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Archive for the ‘Immigration’ Category

When non-libertarian audiences ask my opinion about immigration, I generally point out that it is a very good sign that so many people want to come to the United States.

Almost everyone agrees with that statement, but that doesn’t put them in the pro-immigration camp. Instead, I find that many people have a “what’s in it for us” attitude.

  1. They like the underlying concept of programs such as the EB-5 visa that attract immigrants with money, and they are broadly sympathetic to immigrants with skills and education. At the risk of over-simplifying, they want immigrants who won’t rely on handouts and they like immigrants who presumably will increase the nation’s per-capita GDP (and there certainly is strong evidence that this happens).
  2. They’re skeptical of mass immigration by people with low incomes. This is mostly because they fear such migrants will impose higher costs on taxpayers, though Republican types also seem motivated by concerns about future voting patterns. The notable exception to this pattern is that business audiences are somewhat sympathetic to mass migration because they believe labor costs will fall.

When I deal with people in category #2, I sometimes ask them about Tyler Cowen’s idea of allowing limitless migration from nations with bigger welfare states. After all, I doubt people such as “Lazy Robert” will move from Denmark to the United States.

But what about poor people from poor nations? Would they like to migrate to rich nations to get handouts, rather than for economic opportunity?

Taxpayers in many nations are worried about that possibility and are not very welcoming to immigrants who will collect benefits.

Indeed, that’s motivated the Trump Administration to consider tightening rules for who gets in the country.

The Trump administration announced long-awaited “public charge” immigration regulations this week, and the furor immediately kicked up to derangement level. …But immigration regulation of this sort has been a part of our laws for more than a century…the 1882 act declared that “any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge…shall not be permitted to land.” …The 1952 revisions to immigration law maintained the idea that the government may exclude “paupers, professional beggars, or vagrants” and those who are “are likely at any time to become public charges.” …In 1996, Congress strengthened the public charge provisions…why would anyone call the Trump administration’s interpretation “un-American?” …the regulations—which do not apply to refugees, asylum-seekers, and various other groups—propose guidance to determine if an immigrant would be likely to use the welfare system for more than 12 months during a three-year period.

But it’s not just a controversy in the United States.

Taxpayers in the Netherlands, for instance, are becoming less tolerant of immigrants who want handouts rather than work.

Non-Western immigrants and their descendants also depend on welfare to a much greater extent than the native Dutch. They are half of all welfare recipients but only 11% of the total population. Among recent Somali refugees granted asylum, 80% are on welfare. Holland is truly a welfare state, and the Dutch are proud of it. …This type of open and yet highly regulated society can function only if it is carried by a disciplined and well-educated citizenry… That is what the fuss is about. To put it in abstract terms: Can a welfare state become an immigration state? You know the answer: A welfare state with open borders will one day run out of money.

I can’t imagine that stories like this make German taxpayers happy.

As early as 2016, German newspapers have been reporting on migrants with recognized refugee status having holidays in countries that they “fled,” such as Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Syria. Because Hartz IV, the welfare system that certain migrants granted refugee status receive, permits 21 days per year of “local absence,” those who have recognized refugee status and have no income or assets simply leave Germany for vacation and continue to receive money from German taxpayers.

There are also concerns that welfare spending hinders economic integration and independence in Sweden.

…only 20 percent of the Somali immigrants in Sweden have jobs, according to a report released on Monday by the government’s Commission… In an opinion article published in the Expressen newspaper, the author of the report, Benny Carlsson of Lund University, explained that Sweden would be well served to let community-based organizations do more…rather than relying on public agencies… Carlsson explained that…Sweden’s rigid labour market and labour protection laws also create “higher risks” for employees which amount to “higher thresholds” for Somali jobseekers. …Carlsson also cited Sweden’s social safety net which “lets people live at a decent level even if they don’t work, while the same can’t be said of the United States”.

Speaking of Sweden, stories of welfare dependency help to explain this report in the New York Times.

