Greg Clark Seems to Miss the Boat on the Great Immigration Debate

When I referenced my UC Davis colleague, economist Giovanni Peri, last week, I didn’t realize I’d be discussing another one this week, Gregory Clark.  I don’t know Professor Clark, but I’ve certainly admired him for the highly successful, semi-technical/semi-popular, books he’s written.  See a self-synopsis of one of them in this New York Times op-ed.  He is definitely an out-of-the-box thinker.

But now Clark has (seemingly, though not actually) brought race into his writings, in a recent Foreign Affairs article, titled “The American Dream Is an Illusion:  Immigration and Inequality.”   I say “seemingly” here, because what he is really writing about is socioecnomic class, not race per se.  He presents data showing that descendents of Latino immigrants are NOT upwardly mobile in education, in contrast to other immigrant groups.   Many other groups have arrived in the U.S. poor, he says, but have had the ambition, the educational values and so on to do well, if not in the first generation then surely the second.  In the words of a stuck-up rich British character one often sees in movies, Clark is saying that we’re bringing in “the wrong kind” of people.  He seems to be hinting that the nation should think more carefully on the topic of unauthorized immigration.

I don’t like Clark’s message.  It’s not that I am denying the validity of Clark’s numbers.  On the contrary, a few years ago, a prominent liberal writer who has worked professionally in the Latino community startled me by telling me of a similar statistical analysis he’d done.

But what Clark is missing, I believe, is that Latino upward mobility could be greatly improved if the schools devoted resources to it.  The irony is that that is not going to happen, precisely because of the larger-than-manageable level of immigration that we have, both legal and unauthorized.  As many studies have shown, the first victims of too large an influx are the most vulnerable people in our society, many of them earlier immigrants.  It’s a shame that Emma Lazarus poem on our Statue of Liberty says famously, “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses,” but sadly it doesn’t promise to give those huddled masses a fighting chance after they get here.

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21 thoughts on “Greg Clark Seems to Miss the Boat on the Great Immigration Debate

  1. Having an unsustainably high level of legal and illegal immigration into the United States guarantees that there will be a permanent underclass here. That has been the case from 1965-onward.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ” Latino upward mobility could be greatly improved if the schools devoted resources to it.”

    Great. Latinos have flooded the country in numbers unimaginable and now place further burdens upon the citizens to subsidize this unwelcome and unnecessary invasion to forestall societal degeneration.

    Meanwhile there is little enforcement of our existing immigration laws; instead we only hear talk of amnesty and increasing immigration levels.

    Thanks a lot Washington.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree with Norm that Clark’s surname work is indeed interesting: I first encountered it in a talk he gave to “Social Science Bites” (MP3 here[1], stream and transcript here[2]). But I also find Norm’s work here to be interesting … in the sense of “confusing”:

    @matloff: Clark is saying that we’re bringing in “the wrong kind” of people.

    That would indeed be troubling if, by “kind,” Clark meant “ethnicity.” But both I and Norm believe Clark does not:

    @matloff: what [Clark] is really writing about is [socioeconomic] class, not race per se.

    At which point, we seem to diverge:

    @matloff: [Clark hints] that the nation should think more carefully on the topic of unauthorized immigration.

    and Norm hints that Clark should not. I’ll not hint; nor will I use terms like “unauthorized” and “undocumented” to refer to illegal immigration. Rather, I’ll claim the US should vastly reduce immigration (and particularly illegal immigration) of persons who compete with the native “underclass” (a term I’ll use to refer to the bottom 10-20% of the distributions of income and wealth) for jobs and housing. My claim is motivated by a few facts which I hope Norm et al will agree:

    (1) The US is presently in a period of very low economic mobility.

    (2) The US has for many decades had a large native-born underclass with low economic mobility (due to both anti-black discrimination and pro-inequality economic policy).

    (3) The US is presently (due to relatively unregulated immigration) importing a new foreign-born underclass (mostly Hispanic) to join its native-born underclass.

