a big fan of the tea party movement in the United States, because it seems to me that that is what the tea party movement is. Again, there’s a lot of libertarian rhetoric about the tea party movement, but the demand that organized them, that brought them into being was Obamacare and the threat to the existing Medicare program. Obamacare, when it was introduced in the first couple of years of the administration, was a straightforward transfer of health care resources from old stock inhabitants – newcomers.
As I learned from Center for Immigration Studies, of those who were uninsured in 2010, about a third – a little less than third were foreign-born. Meanwhile, Medicare covers everyone over 65, a population that is overwhelmingly native-born and heavily white. Everything the Republican Party has done, its central ideas since 2010, have been to defend – to defend the interests of the old-stock inhabitants – the claims, not the interests, the claims.
And the most extreme, and to some degrees – I mean, so extreme to as to be almost parody, was the Ryan plan, which called for absolutely no change to Medicare for anyone over 55 – I’m 54 – (laughter) – no change in Medicare for any – and that – get the baby boom population, satiate them, and then draconian cuts to go into ever increasing effect in Medicare for those under age 55, all of it in order to finance a tax cut for the Republican Party’s up-market supporters. It was – a coalition of the old and the rich against newcomers. Now, why are the old and the rich in the same coalition? It is because of the competitive force of the perceived claims of newcomers.
I want to take this out of the realm of morality and abstract right, because I don’t – I don’t think those things belong in politics. I think – you know, politics is what you can organize to get. There is no just – this is where I’m not a progressive. There is no inherently just distribution, or if there is – I couldn’t tell you what it is, let me put it that way. But through mobilization, people make claims. And the effect of this on the United States and on the politics of the United States, I think it’s not just a phenomenon of the post-2010 Obamacare fallout, it’s not just a phenomenon of the Great Recession – although those two things may be aggravating. I think it’s a deeper thing.
And let me direct your attention to the politics of the state that has been one of the biggest immigration-receiving states in the country – one of the steepest, I should say, steepest in sense – and that’s the state of North Carolina. Traditionally one of the most moderate states in the American South, state of people like Terry Sanford and James Hunt, the great hope – the great home of the more conservative – the homeland of the more conservative Democrats and, of course, the site of the most recent Democratic National Convention.
This has been a state that from 1992 through 2012 elected Democratic governors in the Bill Clinton mode – pro-business, invest in education, some degree of maintain a social safety net, but really focus on colleges and universities. And the state went for Barack Obama in 2008. The Democratic Party in the state has been – despite the huge increase in the ethnic diversity of North Carolina since the year 2000, the state has become more and more and more conservative.
A state that, I mean, it went for Romney in 2012, of course. It now has a Republican governor after 20 years of Democratic governors. It historically balanced one Democratic and one Republican U.S. senator. It now has two. A decade ago the state’s delegation in the House was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Now it is 10 of 13 that are Republican. And the three who are Democrat are preserved by the Voting Rights Act. And in 2010, Republicans took both houses of the North Carolina State Assembly for the first time since the 1890s.
Now, that may not be there forever. As the children and grandchildren of the recent immigrants status and gain the right to vote they may organize to vote in such a way that in the 2030s or 2040s North Carolina may change, or maybe not because who can predict what the politics of the future are going to look like? As discussed at breakfast with Paul Donnelly, that the children and grandchildren of Roosevelt’s voters found it very easy to vote for Nixon and Reagan in the 1970s and 1980s. We can’t predict the future.
But what we can see happening now is the emerging democratic majority is not emerging because it is creating its equal and opposite effect. And I – in some ways I’m a beneficiary of this. I am a Republican. But what concerns me is that the way traditional majority – the old majority of the country organizes to defend itself is in some ways through greater mobilization. This is the Republican advantage. There are more potential Democrats in the country, but the Republicans are the party of people who pay their cable bill on the day it arrives.
It is easier to get our people to the polls than it is the Democratic team. As we see in presidential elections, there’s a – it is a huge effort of mobilization to bring Democrats to the polls. In years when Democrats are excited, like 2008, they come in huge numbers and win decisively. Barack Obama dropped, I think, 3 ½ million votes between 2008 and 2012. It’s my perception that Hillary Clinton will be an even less exciting candidate for Democrats than the 2012 Barack Obama was and there’ll be even greater mobilization difficulties.
But Republicans are also responding by changing the rules of the game to protect their incumbent claims. And that’s what incumbents do. That’s what the voter ID debate is about. And they’re – we’re going to see – that is what the Republican view on the way campaign finance should be. There are no Republicans now who favor campaign finance restrictions, there used to be. They are building into the system new rules to protect their people. Parties do that. Democrats do the same. They get rid of voter ID laws. They make it easier to register when you get your driver’s license. Parties compete in that way.
But it unleashes a particularly unhealthy kind of competition, and it’s one that Democrats – Monty Python has a sketch about hitting in the head lessons, that you wonder how many hitting in the head lessons it will take to understand that politics does not happen automatically. Politics is the result of human mobilization and a reaction to perceived opportunities and perceived threats. The progressive case for immigration rests of a misreading of the political consequences of immigration in the near term.
