State and local policy is the real immigration policy

That is the central claim of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

State and local governments are making immigration policy all the time, mostly for the worse, and often Democrats are more restrictionist than Republicans.

Obviously the law can deter potential illegal migrants from entering the U.S. But so can the high cost of living. Even though there are much higher wages in the U.S. than in its neighbors to the South, a lot of those higher wages are eaten up by much higher rents — especially if the immigrant moves to a major city, as is often the case. I once wrote a book based on fieldwork in rural Mexico, and I found that, for those who had migrated temporarily to the U.S., high rent was typically their biggest complaint. It therefore follows that policies which raise rents tend to discourage immigrants, particularly poorer immigrants.


The minimum wage is another tool of anti-immigration policy, at least for less skilled immigrants. Say a city sets a minimum wage of $15 an hour. That means a potential migrant whose work is worth only $12 an hour won’t be able to get a legal job in that city. That will deter migration, both legal and illegal. Furthermore, a worker in, say, Honduras may not find it possible to improve his or her skills to be worth $15 an hour, at least not without arriving in the U.S.


At the state and local level, Democrats limit immigration by making housing and living costs expensive while Republicans limit immigration by cutting services and having a smaller job market that doesn't pay much. I've lived in both and while I don't agree with either ideologies, I find I come out ahead in blue areas even with the high taxes and costs. The lower wages with lower taxes don't quickly accumulate into savings as higher wages with higher taxes. The truth at the end of the day is to make more money. It will solve a lot of problems. Obviously everyone has their own preferences but I know what works for me. Work in blue and retire in red is the gameplan going forward.

I'd argue that landowners in higher growth cities are incentivised to endorse restrictive immigration planning controls, and in most cities the planning control agencies are controlled by local landowners. When you have high demand for land in that area, it effectively becomes a cartel. The reasons that they use to defend those policies are beside the point in most cases.

In Australia and New Zealand, residents are also typically explicit in that argument as well, often saying that they don't want new residents ruining the neighbourhood (usually in much more touchy-feely local resident urban planner terms) or lowering property values. They honestly don't see that this is morally wrong, it's just someone else's problem.

"landowners in higher growth cities are incentivised to endorse restrictive immigration planning controls"
In the States, the city landowners are incentivized to endorse some land use restrictions like limiting the supply of housing, yes, but they are also incentivized to increase immigration as that increases demand for their properties allowing them to raise rents. Many big cities in the States for example SF, LA, NYC are sanctuary cities for this reason. I'm thinking the situation in AUS and NZ may be more home-owner oriented where they prefer more restrictions in their neighborhoods whereas the big cities in the States are more oriented towards landlords and renters which favor a different dynamic.

The value of real estate is based more on community amenities (of which demographics is the #1 amenity) then the building quality. Letting poor move in could destroy the asset most people put their live savings into.

More and more sidewalk shitters (the world's worst demographic) moving to SF don't real estate down. It is almost like having high paying jobs has something to do with it.

My guess is that there are parts of SF with lots of street shitters and parts without, and that the latter has higher property values than the former.

Establishing general prices and immigration rules are orthogonal, or semi-orthogonal. Rich Mexicans buy expensive homes, just like rich Americans. There is no cause to relate the two.

'But so can the high cost of living.'

Wait - living without legal permission is more effectively deterred by the rent being too damn high?

In which case, landlords are clearly our first line of true defense. Lucky for us, we have a landlord as president who is not known for his low, low rent prices.

Now if we could only get property owners to stop hiring workers who are not legally allowed to work. Maybe our property owner in chief will tackle that problem next - after a couple of years as president, at least some businesses are no longer employing such undocumented workers, so progress is clearly being made.

'That means a potential migrant whose work is worth only $12 an hour won’t be able to get a legal job in that city.'

Um, a 'potential migrant' cannot get a legal job in the first place. Almost as if someone is completely ignorant of why employers hire workers that are not allowed to work legally - they are cheaper, minimum wage law or not. And honestly, an employer breaking one law for economic gain is not likely to be concerned about breaking several laws for economic gain.

(Though a smart employer makes sure to pay the SS and IRS all taxes that are due on any listed income - so much easier to blame the submitter of the paperwork than the company accepting it, and the government gets its cut anyways.)