…four years after the influx, growing numbers of native-born Swedes have come to see the refugees as a drain on public finances. …Antipathy for immigrants now threatens to erode support for Sweden’s social welfare state. “People don’t want to pay taxes to support people who don’t work,” says Urban Pettersson, 62, a member of the local council here in Filipstad, a town set in lake country west of Stockholm. “Ninety percent of the refugees don’t contribute to society. These people are going to have a lifelong dependence on social welfare. This is a huge problem.” …Under the Nordic model, governments typically furnish health care, education and pensions to everyone. The state delivers subsidized housing and child care. When people lose jobs, they gain unemployment benefits… But the endurance of the Nordic model has long depended on two crucial elements — the public’s willingness to pay some of the highest taxes on earth, and the understanding that everyone is supposed to work. …Sweden’s sharp influx of immigrants — the largest of any European nation, as a share of the overall population — directly tests this proposition. …The unemployment rate was only 3.8 percent among the Swedish-born populace last year, but 15 percent among foreign-born… Roughly half of all jobless people in Sweden were foreign-born. …these sorts of numbers are cited as evidence that refugees have flocked here to enjoy lives of state-financed sloth. …The average refugee in Sweden receives about 74,000 Swedish kronor (about $7,800) more in government services than they pay into the system, Joakim Ruist, an economist at the University of Gothenburg, concluded in a report released last year and commissioned by the Ministry of Finance. Over all, the cost of social programs for refugees runs about 1 percent of Sweden’s annual national economic output

But is it true that migrants are looking for handouts? Are the afore-cited stories just random anecdotes, or do they suggest some countries are “welfare magnets”?

I’ve already shared some evidence that welfare recipients inside the United States gravitate to places that provide bigger benefits.

And this seems to be the case for migrants that cross national borders. Here are some findings from some new academic research showing that the generosity of Denmark’s welfare state has a significant impact on migration choices.

We study the effects of welfare generosity on international migration using a series of large changes in welfare benefits for immigrants in Denmark. The first change, implemented in 2002,lowered benefits for immigrants from outside the EU by about 50%, with no changes for natives or immigrants from inside the EU. The policy was later repealed and re-introduced. The differential treatment of immigrants from inside and outside the EU, and of different types of non-EU immigrants, allows for a quasi-experimental research design. We find sizeable effects:the benefit reduction reduced the net flow of immigrants by about 5,000 people per year, or 3.7percent of the stock of treated immigrants, and the subsequent repeal of the policy reversed the effect almost exactly. Our study provides some of the first causal evidence on the widely debated “welfare magnet” hypothesis. …our evidence implies that, conditional on moving, the generosity of the welfare system is important for destination choices.

Here’s the relevant graph from the study, based on two different ways of slicing the data.

As you can see from the red lines, migration fell when benefits were reduced, then immediately jumped when benefits were increased, and then immediately fell again when they were again lowered.

For what it’s worth, scholars believe that support for the welfare state in Europe is declining for these reasons. Taxpayers are tolerant of subsidizing their long-time neighbors, but are much less sympathetic when giving away money to newcomers.

From my perspective, the solution is obvious. I generally like immigration and generally don’t like redistribution.

So why not reduce benefits, ideally for everyone, but just to migrants if that’s the only possible outcome. That way nations are more likely to attract people (especially from low-income societies) who are seeking economic opportunity.

P.S. If you want to enjoy some immigration-related humor, we have a video about Americans migrating to Peru and a story about American leftists escaping to Canada.

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Although I gave him a good grade for his first 100 days, it’s no secret that I’m not overly optimistic about the long-term policy implications of the Trump presidency. Simply stated, I fear he’ll wind up being a big-government Republican like Bush (either one) or Nixon rather than a small-government Republican like Reagan or Coolidge.

I’ve specifically complained about Trump’s approach to entitlements, his support for protectionism, his proposed childcare subsidies, and that’s just a partial list of his statist policies.

I mention all these things because I’m about to defend the President’s extended family for the practice of “selling” American citizenship and I don’t want anyone to accuse me of being a shill for Trump.

You will get a good grasp of the controversy if you read this editorial in the New York Times. Here are the key passages.

The Kushner family…has been highlighting its White House connections to entice wealthy Chinese investors and promising them green cards in return under a special government visa program. …it’s also a scandal that Congress allows real estate developers to use the American immigration system to pad their profits. …Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and special adviser…. His sister Nicole Meyer was in Beijing and Shanghai this past weekend seeking investors for a luxury apartment project her family is developing… Her sales pitch cited her brother and laid out how a $500,000 investment could provide a coveted path to American citizenship. …Ms. Meyer’s disturbing investor pitch was made possible by the EB-5 investor visa, which opens an express lane into the United States for those who can afford to invest nearly 10 times what the median American household earns in a year. …Under the program, investors have to put at least $1 million, and it has to lead to creation or preservation of at least 10 permanent, full-time jobs. But the minimum investment drops to $500,000 if applicants invest in rural areas or places with elevated unemployment.