And that is not a point that you make in your book, and I think that’s because – as I say, you are obviously a person who has a very generous view of human nature. (Laughter.)
MR. CAFARO: You mean naïve.
MR. FRUM: Well, no, because it’s sometimes true. And maybe it’s true – (laughter) – it’s true enough of the time that it’s a valid way to look. But one of the things that conservativism teaches us, I think, is to have a more suspicious view of human nature and therefore urges us not to test that nature too much with too many strains. We are making many tests in Europe and in the United States today. We’re making many tests. We’re pressing the population’s income. We are pressing the population’s role in politics. We are testing people in a way, and we are testing political stability in a way that I think it is dangerous to test it. (Applause.)
MR. CAMAROTA: Well, great.
Phil, if you’d like to respond to anything said or anything else you’d like to add, go ahead.
MR. CAFARO: Yeah, I have a few quick responses to make, and then maybe we can hear some questions from the audience, or maybe David and I should act out Monty Python’s being hit on the head lesson sketch and my children might actually watch this video. (Laughter.)
So I really appreciate David’s comments and Michael’s comments, putting the book in various contexts. Very interesting for me to hear how you’re thinking about it. I mean, both of you in different ways make the point that the modern Democratic Party doesn’t seem to be standing up for – clearly standing up for the interests of working-class Americans. So that comes through relatively clearly.
Two comments focused on Michael’s environmental comments. I mean, I’m glad you agree with me on the economic arguments. As you say, I mean, it’s relatively clear that flooding labor markets drives down wages. And you don’t have to be a Nobel Prize winner in economics to understand that. And there’s great evidence from a whole range of sectors about that. So there’s a lot about that in the book.
On the environmental side, I think I’ve got a stronger argument than you give me credit for here. I mean, the basic question, whether we’re talking about wilderness preservation efforts or greenhouse gas emissions or whatever it might be, the question for environmentalists should always be: Why are we arguing for various efficiency improvements and what do we want to do with those improvements?
So, Michael, you’re absolutely right that there have been great improvements in the efficiency of agriculture. We can grow more food on less land. The question is what do we want to do with that? Do we want to use those efficiency improvements to just support an ever-larger population? Or do we want to use those efficiency improvements to find a way to just keep more land open and use more land to preserve other species?
And don’t forget that some of the wonderful efficiency improvements that you’re – that you reference, they involve other environmental strains. And we’re starting to see the impacts of that possibly bumping up against limits regarding that. So, modern industrialized agriculture is built on the massive use of cheap fossil fuels – whether that involves running the tractors or making the fertilizer or moving the produce from one part of the world to the other. And we’ve got an issue around climate change.
So my argument in the book is that it’s really time for American environmentalists to get more serious about asking the question of what we want to use our efficiency improvements for, and also to get more serious about the idea that we might really be bumping up against real limits in all this, where it just might not be possible to double the population of the United States and preserve much of what we know and care about. So I think we need to take that relatively seriously.
Well, maybe I’ll stop there and see what kind of questions the audience has about all this.
MR. CAMAROTA: OK. We have a microphone. So Marguerite will hand it to you. You had a question over here? Go ahead.
Q: Thanks so much. I originally heard about your talk, Dr. Cafaro, just a couple days ago. I guess you cited to a law review note I wrote 11 years ago. And I appreciate it. This was very interesting.
MR. CAFARO: Are you Steve Kelton?
Q: I am.
MR. CAFARO: Oh, good to meet you.
Q: I am the Steve Kelton.
But the premise of my law review note – which no one’s addressed this morning, was that – but you mentioned how Congress is making this decision about immigration. And if it’s a major federal action significantly impacting the quality of the human environment – which is – most of you – or, many of you know is the NEPA trigger for an EIS, Environmental Impact Statement, then we should do an EIS on immigration. That was the thesis of my note. And I still hope someone here can wave a magic wand and make that happen.
I just want to make two points and then just open up – one question. One is the – to Mr. Lind’s comment about the rich having more environmental impact than maybe the poor – so true. The research shows that many of the poor immigrants who come here adopt our lifestyle. And they buy cars and their electricity use goes up by, you know, tenfold and water use and – et cetera. So they – all those immigrants coming here, they want to adopt that rich lifestyle, which greatly multiplies their impact.
And then for agricultural land, we lose about an acre per person per year. So that’s about 3 million acres a year lost in – well, a million and a half to immigration and a million and a half to natural increase ourselves. So that’s just a huge amount of often very productive agricultural land.
So I guess one of my questions would be, immigration seems to support this concept that – you know, the gross national product has to keep growing, and growth for the sake of growth. Is that, like, the basis of stopping immigration, is create a system where we don’t just keep putting emphasis on growth and somehow emphasize quality, you know?