Money is important but family reunification policy too.

What's the point of having good income and cheap rent if an immigrat can't bring the family to the US? A significant fraction of the immigrants is not workers, but close relatives of workers.

That's become a big problem in Mexico. Married men go north for employment, find a new girlfriend, establish a new home in the US and the wife is left in Mexico with the kids.

And what is equally true, but something Americans seem to find impossible to understand, is that a significant fraction of those who come to the U.S. to work are not immigrants, as they wish to return to their close relatives. Not all do, of course, but considerably more return than stay than Americans as a group seem capable of believing.

How is that relevant?

The idea that a person’s labour is “worth” a certain amount is a dinosaur-level concept. A person’s labour should receive whatever return the market decides, and that depends critically on the local institutions and infrastructure. It’s not a function of the individual only.

How many Hondurans stayed put because Seattle raised their minimum wage to $15/hr? I'm on the fence with these things but that doesn't strike me as a strong argument.

'but that doesn't strike me as a strong argument.'

That is because you missed the real argument - 'Democrats are more restrictionist than Republicans.'

Which carries contrarianism into entertainingly dadaist territory, but then, that is what makes MR such an artistic fountain, of the R.Mutt variety.

If your making less then $15 an hour you are likely a net tax drain and bad for society. Better to keep them out.

you are likely a net tax drain and bad for society.

The index of worth to society is truly the ratio of a human's input to benefits consumed. Hopefully, there's a special spot in Hades where you can spend an eternity shoveling coal into the boiler that heats Satan's condominium.

Cold, hard truth makes you hysterical. Come back with a real argument or go away.

There's no cold, hard truth there. I'll be happy to go away when you two intellectual perverts, who look at taxes and benefits as some constant in nature instead of an invention, do the world a favor and drink some hemlock.

Chuck said, “The index of worth to society is truly the ratio of a human's input to benefits consumed.”
Then immigrate to Honduras and you will raise the ‘index of worth’ for both the US and Honduras. What the US doesn’t need is another illiterate refugee with an IQ of 80 taught his failure as a worker is due to him being a victim of ‘White Privilege’.

What the US doesn’t need is another illiterate refugee with an IQ of 80

So leave.

Good band name.

So retirees, children are bad for society. Probably should kill off the old folks. Need the kids to grow up into productive adults so we'll let them be.

The point is that resources are finite. Stop socializing the cost of educating children, caring for old people, and helping the hopeless onto the taxpayers, and we don't have to calculate the cold equations.

"So retirees, children are bad for society."

Those are the people we are morally obligated to support. We are not morally obligated to support low skilled immigrants. We should heavily preference high skilled immigrants that won't be an additional drain on public finances.

US federal spending is about $14k a person. How much do you need to make to pay that in taxes? THAT's the breakeven point. Now do that for a family of 4, and add state and local spending.

Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center has some novel ideas on how to revitalize rural and small-town America. One idea is to grant states the authority to issue visas to meet their specific labor needs, help dry up demand for undocumented workers, stave off depopulation, keep businesses in place, and fill in fiscal gaps. That is one of several novel ideas Wilkinson summarizes in this essay:

Immigrants don't move to these places for a reason. They would face the same problems current residents do, plus there wouldn't be a critical mass of their own people.

Plus the ... ahem ... extra-legal nature of their employment and perhaps their lodging would be more conspicuous.

Another reason to oppose the minimum wage - it may reduce immigration and hence the dynamism of our cities. Strict enforcement of minimum wage laws might prevent immigrants from getting their foot on the career rung.

Strict enforcement of minimum wage laws may destroy the unpaid internship system...for the locals.

One can take some comfort in the knowledge that even leftists understand immigration is bad. Maybe there is some hope to get through to them.

They virtue signal where virtue signaling is costless to them.

Only libertarians are full retard on immigration.

More people = more ideas. No. More of a certain kind of high IQ person, operating in a certain kind of environment, means more ideas.

The only live worth living was created by high IQ societies. If we are to advance or even stay in place without sinking into the abyss it will be because of the work done by high IQ societies. Don't wreck high IQ societies.

