Saturday, June 23, 2018

Bret Stephens' Fact-Free Immigration Idolatry

Bret Stephens takes on immigration with some tired arguments:

First: The U.S. fertility rate has fallen to a record low. In May, The Times reported that women “had nearly 500,000 fewer babies than in 2007, despite the fact that there were an estimated 7 percent more women in their prime childbearing years.” That’s a harbinger of long-term, Japanese-style economic decline.

Counterpoint: Japan is a perfectly fine place to exist. There's nothing wrong with Japan. It does not need to try to outgrow America, India or China in some sort of zero-sum economic sprint.

Second: Americans are getting older. In 2010 there were more than 40 million Americans over the age of 65. By 2050 the number will be closer to 90 million, or an estimated 22.1 percent of the population. That won’t be as catastrophic as Japan, where 40.1 percent of people will be over 65. But remember: We’ve only avoided Japan’s demographic fate so far by resisting its longstanding anti-immigration policies.

Counterpoint: There is nothing wrong with being older. Young median age is often correlated with social catastrophe.  Why would we ask for many millions more young men if we can not guarantee a role for them?

Third: The Federal Reserve has reported labor shortages in multiple industries throughout the country. That inhibits business growth. Nor are the shortages only a matter of missing “skills”: The New American Economy think tank estimates that the number of farm workers fell by 20 percent between 2002 and 2014, accounting for $3 billion a year in revenue losses.

Counterpoint: The future of the economy is not labor intensive farming. There is no more productivity to be had in humans picking berries. America need not compete with countries with different climates that may be able to produce certain foods more cheaply. America does not need to divert rivers and import hundreds of thousands of people just so California can have competitively priced berries.

Fourth: Much of rural or small-town America is emptying out. In hundreds of rural counties, more people are dying than are being born, according to the Department of Agriculture. The same Trumpian conservatives who claim to want to save the American heartland from the fabled Latin American Horde are guaranteeing conditions that over time will turn the heartland into a wasteland.
Counterpoint: America is full.  It's irrelevant that most of the land is 'empty'. All of America's growth is happening in urban areas - in 1900, 39% of Americans lived in cities - today, over 80% of Americans live in cities - cities that hate growth and have huge income inequality and affordability problems. Nobody is going to go live in Yellowstone National Park, nor should anyone want that to happen.

Fifth: The immigrant share (including the undocumented) of the U.S. population is not especially large: About 13.5 percent, high by recent history but below its late 19th century peak of 14.8 percent. In Israel, the share is 22.6 percent; in Australia, 27.7 percent, according to O.E.C.D. data, another indicator of the powerful correlation between high levels of immigration and sustained economic dynamism.

Counterpoint: This is a butchering of math, as Israel and Australia are comparatively tiny countries. One could say that China should aim to be 27.7 migrants - it would only hit such a target if the entire population of America moved to China. The conditions under which that sort of thing would happen would mean the entire world would be a very screwed up place. It's meaningless to compare America to countries a tenth or less of America's size. They are always going to have a 'dynamism' that America does not.

Finally, immigrants — legal or otherwise — make better citizens than native-born Americans. More entrepreneurial. More church-going. Less likely to have kids out of wedlock. Far less likely to commit crime. These are the kind of attributes Republicans claim to admire.

Counterpoint: This is true because there is a lot of selection bias in play - the immigrants that come to America are abandoning their fellow citizens that may not be upstanding members of society. As a result, study after study shows first-generation migrants happen to be the section of society that works harder and has a better moral compass.

The problem is that the second generation does not have the same priorities as the first, and they start to look again like entitled Americans - except now with grievances that may follow religious or ethnic lines. A parody of what they think America did to the 'old country' they adopt after watching too many VICE documentaries or reading too many opinion pieces in The New York Times.

Take, for example, Omar Mateen. Or Ahmad Khan Rahimi. Or Salah Abdeslam. Or Salman Abedi. Or Jahar Tsarnaev.

Entitled young men doing very entitled things, because everyone needs more of those. And we counted on these boys to be dutifully picking berries!
 
But America is truly exceptional. Surely everyone is capable of falling in love with apple pie and Trump golf clubs.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

