How to think about refugee policy

Dave Bieler, a loyal MR reader, asks:

I see that you've provided some commentary on Marginal Revolution about refugee situations, but I'm curious to know what you think about refugee policies – i.e. what is the role of government? What is the role of private insitutions? How can different types of institutions and organizations improve or make worse various situations? Do you have any thoughts or links to articles or books? I think it would make for an interesting blog post!

This question may be more relevant soon, although Muslim refugees from the Middle East do not have the best chances of getting into America.  I have read that one small town in Sweden has taken in more Iraqi refugees than has the entire United States.  Here is Wikipedia on refugees.  I hold a few views:

1. Refugees are deserving of migration toleration when possible, but they are not more deserving than equally destitute non-refugees.

2. Refugees nonetheless capture the imagination of the public to some extent, albeit for a very limited period of time.  Their beleaguered status provides a useful means of framing, to boost migration for humanitarian reasons.  When it comes to private institutions, refugee issues may be a useful way of raising funds, again for humanitarian aid, although again refugees should not be privileged per se, relative to other needy victims.

3. Legal treatment of refugees is inevitably arbitrary and unfair.  There is not and will not be a clear set of rational standards for who gets in and who doesn't.  There are better and worse standards at the extreme points, but don't expect this to ever get rigorous, not even at the level of ideal theory.

4. There always exists some pool of refugees who will help the migration-accepting country, even if you do not believe that about all pools of refugees.  Let's take in some Egyptian Copts, who possibly are in danger now.  Some groups of African migrants have done quite well in the United States and we can take in more oppressed women from north Africa.  In other words, "immigration skepticism" may redirect the direction of refugee acceptance, but it need not discriminate against the idea of taking in refugees.

5. Optimal refugee policy is most of all an exercise in public relations, as ruled by the idea of the optimal extraction of sympathy.  Explicit sympathy from the public cannot be expected to last very long.  In the best case scenario, sympathy for the refugees is replaced by fruitful indifference, so as to avoid "refugee fatigue."

See my earlier remarks on sovereigntyHere is an argument against admitting refugees; I don't agree with it.


You are missing a "to" or some other word in your title.

Thanks for offering your comments on this, Tyler. I'm not sure if I agree with point #1 though. Refugees are people who are facing a well founded fear of persecution, while other immigrants aren't. That's what makes them two distinct categories. Should that make a difference?

"Their beleaguered status provides a useful means of framing, to boost migration for humanitarian reasons."

"Framing" : apparently a neologism meaning a Machiavellian manipulation and or exploitation of public sentiment to achieve a partial or temporary attainment of an policy objective whose open pursuit is known or thought to be otherwise politically unacceptable. Also known as lying or spinning.

But hey, we should appreciate the inartful disclosure of such crass political calculations and machinations-it reminds of why politicians (and perhaps economists) are to be treated like teenage boys with a car and money seeking the favors of one's daughter. It may also explain Keynes' quip about practical men being the slaves of defunct economists.

re #1: refugees are more likely to be people of social capital, which means we ought to be more favourable towards them. All things being equal, a scientist *IS* preferable to an illiterate farmer as a person seeking immigration status. Thinking otherwise is crazy. Copts, as an example, are vastly more likely to have higher educational attainments, usable skills etc than "average" egyptians. It is crazy not to take that in mind when we select immigrants

Hey, Bureaucrat, get a sense of humor.

And, don't get your shorts tied up in a knot either about this dilatory tactic.

Denying the absence of a quorum is the same thing as a filibuster. But, you probably didn't figure that out until now. You can be at your desk, in town, while members of your party filibuster under the US Senate rules

I don't like either.

So let's make a deal: no filibuster, only majority rule, no denying the absence of a quorum for a meeting whose agenda has been announced a day ahead.


If you don't agree, I would be glad to point out (1) your hypocrisy and (2) your partisanship.

Got a deal?

When you discuss refugees, I think you have to define terms first.