P.S. None of these immigrants are productive. Even if they get a job, their wage rate won't even come close to paying for the government services they and their families receive. Every one of them came here to steal via the tax man. They could have done their low skilled labor back home, but then they couldn't have gotten that sweet sweet USA government services for free.

Have you been to Silicon Valley? Immigrants galore in a number of knowledge heavy industries. You make some false assumptions there, buddy.

High IQ Asians are not low IQ third worlders.

To be fair, Mick Jagger came to the US to get heart surgery he couldn't get in the UK, without a long wait - only he paid for it.

Good commentary.

My thinking is establishment GOP, the Wall Street Journal editorial cabal, et al are equally avid fans of open borders (and abortion and gun confiscation).

What(?) thirty to fifty million hostile, uneducated criminals - What could go wrong?

Bottom line: Democrats want unlimited criminal invaders because they (assume) they will vote democrat. If they thought for one second that the invaders would vote GOP, there would be 700 million land mines, plus a 700 foot a wall, on the southern border; and a $1,000 bounty on them.

Of course, you and I are alt-white, right-supremacist, racist, nationalist monsters.

This is what I meant when I christened that 'law'

This post seems oddly unaware of the notion that immigrants, like other working poor, might find housing and jobs that are not in compliance with local law and regulation. I live in northern Virginia, a heavily Democratic and extremely high-cost area. One end of my mile-long street has ordinary four-bedroom homes selling for $1.3 million, while the other end has small, nominally two-bedroom Cape Cods that have been chopped up into warrens that hold many more than county occupancy regulations contemplate. One of them got busted a few years ago because it housed immigrants working (or forced to work) as prostitutes, marketed toward undocumented day laborers.

There is tacit acceptance of the differential here, which I can only assume becomes more pronounced over time, with the numbers arriving in my city every day.

For instance: if I wish to change out my front door, the city imagines I can't tell a door from a hole in the wall, and so mandates a permit (aka a tax) of $250 for me to do this. (Although rarely do they actually come and perform this check for a home improvement so fraught with peril it demanded this fee.) And needless to say, all windows must be configured so as to permit the egress of a morbidly obese person.

The street I live on is unpleasantly wide and ugly, leading to speeding - but when local urbanists argue for narrower, "human-scaled" streets that would naturally lead to slower traffic, the fire department is quick to stomp on the idea.

And while their exact details have never concerned me, of course like many cities we have occupancy limits, more heavy-handed than you might guess as to relationship ...

Meanwhile ... mysteriously, we have dense trailer parks that are immune to the officiousness of the building code department, that would scarcely admit a fire truck: often home to immigrants many to a trailer. Sometimes it's unrelated laborers, but families too: a policeman said he worries about fire at these locations, when he sees the school bus stop and disgorge dozens of children.

I think this is right. My county could spot the small houses with four Dish antennas as easily as I can, if it chose to act.

There's a huge difference between policies that are intended to hurt immigrants and neutral policies that may have a disparate impact on them. NIMBYism and high minimum wages also hurt, say, low-skilled African-Americans, but they are not in the same ballpark as something like Jim Crow where racial segregation was intended and written into the law.

Jim Crow allowed middle and working class whites that follow bourgeois norms to segregate from underclass blacks.

NIMBYism allows UMC whites/asians to segregate from underclass blacks at the expense of having a large portion of their income going to rent. Rent is the cost of plausible deniability on their segregation. Middle and working class whites can't afford the high rent, so they segregate by moving to the exurbs.

If the intent is segregation, they aren’t doing a very good job of it. Upper middle class cities of the West Coast are the most racially integrated cities in America: In some cases, NIMBY even decreases segregation by spurring gentrification where whites to move into formerly segregated black neighborhoods.

Your link shows the opposite of what you claims. A quick view of the Racial Dot Map shows everyone in their segregated neighborhoods.

Also, Asians aren't diverse.

Gentrification is the process by which young childless people move into areas with cheap real estate and try to fix it up so they have shorter commutes at low rent. Slowly the underclass is pushed out and eventually you reach a tipping point where people with families will move in. These families are white/asian, and the underclass in question is usually but not always brown.

Stop. Noticing.

Anyone know why used copies of Tyler's Market and Cultural Voices trade for $170 plus on AMZN? Do they even trade? Are these first edition collector's items? Markets in everything ...