MR. CAFARO: I think that has to be a big part of the ultimate solution to these kinds of questions. I don’t think you can create an ecologically sustainable society in the context of endlessly growing demands. And the two main ways that our demands – that human demand are growing on the natural environment is through ever more people, that’s a big part of it, and also just increased per capita consumption and the production that goes along with that. So if you’re really looking to the long term here, I think we have to be thinking about creating societies that are about providing a sufficiency – or, let’s say, providing a good living for the flourishing of a limited number of people rather than providing for ever-more luxury for ever-more people. I think that has to be part of the answer.
My own sense – and here I guess I’m disagreeing with Michael – is it’s going to be a lot easier to do that regarding population than about consumption issues. I mean, the American people and many – pretty much all developed nations around the world have freely chosen to stabilize their populations, the people in those nations. It’s the governments who want to bring in more people. Whereas getting people to find a way towards accepting enough in our economic lives, that’s a much taller order, I think. But I think that has to be part of the answer here. And I love the point you made about the fact that people aren’t moving to the United States to be poor. I think that’s kind of an important point.
You know, Michael, you’re right that one billionaire is certainly consuming a lot more resources than dozens and dozens of poor Guatemalan immigrants to the U.S., but the flip side of that is there aren’t that many billionaires. And there are lots of poor people from Guatemala who are moving to the U.S. or want to do that. Which is fine, and we should allow some of them to come here, but we can’t necessarily continue to add 3 million Americans. I want to take away those billionaires’ helicopters and jets, I’m a good progressive. But I think we also have to address population growth.
MR. CAMAROTA: Can I exercise the chair’s prerogative introduce another issue that anyone can or cannot comment on if they want?
One thing you don’t talk much about is if you make the low-income population larger, does that in any way circumscribe our ability to assist the low-income population? Now, of course, if you’re a libertarian or quite conservative, you’d say, hey, that ain’t the state’s job anyway, but playing in a – kind of a progressive ballpark.
So, for example, one third of all children in poverty today live in an immigrant household. Does that make it harder, because you have a lot more poor children in America as a result of immigration, to do anything about uplifting low-income children? Or, one-third of the uninsured are immigrants or their young children. Does that make it harder to provide health care to low-income people, if that’s the case?
And you’d think there might be some liberals who would see dramatically increasing the size of the low-income population as a kind of threat, or at least a weakening or at least make it more difficult to help low-income people, which if, of course, a central part of progressivism. But you don’t hear anybody say much about that question. You know, a little bit on the labor market, but not on the question of is this going to be problematic for our efforts to do anything about these things. What do you think?
MR. CAFARO: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a great point. I mean, when we bring in lots of poor immigrants, we’re importing poverty into the United States. And then we have to deal with that. I mean, from a progressive point of view, I mean, one way to look at that is to say: These are poor people. We bring them here. It’s easier to help them. I think, though, what you tend to find is if you push that too far, and I think this has happened, you erode the kind of social cohesion that helps make people willing to redistribute wealth to help fellow citizens.
I mean, I see this – I teach at a public university. And I’m always struck with how callous some of my students can be about a willingness to help their poorer fellow citizens. And I’m not sure how we got from a place in this country where there seemed to be more of a consensus that we were all in this economically, but I tend to think it – part of it is just so often these days the poorer person that you’re thinking about or being asked to think about is perhaps a recent immigrant.
Maybe you look at them and you say, yeah, they’re doing better than they would have done in Mexico, so why should I be so concerned about this? Or maybe some of it has to do with people who are looking at people from a different ethnic or racial background and they don’t have the same concern for a person in that group. So I think it’s – yeah, I think it plays a role in the difficulty of making the case and pushing through policies that really will help alleviate poverty.
MR. FRUM: Let me take – may I take stab at this, Steve? It’s a great question.
I think there are a lot of progressives, and especially some people around the president, who say, well, the answer to that is we’ll have a lot more – you know, with all of these new – they will organize. It will be like the civil rights movement. They will organize and they will – there will be more of them and they will make claims on the state. And that bumps into that very important sentence in the book – we will have more people who are not citizens. So even as the poverty population grows, its political heft diminishes, because they are unable to organize.
And that – and then a lot of things fade out of view. I mean, Michael ended with his rather scathing summary of Ezra Klein’s argument about the native born being – moving into higher skilled and supervisory jobs. Now that is – what Ezra was there saying is a vulgarization of the argument by economists that the effect of immigration is to drive specialization and native born and recent immigrants will up skill and move up the chain.
We have observed reality what has happened. And that’s not what happens. There are only so many managers.
MR. : It doesn’t seem like that’s what happens.
MR. FRUM: Instead, they exit the labor force altogether. They end up on disability, which is a program – and this goes to – which is a program which five years ago was simply beyond criticism and today is, I think, one of the leading targets for budget cutters, the Social Security Disability Program, because it has grown so immensely. And I think part of that is, look, the baby boomers are aging and they’re genuinely getting injured.
