Two-Sided Markets – Markets where firms need buyers on both side, e.g. Nintendo needs to attract gamers to attract developers to make games for Nintendo to sell. (Note this actually isn’t the best example because Nintendo does a lot of first party development compared with other game companies.)
While most of the Western world has seen a backlash against immigrants (and diversity more broadly) in recent years, one country stands apart in maintaining robust national support for immigration: Canada. Yes, Canada, that mild mannered nation we Americans love to poke fun at, has somehow discovered the secret to integration that the rest of the West lacks. What’s the story?
One attempt at explanation can be found in this excellent article here (alas, I can’t remember how I came across it). I’ll run through the arguments, but first, some stage setting.
Most of us have heard the analogy of America as a ‘melting pot’ of peoples. This is supposed to conjure a vision of many diverse peoples coming together and becoming something altogether new. We’ve probably also heard that this is a bad analogy, at least for the short term, because it implies a cultural homogeneity that simply isn’t the case. Something like a salad bowl or a mosaic is more accurate analogy, because immigrants retain many aspects of their prior identity for at least a few generations, but we’re all in the same ‘bowl’. The question is, how mixed are the ingredients? If all the tomatoes and cucumbers are clustered at the bottom of the bowl, that’s not much of a salad.
In the US we do a far better job of integrating our immigrants than, say, France, where immigrants remain cloistered in ethnic enclaves for generations and have poor labor market integration; a contributing factor, no doubt, to the recent spate of terror attacks. Still, the election of Trump partly on a campaign of demonizing immigrants, and the increasing number of Republicans with hardline positions on immigration suggests a growing problem.
Canada, by comparison, manages to bring in a greater fraction of its population from across the world with no political backlash. In the main, the author argues that “what Canada has been very successful at doing is integrating immigrants into the basic institutional structure of society”, without requiring them to integrate culturally as well. What does this mean?
In Western society, we generally can separate out the rules of governance from cultural norms. The process of filing a tax return or registering a vehicle is neutral with respect to culture (unless you happen to be a sovereign citizen). This is part of our liberal political tradition (not to be confused with the current American meaning of liberal), where the ideal government respects the beliefs and practices of the individual. In a theocratic society, compliance with the law is synonymous with adherence to religious law.
Despite this ideal, it’s quite difficult to achieve in practice. Even our laws against violence and killing have cultural bias; in a number of countries, honor killings and such are culturally and legally acceptable. Obeying our laws around violence is potentially an instance of requiring cultural assimilation while integrating into our institutional structure (though thankfully in this instance, probably very minor). To take France as an example again, they have laws prohibiting face coverings or headscarves in public spaces, which means that Muslims are required to assimilate culturally to integrate institutionally. (For an exploration of what a truly neutral liberal society might look like, check out this SlateStarCodex post).
Canada’s comparative success lies in designing their institutions such that they are minimally obligatory towards cultural assimilation. The example given in the article is that of Canada altering the Mounty uniform so as to allow Sikhs to wear turbans. It’s a small thing, but as such Sikhs who wish to serve are allowed to maintain an important aspect of their cultural identity while also contributing to the larger nation.
Now that being said, there are some other factors that contribute to Canadian success; after all, I don’t think the United States places an especially heavy institutional burden towards cultural assimilation either. One striking difference is that Canada has basically no illegal immigration. To an extent, this is beyond their control; Canada lacks a long border with a considerably poorer nation, as we do here. But what is under their control is the policy of favoring permanent migration over temporary work visas; in the United States much illegal immigration is actually instances of overstaying visas, and not illegal border crossings. When people feel that the new people around them ‘deserve’ to be there, there’s more buy in than if there is a widespread sense that the immigration process is uncontrolled.