One Infinite Loop - America's NIMBY Nonsense

An article about growth in Seattle gained a lot of interesting top comments from people who may be described as NIMBYs:
VR101 (58 likes): It is never clear to me why one would need to accommodate growth. Many of us bought a SF house in a SF neighborhood. Just because people want to come live here, why do I care or my life needs to be changed? This seems a beyond idiotic argument. The city should care about the already in it living citizens and not the people who want to move here. I pay taxes and it seems at this point the city of Seattle does very little for me with my taxes but caters to pretty much any other group that generally is out to make my life worse. At some point this has to stop. Many of us live here because we do not want to live in NYC or Boston or similar cities with density. Just because people have decided to come here there is no right to live here or the city needed to provide housing. I would much prefer to live on Maui. Seems nobody at Maui is interested in providing me affordable housing on a beach. So why do we need to provide this? Life is about choices. A key issue I am seeing is that "not everybody can be everything" and "not everybody can live where they want". It seems these are very basic truth of life. Somehow we have forgotten about this. 
the ravennaboy (57 likes): Now that a new Roosevelt rail station is coming, the areas within walking distance (even a mile or two awayu) are getting more and more development.
For existing residents, this is NOT a good thing.    It deteriorates quality of life for those who already live in the neighborhood.    For example:* Large apartment buildings that are newly constructed along two lane streets often have, by design, insufficient parking for residents.     This results in all of the side streets, which are single family residential, and very narrow, to be filled with cars of these apartment residents....up to 2-3 blocks away.   These streets are so narrow that if cars are parked on both sides, cars cannot travel in both directions at the same time, creating unpleasant traffic patterns.* Bars, "microbreweries", and new restaurants are built on these two lane streets, attracting large numbers of out of neighborhood patrons, who often park in the neighborhoods, since these businesses do not provide sufficient off street parking.      Patrons of these bars leave drunk when the bars close late at night and noisily stagger to their cars while drunk.   The urinate (and sometimes defecate)  and litter on neighborhood lawns, then wake the neighbors when they start up their cars and motorcycles in the middle of the night to leave.
* Population increases attract more crime, as strangers walk through the neighborhood, looking for mail and bikes to steal, and homes to break into.
* Pockets of homeless camps appear (Ravenna park), and soon the parks are filled with litter, garbage, used needles and condoms, abandon camps, stolen and stripped bicycles, and creepy people who stare at our children in the parks while they play.
So, NO, we don't want the neighborhoods "upzoned" for more and more density and the problems that come with it.
zyzw (51 likes) : OK - I get it.  Why don't you just line up the bulldozers, and knock down every house in my neighborhood.  Just pour a bunch of cement and go from there.  Am I supposed to feel guilty for living there?  Am I supposed to unlock my yard gate and have the homeless set up tents in my yard.  Seriously????  What total mismanagement, city "leaders" have not a clue what they are doing.  I've lived here for almost 40 years and sorry to see what this place has become.  One day soon I will make a decision to leave this horrible place, and take my middle class income to a place that appreciates quality of life.
Indeterminate (45 likes): Let me rewrite your last sentence for you, Gene.
New realities raise the question: In the face of unprecedented population growth and a housing affordability crisis, is it right for the city to dramatically change the character of existing neighborhoods, favoring new residents over long-time residents?
micropotamus (45 likes): But they’re even more remarkable when you consider that most of the city has barely changed at all.That’s NOT remarkable.Those civilized single-family districts have not been demolished by politicized zoning changes.Yet.
City politicians think that ‘the people’ yearn for Manhattanization, and are doing their ugly best at converting a once liveable city to solid blocks of multistory crowded dog-eat-dog living without mobility nor parking.But unlike Manhattan, Seattle was laid out for family-friendly housing with yards, and you can bet that ‘the people’ who live in those situations will hang on until taxed out of them.
Seattle’s oh-so-exciting vertical urban sprawl was designed for ‘families’ consisting of two humans and a cat.It won’t be so exciting for the next generation, when the cats refuse to go to work and pay into Social Security for their declining human clients.
sewardpark47 (29 likes): I live on a street that has remained untouched with the exception of a big, not so attractive, new home that was built in an empty lot. The reason why the street is untouched is that every single home is owned by the people who live in them, all families of mixed income and means, have been there for decades and do not seem to have any plans to leave. The homes are all very modest by today's definition. Lots of vitriol from the HALA people about neighborhoods like mine. 
Domesticus (27 likes): Is it right for the housing options in so much of the city to remain almost frozen in time?Well, would you rather the whole city turn into downtown or South Lake Union? Would you want to raise a family in an environment like that? If not, leave the zoning alone.

There are lots and lots more comments like these, and the arguments follow a theme:


  1. Why does my city need to grow when that city (the example provided: some city in Hawaii) isn't giving me cheap land? 'This is about choices'.
  2. Single family homes are the most comfortable way to raise a family, so why would we change single family zoning?
  3. Why would a city prioritize new residents over old residents? People are being displaced and harassed into leaving and the 'character' of the neighborhood is gone.
  4. Why does every city need to follow a 'Manhattanization' growth model? Not every person wishes to live like this, and my city has historically followed a different model.

The answers to all of these concerns is simple, and can be answered in a simple picture.

If one does not wish for the typical urban growth model, simply do not build one of these: 


This is Apple Park in Cupertino. It holds or will soon hold 12,000 employees, with the rest of Apple's 25,000 employees stationed in the original campus space or other offices around the city. How the Apple Park was approved to be built was contentious - the land acquisition and approvals processes usually are. But it remains that a corporation managed to build additional office space for 12,000 highly paid employees. 

While Apple Park seems suburban enough - it is essentially the office park equivalent of a single family home - what investments like this are destined to do is create a parody of the single family home. 

As it turns out, Apple Park is right across the street from some single family housing. Let's assume that the zoning on this housing never changes - it will always be 'single family' structures. Right now, if Redfin can be trusted these structures are worth about $2 million each. 

Here's what happens when a 'single family home' is worth about $2 million, or 33 times the median household income and 11 times average Apple salary (if one generously assumes average salary is $180k a year). 

Expected results of this price:
  1. Any families that have had these properties 'for decades' will absolutely sell if they do not work for Apple - either they sell now or their the collectors of inheritance will liquidate the property. This class of people are the 'empty nesters'.
  2. Upper range salary level Apple employees will buy these properties irrespective of their desire to start a family, as they are in an incredibly convenient location.
  3. Young employees will buy/rent/sublet properties in this area and turn single family homes into single fraternity homes.
  4. Development of single family homes within the price range of most Americans will happen even further away from the city - or prices will also rise in outlying areas.

The neighborhood, while zoned 'single family', is nothing but a joke - a bunch of immortal retirees that are being gifted hundreds of thousands in home equity each year living beside careerist millennials trying to build an even thinner smartphone. At no point is someone making a middle tier salary interested in spending money on daycare also interested in competing for single family homes with people at a stage of life or with priorities completely disconnected with raising a family.

The formula is simple: if one's city just built a sardine can to shove 12,000 tech employees in, the housing in one's city is about to look the same. The deployment of housing cannot be disconnected from the growth of employment.

The question to ask: What would New York look like if Manhattan wasn't Manhattan? Either the entire northeast would be an expensive sprawl, or Manhattan would simply happen elsewhere. 

The way to maintain affordable single family housing:
  1. Ensure one is at least a 30 minute drive from a world class university
  2. Ensure one is at least a 30 minute drive from a headquarters of the nation's largest companies
  3. Ensure one is at least a 30 minute drive from a large international airport
  4. Ensure one is at least a 30 minute drive from a medical facility that is great at treating cancer, heart disease or dealing with chronic conditions
If all of these four conditions remain true, then one's neighborhood of single family homes will have a perfect shield against "Manhattanization". All of the cities successfully avoiding growth and remaining quaint single family villages are failing at one of these measures - employment is sparse or low on the salary scale, corporations may inhabit the city but their HQs are far away, and the nearby universities do not do research at scale, and medical services are not convenient. 