    From those premises, the following inference seems warranted:

    (4) The imported underclass, and their progeny, will not experience upward economic mobility, but will instead further *reduce* US economic mobility (by enabling US bosses to decrease compensation for “lower-skilled” workers, and enabling US landlords to make housing still less affordable).

    About which Norm seems to agree:

    @matloff: Latino upward mobility could be greatly improved if the schools devoted resources to it.

    s/Latino/underclass/ . What’s bizarre about current “liberal” discourse (e.g., on NPR) is that so many so-called progressives seem to believe that it’s positively *good* to import a new underclass, because this imported underclass will experience upward mobility, despite facts (1) and (2) above, about which they are mostly aware. (FWIW, in my experience, when I ask “nice white liberals” why the new Latino underclass will be upwardly mobile while the native (largely black) underclass is not, they get uncomfortable.)

    @matloff: The irony is that that is not going to happen, precisely because of the larger-than-manageable level of immigration that we have, both legal and unauthorized. As many studies have shown, the first victims of too large an influx are the most vulnerable people in our society, many of them earlier immigrants.

    Which seems to me an excellent argument for policies seeking to

    (1) Vastly reduce illegal immigration. Illegal workers are the most exploitable segment of any workforce, thus are most destructive to the standard of living of the host country’s underclass.

    (2) Vastly reduce underclass immigration. We already have *plenty* of “low-skilled” workers–don’t import more. Restrict underclass immigration to true/non-economic refugees, of whom the US currently accepts disgracefully few.

    Yet Norm seems to disagree. Am I missing something?

    [1]: http://traffic.libsyn.com/socialsciencebites/Gregory_Clark_on_Names.mp3
    [2]: http://www.socialsciencespace.com/2014/04/gregory-clark-on-names/

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    • Thanks for the thoughtful commens, Tom.

      I think it’s difficult to be an economic historian, as Clark is, without being something of a social Darwinist. But I think it is there that Clark fails. Intervention (whether planned or not) CAN work. In fact, Clark’s first book, A Farewell to Alms, showed that, in the case of the effect of industrialization in England. Opportunities for upward mobility still do exist in this country, but most in the underclass are unaware.

      My posting was not meant to convey my own view of unauthorized immigration. (I call it that out of deference to Latino activists, though I find their slogans silly, notably “No person is illegal.”) I probably should have given my stance, and will do so now.

      I think immigration is great, but that doesn’t mean I think the numbers should be without limit. In fact, even the pro-immigration activists freely admit that there should be limits; it is only a matter of where to draw the line. I don’t condone illegal/alegal acts, but I’ve always felt that the distinction based on legality is much less of an issue than people make it out to be. Arguably most LEGAL immigration is based on the use of loopholes that are outside the intended purpose of the statutes. And if legality is all that bothers someone, then just make all the alegals legal, and we’ve solved the problem, right?

      Nativity is also not such a big issue as some people think. You mention the Latino underclass, but most of them are natives, as Clark’s data indirectly shows.

      As to why the “NPR set” supports expansive immigration policies, it’s quite simple: To them, if you’re a liberal, you’re pro-immigration. They’ve never thought it through; they simply know that they are not in the Tea Party, thus pro-immigration. As usual, people on both sides take a lot of things for granted, no questioning.

      As you said, the liberal point of view would arguably be a restrictionist one, due to the impact of immigration on the underclass (not to mention due to adverse effects on the environment, importation of racist/sexist views and so on). I’ve written about this in a long 1996 article in The Public Interest, titled “How Immigration Harms Minorities. Unfortunately, this is something liberals don’t want to hear, and anyway, sympathy for the black underclass is no longer a central tenet in political liberalism.

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      • Just to clarify one point (I’ll try to address some others later):

        @matloff 21:17 UTC 2 Dec 2014: Nativity is also not such a big issue as some people think.