Another factor is that Canada deliberately selects its immigrants to be as diverse as possible, which means there is no single large minority group as in most other Western countries. If you’re at the wedding of a family member, you’ll probably spend most of your time talking to your own folks rather than seeking out the other family. But at the wedding of your spouse’s friend, with no in group fallback, you’ll be forced to engage with the wide variety of guests (or, if you’re like me, nobody at all…maybe not the best example but you get the idea). A large concentrated minority group makes an ‘us vs. them’ mentality easy to come by.
And most interesting to me is the idea that Canada has institutionalized protection of the majority culture clear from the start, which stems from the Quebec situation. The argument goes like this: French Canadians are a minority nationally, but the majority in Quebec. Large scale immigration would dilute the power of French Canadians even within Quebec if most immigrants chose to integrate with the Anglophone majority.
“Because of this, the only way that it has been possible to have something resembling a national immigration policy has been to offer a set of very explicit protections for Quebec, and in particular, for the French language. These same protections, however, have been extended to the English majority as well. So, for instance, Canada is far more explicit with immigrants about the importance of language-learning than many other countries are, in part because we have an ‘official languages’ policy that sets out very clearly the privileged status of English and French.”
The result of this is that there needn’t be any anxiety about immigrants ‘taking over’, since the English language is protected. I think this is a really powerful insight. Language and culture have a powerful connection; being surrounded by people who look different but speak your language is considerably less threatening than the alternative.
So we can see how the United States fares comparatively on these counts. We have a large chunk of the immigrant population that’s ethnically homogeneous, often perceived as coming here without restraint, and who are linguistically apart from the rest of America. The rhetoric of fear coming from many anti-immigrant activists is directed towards Latin American peoples; you just know that people complaining about immigration don’t mean Slovenians. Problems around Mexican immigration end up clouding the broader issue of immigration for many Americans.
It’s possible that what we are going through right now in terms of immigrant backlash is the national version of what happened in California in the 90s (and with the Irish and Italians and Germans in the 19th century); if so, this sentiment will pass with time. Still, if we want to prevent such pain the in future, there are steps we should take.
One is to increase the perception of border control. The reality is right now illegal border crossings from Mexico are at historic lows, but many people are still stuck in 2000 (and the majority of those border crossings are actually people fleeing violence in Central America). I really don’t know the best way to do this; Trump’s wall is functionally a giant waste of money, but if it sets people at ease, maybe it’s worth it.
Most immigration to the US is centered around family reunification, which means that the immigrant populations already here tend to grow in size. We have a diversity visa (DV) program, which aims to bring in underrepresented countries, but the program is tiny in comparison to family reunification immigration. We could expand the size of the DV program considerably as to add more balance to our immigration mix.
And finally, we should consider making English an official language. As it stands, there is no official federal language, though obviously English is the working language. For some reason, proposals to codify English’s status are often viewed as anti-immigrant by the left. To me it just seems obvious that people should have some working knowledge of English; it’s a small price to pay. I’m staunchly pro-immigration, but having worked several years in retail in an urban area, it’s just annoying to have people you are simply unable to communicate with. (If you can’t communicate at a cash register, the most basic of social interactions, what are your chances of integration into society?) For those already disposed to be skeptical of immigration, the sensation that English is threatened is certainly not going to help any. I’m not saying English should be the only language, but we need something more than living in the same territory to bind us together.
I recently read this interesting Lyman Stone post on immigration via a related post on Noahpinion; both are worth a read. Mr. Stone’s article is on the longer side, and does an excellent job of laying out all the arguments surrounding immigration. While I don’t know that I agree 100% with his analysis, I appreciate that he takes a nuanced, data informed position (and has lots of graphs!). The gist of both is that, contra immigration hardliners, the claim that a broad immigration ‘pause’ is necessary is not supported by evidence.
Immigration skeptics, like the President and his advisors, often rely on claims of danger to support their position. Trump actively campaigned with tales of Mexican criminals flowing across the border. Given that there is zero evidence that immigrants, illegal or otherwise, commit more crimes than the average American, I suspect this is often a cover, intentional or not, for something else. What that ‘else’ is, is a fear that immigrants either 1) won’t assimilate to American culture or 2) rather than us assimilating them, they assimilate us.
