Does immigration undermine public support for social policy?

Mostly not.  Again, Kevin Lewis points us to a fascinating paper:

Does Immigration Undermine Public Support for Social Policy?

David Brady & Ryan Finnigan
American Sociological Review, February 2014, Pages 17-42

There has been great interest in the relationship between immigration and the welfare state in recent years, and particularly since Alesina and Glaeser’s (2004) influential work. Following literatures on solidarity and fractionalization, race in the U.S. welfare state, and anti-immigrant sentiments, many contend that immigration undermines public support for social policy. This study analyzes three measures of immigration and six welfare attitudes using 1996 and 2006 International Social Survey Program (ISSP) data for 17 affluent democracies. Based on multi-level and two-way fixed-effects models, our results mostly fail to support the generic hypothesis that immigration undermines public support for social policy. The percent foreign born, net migration, and the 10-year change in the percent foreign born all fail to have robust significant negative effects on welfare attitudes. There is evidence that the percent foreign born significantly undermines the welfare attitude that government “should provide a job for everyone who wants one.” However, there is more robust evidence that net migration and change in percent foreign born have positive effects on welfare attitudes. We conclude that the compensation and chauvinism hypotheses provide greater potential for future research, and we critically consider other ways immigration could undermine the welfare state. Ultimately, this study demonstrates that factors other than immigration are far more important for public support of social policy.

There is an ungated version here.


There is evidence that the percent foreign born significantly undermines the welfare attitude that government “should provide a job for everyone who wants one.”

This is another excellent reason why it is vitally important that immigration be rapidly expanded. This nation is already at full employment, not reducing the welfare state now would be fool-hearty.

Bitcoin is surging up again today.


"This nation is already at full employment, not reducing the welfare state now would be fool-hearty"

Since 2000, the employment population ratio has fallen almost 10%. See Fred data series EMRATIO.

Life for the factually challenged.

But we are fully employing all people who are actually productive and useful. ZMP workers can't be productively employed and shouldn't count. We have almost no productive people in reserve in this country but there are massive reservoirs of talented, smart, created people in India, China, etc. willing to come and work here.

Why employ people when you can burn labor saving fossil fuels instead?

When you burn capital assets, whether the natural capital of billions of years of life, or the roads and bridges, you can cut labor spending.

How can a construction worker be more productive than letting decaying bridges continue to decay toward collapse without spending anything to repair or replace it?

The only way a steel worker can justify employment when competing with letting the bridges decay at no cost in labor spending is for the seel worker to work, not only for free, but to pay for the steel he needs to build a replacement bridge, or to repair the decaying bridge.

The Republican plan of 2005 was to use the labor funded savings of Asian workers to pay US steel workers to install steel made by Asian steel workers who paid the Bush administration to import it and install it by funding the debt that paid the ZMP steel workers.

What we have is free lunch economics in action. The raods and bridges should be for free. Therefore the workers who build the roads and bridges should work for free. And if US workers won't work for free, then we will find Asian workers who will work for free by tricking them to work for pay that they send to the US on the promise they can live off that money when they get old, just like the Detroit public workers worked cheap on the promise of having government pay for their retirement. Conservatives like Bachmann let the secret out of the bag by calling for defaulting on the debt funded by Asian workers saving for retirement who paid for building US roads and bridges.

Bridges and roads? We're in the middle of a huge boom here - great new companies are going gangbusters like Facebook, Twitter, this new Spritz which will revolutionize reading, Google, the US dollar is plummeting vs. BitCoin, the Stock market is up, property values are doing great, we have full employment of productive workers. The US economy is running victory laps right now it's never been so good.
This talk about infrastructure is like the whole "horror show" about the sequester - it had absolutely no effect in the productive regions of the US, barely a blip and then Facebook went surging upwards.

You're worried about infrastructure? This is like being at an amazing party and worrying about the choice of table clothes.


So the 10% of the labor force that doesn't have a job anymore were just being paid via an oversight in the accounting department? Really? Who knew? The truth is that the U.S. has had very little job growth since 2001 (up 5.3 million) while the adult population has soared (up 31.735 million) and American has been flooded with immigrants (roughly 20 million). Predictably employment rates have plunged and welfare utilization has exploded. Basically, we have imported millions of foreigners and dumped our own citizens on the dole.

Societal failure at its best (worst).

"We have almost no productive people in reserve in this country but there are massive reservoirs of talented, smart, created people in India, China, etc. willing to come and work here."

That's wrong on many grounds. When jobs open up here, long lines of qualified applicants show up. Sometimes thousands. As for smart talented people in China and India. Of course, they exist. However, the immigrants America is actually getting are characterized by high welfare dependency, poverty, low productivity, family instability, irredentist claims on the United States, high crime rates, multi-generational academic failure, language issues, low rates of assimilation, ongoing demands for racial preferences, etc.