Cities that continue to invest in education, employment and infrastructure can expect more residents. More residents are accommodated by building more housing units. The land closest to the most services and employment will be always valued at a price that outside the realistic range of young families hoping for a backyard. Either cities plan to allow nice multi-family structures to exist on this land, or cities choose to follow a Beverly Hills model of development that builds a satirical version of the middle class lifestyle within high economic walls. 

The lesson for city dwellers is simple: One need not bother complaining about the prospect of apartment blocks if one did not also complain about the new office park, the new school, and the new hospital. If you build it, they will come.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Roseanne Barr, NFL, YouTube - The Conservative Hypocrisy on Free Speech

Over and over again, conservatives and conservative stand-ins can be found begging not directly for their 'first amendment rights' but instead for a version of 'fair play'. PragerU can be found suing YouTube for 'fair' treatment of their content, senators can be found pleading Mark Zuckerberg for 'fair' treatment of Trump supporters on Facebook, and conservatives like Dave Rubin are continually obsessed about their standing in social media networks and their ability to monetize said standing. As another example, many conservative commentators see James Damore's firing as evidence of institutional bias and the building of a liberal hivemind.

In the latest incarnation of the conservative version of 'fairness', in light of Roseanne's show being cancelled conservatives are asking 'the media' for similar apologies from an entire cast of liberal pundits and commentators. The latest nitpick is those that are against NFL fines in the guise of the first amendment are hypocrites if they support ABC's firing of Roseanne.

The thing is, conservatives don't actually give a damn about free speech of an individual within an institution. Held to a 'principle', conservatives will cede all ultimate rights to any business or business-like entity. Churches can choose not to marry gay people, freelance photographers can choose not to serve gay weddings, and bakers can choose not to serve gay cakes (if they own the bakery). In this world, NFL players are merely employees and the league is the institution that is calling the shots.

Therefore this 'debate' isn't so much about speech as it is about institutional envy. The church lost a lot of pull within society as it was busy molesting children for the past few centuries, while government and government-like institutions such as universities consolidated enough power to have enforce all kinds of policy that conservative groups would prefer ultimate control over. The American conservative take on healthcare, for example, is not an appeal to liberty as much as it is an appeal to cede control to NGOs that conservatives control, primarily being religious organizations.

The difference for universities, it is said, is that universities receive public funding and are therefore must be in some sense public spaces. As a result it is assumed commentators from 'the right' have purchased the privilege to appear on campus and speak to student bodies under the purview of the first amendment. While 'the left' at the same time reflexively defends the first amendment on campus as well - as long as it pertains to the ability of a crazy professor to maintain all kinds of radical views on the structure of society and the economy. Both 'sides' of the debate defend the existence of entirely provocative personalities to exist on campus, they merely disagree on who those personalities should be and which lines cannot be crossed.

If conservatives then don't care much about 'free speech' and university speech is merely a pissing contest with no end in sight, who is actually 'correct' with respect to the juxtaposition of Roseanne Barr and the NFL?

First, let's analyze each institution.

ABC is a television network owned by Walt Disney Company. As a television network, they are subject to equal-time rules and different speech codes during what they broadcast. What Roseanne had to say was not on 'prime time', however ABC is undoubtedly a private company, Roseanne's ability to say what she wants on Twitter has not been restricted and her ability to appear on television is not limited - she just doesn't get the privilege of having a prime-time sitcom on ABC renewed.

The NFL is a league of owners that are essentially squatting in public buildings called 'stadiums' that are bond-financed and often owned by cities, not by team owners. The NFL has a parasitic relationship with university NCAA rules, which vets employees for the NFL while relying on government exemptions on labor regulations and cartel rules. Universities as institutions are also careful to stay in their lane and not use their capital and facilities to create a competing professional football league, which is quite convenient for the NFL.

Quite clearly, more public money flows to the NFL. If money and loan guarantees is a measure of which institution is more government, then the NFL is scoring more points as the government-adjacent entity.

Second, let's compare the gravity of each "incident".

Conservatives mad that Roseanne is losing a show want everyone from Bill Maher, Jimmy Kimmel, Chelsea Handler, Keith Olbermann, Joy Behar, Colin Kaepernick to apologize to Republicans and America's Dear Leader Trump for saying or doing offensive things. Nevermind unfortunate realities such as the fact that Colin Kaepernick isn't even playing right now and many of these people aren't even trying to be the authors of a prime-time TV family sitcom - this context is lost.

In the world of entertainment, the closest comparable to Roseanne Barr is Charlie Sheen - there is a limit to how shitty someone can be and still expect to be presented by a network as a sympathetic figure. There's a reason that the stars of Big Bang Theory can't be found getting into Twitter battles over 4chan conspiracies - they can be written out of the script within an episode. Roseanne Barr is not facing a 'double standard' - she's a real-life Archie Bunker and she wants to pretend it's all just been a long joke.

All the vallicating morons and whataboutery wunderkids that want to even hint there is balance to be found here are creating a sort of deal: Before any one Trump troll can be made to apologize for Arpaio, pizzagate, birther conspiracy, QAnon paranoia, absolutely pointless attacks on people that have little or no role in government and outright tired racist slanders, every single 'liberal' person must first  apologize for daring insult the hairstyle of the dishonest adulterous buffoon that sometimes occupies the White House.

The Trumpkin of America know to only do one thing: Strike back at all costs, no matter how much of a pyrrhic victory they may achieve. Trump supporters are the crybullies, snowflakes, and perpetually outraged ignoramuses that they pretend to hate. Everyone that imagines there is continually some sort of 'balance' to be found is addicted to the idea that there is no right and wrong, just two sides of a meaningless political shitstorm.

Shed no tears for Roseanne Barr.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Immorality of Immigration

There is some 'debate' about the benefits of immigration, and so on. But to not waste time on introductions, let's get on with how low-skill immigration is downright immoral.