This fear is, on its face, not wholly unreasonable, especially if you believe that there is truth to the idea of American exceptionalism. Perhaps those values that have made America unique would be diluted and lost if too many ‘different’ people came here. What the posts I linked at the beginning argue is that, even if this were true, that is not the situation we are currently in.
To be clear, another thing immigration skeptics tend to be shy about expressing (but not Trump!) is that most of their fears are directed at Mexican immigration. And that makes sense, because in the last few decades Mexicans have far outnumbered any other group of immigrants; no other single group comes close. But even bigger than this surge was that of Germans and Irish during the mid 19th century (both were close to 5% of the total US population at their max, versus about 4% of foreign born Mexicans today)- and we all know the end of that story. So there’s historical reasons to be optimistic: peoples who were once viewed with suspicion and anxiety were eventually so thoroughly absorbed into American society that nobody would question the Americaness of people of those heritages. It happened before, and it will happen again.
An argument against this might be that the German and Irish were Europeans, and American has a European heritage; what we’re dealing with today is fundamentally different. I just don’t buy that. It’s easy for us today to forget just how vehement the dislike and distrust of Catholics was in 19th century America, even into the 20th; it was still a big deal only 57 years ago for a Catholic to run for president. The Know Nothing party of the 1850s held that German and Irish Catholics were controlled by the Pope and were fundamentally incompatible with republican government. Now we look back on that and think it’s silly. I suspect we’ll look back on this period in much the same way.
Now, Mr. Stone makes the argument that given how difficult that earlier period of integration was, there is a case for limiting Mexican immigration while still encouraging overall immigration. Integration is harder when there is such a large population of your fellow immigrants that you can get by without really interacting with the rest of American society. While I think a deeper look at the exact mechanisms of integration is necessary, it’s an argument that makes sense and could lead to a compromise solution among actors of good faith on both sides of the issue.
One final important point Mr. Stone makes is that nativist backlash against immigration is often spurred not by high levels of immigrants, but high growth rates in the recent past. By this token, since the net rate of Mexican immigration to the United States has been close to zero since the recession, the backlash may dissipate soon. I can only hope it does so before the current administration puts any extreme immigration policies in place.
There have simply been too many good pieces published lately to keep up with. Here are some that I think are worth reading, with some select quotes and commentary.
First is David Frum’s worrying cover story in the Atlantic, ‘How to Build an Autocracy’, written even before the events of the past weekend. This is essential reading. Frum, the former George W. Bush speechwriter who coined the phrase ‘axis of evil’, is certainly no left wing shill, and people of all political persuasions should take him quite seriously. A short excerpt:
Yet the American system is also perforated by vulnerabilities no less dangerous for being so familiar. Supreme among those vulnerabilities is reliance on the personal qualities of the man or woman who wields the awesome powers of the presidency. A British prime minister can lose power in minutes if he or she forfeits the confidence of the majority in Parliament. The president of the United States, on the other hand, is restrained first and foremost by his own ethics and public spirit. What happens if somebody comes to the high office lacking those qualities?
Over the past generation, we have seen ominous indicators of a breakdown of the American political system: the willingness of congressional Republicans to push the United States to the brink of a default on its national obligations in 2013 in order to score a point in budget negotiations; Barack Obama’s assertion of a unilateral executive power to confer legal status upon millions of people illegally present in the United States—despite his own prior acknowledgment that no such power existed.
Donald Trump, however, represents something much more radical. A president who plausibly owes his office at least in part to a clandestine intervention by a hostile foreign intelligence service? Who uses the bully pulpit to target individual critics? Who creates blind trusts that are not blind, invites his children to commingle private and public business, and somehow gets the unhappy members of his own political party either to endorse his choices or shrug them off? If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it. It’s happening here instead, and so we are baffled.