I don’t agree with the tone, but this is an accurate description of the program. The EB-5 program is a part of America’s immigration system and it is explicitly designed to lure job-creating investment to the U.S. economy.

Yes, it’s poorly designed and presumably should be improved.

But the underlying concept is good. If we want more prosperity, America should join in the competition to attract economically successful migrants.

After all, many immigrant groups are unambiguously good for the American economy, increasing our per-capita GDP.

The EB-5 program creates a pathway for those people, and the Kushner family is simply showing them that investing in commercial real estate is one of their options.

I don’t understand why some people think this is a bad thing. All things being equal, I’d rather have rich immigrants than poor immigrants.

That’s why I defended Governor Scott Walker when he was attacked for wanting some of these people investing in Wisconsin. And that’s why today I’m defending the Kushners. I want America to become more prosperous.

Yet this rational policy rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Including some lawmakers.

Senators Grassley (R-IA) and Feinstein (D-CA), the Chair and Ranking Committee members of the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced bill S. 232 to terminate the EB-5 Visa Program.

Critics tend to make three arguments.

  • They don’t like rich people benefiting – My response is that don’t care that wealthy foreigners benefit or that wealthy American developers benefit. My goal is more growth for ordinary people, and that’s what we get with rich and/or high-skilled immigrants.
  • They are upset about favoritism – I agree that the current EB-5 system is too complicated and vulnerable to cronyism, but the solution is to copy the nations cited below by creating very simple rules allowing rich foreigners to move to America and make investments.
  • They worry about bad people getting visas – There already are fairly onerous rules designed to prevent crooks, terrorists, and other bad guys from sneaking into the U.S. by obtaining an EB-5 visa. There’s no evidence that the current system is inadequate.

To elaborate, let’s focus on the first argument dealing with economic benefits. There is considerable research showing that ordinary people benefit when high-skilled and/or high-net-worth individuals can migrate to their nations.

Here are some excerpts from a recent study by the World Bank.

The number of migrants with a tertiary degree rose nearly 130 percent from 1990 to 2010… A pattern is emerging in which these high‐skilled migrants are departing from a broader range of countries and heading to a narrower range of countries—in particular, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. …For recipient countries, high‐skilled immigration is often linked to clusters of technology and knowledge production that are certainly important for local economies and are plausibly important at the national level. More than half of the high‐ skilled technology workers and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are foreign‐born. For native workers, high‐skilled immigration means…a chance to benefit from the complementarities and agglomeration effects created by talent clusters.

And here are some additional finding from the same authors in research published by the Bank of Finland.

…many countries are launching new policies to attract high-skilled migrants. Examples include the United Kingdom’s introduction of a points-based immigration system under Tony Blair’s government and its recent programs to attract the “brightest and best” innovators and entrepreneurs. The Netherlands introduced a new “Expatcenter Procedure,” which is an entry procedure designed for “knowledge migrants.” Competing programs pop up with regular frequency—in short, the doors seem to be opening ever wider for high-skilled migrants…the four Anglo-Saxon countries that attract the highest proportions of high-skilled migrants—Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand—implement points-based systems to varying degrees… high-skilled migrants boost innovation and productivity outcomes. …longer time horizons tend to show greater gains.

Here’s a map from the study.

Last but not least, let’s look at two small nations that have reaped big benefits from their economic citizenship programs.

Starting with Cyprus, as reported by Bloomberg.

…foreigners can become citizens in less than six months in exchange for investing at least 2 million euros ($2.2 million) in Cyprus property or 2.5 million euros in government bonds or companies. Since then, the nation has issued about 2,000 passports, Finance Minister Harris Georgiades said in an interview in Nicosia last month. About half have gone to Russians, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers and other consultants who guide clients through the process. The impact has been profound, sparking about 4 billion euros of foreign investment last year — equivalent to almost a quarter of the island’s annual economic output.

And also in Malta, according to Politico.

Malta has earned €310 million through the sale of EU passports… Justice Minister Owen Bonnici confirmed the figure during a parliamentary debate on the small island’s budget for next year, local media reported. …more than 700 individuals have obtained passports since 2014 in exchange for property investments and cash donations to the government

One final point, as seen in data on top inventors and entrepreneurs, is that super-skilled people want to migrate to places with good tax policy.