        I *do* believe co-citizenship is important, but normatively/morally rather than positively/empirically. Morality, and therefore politics (which is merely public morality), is about membership in communities: the rights one should have as a member of a particular community, one’s responsibilities to fellow members of a community, one’s responsibilities to members of other communities. I believe strongly that I have (c.p.) “concentric responsibilities,” i.e., greater responsibilities to members of some communities than to others. *Very* roughly-speaking–and again, ceteris paribus–I have descending levels of responsibility to my friends (some of whom are not human), to various interest groups, to various polities of which I am a citizen (in approximately increasing order of area and population), to my species, to other sentient Earthlings (in approximately decreasing order of … “sentience” :-), and so on. Particularly, I have (c.p.) greater responsibilities to members of my own nation than to members of others. Unfortunately, all other things are rarely equal 🙂 which makes moral/political choice fraught. (E.g., if members of another community are sufficiently wronged, that outweighs their “moral distance.”)

        That being said, I believe this moral position (concentric responsibilities) is shared by most “reasonably moral people” (whatever they are 🙂 … except that, when probed on this matter WRT immigration, members of “the NPR set” will claim a cosmopolitanism (i.e., an undifferentiable responsibility to all humans) that is not supported by their actual behavior, and that is quite at odds with their claims on related questions (and speciesist to boot). To “boil down” an argument that I should make at greater length, my position on immigration (which I suspect may be close to yours, but ICBW) can be summarized as “local and sustainable labor markets”: why import, or allow others to import, a foreign underclass when we already have one right here?

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      • Few more points OTTOMH:

        @matloff 21:17 UTC 2 Dec 2014: Intervention (whether planned or not) CAN [increase economic mobility. …] Opportunities for upward mobility still do exist in this country, but most in the underclass are unaware.

        While I agree (and Piketty makes this point at length), increasing economic mobility is not my main concern–morality and sustainability are. (And, just as an aside, I must say that this subject is to me a secondary political concern compared to anthropogenic environmental destruction. Unfortunately, it’s probably related.) Unless I’m missing something, it is non sequitur for one moral subject to say to another, “I can exploit you mercilessly as long as you have opportunities for advancement.” Just to take one occupation as an example, it’s not right to pay farmworkers as little as we possibly can (which for 70 years has been a main goal of US immigration policy), nor is it economically sustainable to rely on imported labor to do this work.

        @matloff 21:17 UTC 2 Dec 2014: even the pro-immigration activists freely admit that there should be limits; it is only a matter of where to draw the line.

        Yeah, except they never seem to draw 🙂

        @matloff 21:17 UTC 2 Dec 2014: if legality is all that bothers someone, then just make all the [illegals] legal, and we’ve solved the problem, right?

        No: there’s still that old problem of (labor) supply and (housing) demand. I should know these figures better, and correct me where wrong, but I seem to recall, of the current US labor force, ~25 million are non-citizens, and approximately half are working illegally. If all the non-citizen workers were legal, that would definitely reduce the downward pressure on labor compensation (by improving their ability to resist, e.g., wage theft) and on housing quality (by improving their ability to, e.g., punish slumlords). But those improvements would (I suspect, and this is substantially an empirical question) still be dominated by the destructive pressure of 25 million additional labor providers and housing demanders in current US markets. And my position is, the US could not afford mass incarceration, imperial adventure, and police violence without mass underclass importation–am I missing something?

        @matloff 21:17 UTC 2 Dec 2014: You mention the Latino underclass, but most of them are natives

        Since apparently I have not made this clear: my pro-nativist project is not an ethnic project. If “you’ve been here” or are here legally, you count as native whether you’re (originally) Ghanaian, Hispanic, Iroquois, Japanese, or [your demonym here/]. (Extra points for aboriginal Americans–I like the Canadian term “first nations,” “Native American” being unclear in this context–since indigeneity counts.[1]) Conversely, if you’ve not yet migrated, or have migrated illegally, you face a strong (but rebuttable) presumption that you should excluded from the US labor market, in its current condition.