The entire piece must be read; Frum soberly lays out all the ways in which a Trump administration could (and probably will) be corrosive to the already very weakened structure of our democracy. But Frum reminds us, this will only come to be if we allow it. This piece should galvanize any concerned citizen into action. Whether you are conservative or liberal, the stakes here are higher than any policy preference:
Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.
Next is an excellent piece by Benjamin Wittes from the Lawfare blog, a site that is a well regarded resource on national security law, examining in detail this past weekend’s executive order. (For my own quick take, see here). Spoiler: it doesn’t come out looking good.
The malevolence of President Trump’s Executive Order on visas and refugees is mitigated chiefly—and perhaps only—by the astonishing incompetence of its drafting and construction.
I don’t use the word “malevolence” here lightly. As readers of my work know, I believe in strong counterterrorism powers. I defend non-criminal detention. I’ve got no problem with drone strikes. I’m positively enthusiastic about American surveillance policies. I was much less offended than others were by the CIA’s interrogations in the years after September 11. I have defended military commissions.
Some of these policies were effective; some were not. Some worked out better than others. And I don’t mean to relitigate any of those questions here. My sole point is that all of these policies were conceptualized and designed and implemented by people who were earnestly trying to protect the country from very real threats. And the policies were, to a one, proximately related to important goals in the effort. While some of these policies proved tragically misguided and caused great harm to innocent people, none of them was designed or intended to be cruel to vulnerable, concededly innocent people. Even the CIA’s interrogation program, after all, was deployed against people the agency believed (mostly correctly) to be senior terrorists of the most dangerous sort and to garner information from them that would prevent attacks.
I actually cannot say that about Trump’s new executive order—and neither can anyone else.
Now something shorter from Tyler Cowen at Bloomberg View on bursting the filter bubble. In these times, not only does it seem increasingly difficult but also even more essential, to understand the views of those we disagree with. When many voices in media simply cater to their viewership and have no interest in actually informing the public or engaging in a productive dialogue, how can we burst the filter bubble? Cowen recommends engaging in a version of the Ideological Turing Test. The original Turing Test is a benchmark for artificial intelligence: if an AI can, through conversation, fool a human into thinking that the AI itself is human, then it has passed the Turing Test. Similarly, the Ideological Turing Test asks us to be able to explain an opposing view in such terms that we could fool others into thinking we held that view. It’s sound advice, and I anticipate using this space in the future to experiment with such pieces.
The Party Declines: A defense of party politics. Novice political observers tend to be very cynical about political parties, and imagine that a universe without party politics would be a better one. Levy mounts a convincing case for strengthening America’s political parties, which are actually very weak, and this weakness is one source of our current political dysfunction.
So the rumored travel ban came into effect last night, and has led to considerable outcry. Here’s what it does:
Bans travel for 90 days from citizens of seven countries, including those with green cards: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen
Bans refugees for 120 days from above countries, and Syria indefinitely
Lowers the number of refugees to be settled in the US from 110,000/year to 50,000/year
The purported reason for the ban is to give the administration time to develop a better system of screening, Trump’s ‘extreme vetting,’ to identify and prevent radicalized persons from entering the country and causing harm. Despite invoking 9/11 in its justification, the order does not ban anyone from the countries where the 9/11 attackers actually came from: primarily Saudi Arabia, with Egypt and the UAE. So even if a blanket travel ban were effective in preventing terrorism, the absence of the actual countries where actual terrorists who killed Americans is puzzling; as is the coincidence that these same absent countries also happen to be ones in which the Trump Organization has business.
It is a legitimate for a government and a citizenry to take reasonable precautions to prevent those who would do harm from entering a country. But under what circumstances would such a blanket travel ban, temporary or otherwise, make sense?
I would imagine if we were at war with a country, it would be reasonable to restrict travel. Of course, we are not currently at war with any nation.
We could imagine a scenario in which intelligence agencies had information that an attack was imminent. This could potentially justify a sudden travel ban, but a scenario where there is knowledge of an attack but no specifics regarding persons beyond ‘anyone from these seven countries’ seems very unlikely.