When we are talking about refugees, are we talking about stateless people--persons who would not be accepted in the state if they were to return, or are we talking about persons who would be accepted but do not like the society they would return to because their status has changed or, now that they are out, life is better on the other side.

Does time period matter--what if they left and now could return without retribution later.

What if there were no retribution but their property had been confiscated or acquired by others in their absence, but they could still make a living back in their country.

Is there a community of persons like them in another country?

Some of these factors, I would think, guide the thinking on whether refugee camps are a solution (you should be able to go back later; your property may be confiscated, but you can be reassimilated)

Is refugee status permanent or conditional--for example, Cuban refugees, Vietnamese, Hmong.--are they still refugees.

Hey, Bill, I'll get a sense of humor when you get a clue.

Running to another state is NOT the same thing as filibuster, because you are still showing up for work if you filibuster. Apparently that's not allowed or they can't sustain a filibuster, because they took off like kids from a sandbox.

Nobody else gets to skip out of work and have a Kool-Aid drinking hacks say its legitimate parliamentary procedure. Let them be treated like anybody else going AWOL-A phone call to each and every one (from Donald Trump saying "you're fired") should be both an effective resolution and humorous enough for you.

Try pointing out your own partisanship and hypocrisy first, but only after you point out your lack of reason. This has nothing to do with party-I want people paid to do work-to show the hell up, just like I have to every morning, even when I disagree with what happening.

If s nurse leaves work, he/she can be charged with "abandonment". Do you think these clods should be better that the people they claim to represent or are you suffering from some cognitive defect?

Of course, if I was in the majority, I'd table the present matter and the schedule a vote on something they want-then with the provisions of the Wisconsin Constitution in hand, (which allows that august body to determine the punishment for being AWOL) determine that that should not be admitted to that chamber, their offices, or have access to any aspect of their office to for a period of time equal to the time they were AWOL and that quorum requirements are reduced for every person being disciplined for leave.

Of course, this is organized obstruction, perhaps it meets the legal definition of racketeering or corruption.. hmmm..


Supermajority Quorum requirements and why they are set this way is a serious issue and underserving of your Fox trained rants, so I am attaching a little section of a memo on quorums from a Cornell law professor for your reading and hopefully understanding:

From Dorf on Law (here is the link at the Cornell Law Profs website:

"The walkout by Wisconsin Democratic Senators raises the question of whether it ever makes sense for a legislative body to set a rule that requires more than a simple majority to do business. According to this useful CNN article on the history of walkouts to deprive the majority party of a quorum, Wisconsin is only one of a handful of states in which a simple majority does not suffice to do business. The Wisconsin quorum rule requires the presence of 3/5 of the members.

Why set the quorum requirement at a super-majority? In some legislative bodies and in some contexts, the answer might be because it has no impact. Thus, in a body like the U.S. Senate, which now effectively requires a vote of 3/5 of the members to end debate (i.e., to break a modern filibuster), a minority party with more than 2/5 of the body's members can simply vote against cloture if it wishes to deny the majority an opportunity to enact legislation. That's a less painful procedure than leaving the Senate chamber and hiding from the police, and so a state that already permits filibusters based on voting no for cloture could have a quorum rule with the same threshold without thereby empowering the minority to block any more legislation.

But why should a legislature ever have rules requiring a super-majority to do anything? The standard answer is that such rules foster deliberation and moderation, while biasing policy towards the status quo. Libertarians sometimes favor super-majority voting rules on the ground that they make it difficult for the majority to enact oppressive laws, but this assumption is not always correct: Where oppressive laws are already on the books, super-majority voting rules also make it more difficult to repeal them. Still, painting with a very broad brush, it's probably fair to say that small-c (i.e., Burkean or "traditional") conservatives will be more likely to favor super-majority voting rules than progressives will be. Or to put it differently, conservatives tend to worry more about the risks of too much government action, whereas progressives tend to worry more about the risks of too little government action."

You, evidently, must not be a libertarian or conservative, as these are the folks who FAVOR supermajority quorums. Sneeky liberal. You thought you could fool me, and try to punk me with your post. I bet YOU are the Che Guevera under that mask.