        @matloff 21:17 UTC 2 Dec 2014: As to why the “NPR set” supports expansive immigration policies, it’s quite simple: To them, if you’re a liberal, you’re pro-immigration. They’ve never thought it through

        While I agree that ideological confusion plays some role here, truly it is said among my people[2], vulgar Marxism explains 90% of human activity. Hence it’s worth pointing out that “the NPR set,” mostly college-educated white “liberals” (in the US sense of the term), are mostly (though probably decreasingly) in the upper half of the income and wealth distributions. They extensively employ underclass labor, in- or directly, yet are not so rich as to be unconcerned with its cost. Furthermore, this segment of the income distribution traditionally contains (though they may not be liberal 🙂 the small-landlord class. Your academic experience obviously differs from mine, yet I suspect many of your faculty colleagues own rental property–it’s a traditional way for middle-class strivers to “climb the ladder.” There are certainly other (unfortunately more complex) reasons why “the NPR set” prefers an imported underclass, but IMHO economic advantage probably dominates. (But again, this is an empirical question, which deserves “real data” rather than my phenomenological hand-waving.)

        [1]: “And extra points for Portuguese,” my grandparents would want me to say 🙂
        [2]: In the given formulation, by the great New York journalist Robert Fitch.

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      • @matloff 21:17 UTC 2 Dec 2014: the [left] point of view would arguably be a restrictionist one, due to the impact of immigration on the underclass (not to mention due to adverse effects on the environment, importation of racist/sexist views and so on). I’ve written about this in a long 1996 article in The Public Interest, titled “How Immigration Harms Minorities.”[1]

        Good article! Too bad it had to be published by Irving Kristol 😦 I like the IDM term (“immigrant-dominated minorities”): I suspect there are interesting differences in the economic dynamics of non- and IDM populations. In case you do a “20 years later” version for the 2016 campaign, 3 things I’d like to see added:

        1. remittances. You rightly criticize arguments from claimed expansionary effects of immigration (though you use the term “consumerism” where I would say merely “consumption”). Such claims seem esp weak wherever there are remittances, which obviously deflate spending multipliers.

        2. affordable housing. This issue would seem especially resonant in the Bay Area!

        3. references: e.g., endnotes.

        [1]: http://heather.cs.ucdavis.edu/pub/Immigration/EffOnMinorities/PublicInterest.html and http://www.nationalaffairs.com/doclib/20080709_19961246howimmigrationharmsminoritiesnormanmatloff.pdf

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        • Yes, it’s amazing how few people realize that the hyperinflated housing prices in the Bay Area are due to a combination of immigration, limited land supply and the presence of a fairly large number of two-professional-income families. Hey, fine by me, I bought in 1987 🙂 but it’s absurd for young families.

          You make a good point about remittances, but it’s even more than that. Consider immigrants of nationality X. They tend to buy those houses from X-ian real estate agents, secure insurance from X-ian insurance agents, buy cars from X-ian sales people, patronize X-ian doctors, dentists and lawyers, buy much or most of their groceries at the X-ian supermarkets and so on. So even their consumerism/consumption is largely limited to second- or third-order effects on the economy at large.

          For the record, my article was handled by Nathan Glazer, not Irving Kristol. 🙂

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          • I’m really glad you brought up limited land supply. Even CNN is reporting that CA alone needs 11 trillion gallons of water to get us out of a drought. Even if all immigrants coming in were smarter than Einstein, they still need to eat… and so do you.

            Our immigration and H1B systems are not at all sustainable, both our legal and illegal immigration rates are way too high.

            My wife is a STEM worker (a nurse) and as much as I love her, there is no way she should have gotten preference over an American worker. The only reason she was hired was because she could legally be paid 5% less. I believe this loophole closed eventually.

            I’ve lived in Seoul with my wife, and it is *crowded*. Coming back to the US, SF felt like a sleepy cow town.

            I tell everyone I can about the Rule of 70 as a quick and dirty way to calculate population growth. At only 5% growth, it will take only 14 years to double because 70 divided by 5 = 14. At 10% growth it would take only 7 years because 70 divided by 10 = 7.