If there is not knowledge of an imminent attack, a justifiable travel ban would need there to be an extremely high likelihood that restricted persons would engage in violent activity in the next 90-120 days. This would be a world where the United States was experiencing regular acts of terrorism, and where there was clear evidence existing protocols were inadequate and responsible for allowing said terrorists into the country. In this world, a travel ban along the lines of the one implemented yesterday could be justified.
Refugees in particular are already subject to high scrutiny: in many cases, it can take up to three years for a refugee to be admitted into the country. As such, the idea that ISIS or some other organized terror group would attempt to sneak in through the refugee program is simply bizarre.
For any action, we must not only consider benefits, but also the costs. Yes, banning entry citizens of particular countries will lower the risk that we will experience terrorism from those people. But if that probability is already very low, then the expected benefit will also be low.
Some quick back of the envelope calculations. Let’s say this ban will totally reduce the probability of being killed in an immigrant terrorist attack to zero from the estimate of about 1 in 3.6 million per year. For the individual benefit, we multiply this probability by the value of a statistical life (VSL), which is commonly cited around $7 million dollars.
Benefit = P(death)*VSL = 3X10^-7 * $7X10^6 = $2
Roughly speaking, the average American gains a benefit of around $2 per year from this restriction. For the national as a whole, with 320 million people, that’s a benefit of:
Let’s say we just restrict the costs to the lost economic activity of refugees who will no longer be arriving, which will now be 60,000 less persons. Let’s generously say only half of them end up working, at the average salary of $30,000/year. The lost economic activity is, at minimum:
Already, this policy does not pass a simple cost benefit test. And this figure does not account for any additional enforcement costs. It does not account for the costs to green card holders who are now unable to return to their jobs and families. It does not account for the cost to refugees with visas who were in flight when the order was signed have been detained upon landing, their legal status in limbo. It does not account for the lost productivity of the next Steve Jobs, a child of a Syrian refugee. It does not account for the lives that will be lost in war torn countries as people have nowhere to flee to. And it does not account for the moral stain on America that will damage our reputation across the world and lead to further radicalization as we play into the hands of extremist propaganda.
“The President is right to focus attention on the obvious fact that borders matter. At the same time, while not technically a Muslim ban, this order is too broad. There are two ways to lose our generational battle against jihadism by losing touch with reality. The first is to keep pretending that jihadi terrorism has no connection to Islam or to certain countries. That’s been a disaster. And here’s the second way to fail: If we send a signal to the Middle East that the U.S. sees all Muslims as jihadis, the terrorist recruiters win by telling kids that America is banning Muslims and that this is America versus one religion. Both approaches are wrong, and both will make us less safe. Our generational fight against jihadism requires wisdom.”
The first week of the Trump administration has already produced some striking shifts in policy. In more normal times, you would expect an incoming administration that only won the electoral college via 100,000 votes across three states, and lost the popular vote by millions, would proceed more slowly and with more care. The administration is acting as if they had overwhelming support for their positions. To the extent that any politician can claim a mandate for action, and I am very skeptical that there are ever legitimate claims to a mandate, this is far from such a situation. This is even more remarkable given the historical unpopularity of this President.
George W. Bush entered office under similarly contentious circumstances, but remained generally popular throughout his first 100 days. The most contentious of his initial actions was probably the reversal of Clinton-era environmental protections and the abandonment of the Kyoto protocols. His other major accomplishments in the first 100 days were a 1.6 trillion dollar tax cut and No Child Left Behind, both of which were passed through legislative means.
In contrast, even with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, the Trump administration seems prepared to govern through executive actions from the start. Here’s what we’ve seen so far:
Some perspective. This all seems very odd, given that 1) the number of people crossing the border is at historic lows, 2) the majority of which are no longer Mexicans, but asylum seekers from Central and South America, and 3) the fence that was built during the Bush administration seems to have done a pretty good job already of reducing flow of people.