I think it also happens during the Great Recession, you’d be a Social Security judge and you would see a procession of 55-year old men who did have some injury who you realized were just never going to work again. That’s obviously why they were in front of you. And your job was to say no. And you’d say no, once, twice, three times, 60 times, 70 times, 200 times. But about the 343rd time that you see a 55-year old man with a genuine back injury who is obviously never going to work again, your resistance cracks. You’re a human being after all.
What’s going to happen to that man? We have no programs for him. I mean, we have a few but they’re very – maybe food stamps. But he – there’s no way for that man to live. And so you crack and you give him Social Security Disability. And we’ve seen the surge in the roles. And now that program is under attack in exactly the way that you describe.
MR. LIND: I think of this as the – it’s the doom loop. If you look at the sustainable welfare states, they were economically solvent – those of Scandinavia, the New Deal system in the 1950s and ‘60s, because they were not redistributionist among classes. They transferred money from mostly working-class people during their working years to mostly working- and middle-class people who were either sick or disabled or retired. So there were these horizontal transfers, it wasn’t vertical. And the main mechanism for doing this was the payroll tax. And because they were universal, the middle – it was primarily – it was not an antipoverty program. It was a working class, middle class safety net for non-workers.
As your poverty population increases, or as wages for workers go down, payroll taxes decline. As payroll taxes decline, Simpson and Bowles and Pete Peterson say, oh my god, compare to – you know, suddenly the Social Security payroll tax shortfall is much worse. Medicare and Medicaid shortfall is much worse. We have to cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, right?
And at that point the – I don’t know whether they’re naïve or astrategic or, you know, maybe just, you know, cunningly Machiavellian, progressives come along and say, yes, we agree. We should cut these universal middle class entitlements, the sort of incumbent, you know, privileges David’s talking about. But what we’ll do is we’ll increase benefits for the poor, increasingly foreign born, and we’ll make up the difference by slashing Medicare and Social Security for the native working class white, but also of other races.
So at that point, this incumbency dynamic that David is talking about is accelerated. So the people who are now being told, not that you’re rich and you can afford a cut in Social Security benefits, but you make more than 40(,000 dollars) or $50,000 a year or something, so – you know, and you’re not going to get the EITC, you’re not – and as far as I can tell, the plan of the mainstream progressive movements is what David mentioned, that is in fact – I’m sorry to pick on Ezra Klein. I’m a great admirer of his and he’s a brilliant journalist. It just seems here is expressing the conventional wisdom.
In the same Wonkblog post I quote, he says, well, yeah, wages will go down somewhat because of immigration, but you can just increase the welfare state – increase the welfare state, by which he means means-tested programs for lower-income workers, right? So your immigrant competitor lowers your wages by 20 percent, but then we’re going to tax all Americans to add you and give you 20 percent more income through the earned income tax credit or something like that, although it’s a means-tested program so you cut out the middle class and the upper middle class and so on.
Now, if you’re – I think of myself as a real progressive. If you’re a real progressive, this is corporatist crony capitalism at its worst. That is, if you’re a real progressive you’re against socializing the costs and privatizing the profits. But what you’re actually doing is you’re privatizing the profits for employers of low-wage labor and you’re socializing the costs by raising taxes on everybody else in America to subsidize these workers who can’t live on what they’re being paid.
And it’s a mystery to me that – maybe Mike Huckabee will do it, I don’t know – that someone on the left or the right or the center does not make the case that it’s actually the employers and the consumers who should pay these subsistence costs of the workers through higher wages or higher product and goods and services costs. It’s not the taxpayers.
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah. OK, so go ahead, Peggy. Oh, wait, there’s a microphone.
Q: Thanks. I’m Peggy Orchowski. I’m the congressional correspondent for the Hispanic Outlook Magazine.
So I write a lot about Latinos. And it’s just amazing to me how people, especially Democrats, are missing the incredible diversification that’s going on among Latinos. I’m talking to more and more who – especially native born – who are millennials, not so political, but also increasingly American nationalists. And I think there’s a – starting to be a big crack in the whole civil rights argument for immigration. I tell people openly, look, so immigration’s not a civil right and it’s certainly not a civil right to be in the country illegally. And they kind of go – and then they go, oh, well, yeah.
I’m wondering if you’re – I think there’s a lot of cracks. I think the manicurist story is a perfect hypocrisy of liberals. And so far, all the stories The New York Times has written about the manicurists there isn’t one thing that this is an issue a sanctuary city who supports illegal immigration. So I think there’s a lot of places that one can attack this very liberal idea.
And I’m wondering, are you seeing in the movement among the blacks about this, that they are the ones who are being hurt the most. The Fergusons and the Baltimores, most of those stores that were burned were owned by immigrants. They’re not hiring blacks. They’re – anyway, are you – are you seeing that? And –
MR. CAMAROTA: Well, why don’t we let the panelists answer that question on the –
Q: I just wanted, David, what was the term you used, incumbency what?
MR. FRUM: Incumbent claims.
MR. FRUM: Claims.
Q: Incumbency claims, OK.
MR. CAMAROTA: Does anyone want to take a shot?