Even if America was getting immigrants with skills equal to the median for the United States (which we are not), replacing Americans with immigrants is a net losing proposition for our country. Stated differently, unless the job market grows by one for each immigrant employed, then each immigrant is a NMP (Negative Marginal Product) worker. Indeed, even if the job market does grow by one, low-skill immigrants are always NMP workers (because of the tax costs they impose and other large negative externalities).

I think you should read the comments of JAMRC as being totally ironical -- see the other posts.


That has occurred to me as well.


I couldn't have said it any better. The employment-population and labor-participation rates are plummeting and anyone who walks around in the real (i.e. non-spreadsheet) world sees it. Closed factories, closed retail, empty office buildings, bankrupt cities, expanding welfare rolls, empty food banks, etc. Whatever 125,000 jobs we are creating each month are lagging population growth and are mostly BS McJobs that are necessary and homnorable but low paying.

JAMRC's techno-utopia is AMAZING - I cannot wait to read 50% faster - but it creates a tiny smattering of jobs. Only 1% of the population is currently employed as a computer programmer.

Many people who can't cut it in the new smart economy can find work creating digital value by uploading pictures to Facebook, Tweeting, Liking things on Facebook, commenting on YouTubes and clicking ads. These are like the home or cottage industries of the new smart economy. But the reality is corporate profits are a direct measure of the productive output of this country and they're higher than ever. This should be celebrated. Amazing new companies like Facebook are a great indicator that the economy is great. More is on the way as long as we can get enough smart immigrants into Silicon Valley.

How do people still not understand this is a counteradvocate/troll account? Really it's scary when trolls poke mock sociopathic comments and they fit in so well to the spergy atmosphere that they don't even raise red flags for most regular readers.

'Really it’s scary when trolls poke mock sociopathic comments and they fit in so well to the spergy atmosphere that they don’t even raise red flags for most regular readers.'

I think that is the point.

Which is, technically, something other than trolling.

On what are you basing the statements that we are employing everyone who is productive and useful and that almost all of the unemployed are ZMP workers? How could you possibly know this? All I can think of is your premise is that if an individual was actually productive given current conditions then someone would hire them. Not only does that demonstrate the most simplistic of paradigms, it is circular: people are unemployed because they are ZMP and they must be ZMP because they are unemployed. The neoclassical perfect competition model is a fiction - useful for pedagogical reasons but only as an ideal type (or even a counter-factual).

We can feel content that the worthy are getting their just desserts as are the rabble, huh?

Come now, all Marginal Revolution readers are aware that this Zero Marginal Product talk is an exaggeration: many ZMP workers possess internal organs that could be quite valuable if we rigorously privatized the transplant market.

Not to mention that a bean heavy diet is very good for post operative recovery....

Are there people who actually believe that papers like this have any truth value whatsoever rather than just rhetorical value?

Go back and read pseudo-science, I mean social science journals from the previous century. They sound like studies of angels or the "proof" of demonic possession. Like the poor, bravo sierra will always be with us.

"...there is more robust evidence that net migration and change in percent foreign born have positive effects on welfare attitudes"

Does this support the claim that, by encouraging an increase in the immigrant population, the Democratic party, which generally favors "welfare attitudes," is building its base?

Chuck Schumer sure believes that, but Marco Rubio doesn't.

Which one seems smarter to you?

The true significance of this article (assuming it is correct) is that it undermines a key libertarian rationale for Open Borders. Much of the Open Borders community (as Bryan Caplan and others) is obsessed with using Open Borders to destroy the welfare state, on the theory that social fragmentation will undermine support for the welfare state. The entire premise is foul. Destroying society because you don't like the welfare state is at the level of "we had to destroy the village to save it". However, the reprehensible nature of the logic at hand, hasn't restrained too many libertarians.

For two detailed dicussions of the subject, see "Bryan Caplan is wrong about open borders and the size of government" ( and "More on Bryan Caplan, ethnic diversity and the size of government" (

@PS--I think you are projecting your own beliefs onto the Open Borders community, many of which are Catholics who don't believe in a minimalist state. As for the paper, it rings true since many states, including Washington State recently, provide for free tuition even if the student is an illegal alien.

Ray Lopez,

The Open Borders community is made up of several factions including the cheap labor plutocracy ("if only Lee had defeated Grant"), racial activists ("The National Council of The Race"), and libertarians. Of course, these groups have different agendas all of which include Open Borders.

The corporate faction probably opposes welfare state expansion but is willing to tolerate food stamps to keep wages low and unions busted. Of course, they would change their minds in a hurry if they had to pay the taxes for Open Borders. However, Bush and Obama abolished the notion that anything has to be paid for (for a while at least).