P.S. Here’s another pro-immigration policy that would have universal support in a sensible world.

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Whenever mass shootings occur, some people quickly jump to conclusions before there’s any evidence.

Folks on the right are occasionally guilty of immediately assuming Islamic terrorism, which is somewhat understandable. Folks on the left, meanwhile, are sometimes guilty of instinctively assuming Tea Party-inspired violence (I’m not joking).

I confess that I’m prone to do something similar. Whenever there is a terrorist attack, I automatically wonder if we’ll find out welfare payments and other goodies from the government helped subsidize the evil actions.

In my defense, there’s a reason I think this way. Whether we’re talking about Jihadi John or the Tsarnaev brothers, there are lots of examples of dirtbag terrorists getting handouts from taxpayers.

It happens a lot in other nations. And it’s now happening with disturbing frequency in the United States.

It’s even gotten to the point where I’ve created a special terror wing in the Moocher Hall of Fame. And, as more evidence accumulates, the medieval savage who drove a truck through a Christmas market in Germany may be eligible for membership.

Here’s some of what we know, as reported by the Daily Caller.

Berlin truck attack terrorist Anis Amri used several different identities to claim multiple welfare checks simultaneously in different cities around Germany. Amri, the Tunisian refugee who killed 12 and injured 48 at a Christmas market in Berlin Dec. 19… The investigation was closed in November because Amri’s whereabouts were unknown. …Welfare is a common way for terrorists to fund their activities in Europe.

The U.K.-based Express reveals that the terrorist was very proficient at ripping off taxpayers before deciding to kill them.

Despite being shot dead in Italy just days after the attack, the Tunisian refugee is now under investigation for fraud after conning German authorities into handing over cash to fund his terror exploits. After travelling from Tunisia to Europe in 2011, he used up to eight different aliases and several different nationalities – at times even claiming to be from Egypt or Lebanon. Reports claim Amri carried several different false identity documents and used aliases to collect welfare in cities across Germany.

The story also has details on how welfare payments subsidized previous terrorist actions.

Welfare fraud was key to funding terror attacks in Brussels in March and in Paris last year. Terrorists collected around £45,000 in benefits which they used to pay for the brutal attacks in the major European cities. …Meanwhile, Danish authorities came under fire recently after it emerged 36 Islamic State fighters continued to receive benefits for months after leaving the country to join other members of the brutal regime in Syria and Iraq.

And while I’m not sure RT is a legitimate news source, it says Amri used 14 identities for mooching.

Anis Amri, the Tunisian man accused of driving a truck into a crowd of Christmas market shoppers in Berlin, used at least 14 different identities, a German police chief said. …Among other things, this allowed the man to receive social benefits under different names in different municipalities, the police chief said.

A close associate (and suspected co-conspirator) of Amri also was mooching off the system according to news reports.

A spokeswoman for the office of Germany’s chief prosecutor on Wednesday said authorities have taken a second Tunisian suspect into custody following raids in Berlin on Tuesday. …However, she added that there was insufficient evidence to charge the suspect. In a separate statement, the federal prosecutor’s office announced the man had been charged with committing social welfare fraud and would remain in custody. …the suspect had previously been detained on suspicion of supplying explosives intended for a prospective attack in Dusseldorf. …The 26-year-old suspect allegedly had dinner with Amri at a restaurant the night before the attack, according to Köhler. The suspect allegedly met Amri in late 2015. “Süddeutsche Zeitung” reported that the two men traveled together from Italy to Germany that year.

Gee, sounds like a model citizen. Merkel must be proud of her caring and sharing welfare state.

Last but not least, a story in the U.K.-based Telegraph has some added details on the sordid history of welfare-funded terrorism in Europe.

The jihadists suspected of carrying out the bomb and gun attacks in Paris and Brussels used British benefits payments to fund international terrorism, a court has heard. …Zakaria Bouffassil, 26, from Birmingham is accused of handing over the cash which had been withdrawn from the bank account of Anouar Haddouchi, a Belgian national, who had been claiming benefits while living in the West Midlands with his wife. Kingston Crown Court heard how thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money continued to be paid into Haddouchi’s bank account, even after he had left Britain for Syria and had begun fighting for Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil). …On the opening day of their trial, jurors heard how some of the most notorious and wanted terrorists in Europe had used British taxpayers’ money to fund their activities in Syria and elsewhere.