            I’ve gone to one of Rep. Garamendi’s town hall meetings and he runs on the platform of “Make it in America” and water storage, yet even with me (poorly because I was nervous) explaining things, he still couldn’t seem to connect the dots.

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          • I’ve tried to make an appointment with Garamendi, who until recently was my congressperson, but could not do so.

            Water is finite. So is radio frequency bandwidth and so on. These are indeed zero-sum games, in spite of what the advocates like to claim.

            Yes, there used to be a rule saying one could pay 5% under prevailing wage. But prevailing wage is a lowball figure anyway.

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  4. Clark’s article is one of obvious scholarship, but also one that totally misses the point. The host country “invites” these guests precisely to maintain an underclass to perform work at low cost. They are not subject to The American Dream. And many of them do not *wish* to be subject to The American Dream – btw, most of these illegal Hispanics are Americans, too. They have their own dreams, come to the USA only for work. Clark does not appear to be pointing this out, nor even recognizing it, he seems to suggest it is a bad thing all around that needs fixing. Maybe we need to force all illegals (and already this sentence is ridiculous) take a Tony Robbins class.

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    • I was informed today that Clark seems to be unaware of the work by Trejo, who found that later-generation Latinos marry non-Latinos and the kids don’t identify at Latino. If these outmarriers tend to be the better educated, then Clark’s data is misleading.

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  5. Professor Clark makes an important and – in my view – very valid observation about the challenge to assimilation with the current size and composition of the immigrant population. I disagree with his idea of opening the door more widely to educated immigrants from Latin America to balance the enormous number of poorly educated immigrants from that area that results to a large extent from illegal immigration. Rather, immigration reform must deal better with excluding those who do not enter legally. Immigration reform must also do a better job of selecting those who bring with them the human capital to succeed. That is true as well to some extent for the selection of refugees.

    Professor Clark’s observation about assimilation and why it Is not working well at present is similar to the thesis Lawrence Harrison argues in his new book, “Jews, Confucians, and Protestants: Cultural Capital and the End of Multiculturalism.” (http://www.amazon.com/Jews-Confucians-Protestants-Cultural-Multiculturalism/dp/1442219637) He analyzes the relationship of culture – with religion a key component of culture – to economic and social development of nations and also its implication for assimilation of immigrants to the United States from different cultures.

    Of course, all those growing up in a given culture are not bound by that culture, so there are always exceptional individuals – and those we should welcome whether they come as refugees, intellectuals, or highly skilled and innovative workers. But, we also need to heed the experience of a century ago when the size of the immigrant population grew so large that the assimilation process was seen to have broken down and led to restrictive immigration. Immigration reform should restore moderation to the flow of newcomers.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s cultural, and, as might be expected, a result of cultural history. Mexico and Central America (don’t know aobut South) have had a more rigid class structure, and odd (to US citizens) educational history. They had the class hierarchy going to some extent before the conquistadors. The priests wanted to convert them all, and as part of that, wanted to “educate them to the one true religion”, so they set up schools, and some of the criollos (descendants of Spanish and Portuguese) were able to advance from that. The mestizos and Amerindians and Chinese weren’t given that chance. They were locked down. Education, for them, was not a path upward and onward… for hundreds of years.

    The process of gaining independence from Spain, and then from Europe, and then the repeated turn-overs in a drawn-out revolution (or series of revolutions) didn’t change those incentive structures. The settling down in Mexico about 1914-1917 improved it only slightly.

    So, yes, I’m not surprised that many (not all) from those cultures don’t see education as rewarding, don’t especially try, resent compulsory education as a drain from what they see as more promising alternatives, and, as a result, few do get ahead… those few who (by whatever causes) discover that excelling academically can have its rewards.

    OTOH, the backers of open borders and “infinite H-1B visas” use “best and brightest”, “high skill”, “talent shortage” in their lobbying efforts, while striving to quash so much as discussion of efforts at setting and enforcing any standards of intelligence, knowledge, skill levels, etc., or even a clean background (WRT property takings and violence, and perhaps other ethical considerations). Part of it is legit; few have any idea of how to develop such a set of reasonable, objective standards, and proper background investigations would mean costs in time and money (including compensation for competent people to do the investigating), that they would rather not have to pay.