MR. LIND: Well, a few years ago I was at a progressive conference and an African-American leader of an urban coalition told me that, you know, we’re getting wiped out by immigration. You know, I’m not going to name any of these individuals –
Q: But it was black leader?
MR. LIND: Yeah. And said, but I can’t say this because it will endanger my foundation funding, right?
MR. LIND: Because the way the progressive coalition works is the environmentalists can’t complain about immigrations, the, you know, urban African-American opportunity people can’t complain about it, because they’re all funded by big foundations which kind of orchestrate the party lines. That’s just anecdotal evidence.
But the other interesting statistics about Latinos is, well, to one thing they are diverse. I mean, Cuban-Americans, Puerto Rican-Americans, Mexican-Americans are quite differently. Largely if you look at Mexican-Americans, according to Gregory Rodriguez, in this decade, I think, the number of native-born Mexican-Americans will surpass that of immigrants for the first time since the 1960s or ’70s. And he argues that’s going to create a radical shift because if you look at assimilation rates – and here I think the nativists on the right are just mistaken –
MR. LIND: You know, Mexican-American lose the – lose Spanish and marry outside of the group at pretty much the same rate as Germans and Poles and Irish, you know, and others did. You know, so the assumption of today’s Democrats that an ever-growing Latino population is just this escalator and the other Democratic groups are just going to ride it to permanent majority status, I’m not sure.
I’m from Texas. If you look at Texas, there are more and more Mexican-American Republicans. And it makes sense strategically – that is, do you want to be the sacrificial lamb candidate your whole life and never hold office, or do you want to work within the one party in your one-party state? So I think, yeah, all of this is coming under question.
MR. CAMAROTA: We have a question over here.
Q: Steven Duffield. I’m an attorney here in town.
I’m curious about the political opportunism, let’s put it that way, that David talks about. And I actually wanted to get Michael’s response to it as well. And I want to flesh it out a little bit more before I do. What we see right now is something that was slightly on the table in ’12, but is very clearly on the table in ’16, which is what I generally call – because it’s my old world, when I worked in the Senate – it’s the Jeff Session argument of today. And I know a lot of that is – CIS has worked on, and others here.
But by focusing more on low-wage labor in particular, you now see an openness with some of the candidates. Scott Walker’s clearly opening himself up to having that conversation later. I don’t think he’s actually made the argument yet, but he’s actually ready to do it if he wants. Senator Santorum is ready to have the argument. If he chooses to run, he’ll certainly have a voice and he’ll make the argument more. I think that others will be open to this generally. And I think we’re going to have a much more direct fight within the Republican Party over immigration as it relates to low-wage labor in particular.
And what it ends up doing is it is filling a vacuum, right? So you have this vacuum that we’ve been discussing, that progressives are kind of walking away from these economic arguments that, you know, when I was working in the Senate in the ’06-’07 era, when they were working on immigration bills, you had a robust fight within the left about what to do on these issues, and now you don’t. But it was live then. Now it’s gone. Now there’s a power vacuum. Now you see people moving over and – on the right and grabbing those arguments and creating opportunities for themselves.
So I’m curious – one, I’d be curious to hear, and I’ve read some that you’ve written, obviously, on this, but I’m curious what your current thought is on that. And I’m actually curious from the left what – how you see that playing out if there’s a way that the elbows can come out a shield can be erected on the left with these traditional populist groups from the left – economic populism – such that conservatives, Republicans can’t take advantage of the shift, and if that breaks down over time. And I’m curious, you know – but just start with if you wanted to flesh that out at all. Thinking about how politics naturally works, we’re going to fill this vacuum, and can the left stop that from happening if they’re not going to fight this fight?
MR. FRUM: People don’t invent their own political languages. They have to use the political languages that are available to them. And so new ideas often express themselves very haltingly using old language. And that’s why the Tea Party talked – invoked so often libertarian phrases, even as what it was really doing was defending Medicare for people like themselves. And they didn’t have a language to do that. They were Republicans. They didn’t know how to defend a welfare state that had previously been uncontroversial, and – for everybody. It was now under pressure because that – because the Obamacare financing system was redistributive away from Medicare, and because they could look ahead and see challenges to Medicare.
I wrote a long article for Foreign Affairs about this, and one of the core things you can see happening in the Obama years is that the Baby Boom generation – defined as the people born between 1945 and ’60 – had historically been quite a bit more liberal than the previous generation, born between 1930 and 1945. And suddenly, between about 2007 and 2012, they catch up and they become just as conservative as people 15 years old. What does that – but what does that mean? What it means is they are – that they are very hostile to all other social welfare programs besides Social Security and Medicare. And in fact, they are even more hostile to changes in Medicare than are their seniors, then the people 15 years old.
I fancifully speculate that it would – what was happening is a lot of people who were 75 were saying, well, Medicare will see me out. (Laughs.) Won’t be – the American government doesn’t move that fast. (Laughter.) But people who are 58 and 62 think, it’ll move fast enough, and so hands off my program. So we’re seeing an attempt to have that discussion within the Republican Party. Mike Huckabee is having some of that conversation.