Though I suppose I shouldn’t say “sordid history.” This is more like societal suicide.

After all, we’re not talking about welfare payments for a tiny fraction of terrorists. It really is a theme.

I linked to some examples above, and if you want more evidence, click here, here, here, here, and here.

By the way, I’m not claiming that welfare causes terrorism. Though I do wonder if Mickey Kaus has a point when he does make that link.

…extreme anti-social terrorist ideologies (radical Islam, in particular) seem to breed in “oppositional” cultures supported by various government welfare benefits. …The social logic is simple: Ethnic differences make it easy for those outside of, for example, French Arab neighborhoods to discriminate against those inside, and easy for those inside to resent the mainstream culture around them. Meanwhile, relatively generous welfare benefits enable those in the ethnic ghetto to stay there, stay unemployed, and seethe. Without government subsidies, they would have to overcome the prejudice against them and integrate into the mainstream working culture. Work, in this sense, is anti-terrorist medicine.

I don’t particularly like government-provided welfare of any kind, but I definitely think there should be strict rules against handouts for immigrants. And if that makes them less susceptible to terrorist ideologies, that’s a big fringe benefit.

P.S. It goes without saying that politicians aren’t trying to subsidize terrorism. It’s just a byproduct of bad policy. They do, however, explicitly and deliberately subsidize terrorism insurance for big companies. A rather unique example of corporate welfare.

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While the overall issue of immigration is highly controversial and emotional, I’ve explained before that everyone should be able to agree that it’s a very good idea to bring in people who can be expected to increase per-capita economic output.

The good news is that we have some policies designed to make this happen, including the H-1B visa for skilled workers and the EB-5 visa for job-creating investors. And if the data on median income for certain immigrant groups is any indication, we’re getting some good results.

Today, motivated in part by the fact that I’ll be participating next month in a conference in London on the topic of “economic citizenship” and therefore having to prepare for that discussion,  let’s take a closer look at the EB-5 policy and why it’s a smart approach (by the way, I’m allowed to share a few discounted registrations since I’m a speaker, so contact me if you’re interested in the London event).

To put things in context, we’ll begin by reviewing a four-author study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research that looks at the growing effort by many nations to attract highly productive and capable immigrants.

Highly skilled workers play a central and starring role in today’s knowledge economy. Talented individuals make exceptional direct contributions—including breakthrough innovations and scientific discoveries—and coordinate and guide the actions of many others, propelling the knowledge frontier and spurring economic growth. In this process, the mobility of skilled workers becomes critical to enhancing productivity. …In the 2013 World Population Policies report, 40 percent of countries reported policies to raise immigration of high-skilled workers, a large increase from 22 percent in 2005. …For recipient countries, high-skilled immigration is often linked to clusters of technology and knowledge production that are certainly important for local economies and are plausibly important at the national level. …When it comes to talented foreigners, a number of countries…implement recruiting programs. …Canada has been very active in targeting skilled migrants who are denied or frustrated by the H-1B visa system in the United States, even taking out ads on billboards in the United States to attract such migrants.

By the way, I can’t resist observing that the authors recognize that highly talented (and therefore highly compensated) people are very important for economic growth. Based on the tax policies they advocate, that’s something politicians such as Hillary Clinton have a hard time understanding. Heck, upper-income taxpayers are the ones who finance the lion’s share of big government, so you’d think leftist politicians would be slapping them on their backs rather than across their faces.

But I digress. Let’s look at what the study says about migration by those most capable of producing growth.