Along these lines, as of this writing four additional executive orders have leaked to the press. Among these is a travel ban that bars anyone from several countries from entering the US as well as a suspension of refugee admission and reduction of total refugee allowance per year from 110,00 to 50,000. Notably, the list of countries on the travel ban excludes countries where the Trump Organization has business and where actual terrorists who actually killed people on 9/11 were from, and includes countries (like Iraq) that the US is responsible for creating the conditions people are trying to escape from.
If we were in the midst of some sort of crisis, I could understand taking immediate action. If there were millions of people coming across the border every year, committing huge amounts of crime, yes, this would be a problem, and an administration would be justified in upping the ante. But as the facts stand, this whole line of action seems very strange.
‘The wall’ was one of Trump’s signature campaign themes, along with a promise to have Mexico pay for it. As noted above, border crossings from Mexico are at an all time low. The existing fence seems to be doing its job well enough:
The 2017 ACA enrollment period ends January 31st, and the last week typically has had the most sign ups (since we all tend to put things off until the last minute). As such, the government had a program of TV ad buys, as well as emails, reminding people to sign up before the deadline. Yet, the White House has suddenly cancelled all advertising, including ads that were already paid for. Given that insurance companies depend upon the young and healthy (who tend to be the last minute purchasers) to turn a profit, this action seems like a deliberate attempt to sabotage the marketplace.
Federal Hiring Freeze:
Another odd action was an order freezing the size of the federal work force. The number of federal workers, as a share of total employment, is at historic lows, and in terms of sheer numbers has been fairly stable for quite some time. I understand that many people feel the federal government is too large, but the number of government workers is not a problem.
This is a graph total number of government employees (federal, state, local) in blue, and share of government workers as a fraction of all employees. There is no trend of ‘out of control’ growth in the size of government. If you solely look at federal workers, that number has been hovering around two million and change for several decades.
As this piece convincingly argues, freezing federal hiring just means more money will go into the hands of unaccountable contractors. I share a belief in limited government, but flashy actions like this hiring freeze this do far more harm than good.
Inauguration/ VOTER FRAUD:
So far, most of the actions taken have been what probably any Republican would have done in the presidency (excepting the wall). But the bizarre dust up over the size of the inauguration over the past week, as well as unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud, has been truly beyond the pale. In his first morning in office, Trump insisted that the National Park Service Director provide photos that proving that there were, “a million, million and a half” people at his inauguration. Apparently Trump doesn’t understand how visual perspective works, or rather, his ego won’t allow him. I have been to all three inaugurations since 2009, and this was definitely smaller than both of Obama’s. The photos circulating of the Trump crowd size accurately reflect what I saw.
This wouldn’t be such a big deal if Trump hadn’t had his press secretary convene a special press conference, with prop photos from the inauguration dais, to declare that this was the biggest inauguration ever, period. At the next press meeting, the press secretary tried to walk this back by insisting they were including television and online views, but 1) that is not the impression you get from watching the initial conference and 2) there is no good evidence this is true, either.
Then there is the ‘voter fraud’. Apparently, the President, who won, truly believes the only reason he lost the popular vote is because of widespread voter fraud. Of course, there is no evidence of this, and I find the voter fraud talking point to be one of the strangest of the last several years. Many people fervently believe it though, despite having no empirical basis; I suspect this is because a select few media outlets have been pushing the meme incessantly.
It may be easy to dismiss these last two incidents as minor personality hang ups, but in a real crisis this is a very frightening disposition to have: an inability to weight the veracity of competing narratives, an inability to consider that you may be wrong, an inability to set ego to the side.
I haven’t even gotten into the unresolved conflicts of interest and the continued refusal to release his tax returns, but that will have to wait until another time. Overall, this first week was both aggressive and chaotic, and showed little sign of the supposed business acumen that many believed Trump would bring to the office. Instead, the White House spent its first week operating like a very badly run business; should we expect anything more?