Bills-assuming there's more than one.

I'm sorry you can't see the simple proposition that legislators who take an oath of office should show up.

This is Article I Section 7 of the Wisconsin Constitution:

Organization of legislature; quorum; compulsory
attendance. SECTION 7. Each house shall be the judge of the
elections, returns and qualifications of its own members; and a
majority of each shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a
smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may compel
the attendance of absent members in such manner and under
such penalties as each house may provide.

Section 8:

Rules; contempts; expulsion. SECTION 8. Each house
may determine the rules of its own proceedings, punish for contempt
and disorderly behavior, and with the concurrence of two−
thirds of all the members elected, expel a member; but no member
shall be expelled a second time for the same cause.
Courts have no jurisdiction to review legislative rules of proceeding, which are
those rules having “to do with the process the legislature uses to propose or pass
legislation or how it determines the qualifications of its members.” Milwaukee
Journal Sentinel v. DOA, 2009 WI 79, 319 Wis. 2d 439, 768 N.W.2d 700, 07−1160.
The legislature cannot sentence a person to confinement for contempt without
notice and without giving an opportunity to respond to the charge. Groppi v. Leslie,
404 U.S. 496.

Section 11:

Meeting of legislature. SECTION 11. [As amended Nov.
1881 and April 1968] The legislature shall meet at the seat of
government at such time as shall be provided by law, unless convened
by the governor in special session, and when so convened
no business shall be transacted except as shall be necessary to
accomplish the special purposes for which it was convened.
[1880 J.R. 9S, 1881 J.R. 7A, 1881 c. 262, vote Nov. 1881; 1965
J.R. 57, 1967 J.R. 48, vote April 1968]

That's your civics lesson.

Apparently 2/3 of those polled understand dereliction of duty and of the remaining only 1/4 actually approve.


Since you obviously like the law (but not the state constitution), you might want to log into a Wis Law Profs blog that goes over all the gorey details regarding this issue.

Here's the link:

I'm in favor of majority rule. It causes people to vote and not depend on filibuster. So, I'll put you down as opposing filibuster.

Bill (the putative lawyer)

I humbly bow to your status as a lawyer (not) but quite frankly, if you are an attorney, you clearly stand out-as lacking the grace that normally accompanies a JD. A real lawyer would find a way to convey his contempt with betraying an ideological bias, so that his charges of bias would not resemble "a person living in a glass house throwing stones". I know, I work with lawyers a lot, and generally admire their wordplay and ability to tell people to go to hell so artfully, the individual asks for directions.

So what part of "compulsory attendance" means something other than "compulsory attendance" to a man who works hackneyed cliches the way John Nash worked with mathematics. Perhaps you don't see taking off to another state to obstruct business as disorderly conduct. Similarly, what part of "The legislature shall meet at the seat of government at such time as shall be provided by law" is unclear? or is the seat of Wisconsin government in Illinois.

I don't give a rat's behind about quorums and super majorities-I care about public employees not showing up for work, that's it. A lawyer would have figured that out too. If I cared about that stuff, I'd be a barrister, but I don't, so I don't suffer that disability. When my employees don't show, there's a disciplinary process-and their jobs have less money and benes and no status that a State Senator enjoys. They don't advertise their absence either. What's good for a $35,000/year clerk is good enough for Senators.

These violations of human rights are serious. There is not a trivial matter among them. They are the first and foremost element in the mess these policies have produced.

A real lawyer would find a way to convey his contempt with betraying an ideological bias,


You're new to the internet, aren't you?

All refugees are guaranteed to go in. I would not want to put myself in his shoes.since they are already fled for fear of their lives, many of them have lost their homes and even their loved ones where they come from.

Bureaucrat, Since your only objection is people not showing up to work and getting paid for it, here is an article on something called the Tuesday-Thurday Club that will create an opportunity to write your Congressperson:

Be polite in your letter if you expect to have them listen to you.

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