Observed migration flows are the result of a complex tangle of multinational firms and other employers pursuing scarce talent, governments and other gatekeepers trying to manage these flows with policies, and individuals seeking their best options given the constraints imposed upon them. …The number of migrants with a tertiary degree rose nearly 130 percent from 1990 to 2010, while low skilled (primary educated) migrants increased by only 40 percent during that time. A pattern is emerging in which these high-skilled migrants are departing from a broader range of countries and heading to a narrower range of countries—in particular, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. …More than half of the high-skilled technology workers and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are foreign-born. …host countries may end up with high concentrations of high-skilled immigrants in particular occupations. For example, immigrants account for some 57 percent of scientists residing in Switzerland, 45 percent in Australia, and 38 percent in the United States (Franzoni et al. 2012). In the United States, 27 percent of all physicians and surgeons and over 35 percent of current medical residents were foreign born in 2010. Immigrants also accounted for over 35 percent of recent enrollments in STEM fields, with very high proportions in specific areas like Electrical Engineering (70 percent), Computer Science (63 percent) and Economics (55 percent)… The global migration of inventors and the resulting concentration in a handful of countries have been particularly well documented. …the global migration rate of inventors in 2000 stood at 8.6 percent, at least 50 percent greater in share terms than the average for high-skilled workers as a whole. Figure 4 builds on WIPO global patent filings from 2001-2010. The United States has received an enormous net surplus of inventors from abroad.

The authors then consider the policies that different nations adopt in their search for GDP-enhancing immigrants.

…we then review the “gatekeepers” for global talent flows. At the government level, we compare the points-based skilled migration regimes as historically implemented by Canada and Australia with the employment-based policies used in the United States through mechanisms like the H-1B visa program. …The exceptional rise in the number of high-skilled migrants to OECD countries is the result of several forces, including increased efforts to attract them by policymakers as they recognize the central role of human capital in economic growth, positive spillovers generated by skill agglomeration, declines in transportation and communication costs, and rising pursuit of foreign education by young people. Among the resulting effects are the doubling of the share of the tertiary-educated in the labor force and fierce competition among countries hoping to attract talent. …One can explain certain aspects of current high-skilled migration patterns using this model. For example, the United States has a very wide earnings distribution and low tax levels and progressivity, especially compared to most source countries, including many high-income European countries. As a result, we can see why the United States would attract more high-skilled migrants…relative to other high-income countries.

By the way, I can’t resist making one minor correction. While we generally have lower taxes than other developed nations, we actually have a very “progressive” tax system. But US-style progressivity is the result of very low taxes on lower- and middle-income workers (no value-added tax, for instance), not unusually steep taxes on higher-income workers.

Returning to our main topic , the authors explain that developed nations either use a points-based system or an employment-based system when seeking to facilitate more high-skilled immigration.

Here’s how the the points-based system works.

Canada and Australia are prominent examples of countries that implement points-based systems for skilled migration. These programs select individuals based upon their observable education, language skills, work experience, and existing employment arrangements. …In the Canadian example, migrants need to collect 67 points across six categories. In terms of education, for example, 15 points are awarded for one-year post-secondary diploma, trade certificate or apprenticeship, compared to 25 for a doctorate degree. With regards work experience, six or more years of applicable experience receive 15 points, compared to 9 points for just one year of experience.

And here’s information on the employment-based approach, with the US being an obvious example.

The United States is the most cited example of a country that uses an employer-driven program for highskilled immigration, with the H-1B and L1 visas as primary categories (Kerr et al. 2015a). The H-1B visa allows US companies to temporarily employ skilled foreigners in “specialty occupations,” defined to be those demanding application of specialized knowledge like engineering or accounting. …Virtually all H-1B holders have a bachelor’s degree or higher and about 70% of the visas in recent years went to STEM-related occupations. India is by far the largest source country, accounting for about two-thirds of H-1B recipients in recent years. …most real-world regimes combine different features of points-based and employment-driven systems.

But the study notes that America also has a special system for bringing in ostensible superstars. Sort of a points system for the super talented.

Superstar talent rarely competes for H-1B visas, for example, but instead gains direct access to the United States through O1 temporary visas for extraordinary ability and direct green card applications of the EB-1 level for those with even more exceptional talent. …In effect, the US operates a points system for individuals with truly exceptional talents such as Nobel Prize winners, superstar athletes and musicians.

Now let’s turn the EB-5 program, which is another way that the United States seeks to attract those capable of making big economic contributions.

In part because the natural inefficiency of government creates opportunities for corruption in implementation, the EB-5 program has become very controversial. Some lawmakers even want the entire program to lapse when its authorization expires in December.

At the risk of understatement, I hope they don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The Brookings Institution notes that Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) want to impose stricter rules and micro-manage how the investment occurs.

It also raises the minimum investment amount to $800,000 within a [targeted employment area] and $1.2 million otherwise. Most important for reaching the program’s economic development goals, however, are the bill’s new rules on defining TEAs. …The bill would revise the TEA definition to include rural areas, closed military bases, or single census tracts within metro areas with an unemployment rate at 150 percent of the national average. To further increase the effect of EB-5 financing, at least 50 percent of the job creation would have to be within the metro area, or within the county in which a rural TEA is located.