The Consent of the Governed

All over the United States, there is a similar pattern. People are being priced out of neighborhoods, and municipalities are fine with it. Bay Area home prices are about $800,000 at the median. New York residents seeks to give public parking spaces to themselves, instead of letting the awful Jersey plates people park for free. And in Seattle, a surge in population has created a surge in home prices, a surge in home prices and a political fight with Starbucks about who is going to pay to remedy the issue.

Seattle's 'woke' tax headache mimics California, a state that has already crippled itself in terms of tax hikes - existing residents have given themselves a free ride and maintain a structure that makes it difficult to do all the government-sponsored 'progressive' things that many assume Californians like.

Quite clearly, the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and New York are not actually in the business of 'nesting' even though they may now or in some time regard themselves as 'sanctuaries'. If these cities were expecting more families, they would be invested in painting more nurseries.

What is happening at the local level is indicative of how the public at large feel about immigration - if put to a vote, increased immigration would surely fail. Very few people want more development in their neighborhood, so why would a nation-wide immigration initiative pass? If an initiative would not pass, why would someone seek to be the benevolent dictator that forces it on the public? The people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

The Abuse of Migrants & Workers

Without exception, every plan to bring in temporary or conditional low-wage workers has led to the abuse of the workers.

In Canada, workers are held in debt bondage, refugees have limited access to employment due to language skills, and those that wish to change their status need to pay additional fees for language classes.

In the United States, temporary teachers are brought in and given a visa status that gives them no access to citizenship while they fill roles at salary levels that undercut wage growth in teaching positions.

The crime is twofold - incoming workers are quite literally given a second-class citizenship status while they undermine market forces that would raise wages of already underpaid positions. The investment of citizens in their own careers (say, 6+ years of university debt to learn how to teach) is undercut by having to compete with someone that will do anything for any wage to keep status.

This is clearly abuse. Conditional visas force wages down, extort more labor from migrant workers and keeps salary increases from young indebted citizens. Everyone loses.

The Moral Hazard of Income Inequality

Lots of concerned liberal ink is spilled talking about 'human trafficking', 'sex trafficking' while maintaining that migration is good for the economy. What are migrants doing? Managing bike shops in Maine and picking berries in the United Kingdom.

Not only is trafficking happening, trafficking is defended as long as migrants are doing jobs 'the locals don't want to do'.

The problem is, there are good reasons that locals do not want to do these jobs. Who wants to live in a society where these jobs are done?

Most Americans, and most inhabitants of the anglo world, do not currently exist in a colonial fantasy where laundry is done by servants and dinners are cooked by in-house chefs. But in this weird and wonderful world where one can apparently 'get' their own immigrant, suddenly there is no end to which services can purchase as long as they can be explained away as helping a migrant that freely 'consents' to doing something that would be otherwise considered degrading labor in our current culture.

Many concerned 'progressives' already defend the status of 'sex work' and do not think of undocumented work as problematic by definition, so it remains to be seen as to what 'sex trafficking' really means. Is someone a victim of 'sex trafficking' when they come to a wealthy country by their own choice and become a 'sex worker' that chooses to work 'jobs' that 'Americans don't want'?

In terms of jobs Americans don't want, we can expect to see shoe shiners back on every corner, cab drivers making even less money, and the utilization of sexual services seen as some sort of diversity-aiding escapade that helps people locked out of the formal job market. (Johns are surely woke now, because why not?) The issues concerning sex tourism will be so much easier to manage when would-be American customers don't even have to buy a flight.

One may imagine that open borders will not be a laissez-faire capitalist hellscape that NPR listeners would surely not survive in. However, it remains that there is no socialist dreamworld to be had as it's already been established that even the 'woke' companies hate taxes.

One may love immigration. One may wish to increase immigration.

But what is the actual plan? Putting people at the mercy of the market is not a scenario that anyone truly wants to live through, and if a competing plan cannot be made real due to the inbuilt hypocrisy of tax-hating liberal America, then supporting more immigration is an inconsistent and immoral policy disaster. Immigration is like choosing to have a baby when one only has $2 in a couch and a partner who will surely leave when hearing the news.

There is no future in immigration if a future cannot be created for immigration.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What to do with the tired, the poor, & the huddled

Recently an exchange between Jim Acosta and Stephen Miller briefly brought into the forefront the role of immigration in America's history and future. Much of the focus on the exchange was a debate about the role of a poem played into the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty. In the exchange, both parties can be seen as somewhat correct - the poem was written to aid funding the building of the pedestal and is therefore related to the construction, however the poem did not play a central role in the building and did not necessarily define the symbolism of the structure. For a timeline, construction of the statue began around 1877, while the poem was written in 1883.

Lost in the exchange about how the poem and statue are related is whether or not the poem actually defines anything real about what do with the 'homeless, tempest-tost' and what policy actually serves the interest of the 'huddled masses'. To this end, Stephen Miller was right to ask Jim Acosta just what number could be sufficient to fulfill the aspirations of the poem. Nobody likes to talk about the numbers.

Taking an even larger view, one could forget about America for a moment and see the migrant crisis in Europe and wonder what exactly is going on. Migrants from warzones such as Syria have arrived in great numbers, but also economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa arrive at a constant rate.

To be specific, "migrant crisis" may be a poor choice of words as migration in many instances is a crisis of another means. However, whatever the reasons behind migration, ultimately the crisis faced by developed, stable countries is having to strictly define the parameters of lawful migration and what do when illegal migration happens. Countries are doing a bad job dealing with migration as many have not had to deal with such a sustained rate of migration in modern history.

So, why is more migration happening now? Outside of the obvious warzone scenario, there are a number of factors that appear to be increasing immigration levels:

1) Information. 

Learning about another nation and then deciding to move there even a few decades ago was prohibitively difficult. This was true even when dealing between two 'rich' countries. Paper forms, business hour phone calls, fax machines - things that happen in seconds now was often a days long bureaucratic nightmare.

Communication tools give everyone in the world the ability to immediately see how things are working out for our friend in London, and then very simply join them after being persuaded of the benefits of the move. Within days, connections can be made, money can be moved and a plan can form. These connections and this information eliminates a lot of risk posed by travel.

