Ron Unz, Then and Now

If you live in California and follow politics, you may recall Ron Unz,  who became politically prominent in 1994. That year he challenged Republican incumbent governor Pete Wilson, who was championing the ballot initiative Proposition 187, which sought to ban unauthorized immigrants from access to state services such as K-12 education. Unz disagreed, and campaigned vigorously against the measure. Unz lost the primary election, of course, but managed to garner more than 700,000 votes, amazing for someone with essentially zero prior name recognition. (Prop. 187 passed, but was immediately challenged in federal court, and Wilson declined to mount a real defense of it.)

Unz is a libertarian, a philosophy whose adherents tend to interpret as meaning very liberal immigration policies. Some even advocate completely open borders. At a conference at Stanford in 1996, I recall Unz speaking with an academic (can’t remember the name), a fellow libertarian. Unz said, “Illegal immigrants are fine…” and the academic finished his sentence for him “…because they don’t use welfare!” They had a good laugh over that, which I found disturbing.

Then in 1998, Unz launched a ballot initiative, Prop. 227, to greatly curtail bilingual education. Note that this does not refer to something like Spanish Immersion Programs, but instead to the then-practice of keeping Spanish-speaking kids in classes that were close to Spanish-only for many years. This measure did pass, but in the process Unz went from a hero to a goat among Latino community activists.

In promoting his language initiative, Unz emphasized that he was still highly pro-immigration. And regarding H-1B, he was strongly in favor of it (he is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur). In fact, I was one of Unz’s debate opponents in a panel discussion on H-1B at that Stanford conference.  I don’t know what his present stance on the issue is.

Currently Unz is running in the California primary election to replace retiring senator Barbara Boxer. He says his primary motivation is to preserve Prop. 227, which the legislature has been trying to overturn.

But his stance on immigration has changed radically. He is now in favor of tightening immigration, both legal and illegal. Interestingly, this morning’s California Report, in reporting on a debate between the major Senate candidates in San Diego, noted that Unz advocated  reducing immigration as an alternative to raising the minimum wage. Citing supply-and-demand principles, he said that reducing immigration would reduce labor supply at the low end, thus raising wages without legislating a wage floor directly.

It would be interesting to know whether this change is yet another example of how Trump, for better or worse, is changing the conversation on immigration.

By the way, those who advocate both maintaining/increasing yearly immigration levels AND raising the minimum wage are missing the economics of things, as far as I can see. Something’s got to give in such a scenario. Presumably the results would be higher unemployment, fewer benefits, more abuse from employers and so on.


10 thoughts on “Ron Unz, Then and Now

  1. Here is Unz’s stand on immigration (well worth a full read):
    Solving Our Immigration Problems
    Immigrants are generally fine people, but immigration is too high, causing our society all sorts of problems. As a U.S. Senator, I would propose cutting legal immigration and drastically reducing illegal immigration.

    I don’t know how deeply interrelated The Unz Report is with Ron Unz, but the former features columnists who are strongly critical of the H-1B program…


  2. One thing I do not understand is why nobody is discussing the finite job market that exists in America.

    As you can see, we have had virtually zero increases in the quantity of jobs in America since 2007.

    One thing that troubles me is I have read enough credible articles to now realize that the quantity of jobs in recent years may not be single job holders, but people trying to survive by working multiple jobs.

    If that is the case, and I have no way to prove it at the current time, the quantity of jobs in America may be substantially lower than the quantity shown on the chart.

    And if that is the case, swamping the labor market using non immigrant guest workers and illegal immigrants forces out the older and less credentialed workers which is where we are at now.


  3. Possibly relevant, in a different sphere Ron Unz is leading the “Fair Harvard, Free Harvard” slate in this year’s election for the Harvard Board of Overseers, making for the most interesting election in quite some time. (I won’t try to describe the issues here.)


  4. In CA, you are going to have the perfect storm. Supposedly this $15 minimum wage will help lower-end folks. It will not do much because it will encourage employers to automate, but I digress. What it WILL do is attract a shitstorm of illegals to get those $15/hour jobs. What about the locals? Well, they will end up with a smaller proportion of low-end jobs, and the employers will find a lot of ways to go off-book and pay illegals under that table. So, all you black folks changing sheets in Bakersfield, your jobs are at risk.


  5. Do I remember Incorrectly that the 227 ballot initiative,
    once passed, greatly benefitted a Ron Unz business?

    I do remember standing with a small group at a reception in Arlington, VA
    wherein some people there, not Californians, were really impressed with the
    democracy represented by the California ballot / initiative process. I lived in California during
    the run up to Prop 13 ( strict control of property tax increases) and the initiative
    to get the Lottery approved with Scratch off tickets. Unz eagerly joined me in pointing out that the
    sponsors of the initiatives were Big Winners if the initiatives passed. (Jarvis and Gann were apartment owners, big time, or represented the owners) and the
    makers of gambling Scratch Off tickets essentially sponsored the
    Lottery initiative.
    Ron Unz’s total acknowledgement, eager acknowledgement, that
    the ballot process is usually done by someone who really stands to bag a lot of cash.
    And who has a lot of cash to get said initiative on the ballot/ lots of signatures are required
    and almost always professional gatherers of signatures must be hired
    if one wishes to make the minimum signature count.


  6. I’ve been following Ron Unz for awhile, and of course I’m a Steve Sailer junkie, his blog was recently moved over to Unz’s domain. His change on immigration issues has been drastic, but it hasn’t been recent.


  7. I would like to know how U.S. schools functioned — linguistically — in the pre-1924 days, when there was a huge influx of Eastern European immigrants. After the 1924 immigration reform cut that way back, the tide of foreign-speaking persons was cut back, until the tide began rising again in the 1980’s. So how did schools in the early 20th century operate in the U.S.? Were there “immersion programs” or ESL programs, or were foreign children simply thrown “into the deep end of the pool” and expected to learn English ASAP? What role did immigrant parents play then, versus now? I think there’s the makings of a good book here, comparing the past 150 years or so, and noting law, trends, immigration patterns, language issues, etc.


    • There is an even better comparison available right now: Chinese immigrant children thrive in U.S. schools, in spite of the fact that most of them don’t have bilingual education. Linguistically, the difference between Chinese and English is far greater than the one between Spanish and English, yet we are told that the Latino kids “need” bilingual education while apparently the Chinese kids don’t.
      (Ironically, the court decision mandating schools to give some help — not necessarily bilingual education — to ESL kids was filed on behalf of Chinese students.)


  8. I watched only about 20 minutes of the recent Senate candidates debate, and I did hear Unz say that legal immigration was too high, which was music to my ears. Even though I didn’t watch the whole thing, the only candidate who impressed me was Unz, because he was the only one on the stage who seems to be doing anything other than just mouthing pre-tested pablum platitudes. (Kamala Harris seemed to be especially good at that.)

    I hope that somehow, someone like Norm can box him in at some point, and get his to give clear answers regarding his current positions, in particular with respect to H1-B.


  9. Ron Unz is also leading the “Fair Harvard, Free Harvard” slate in the most interesting Harvard Board of Overseers election in many years. I won’t try to describe the election or his positions here, except to note one major aspect possibly related to issues discussed in this blog is:
    ” There is also strong evidence that Harvard has a system of ‘Asian Quotas’ just like the ‘Jewish Quotas’ of the 1920s.
    Racial discrimination against Asian-American students has no place at Harvard University.”

    (The Jewish quota was a cap, not a minimum, of 15%.)


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