The business community doesn’t object to some stricter standards, as reported by The Hill, but wants the program to remain and wants it made permanent.

A coalition of business groups is pushing Congress to permanently renew a controversial investor visa program before it expires in September. …In a letter shared with The Hill on Thursday, those groups called on lawmakers to renew the EB-5 investor visa program with bolstered security and anti-fraud checks, adjustments to highly criticized investment incentives and streamlined visa processing. “Congress must not let this important job-creating program lapse, in large measure because of the immediate negative consequences to U.S. businesses and projects counting on EB-5 investment to create jobs for Americans,” wrote the groups to the Senate and House Judiciary committees. …The EB-5 program is responsible for more than $15 billion in investment and 100,000 jobs between 2005 and 2010, the coalition says.

Ike Brannon, writing for the Weekly Standard, worries that politicians will undermine the positive impact of the program with some back-door central planning.

That EB-5 program has succeeded at its intended purpose is not in dispute: A Brookings Institution study estimated that the program has created nearly 100,000 jobs along with over $5 billion of new investment since its inception. The current EB-5 program technically consists of two different pieces: The first is the original EB-5 visa program, which Congress enacted in 1990. Its intent was to help American business compete for foreign investment with countries like Canada and Australia, which had similar investor programs in place. …The overriding intent of the program has always been about job creation, anywhere and everywhere. Senator Paul Simon, a sponsor of the original EB-5 program, took care to emphasize that its purpose was first and foremost to attract entrepreneurs and spur job creation, noting that “neither the Senate nor the House bill established any sort of criteria about the type of business investment…As long as the employment goal is met, it is unnecessary to needlessly regulate the type of business or the character of the investment.”

But politicians love the “needlessly regulate,” so the EB-5 system has lots of red tape and Ike fears it may get even more.

Congress nonetheless attempted to spur some sort of geographic balance-cum-urban development with the creation of Target Employment Areas [TEAs], which consist of areas with high unemployment rates or rural areas outside the boundary of any city or town with a population over 20,000. In a TEA, the necessary investment need only be $500,000, so long as it creates the requisite number of jobs. …The problem with a federal top-down approach of this sort is that such a constraint could limit the efficacy of the program. …imposing a new rule that restricts how states designate Targeted Employment Areas will only make EB-5 more of a political football than it already is. Creating a welter of restrictions about where such investment can and cannot go would likely dampen the economic impact of the program.

A columnist for Forbes explains why the program should continue.

The EB-5 immigration visa may be the best immigration program the U.S. has to offer. Foreign investors…are putting up a minimum of $500,000 to renew and rebuild rundown urban areas and create jobs. It’s a legal way in for the kind of immigrant, a fortunate one, that tends to contribute to the neighborhood by bringing in money and jobs. …“EB-5 has economic benefits that doesn’t stop at the five hundred thousand dollars they need to invest to participate,” says Julian Montero, a partner in the Miami law office of Arnstein & Lehr. “It’s just the beginning of a more significant investment that will be made by these families when the come here. They’re going to private schools. They’re making good income. They’re paying taxes. And most of them start other businesses once here.” …The EB-5 has become a way for developers to attract foreign capital at low, project finance-style structured interest rates because the people giving the money are getting a prize: the right to live, work and study in the United States.

Perhaps most notably, even the International Monetary Fund recognizes the advantages of this type of program.

…economic residency programs were recently launched across a wide range of (generally much larger) European countries, including Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. Almost half of EU member states now have a dedicated immigrant investor route. Also known as golden visa programs, these arrangements give investors residency rights…some advanced economies, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have had immigrant investor programs since the late 1980s or early 1990s, offering a route to citizenship in exchange for specific investment conditions… The inflows of funds to countries from these programs can be substantial, with far-reaching macroeconomic implications for nearly every sector.

The IMF article includes a helpful summary of nations that have programs to attract investors.

The bottom line is that there are many high-income and high-wealth people in the world (including the “super-entrepreneurs“) who would like to move to places that offer more stability, security, and opportunity. This creates a potential win-win situation for both the people migrating and the recipient nations.