2) Technology. 

Even with a plan, the physical move must be possible. Fortunately, there are a great number of widely distributed tools that will move ever greater numbers of people more reliably than ever before. More reliable automobiles. More flights. More boats.

3) Wealth.

Quite simply, migrants have money. It's difficult to move somewhere without money. More people have more wealth, more capabilities, and more choices. One of those choices is to move to where they can earn higher wages. Consistent migration routes are not funded by starving people.

Despite the coverage of very evil players in the human trafficking business, it's actually very difficult to move starving people to a rich country and then rely on slavery for repayment. It's much simpler to just receive payment upfront from moderately wealthy individuals. Like every other business operates.


What's next?


Given these factors, and the current pattern of migration, what can one assume about migration in the future?

  1. Outside of a natural disaster, war or political conflict of a large scale, most migration will be primarily about economic motivations
  2. Economic motivations will remain as long as massive differences in economic realities exist between nations

Economic motivations can not be dissuaded by asking people nicely to stop. If there is money to be made, the only curb to the behavior is adequately enforced laws. And this is where there is very little motivation from governments to act - no state really wants to spent an incredible amount of money on border policing and deportations, and few citizens are actually interested in thinking of their country as "intolerant". Every party - both the existing populace and immigrants - are motivated to explain what's happened as a positive. Anything less could be perceived as inhospitable, so the only way to save face is to rationalize immigration as a great experience for everyone.

What is so great about immigration, anyway?


"Open borders!/The more the merrier/there's plenty of room/nobody has a right to impede movement/borders shouldn't exist"

There are many narratives to read that debunk the idea about a Mathusian population crisis as it relates to immigration - we have, it is said, the technology to not starve when newcomers arrive. And it's certainly true - cities in wealthy nations could be more dense, and wealthy nations are already wasting most food that is produced.

Despite the future probably not being a dystopian Soylent Green tragedy, there are also conflicting narratives in 'progressive' circles about gentrification, sovereignty and respect of indigenous peoples and ideas about 'safe spaces' on campus.

For example, what happens when an indigenous woman dates a black man? What happens when 'wealthy' people move into the wrong part of Los Angeles? What happens when bigoted people show up at Berkeley? What happens when Jennifer Lawrence sits on the wrong rock? (1)

All of these issues concern a negative view of migration (even including a negative view of the category of 'temporary work') yet they are completely 'progressive' conceptions. Some may argue that the negative view is a matter of context, but it remains to be see how one can truly avoid gentrification, cultural disrespect or 'appropriation', 'colonial invasion' into sovereign indigenous lands and exposure to unsettling opinions under a truly inclusive 'open borders' approach to the movement of people.

"Immigration is great for the economy!"

It's taken as a rule across the political spectrum that immigration has a positive impact on economic activity and there are a lot of statistics to back this up. More people = more trade, it's inevitable.

It is an insidious conversation ender as the argument appeals to libertarian free-market zealots as much as it does communists looking for an ever greater number of comrades. The only people that don't really buy the 'immigration is economic growth' slogan are people that occupy a weird middle zone in the labor movement -- those people that somehow still have union membership and view able-bodied people with dire needs as potential strikebreakers.

The problem with the economic argument is nobody really gives a damn about 'the economy'. One could work out the math and discover that overall everyone would be richer - yet people are already keenly aware about the economic benefits of acquiring a new roommate. Nobody needs to really learn economic math behind choosing to live with more roommates or more neighbors - the choice is already well understood. And in fact groups like the Cato Institute are backing up a lot of 'common sense' assumptions - for example, that immigration inflates home prices. (Other papers here) Inflated home prices is indeed a good thing for a certain segment of the existing population, yet it is not necessarily universally good for all. Other people may rely on positive job growth in certain sectors that is correlated with immigration (tech is a good example) but yet there is a lot of evidence to suggest low skill immigration has a negative impact on low income 'working class' roles.

But the real problem with the immigration-for-economy argument is that it's coupled with the inevitable discovery that newcomers are not doing as well as the rest of the population. Muslim women in the UK are underemployed, as are Syrian refugees that missed decades of German schooling. Employers either don't hire or don't make desired accommodations, leading to economic outcomes that are measurably worse for the same immigrants that are supposed to energizing pillars of new economic growth.

This would be acceptable under some medieval feudalism that is not watching Gini coefficients, poverty lines and does not care much about inequities between ethnicity. But this is not the world we live in, where every transaction is subject to a thinkpiece that portrays every piece of capitalism as a moral crisis in one's backyard.

Instead of immigration proving to be a libertarian wet dream, it's apparent the way immigration makes global inequity a localized problem will lead to increased calls for government intervention to shield newcomers from harsh economic divides. It's morally uncomfortable for citizens with multi-generational wealth to be in the same postcode with families that arrive from war torn areas with literally no assets that are immediately expected to use unexceptional skills to climb an mile-high economic ladder. Nobody likes to think of themselves as having a Marie Antionette-like role in society, as it is much more fashionable to believe oneself as a deserving member of the comfortably middle class. Upsetting this applecart may not be the wisest thing to do.


"Immigrants do jobs that we don't!/Immigrants will solve our demographic problem!"

Recently Canada introduced an economic plan that was advertised explicitly as immigration solving a demographic problem:

Hussen said the new targets will bring Canada's immigration to nearly one per cent of the population by 2020, which will help offset an aging demographic. He called it a historic and responsible plan and "the most ambitious" in recent history.
"Our government believes that newcomers play a vital role in our society," Hussen said. "Five million Canadians are set to retire by 2035 and we have fewer people working to support seniors and retirees."
In 1971 there were 6.6 people of working age for each senior, Hussen said, but by 2012 that ratio had gone to 4.2 to 1 and projections show it will be at 2 to 1 by 2036, when almost 100 per cent of population growth will be a result of immigration; it stands at about 75 per cent today.
During the government's consultation period, the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance presented "Vision 2020," what it called a "bold" three-year plan to address growing demographic shifts underway in the country, calling for increased numbers in the economic, family and refugee categories.
"Nothing is going to impact this country [more] besides increased automation and technology than immigration will and this impact will grow in response to [the] declining birth rate, aging population and accelerated retirements," he told CBC News.