The racial activists tend to be on left (far left) and have never seen a handout program they didn't favor. To put this in perspective, the Chairman of the NCLR for the first seven years, Maclovio Barraza, was apparently a member of the communist party (he never seems to have denied it and his union was expelled from the CIO because of communist control).

The libertarians oppose the welfare state as a hypothetical abstraction, but are far more interested in promoting Open Borders than reforming food stamps.

As you see, my comments were directed towards the libertarian faction of the Open Borders movement. A few quotes directly from Bryan Caplan should substantiate my point(s).

"One of my arguments is that immigration increases diversity, which undermines solidarity, which mutes public support for the welfare state."

"This is a straw man. The claim isn't that open borders will "destroy" solidarity or the welfare state, but merely that open borders will undermine both. And while free-marketers may well agree that some degree of solidarity is good, it's also hard for free-marketers to deny that current levels of solidarity are excessive. Solidarity stands in the way of free-market reforms in pensions, education, health care, taxation, agricultural policy, and much more."

We've had a fair bit of immigration over the past 10 years and yet stocks are going up, BitCoin is up, great new companies like Facebook and Twitter have come onto the scene. I don't see a problem here.


You may be understating how revolutionary BitCoin really is. With the Xilinx Virtex-E XCV812E-8-BG560 FPGA device encryption rates as high as 7 Gbits/sec are possible. That should be enough computer power to double GDP in just a few years via BitCoin mining. That's small change compared to the potential of ultra-deep UV, custom VLSI, massively parallel arrays from TSMC (or the newer mainland foundries). With those systems coming online we should be able to boost global GDP to levels so high it will make Star Trek look like the Stone Age.

@Peter Schaeffer - thanks, I see that you have studied this issue more than I have, so I defer to your expertise.

CATO is in trouble here. They just released recently a terribly poorly done study, trying to argue the opposite (liked here at MR before). I don't have time to read the methods and results of this study right now, but on face value it seems a lot more convincing (if fro no other reason that it's in n actually good journal).

The open border libertarian types are really going to have to work a lot harder at making the case, and at addressing these sort of findings.

I believe this study is consistent with Cato's recent study. Cato's recent study looked at the question "Does immigration affect the size of the welfare state," and found it does not. This study addresses the question "Does immigration undermine public support for the welfare state," and similarly found it does not; this study literally closes with the statement: "Indeed, the strongest evidence is for
the null hypothesis." As far as I can tell, both studies are consistent with each other. That doesn't mean they're right, but you can't just say that this contradicts the Cato study without saying what specifically you find to be in tension. As far as I can tell from both papers, their findings are remarkably well aligned for a bunch of authors who don't seem to have cooperated directly at all.

As I said I haven't read it in detail yet, but their abstract seems to present, if not the opposite results of the CATO study, no support for such results.

Correlation or causality?

Does immigration undermine public support for social policy?

Tell it to the taxpayer.

It (immigration reform/amnesty) will prove that crime pays.

We need each and every one of them. There are 2,000,000 fewer private sector jobs today tahn in 2008. And, another 500,000 fewer jobs when they increase the minimum wage.

"The U.S. may be an unusual rather than exemplary case of how racial and ethnic heterogeneity shape welfare attitudes."

So, American exceptionalism, it is.

This is extremely poorly framed.

Liberals will all say no- they love immigration, they love the welfare state. What's the problem?

Many conservatives hostile to Libertarian ideas think this way, judging by what I see here among other things: the flood of immigrants mean no jobs means the social safety net is more important than ever. So they also say no to cutting the welfare state and call to end immigration as the silver bullet.

Liberals and conservatives making common cause in defense of Leviathan is disheartening, but there it is.

So, what does this study tell us? That there aren't a lot of Libertarians.

you wrote:
>This is extremely poorly framed.

Well, i think that is a given, seeing as how it is academic propaganda from academia, an institution which is devoted to helping the corporations lower labor costs and increase by expanding the pool of labor and consumers.

you wrote:
>Liberals will all say no- they love immigration, they love the welfare >state.

Well, liberals are just little brownshirts, just like republicans. They are going to support whatever those at the top of their tribe support.

And really, the Dems hardly support the welfare state anymore, except when it helps increase the population of human cattle.

Man, that shit is just DARK

Actually-enacted policies seem a bit more relevant than expressed attitudes.

hmm...yet another paper from academia supporting immigration, the same academia that puts out fake employment and salary stats via the corporate media, the better to lure young kids into enrolling, the same media that is the handmaiden to the corporations.

Ah, I am just gonna call this yet another lie from academia. Not exactly going out on a limb there, I know.

Migrant workers are mostly farmers who shuttle between their rural homes and cities looking for work. They usually take the least-paid and most laborious jobs in cities. According to Liu, who herself is a migrant worker, older migrant workers are more likely to be victims to rights abuses due to age issues and poor educational background.

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