And don't forget school districting. Deep blue hotbeds of far-left extremism invariably draw their school districts to segregate immigrant children into predominately minority schools and to keep white schools white. A good example is 65% white Arlington County, Virginia, a tiny county geographically, chock full of ICE haters where Hillary Clinton got 75.78 percent of the 2016 vote. There you have a little high school ( 1,279 students) that is 66% white, and 16% Hispanic, and another large school (1,962) that is 45% Hispanic and 21% white. The white school is ranked #2 in the state, the Hispanic school #69.

Even though minority children make up more than half of US public school enrollments and a majority of minority Democratic primary voters support meaningful educaton reform like charter schools, the white minority opposes an attempt to loosen their grip on access to higher quality educaton. And the 2020 democrat presidential primary candidates listen to the whites.

Charter schools probably wouldn't hurt white public schools, though I think some are legitimately worried that it could lead to school choice and minorities flooding their existing school. I think it's a mixture of democratic ideology (which has been against charter schools since back when the nation was much whiter) and the fact that teachers unions are a big democratic constituency.

You have to remember too that public schools as constructed are the indoctrination factory for future democrats. Charter schools could break up that racket.

At the end of the day charters can only be "effective" if they skim. If they allow non-underclass minorities to separate from underclass minorities, and for the left behinds to be locked up in what is effectively a dangerous overgrown daycare. Admitting that would be such a huge ideological hurdle for the party it's not a surprise they obfuscate.


The truth hurts!

This seems rather strained to be about immigrants rather than low wage workers. Consider Manhattan. A techie coder immigrant whose used to six figure income per year or a West Virginian coal miner with a GED rather than HS diploma. Clearly the higher costs of Manhattan are a disincentive not to immigration but only some types of immigration (and, of course, if the Federal gov't relaxed its rules there would be even more immigration to Manhattan).

AND YET it does seem to me that despite the 'barriers' the 'restrictionist' Democratic areas have a lot of immigrants. Why have the food service workers, the taxi drivers, office cleaners and a host of other immigrant heavy professions in these blue areas not been alerted to the high cost of living there? Perhaps because the high cost of living is a lifestyle barrier. Blue areas are high cost of living for those seeking a suburban lifestyle (own your own decent sized home, kids going to school, your own car etc.). If you are open to different lifestyle options (such as the army 'tour of duty' model where a breadwinner spends months away and sends money home), the costs look different.

Wouldn't a plausible dynamic be more like a $15 minimum wage leads to higher rewards for being the the black market employer who employees illegal immigrants?

I mean after all, the wages for illegal immigrants are de jure $0 an hour so moving from $7 to $15 an hour doubles your potential "revenue" and makes it pure profit at that.

Likewise, I would suspect that at a cultural level people willing to pay teenagers below federally mandated rates "under the table" might become more comfortable employing illegal immigrants.

This seems to be exactly the sort of policy that would discourage legal immigration while rewarding those who flout the law. Is there actually that much daylight here compared to typical immigration policy currently favored by the left?

I have a lot of experience working w/ min wage employees. Your idea is interesting but it's just not reality.

You overlook many factors:
1) Dems are working OT to provide extraordinary services to immigrants in every public agency: schools; transit agencies; state, county, city govs; water districts; power companies; libraries - everywhere there are programs for poor people and public officials to help immigrants take advantage of them.

2) immigrants don't need 6-bedroom homes to feel comfortable. Three or four will live in a one-bedroom apartment.

3) Immigrants work harder than Americans, so it's usually the American who's not worth $15. Young white men rarely last two days at temp jobs but the immigrants get 'er done.

4) almost all immigrant groups have family networks that funnel relatives into jobs. Because the new immigrants are indebted to the family members who put them in the job, they have strong incentives to perform well. These family networks also provide loans, help with government paperwork, and all sorts of other things that help them make the most of what they have.

5) In my experience, though poorly educated, most immigrants have superb practical intelligence. They're probably among the brighter people in their country and probably brighter then the Americans on the low end of the American job market.

That's a good start. Immigrants generally aren't having trouble managing in the US, red state or blue state, they're used to much worse.

Great post.

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