While this might be an 'uncomfortable truth' that western nations have a 'demographic problem' wherein their population graph is no longer a wide pyramid as birthrates have declined, the approach to solve it via immigration fixes a problem by relying on another.

Immigration solving a demographic problem assumes:

  1. Immigrants don't have their own aging families to worry about - they're either unattached or baby factories
  2. Immigrants are eager to solve problems in wealthy nations by directly being caregivers or taking a larger tax burden to continue social services
  3. It remains politically acceptable to be so obviously calculating the value of migrants with respect to a nation's problems - 'you're here to solve a problem we have'
  4. Childbirth keeps being thought of as undesirable emotional and financial suicide in developed countries
  5. Old people are simply dead weight and are economically useless
The 'demographic solution' plan will work just fine as long as the rest of the world remains an undesirable place to stay, and the established wealthy populations see the benefits of this 'deal'. Change these variables and things get nasty very quickly - economic futures in jeopardy, resentment between old people and young immigrants. The makings of a Trump-ese electoral catastrophe and political polarization.

Relying on immigration for age demographic change is a Faustian bargain that covers up a perceived social problem with a time-limited band-aid that may be ripped off in surprisingly reactionary ways.


The Second Generation Problem

Much of the focus on the immigration debate is put on the economic impacts of first-generation migrants. That is, the economic consequences of the first few decades after new arrivals step off the symbolic boat. These consequences are measured by impact on inflation and the job market. Ignored is the simple fact that immigrants have children.

For an example of the second generation problem in action, we can look at Europe. Currently many 'alt-right', Nazi and white supremacist websites may speak of a 'white genocide' that is replacing the 'indigenous white' European population. More often than not, it is a psychosis that can be ignored as an ignorance of math married to a preoccupation with skin color. 

Despite the crazy white nationalists being crazy, it's however undeniable that the future is not entirely rosy.

Indifference towards immigrants

Many wealthy nations, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand are said to be 'nations of immigrants' as their economic and political power can be historically tied to waves of migration and as a consequence these countries contain a cultural diversity that many wealthy western countries do not.

For example, the arrival of a million or so Syrian migrants in Germany happened under completely different circumstances than migration to other nations. The migration was not directly a consequence of Germany's colonial past or moral failings. It was not obviously a 'blowback' from Germany's interaction with world - it was more to do with Germany's economic standing and the consequences of a civil war.

The problem with Germany's migrants is Germany and the German population may view the presence of refugees as a charity to new arrivals. Germany can be said to have already given migrants something, so what is making Germans feel the need for additional stewardship of the success of newcomers?

Put another way, if integration of Syrian people into Germany does not go very well, Germans themselves may not feel responsible for the problems. Lack of feelings of social responsibility inevitably leads to problems if the fault lines fall between newcomers and the rest of the population.

Second generation resentment 

While the rest of the population might not care, at the very same time the second generation immigrants may feel their futures are not held back by their parent's choices but by the choices of the country their parents chose - that is, everything would be fantastic if only their nation of refuge was more hospitable.

Many well-meaning media outlets are spreading the lie that 'refugees have killed zero people in terrorist attacks'. Even if examples like the Boston bombing did not immediately refute the claim, (the Tsarnaev family was absolutely the beneficiary of refuge) the answer is that the problem lies in the second generation. Ahmad Khan Rahimi is another example of a person granted asylum that perpetrated a terrorist attack. But more relevant examples are Omar Mateen & Syed Rizwan Farook - two men among many that were undeniably born in America and therefore 'homegrown terror' although also children of first-generation immigrants.

First-generation immigrants may cherish the nation that they've chosen - people tend to think positively about choices they cannot realistically revisit. Yet all parents can understand that children have their own opinions and may not view their cultural heritage within the narrative of an accepting western nation providing safe harbour to a strong willed family looking for a better life.

For example, what is battling the Islamist narrative that migration occurs because 'Zionist' 'colonialist' 'infidel' nations have ruined muslim countries? Instead of negating this view with facts, western academics fuel it with notions that terrorism is just a cerebral response to foreign policy foibles. 

While the bootstraps story of the first-generation migrant is featured on a feel-good Nickelodeon show, the second generation immigrant is undoutedly in their seventh year of deconstructing the political decisions of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon in a 'decolonialist' lens that regards western societies as steeped in sinful and undeserved entitlements.

It isn't that second generation immigrants do not integrate - it is that they integrate entirely too well with a western rhetoric that is confused and consumed by regret over historical political decisions most of the non-academic world has long forgotten about. 

If western academics do not see much to like about the west, why would second generation immigrants feel any differently? 

What Not To Do

It is informative to have an example of something to avoid. To this end, perhaps a demonstration of a complete and utter failure of immigration policy can be witnessed in the Grenfell tragedy and the fallout. Immigrants in substandard housing that were burned alive by failures of government, for all in London to see. A government that cared so little about the well-being of these people that it did not even know who was in the building.

In the aftermath of the disaster, one of the responses was an immigration amnesty - dealing with the crisis in any other way would simply pile on the inhumanity of the situation. Yet the amnesty has not granted the state a lot more information about the deceased - the deceased are not around to ask for amnesty. In the meantime, pop stars and other figures stir up conspiracy theory about government covering up what they know to be true about Grenfell to avoid tough questions about state treatment of 'marginalized' classes and undocumented migrants.

Responses to Grenfell in the theme of immigration amnesty and rebuilding of public housing within Kensington might seem to be adequate ways to respond to the disaster but they are nothing but a short term fix that will do nothing to avoid the next disaster. Continuing to build flats in London that would fetch thousands if not millions of pounds on the open market and then watching lax subletting fill them with undocumented migrants not only makes a joke of the law, but is also a poor allocation of state funds. One only hopes that the next insight into well-meaning government negligence has fewer casualties.