And I think one of the things that you hear in the Republican debate is you’ll hear so often an elegiac tone for the world as it was, and this will often be expressed in terms of safety. You know, when we were younger, the world was much safer, kids – now, that’s crazy. That’s just completely false. The world – there was – not only there was more crime, there were more accidents. I remember my father building a jungle gym on top of a cement floor. (Laughter.) We have a home video of this. (Laughter.) And it’s just unfathomable to me. I mean, there’s just – I don’t know how any child born in the 1960s actually survived those 10 years. (Laughter.) No seat belts, people smoking in cars. (Laughter.)
But the way it is different is that the middle class – a country that was once a middle-class-oriented country has stopped being that. And I think those Baby Boom voters are groping for their language. And that is the argument that we’re seeing.
I don’t know quite that it will happen – I’ll take one more sentence on this – yet because, look, organized wealth is wealthier and more organized than ever, and it has enormous impact on the – on the process of selecting party nominees. And it’s – the views of Republican donors on the immigration question are very clear and very self-conscious and self-serving. I don’t blame people sort of serving their interests. But what happened – what has happened in politics generally – and this was something that Michael alluded to that’s important – is how much of American political life has ceased being self-financing; that the AFL-CIO did not live on grants. But in a society that is increasingly – where wealth is increasingly concentrated, politics is increasingly funded by few, even though it is participated in by many. And he who pays the piper calls the tune.
MR. LIND: Well, Professor Cafaro has his recommendations at the end: cut legal immigration from 1.1 million to 300,000 per year, reduce illegal immigration by mandating use of a national employment-verification system – essentially the demand side of employers, which as the recommendation of the Jordan commission and the Hesburgh, every commission.
MR. CAFARO: That’s right.
MR. LIND: Reword trade agreements to, you know, help people in their own countries, as opposed to treating this as charity. You could probably get the Mike Huckabee voters and the Elizabeth Warren voters to agree on this if you explain this to them.
And in the case of the progressive voters, there would have to be an amnesty. I think at this point a clean amnesty where you make people citizens as quickly as possible is in the interest of the working people of America because you do not want a society where the labor market is divided among different groups of workers with different rights. This is – this was the Lincoln Republicans. It was the progressives. You want everyone to have exactly the same rights to quit the job, take another one, vacations, all of – otherwise, employers will pit different groups against each other. And it’s unfair. The right-populists have to swallow this enormous unfairness that these people have jumped the lines. But if they can be reassured that this isn’t going to happen every 20 years, you know, I think that’s it.
The problem is, as David mentioned, it’s the producer interests, and there are really two. You know, there’s the tech community, which wants more H-1Bs. And I’m in favor of more skilled immigration, particularly if it takes the form of – like in Europe, it’s a blue card. You just come here and then you can quit your job and go to any other job. Or a green card. I don’t want to have green cards stapled to college diplomas – that’s a popular proposal – because there will be – 500 new diploma mills will spring up the next week to give Saudi royal kids green cards. So that’s a stupid idea. But you know, sure, you want Albert Einstein and Alexander Graham Bell. The problem is most H-1Bs are not geniuses. They’re doing stuff that, you know, American high school or college graduates can do. It’s just for lower wages. They’re indentured servants. They can’t quit their job. They live in terror of these body shops that they work for, these – so it’s a nightmare thing. So that’s the tech sector producerism. And then there’s the, you know, the landscape gardeners and the dairy farmers and all of this.
And the problem with the U.S. and with most democracies is producer interests have enormous influence over the legislature because they’re small but intense. They have – whereas the people who suffer from this are very diffuse and scattered. And so – and to me it’s fascinating, the politics of this. The producers have actually killed their own immigration reform repeatedly because you say, OK, we’ll expand maybe legal immigration a little, we’ll have an amnesty for the 12, 14 million who are here. And at that point, when they’re writing the bill, the lobbyists come in and say, OK, we’ll have a million guest workers a year for agribusiness, and then the whole thing falls apart. I mean, correct me if I’m mistaken, but again and again this guest worker stuff has killed this because at that point labor, you know, and the progressives and the populists pull back, as they rightly should, you know. So you know, I just – I don’t – I don’t – I don’t know how you get around that.
Now, in the case of the progressives – my final point – I watched all of this in the last immigration reform thing that fell apart. I think that agribusiness and these other wage – low-wage employer lobbies are holding amnesty hostage to the guest worker thing. That’s the only way I can explain why otherwise progressive people – now, the Economic Policy Institute, there are some who do go after the guest worker stuff on economic and civic grounds. But I think essentially they persuaded Latinos and labor, if you shut up about the new guest workers, the H-2s, we’ll give you amnesty. And of course, ironically, they didn’t have the power to give them amnesty, and actually the guest worker thing turned out to be a poison pill.
MR. CAMAROTA: It certainly was one of the big drags on it. I mean, it’s a complicated debate, but yeah.
MR. CAFARO: Steve, quick point.
MR. CAMAROTA: Right.
