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The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

Tino Sanandaji on the Politics of Immigration



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Tino Sanandaji has written two recent posts on the politics of immigration that are of particular interest to Republicans hoping to understand the implications of the rising Latino share of the electorate.

In the first, he notes the tension between less-skilled immigration and the political objectives of center-right parties. He posits that it is reasonable for low-income voters to conclude that backing parties that favor higher levels of redistribution is in their material self-interest. Moreover, he suggests that more affluent members of groups that have low average incomes would vote for the same parties in part out of group solidarity. Tino also suggests that inequality can interact with diversity in a problematic way:

If you are poor and start to notice that most members of the ethnic group you belong to are poor while the majority population is affluent, you are more likely to assume that the economic system is fundamentally rigged against you due to racism, discrimination, exploitation, etc., and resent it.

With this in mind, Tino argues that center-right parties that tend to oppose higher levels of redistribution undermine themselves when they support policies that increase less-skilled immigration. 

In the second, Tino focuses on the Latino population. He argues forcefully against the political case recently made by Charles Krauthammer and other conservatives for comprehensive immigration reform:

On gun-control, the environment, energy, foreign policy, economics and every subject Hispanics were to the left of Whites and to the left of the Republican party. It is not true as Charles Krauthammer claims that Hispanics are Natural Republicans who are alienated from the Republican Party simply because of GOP opposition to Amnesty. Hispanics are Natural Democrats on every major policy issue, be it immigration or economics or even social issues. 

One important explanation for why the conservative leadership has convinced itself that Amnesty will make Hispanics gravitates towards the GOP is psychological. Following a crushing defeat against a President openly championing liberalism, Republicans elites are in the first state of grief, namely denial. The truth that America is  slowly transforming into a center-left country (due primarily to past immigration policy) is simply too painful to acknowledge. Republican refuse to accept that the political philosophy they offer is unattractive for low-income voters. 

I understand that is is painful to acknowledge that the electorate rejected your ideology. It is however foolish to convince yourself that you can make people vote for you against their own material self-interests merely by compromising on one issue (illegal immigration) or by “reaching out”. This especially if the easy path Charles Krauthammer offers involves accelerating demographic transformation, the very process which is killing the GOP. 

Tino also suggests that assimilation among Americans of Mexican origins has followed a distinctive pattern:

Keep in mind that immigrants integrated into the US during the early 20th century after the flow immigration slowed. Stanford Economist Edward Lazear has argued that an immigrant group is less likely to integrate the larger it is and the more recently arrived the migrants of the group are. Newly arrived immigrants are cheaper substitute for immigrants already here and press down their wages. Moreover people are less likely to integrate to majority culture if they live semi-isolated in a sea of the immigrant culture.

As an empirical matter, Mexican immigrants to the United States have not integrated even after four generations. UCLA sociologists Telles and Ortiz have investigated outcomes for 4th generation Mexican-Americans. They do not converge to white averages in either income or education. More troubling, integration stops in generation 3, there are no further gains. (They also find 4th generation Mexican immigrants still tend to vote for Democrats.) 

And so Tino goes on to offer advice to conservatives on how they should proceed. Recently, a friend sent me an email on a related theme:

The big challenge is that Hispanic upward mobility is proving to be far less potent than what happened to prior generations of whites — primarily given the declining labor market position of low-skilled labor, especially now that the ’00s real estate construction boom is over; and persistent problems with growing educational attainment.

PPACA, disability, higher implicit marginal tax rates, and other long-run trends are combining to create a pool of stagnant workers at the bottom, who, as Romney suggested, have little interest in voting Republican. That’s a big problem for Republicans, and a big problem for the country in general. 

One hopes that Tino and my correspondent are overly pessimistic, but their analysis serves as a reminder that it is Republicans in particular who need the private economy to deliver absolute upward mobility to flourish. 



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