What To Do

Instead of wealthy nations hoping to fix economic and social woes by filling the worst of their housing stock and job prospects with people it knows little about, wealthy nations could do the following:

  1. Commit to fixing political landscape in developing countries
    • Contributors to The Guardian may say this is 'colonialism', but 
  2. Spend money improving refugee housing in nations more accessible to conflicts
    • For the price of a few flats in London, one could house very many more refugees overseas
  3. Give women all over the world the capacity to plan their own families
    • Do this until the developing world is not seen as a demographic miracle
  4. Prioritize simple things like literacy and sanitation before applying supposed relocation cure-alls.
  5. Focus on economic migrants that are undeniably impactful and self-sufficient
    • People with job offers and indicators that they will have lasting success over the long term

This approach is costly but these are things that must be done over the long term even if one chooses a very resolutely pro-immigration stance. That is, one can have "open borders" from here on out, but it would still do nothing to address one's moral responsibility to improve the lot of humanity on earth no matter which boundaries people happen to live. Thus mass immigration means one is challenged twice - address socially & psychologically & fiscally costly inequity at home and then still having to fix extreme despair abroad. 

Despite all evidence, many may still choose to have a positive view of immigration. It could be simple to think of the problems as being somewhat exceptional - speedbumps on the road of progress. However if immigration is overall good, then the most bizarre thing is why developing countries are not the first beneficiary of immigration. 

For example, more people cross into Bangladesh as refugees in one day than Canada aims to bring in a similar immigration category in an entire year. Nobody in Bangladesh is rejoicing about potential economic benefits or cultural enrichment. 

Similarly, few op-eds are currently written about the political stability and economic boom that Palestinians brought to Jordan or new Russian arrivals bring to Eastern Ukraine. In fact, most muslim nations are trying to expel muslims or ban symbols of Islamic conservatism - if countries as desperate for change as Pakistan happen to think Afghan arrivals are a liability instead of a dividend, why should anyone have a different view?

Believing the western world has a uniquely powerful capability to assimilate people and maximize their potential is to believe in the cultural superiority of the west to such an amazing extent that it borders on the shameless. This is especially so when one looks at the comparatively modest rates of immigration in recent memory. 

Instead of faith-based politics & feel-good narratives, immigration should be based on practical realities. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Burqa Is Hate Speech

Quebec is possibly the first place in North America to "ban" the burqa and niqab (at least from the procurement of government services) and much is being said about the move.

There are plenty of decent arguments in favor of bans of the burqa and niqab. For example, the veils are not actually regarded as religiously compulsory by 99% of practicing muslims and it coincides with patriarchal misogynist abuse. Taking this as a fact, one can regard the burqa and niqab as a practice similar to those of fundamentalist Christians (such as the FLDS) that are often met with prison time. After all, seductive salafist practices such as polygamy, cousin and child marriage can be easily banned in any jurisdiction if they are not already illegal - the least problematic ban from a cultural impact perspective would be banning the covering of a face.

Yet the face shroud could be thought of as a symbol of free expression in a free society. If the burqa wearer doesn't have free speech rights, then who does? Free speech is for bad speech, and if the burqa qualifies as speech it would indeed qualify as bad speech. 

The problem with the argument of free expression in favor of the burqa is that it is completely nonsense outside of the boundaries of the United States. Many western countries do strongly regulate speech and choose to make a very big deal out of speech that Americans would not even blink at. 

One of the countries that does seemingly regulate 'hate speech' in situations where the United States would not is Canada. There appears to be a lot of laws on the books regulating speech and a lot of precedent related to their usage. 

If Canada, at a federal level or otherwise, is going to find itself in the business of regulating speech it must necessarily find itself in the business of regulating dress. It would make no sense for "hate speech" to apply to words but not deliberately provocative actions, like marching with torches while wearing klan outfits or swastika armbands. 

Banning white hoods in public to dissuade racial discrimination may be a great idea or a terrible idea. The only mystery here is why the same logic could not immediately be applied to protecting women as a group by banning something as obviously negative to their collective well being as a full face veil. It could be that some 'inclusive' minded people do not see the veil as a problem as women appear to 'choose' it, but this is no more relevant than when clickbait provocateurs choose allies and iconography that clash with their own identity

In a country with regulations of 'hate speech', it does not follow that problematic speech suddenly becomes acceptable if some subset of the impacted class somehow finds itself co-signing the discrimination. For example, one could assume that racist abuse of an ethnic minority does not suddenly become appropriate if a member of that same minority is the one spreading the discriminatory rhetoric. This is not a hypothetical scenario, as virtually every bigoted, sexist, racist, xenophobic idea manages to find an absurd level of agreement within the very groups they despise - especially in the weird corners of the internet. Humans are weird.

The only reason it would seem that the burqa is seen as a 'choice' is not immediately dismissed as traitorous self-hatred is that 'feminism' in popular culture is currently struggling with the idea that women do not currently have enough choices. Therefore, anything that would appear to add one more choice must be a net positive development. Under this banner, every kink is validated - everything from whips to wahhabism. The global context does not matter, as the progressive activist class is ironically 'America First' in both data points and mindset. Nevermind the real lived experiences of millions of women arriving in the west from backwards theocracies, the important thing is some poor soul born today to some helicopter parents in a western democracy gets to 'freely choose' to dress up like a niqabi ninja for the rest of xir life. 

The burqa is a white hood, the burqa is a red armband, the burqa is a confederate flag, the burqa is dressing up like General Lee for Halloween.

So, does one really wish to regulate hate speech?

Choose.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Gun "Debate" is Bullshit

Another shooting, and more bullshit. This article is some meta-bullshit to consider.

"White men commit most mass shootings" 

Lena Dunham is the latest minor celebrity to hop on this hobby horse with the help of Newsweek's bad data, and the results are predictable. It turns out a lot of the figures that account for 'the majority' of mass shootings do not also make a habit that white men are the majority of men in America - even when using the narrower category of 'non-Hispanic' white men - and often form a greater share of people than they do the advertised share of mass shooters. Which would seemingly defeat the purpose of making a point to mention that the majority of shooters are white.