MR. CAFARO: I think we’re in a really strange place in our politics when we’re depending on Jeff Sessions to bring up these populist economic arguments – (laughter) – that progressives should be making about the impacts of flooded labor markets on American workers. And you know, I wrote this book to get progressive politicians and media folks – they don’t have to come out in the same place that I do, but just discussing these issues realistically. I mean, there’s a robust debate among conservatives, and it looks like it’s possible we’re going to have a robust debate among the conservative presidential candidates. We need to have those kind of debates among Democrats. You might wind up continuing to support a million immigrants annually, but you should debate it, get the pros and cons out there, understand that there are tradeoffs in different policies. We need to have that debate.
MR. CAMAROTA: I’ll take two more quick questions if we have them. Paul, go ahead. Just don’t make it too long. And then I’ll go to Jerry (sp).
Q: I’m Paul Donnelly. I helped to pass the last permanent increase in legal immigration back in 1990, and I continue my long and checkered career in this stuff.
I want to take exception to one thing Dr. Cafaro said, which is the notion that governments to do this to us, and to suggest that it’s helpful to make the distinctions that matter. I haven’t read carefully your 1.1 million, but my guess is that includes refugees, who are people we will not turn away and who are admitted to the United States primarily for foreign policy reasons. It includes illegal immigration. Illegal immigration is something we don’t want, that’s why it’s illegal. You can argue about what we want to do about it, but the fact that it’s illegal is a clue that we don’t like it.
Then you have legal immigration. And I’ve often talked to people about, well, what’s the difference? It’s really simple: legal immigrants are people who are invited individually by name by Americans. Now, there are some exceptions to that. There’s the diversity lottery, for example. But family and employment-based immigration, which is what legal immigration really is, is based upon an individual American who invites an individual foreigner to join us in America. So it’s not the government that’s doing this, it’s individual Americans.
And on the Jordan commission, where I was communications director, the commissioners voted that Congress, which does indeed set all this policy, should set priorities, and the numbers should flow from the priorities. It should not be a number picked out of the air and then you figure out how many people you’re willing to fit into that number from which categories.
Current family and employment-based immigration is very simple: spouses and kids of U.S. citizens, spouses and kids of legal permanent residents, adult children of both legal permanent residents and U.S. citizens, siblings of U.S. citizens. That’s it. And then you’ve got skill-based immigration and employment-based immigration. That’s where the numbers come from.
Congress likes to manage by backlog because it promises more than it delivers and backlogs create illegal immigration. So it’s real simple: Which categories are you going to cut? And how are you going to tell Americans they can’t invite their siblings or their parents anymore?
MR. CAMAROTA: Who wants to answer that?
MR. CAFARO: Yeah, I’d like to take a crack at that. I mean, currently so-called family reunification slots are generating about 650,000 immigrants into the U.S. annually, and that’s way more than Congress ever intended. It’s simply an endless chain of ever more people, especially when you include adult children, when you include the siblings of people who have immigrated here previously. So if you decide to stick with that program, what you’re essentially saying is that we can never cut back on immigration because it’s a program that naturally leads to more and more.
And you know, to talk about his as people inviting people in, it sounds warm and homey. But the reality is employers want cheap labor, and they’re always going to invite more people in so they can drive down the wages of American workers. Congress needs to get on this and get serious about setting immigration policies that make sense for Americans and that make sense for Americans down the line several generations.
MR. CAMAROTA: Go ahead, Jerry (sp).
Q: Yeah, I’d like to ask anyone –
MR. CAMAROTA: Hold on. Wait till we get the mic.
Q: – ask anyone to discuss the performance of the press in informing this debate you say you want to have about the connection between unskilled immigration in particular and the growing divide between rich and poor in the U.S.
MR. FRUM: I can speak to – I have a very anecdotal – I can give you an anecdote that sort of sums this up.
I debate the economics of immigration a lot, and I debate it with some pretty sophisticated financial journalists. And when I debate them, I will be – I will always hear from the citation of the Parry models – they don’t always know who wrote the model, but they know the model – about the economic consequences. But I’ve never encountered – I wrote an article for The Atlantic about this. Do they know how the model is made? Because economic journalists tend not to be economists or that interested in the difficulties of economics and they tend to be overly impressed. Economics generates highly – Friedrich Hayek has a wonderful word, “scientistic,” as opposed to “scientific.” Economics is scientistic, that it generates highly specific looking answers based on models that are extremely crude representations of reality. And when you start taking the models apart – and one of the – when you – the model that we were talking about before with Ezra Klein is – where you assume that people are driven up the skill chain, how is that model made? It’s made – one of the crucial things is whenever somebody exits the workforce, you stop counting them. That doesn’t seem a highly realistic economic assumption, but they vanish from the modeling once they’re out of the workforce because you’re contrasting and comparing pairs of workers in different parts of the workforce.
So I would say that, in a way, you would like either a better-informed press or a worse-informed press – either a press that had never heard of economic models or a press that understood how those models are made. But what we have right now is an elite press in particular that cites them, thinking that they – that they are science rather than just very crude social-science approximations of complex realities.
