American Favelas

by Reihan Salam

Eli Dourado makes an admirably forthright case for allowing larger numbers of impoverished foreign workers to settle in the U.S., as doing so would greatly reduce the cost of hiring live-in domestic servants while also alleviating global poverty. I disagree with Eli rather strongly, but he is always worth reading. 

To briefly elaborate on why I disagree with Eli, my sense is that while some inequalities might be tolerable in a democratic nation-state (I’m inclined to think that fairly extreme upper-tail inequality is more or less politically sustainable, and that its benefits might outweigh its costs), others are much less so. The persistence and intergenerational transmission of poverty in the U.S. is, in my view, a real challenge to the legitimacy of U.S. institutions, and allowing for a substantial increase in the number of individuals earning poverty-level wages via more open immigration policy would exacerbate this problem, and introduce a number of other complications. We could devote more public sector resources to investing in the human capital of the children of less-skilled immigrants in order to make it somewhat likely that they will become full participants in American economic and civic life, but this would entail trade-offs that might prove detrimental to the interests of other members of the community in question. If one believes that citizens of a given democratic nation-state should not value the lives of fellow citizens over those of foreigners, such objections are immaterial, and I take this to be Eli’s view (and, implicitly or explicitly, the view of many other advocates of a substantial increase in the less-skilled influx). I reject this view, for reasons I’ve explored elsewhere.

The Agenda

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