Mass shooters are mostly male. Mass shooting can fairly be described as a male problem.

However, the racial and ethnic categories don't make much sense. For example of how ethnic categories work, WaPo publishes a number of 134 mass shooters total. Only 2 are women, which will disregarded as a matter of rounding error. Now, assume for a moment that we have a single contribution to this statistic from Korean Americans. If Wikipedia is correct, then Korean Americans make up about 0.06% of the population of males living in America. It just show happens that 1 out of 134 means Korean Americans make up 0.7% of mass shooters.

If one is going to do the math 'right', then at this point one should be screaming about every overrepresented ethnic subgroup of the male population. Yet no sane person will do this because it's obviously not mathematically relevant.

White men make up most mass shooters as they make up most of the evildoers in America. This is a consequence of white men making up most men in America. Just as it's stupid for white supremacist nuts to be shrill about a chart showing white men doing a majority of the good things, it's stupid for social justice 'thinkers' to be shrill about a chart about a chart showing white men doing a majority of the bad things. When the group has such an outsized share of the population, there are few meaningful conclusions to be had.

One could say that white men were historically the authors of a gun culture and do the most to perpetuate its politics - however this is an argument altogether different than adding up shooters and inspecting their skin color.

"You can't regulate evil"

Perhaps the dumbest pro-gun argument is the idea that gun prohibition doesn't work because prohibition doesn't generally work as 'regulating evil' is impossible. It's a dumb argument not because prohibition doesn't work - many prohibitions are famously ill conceived - but because these very same people are arguing for prohibitions in many other areas of life.

Find a 'pro-gun' Republican coming out against prohibition of guns and one will also find someone who is 100% behind the prohibition of one or all of the following:

  • Abortion
  • Refugees
  • Drugs
  • Gambling
  • Internet
  • Pornography
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Serving alcohol to adults (18-20 year olds)
Many of these prohibitions are arguably more harmful to individual freedoms & have greater societal consequences than even the strictest laws against gun ownership. Yet all kinds of politicians that label themselves 'pro-freedom' because they're so pro-gun can't also bring themselves to allow even the most mundane of personal choices in other facets of life.

Similarly, many 'anti-regulation' types are lifelong lovers of these political regulators of evil:
  • Police
  • Army
  • Borders
  • Elections
  • Judges
  • Juries
  • Prisons
  • Etc
People pretending to have a principled/philosophical approach to 'freedom' in many cases simply do not. The debate is of practical realities and what is politically feasible. The language used is 'regulation won't help' & 'freedom must be upheld', but these are just distractions from real reasons why there is such inertia for the status quo on guns in America. Arguments about the Second Amendment are not ultimately a principled pro-freedom stance if taken in ignorance of other prohibitions and regulations in America - the second amendment argument is simply playing the 'it's legal because it's legal' card which appeals only to the most bureaucratic mindsets.

"Mass shootings kill a very small number of people"

This nonsense follows the track:
  1. Gun violence or violence generally is going down 
  2. Mass shootings don't kill very many people in 'the big picture'
  3. Reorganizing society to prevent mass shootings is then too costly
It is an idea similar to that in which we should not bother very much fighting terrorism because historically the numbers have been manageable except for a few uncomfortable euphemistic 'outliers'. 

This reasoning is crap as there's not much to suggest that we should see a predictable or manageable growth in the number of mass shootings. Mass shootings aren't typical economic crimes or domestic homicides. They're psychopathy enabled by recent technological developments. Shootings are live streamed on Facebook and Twitter, guns used are ever more lethal and affordable. Clearly mass shootings will be ever cheaper to carry out and ever more satisfying for deranged killers that desire fame and feedback. It may not be a question about buying bullets, but a killer satisfying their own vanity by buying the best smartphone.

Given a technological trend that is leading a social trend, there logically should be an investment commensurate with the impact to be expected by making violence cheaper and more enthralling. 

Even guns aside, the United States is finding itself in a era of performative violence - be it antifa or the alt-right, every scam artist trying to make a name for themselves either in journalism or politics is creating or participating in 'protests' of all kinds across the nation. The hope is in the hashtag, as a good punch and torch-lit rally makes for entertaining GIFs and good victim narratives in a miles long twitter thread. 

Regulating speech will not change the people addicted to this drama, however it seems to be a decent idea to invest in tools that prompt users to select information over expediency and nudge them into making constructive decisions before participating in a toxic feedback loop.

The best pro-gun argument

The best pro-gun argument is the assumption that America exists in many places and times as a state of despair. Large parts of the population are not particularly clever - perhaps due to overexposure to lead and underexposure to education. Large parts of the population are not particularly satisfied with life - perhaps due to strange cultural expectations or disparities in wealth. Large parts of the population are already armed - centuries of history with a very open relationship with guns has naturally led to this.

Given things as they are, when viewing the state of things with a calculating angle of what's actually possible, the simplest solution is to just acquire a weapon for one's own use. It's easier to just be armed in a gated community than fight the mind-numbing minutia of every single social issue in a very complicated country. Why should one have to convince many levels of incompetent government to very precisely manage a crazy acquaintance's behavior when one can participate in a miniature arms race?

And this is it for the pro-gun argument - no special noises about freedom, nothing about law, just realization of the role guns already play, the impact of both handguns and long guns (a lengthy discussion of how it's not clear cut that one type is worse than the other is here), and the type of mindset pervasive in American society. 

The best anti-gun argument

Ignoring for a moment the center of the universe that is the United States, it's clear that countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and indeed most of the world should find themselves in no hurry to emulate the United States' gun laws and gun culture. From where they are, there is no compelling reason to desire to go where the United States is at - ubiquitous guns, popular fantasies about the role of guns in a constitutional republic, grandstanding about which laws will fix "the problem" while the state actually has next to no idea exactly who has what. 

America let the genie out of the bottle, and the genie is now very armed. One can argue that genies should be in bottles, one can try to sanely limit the genie but ultimately actually getting the stupid thing back in the bottle is not a straightforward task.