MR. LIND: Well, the elite press practices ruthless censorship of any – I’ll give you three anecdotes, for what it’s worth.
One time in the ‘90s I was – around the time of the Jordan commission, an editor at The New York Times op-ed page solicited me to do a piece on the, you know, downsides of mass immigration. She got a phone call from the publisher complaining, why is she running all of these anti-immigration op-eds? Well it turns out the ratio is like 3-to-1 pro and con, right? She’s –
MR. CAMAROTA: But even that was too much. (Laughter.)
MR. LIND: Yeah. She soon was no longer working at the op-ed page.
When I was a staff writer at The New Yorker, I quoted a previous generation of New Republic liberals who had made the case that you can’t have a welfare state and open borders, something that Milton Friedman famously agreed with. One of my colleagues, in the next issue, devoted a long article denouncing me, saying that his grandmother was an immigrant, Ellis Island, et cetera. I said, well, yeah, my great grandmother’s an immigrant. That’s not a – that’s not an argument.
Marty Peretz, the publisher of The New Republic, then compelled me to join him at an event at the Holocaust Museum by – with a bunch of pro-immigration activists, at which an obviously doctored photo was distributed of a 12-year-old girl from Cuba fleeing on a boat. And in this obviously doctored photo, we were told that she was playing the violin, playing “God Bless America,” as she sank beneath the waves. So I kind of got my point – got the point of that. (Laughter.)
MR. CAMAROTA: Wow.
MR. LIND: A few years later, a leading liberal magazine asked me to come up with five or six proposals, what you could do to drive up wages. So most of them – you know, it was greater union bargaining power. So one of them was less unskilled immigration. So the editor told me, I can’t publish anything critical of immigration in this magazine; I’ll get in trouble with the publisher. So I said, well, either publish it or I’m never writing for you again. And I’ve never written for that magazine again.
MR. CAMAROTA: Not again.
MR. LIND: And so there’s a – there is a huge difference between the openness on this issue of the actual academics, like Krugman – although I note he wrote that piece about the economics of immigration in 2007. He was just, you know, attacked. And he hasn’t returned to the subject since, to my knowledge.
MR. : That’s right.
MR. LIND: So essentially you either get attacked by the activists as a racist and a Nazi – I was on Ezra Klein’s – what was the list server called?
MR. : JournoList.
MR. LIND: JournoList, yeah. So I made this point one time, you know, and then 30 leading Washington journalists: I’m Hitler, I’m a Nazi, this is racism, et cetera. And the curious thing is, there is a divorce between the groupthink of The Atlantic, New Republic, Salon, Slate, et cetera editors and journalists and the actual Democratic electorate, which has quite different views; the Democratic professoriate, by and large, you know.
So what do you attribute this to? And I attribute it essentially – I’ve become more and more a non-Marxist historical materialist – it’s class. That is, most of the people who work in the press are upper-middle-class people with extreme economic ambitions for themselves and their children, and they live in expensive cities, in Washington and New York. And if they’re not independently wealthy, their lifestyle is enabled by low-wage nannies, low-wage maids, you know, low-wage takeout. So even if they are willing to go against their interest – and the manicurists – even if they’re willing to give up their own personal professional class interest, their magazine is owned by a billionaire who had the billionaire’s view of the world.
We found out recently from, you know, polls in Chicago, Gillens (sp) and, you know, these other social scientists, that most rich Democrats and rich Republicans agree on almost everything. They want to increase immigration. They’re in favor of public investment in things that benefit them, like infrastructure. Everything else should be cut. Now, this is the rich Democrats: cut Social Security, cut Medicare, cut SSI, all of that. So that’s the thing. You know, the problem with magazines of opinion is the guy who owns the magazine. It’s the, no – it’s the publisher’s opinion, that’s the old saying.
MR. CAMAROTA: I have one comment on that. And I do think it relates here.
One of the areas where the media seems to be the worst is even discussing legal immigration. For example, so the Gang of Eight at least for the first 10 years doubled the flow of foreign workers into the United States. Now, you’d think that would have been an important aspect of that bill, that ultimately went down to defeat – we’d have a lot of debate on that. Everything focused on the legalization, the amnesty provisions if you will, and some of the enforcement stuff. But the fact that we would double immigration and have basically no national debate about legislation that was being debated is extraordinary, and certainly probably much more important than the amnesty. And yet almost nobody covered it. And one time I pressed a journal on that – journalist, and he said, well, no one else is talking about it. That was sort of the answer. (Laughter.) And so I guess if no one else is talking about it, it must not be a story.
MR. CAFARO: So I think the answer to this obvious problem is for everyone to buy five copies of this book – (laughter) – and to send it to your journalists out there writing – (laughter) – for a newspaper.
MR. CAMAROTA: All right. What a nice way to end. (Laughter, applause.)
Well, I want to thank everyone, including all of our panelists and all of you for coming. A video of this will be, of course, made available shortly and be posted at our website. Thank you again.