    Past efforts, more or less haphazard, to sort applicants for visas have done moderately well on the blatant disease front, but have blocked people who would have been positive additions, and admitted nefarious people (assassins, bombers, gangsters). The record with refugees is only more remarkable because of the extremes.

    I think we need to break through that resistance (especially in the mass media) to talking about and debating such standards. But our reach into the public’s awareness has been limited to a few sub-issues of this cluster, and limited in the numbers reached. Not enough people to break through the resistance and cause it to be openly discussed. Laura Ingraham’s remarks on the air as I type remind me that she is an exception.

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  7. Regarding reduced upward mobility of low income families in the Bay Area, I’ll add this to the discussion:

    I’m a chip designer. I’ve worked in Silicon Valley for the last 17 years.

    In the nineties, it was not uncommon to see people from poorer Latino or Native American backgrounds work in Silicon Valley on the test floor, as mask designers and as technicians. These jobs required only a high school education or a two year technical certificate.

    You never see this now.

    My impression is that Latinos and other poorer American born minorities are avoiding the tech sector because they know that employment in the area is highly unstable.

    I particularly noticed a significant drop of younger Latinos entering the tech sector right about the time that the H-1B quota was dramatically increased in the early 2000s.

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    • Lately Prof. Ron Hira has correctly been pointing out that the tech fields used to be educated young minorities’ tickets to the middle class, a path now largely blocked by H-1B. Sadly, though, Ron seems to be getting no traction on this important point. No one cares.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Immigrant groups that have eventually thrived haven t always done so in their first wave and have taken many generations

    I m thinking especially of the Chinese and the Jews
    whose first representatives were laborers and essentially farmers respectively
    and who were seemingly boosted in later generations by subsequent waves of already middle class members or professionals of their same ethnicity

    The Irish on the other hand advanced
    perhaps still to a lesser degree
    without such assistance but it took a while

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    • In the case of the Jews, Clark cited having been “an educated elite in their home societies.” I don’t think he is describing it quite right, but the point is that the early Jewish immigrants to the U.S. valued intellectual pursuits even if they didn’t have a lot of formal education. The early Chinese immigrants also had a respect for education, a similar (though slightly different) trait. Clark’s point is that today’s Latino immigrants don’t seem to have the same view (but note the Trejo research).

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  9. Here’s an interesting recent article in USA Today, showing that universities are graduating Latino and African American STEM grads, but that only about half of these grads are being hired by STEM employers:

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/10/12/silicon-valley-diversity-tech-hiring-computer-science-graduates-african-american-hispanic/14684211/

    Quoting from the article:

    “On average, just 2% of technology workers at seven Silicon Valley companies that have released staffing numbers are black; 3% are Hispanic.

    “But last year, 4.5% of all new recipients of bachelor’s degrees in computer science or computer engineering from prestigious research universities were African American, and 6.5% were Hispanic, according to data from the Computing Research Association.

    “The USA TODAY analysis was based on the association’s annual Taulbee Survey, which includes 179 U.S. and Canadian universities that offer doctorates in computer science and computer engineering.

    “”They’re reporting 2% and 3%, and we’re looking at graduation numbers (for African Americans and Hispanics) that are maybe twice that,” said Stuart Zweben, professor of computer science and engineering at The Ohio State University in Columbus.”

    In short, Latinos and Blacks are training for STEM careers, and graduating, but less than half of them are being hired into STEM jobs.

    The AFL/CIO and the bureau of labor statistics has published similar results for some time.

    So, what does Facebook, one of the companies that heavily lobbies for more H1B visas, have to say about this?

    Quoting Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook:

    “We are not going to fix the numbers for under-representation in technology or any industry until we fix our education system,” she said.”

    Perhaps someone should tell Sheryl that the problem is not our education system, but one that lies closer to home.

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