Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Immigration in the news again

Today the Senate voted to resume debate on the immigration bill, but we will have to see whether enough back-room deals can be cut to keep it afloat.

Meanwhile, on Nick Kristof's blog appears an article about doctors, training, and brain drain in Africa, or essentially an emigration issue that is something like the reverse of what the U.S. is currently grappling with.

When it is in individuals' best interests to relocate but it may be socially undesirable --- meaning either that immigrants take jobs or leave holes in their home economies --- what do you do? Erect barriers to entry? It sounds wacky, but economists would probably suggest some kind of entry tax or "stay-put" subsidy to stem undesired flows of migration.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sage words on environmental protection

Barry Commoner was recently interviewed in the New York Times, and it is a fun read. I like how he sticks to his guns regarding his philosophy on the environment. I also like how he states a key issue we must all grapple with:

"What I have experienced over time is that environmental problems are easier to deal with in ways that don’t go into their interconnections to the rest of what we are."

I think what he is saying is that human behavior is pretty complicated. It is difficult to "solve" some problems either decisively or without creating another. Getting it right requires careful thought about exactly what the interconnections are and why they are there.

This is the philosophy of modern economics and much of social and physical science: identifying the reasons for the big picture as well as the big picture itself, and better informing policy about how to solve the big picture through tackling the reasons.

I also identified with Barry Commoner's statement that taking public transit to Queens College is extremely time consuming!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Height, health, and history

Today Paul Krugman writes about new research by Komlos and Lauderdale in Soc Sci Q on trends in adult height among industrialized countries during the past century. As is the case with life expectancy at birth, average height in the U.S. is not as high as you might expect it to be, given that average incomes in the U.S. are the highest in the world.

I wish the authors had looked at within-country spreads in height, or the variance around the average. That would be informative because we know that there is considerably more variance in life span in the U.S. than in other industrialized countries. I would expect greater variance in height as well.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Are tougher immigration laws good or bad for wages?

A discussion with a colleague today led to my reflecting about this issue.

I thought of a recent insight offered by none other than Gary Sheffield of the Detroit Tigers, who expressed his views about Latin Americans, African Americans, and representation in Major League Baseball.

His take on why African American representation in the MLB has fallen so much is that teams and coaches can "tell [them] what to do -- being able to control them." His point was that a Dominican player probably felt less able to speak his mind around his employers, since he probably isn't a U.S. citizen, may have come from a more impoverished background, and fears losing his job that much more.

Why is this relevant for the immigration debate?

Suppose you are an undocumented worker. Do you command a higher or lower wage than you would if you were legal?

On the one hand, you might say that the risk of deportation is costly, so you should demand a higher wage than you otherwise would in order to bear that risk and work in the U.S. Relative to wages earned in the home country, this story is probably true.

But if employers knew their employees were illegal, and if those employees were aware of their knowledge, employers might offer lower wages to illegals. In this situation, illegals are like the Latin American baseball players Sheffield is describing, while domestic low-wage workers are like the African American ballplayers he describes.

Could new "Z" visas for guest workers raise wages, for guest workers and for domestic workers who must compete with them for jobs?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Perspectives on Immigration

David Brooks writes today that the culture clash on immigration is less Republican vs. Democrat, more college educated vs. not, if it is anything in particular.

I thought of a recent New Yorker article, on college attendance as an adult version of the first childhood sleepover. Everything at your friend's house is foreign, uncomfortable, and scary. For many of us, college is a time of much personal growth through exposure to the unfamiliar.

To be sure, real differences exist between people, and it would be wrong to suggest that getting along is just an issue of exposure and understanding. The Dutch experience with immigration in recent years is a good example of how tolerance and understanding alone can sometimes be insufficient under certain circumstances --- namely when immigrant groups may not be so tolerant themselves.

While obtaining a college education may not necessarily convey an open, tolerant perspective on immigration, at least it might.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Immigration reform will have to wait ... again

It's hard to ascertain whether there were too many cooks spoiling the soup, too many compromises to fully satisfy either camp, or just not enough clauses and pages, but it looks like immigration reform has been shelved again.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Death throes of immigration bill?

The New York Times is reporting that another cloture vote is set for tonight, June 7. If it fails and debate continues, Harry Reid will probably table the bill for months.

Although it's sometimes a good sign when a compromise bill comes under attack from the extremes of both sides, in the Senate that can be a liability. It will be interesting to see whether the piecemeal amendments stop or not.