The United States is already a big beneficiary of economic-based migration, but we could reap even greater benefits with a more sensible, streamlined, and expanded EB-5 system.

P.S. Zooming out to the broader issue of immigration and whether people want to come to the United States for the wrong reason, Professor Tyler Cowen of George Mason University has a very intriguing proposal to have open immigration with nations such as Denmark that have bigger welfare states than America.

P.P.S. Today’s column is about economic-based immigration. There’s also the issue of economic-based emigration. Sadly, the United States policy on allowing people to leave is even worse than France’s system.

P.P.P.S. If you want to enjoy some migration-related humor, we have a video about Americans emigrating to Peru and a story about American leftists escaping to Canada.

P.P.P.P.S. Remember to contact me if you’re interested in the London conference.

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As a general rule, I like immigration and I don’t like redistribution.

As such, I share the late Milton Friedman’s concern about the risks of having a welfare state combined with open borders. And based on many conversations all over the country, I think that’s a big reason why many people oppose amnesty (augmented by Republican partisans who fear, probably with some validity, that changing the political landscape of America is the real reason Senator Schumer is a big advocate of amnesty).

So how can we reap the benefits of immigration without the risk of a bigger welfare state?

In part, we should have programs designed to attract people with skills and education.

I’m a big advocate and defender, for instance, of the EB-5 program that gives a preference for foreigners who invest in America’s economy and create jobs.

And if you peruse Mark Perry’s chart, we must be doing something right. Look at all these immigrant groups that are boosting per-capita income for the United States (including people from Lebanon, home of the Princess of the Levant).

I’ve always thought far more Americans would be sympathetic to immigration if they could be convinced that people were coming to America for the right reasons – i.e., to earn money rather than mooch off taxpayers.

With that in mind, Professor Tyler Cowen of George Mason University has a Bloomberg column about Denmark that cites the great work of Nima Sanandaji about how Americans of Nordic descent have much higher incomes than the people remaining in Nordic nations. Tyler’s entire article is worth reading, but I want to focus on a quasi-open-borders proposal that he puts forth in his conclusion.

For all the anti-immigrant sentiment that is circulating at the moment, would it hurt the U.S. to have fully open borders with Denmark? It would boost American gross domestic product and probably also improve American education. History teaches that serious assimilation problems would be unlikely, especially since many Danes already speak English. Open borders wouldn’t attract Danes who want to live off welfare because the benefits are so generous at home. How’s this for a simple rule: Open borders for the residents of any democratic country with more generous transfer payments than Uncle Sam’s.

I can’t think of any reasonable objection to this idea. Everything Tyler says makes sense. People like “Lazy Robert” won’t be lining up to get plane tickets to America. Instead, we’ll get the young and aspirational Danes.

For what it’s worth, I even think he understates the case since the type of people who would migrate to America wouldn’t just boost GDP. They almost surely would do something arguably more important, which is to boost per-capita GDP.

Just think of all the productive entrepreneurs who would take the opportunity to escape over-taxed Denmark and come to the United States. Along with ambitious and skilled people from nations such as Italy, France, and Sweden (though our welfare state is very expensive, so I admit I’m just guessing at nations which would be eligible based on Tyler’s rule about “more generous transfer payments”).

By the way, Denmark apparently has learned a lesson about the risks of being a welfare magnet.

A story from Spiegel Online has the details.

Denmark’s strict immigration laws have saved the country billions in benefits, a government report has claimed. …The extremely strict laws have dramatically reduced the flow of people into Denmark in recent years, and many government figures are delighted with the outcome. “Now that we can see that it does matter who comes into the country, I have no scruples in further restricting those who one can suspect will be a burden on Denmark,” the center-right liberal integration minister, Søren Pind, told the Jyllands Postennewspaper. Pind was talking after the ministry’s report — initiated by the right-wing populist Danish People’s Party (DPP) — came to the conclusion that by tightening immigration laws, Denmark has saved €6.7 billion ($10 billion) over the last 10 years, money which otherwise would supposedly have been spent on social benefits or housing. According to the figures, migrants from non-Western countries who did manage to come to Denmark have cost the state €2.3 billion, while those from the West have actually contributed €295 million to government coffers.

Sounds like Danish lawmakers don’t want to add even more passengers to the nation’s already-overburdened “party boat.”

And who can blame them. The nation already has a crippling problem of too many people depending on government.

P.S. If you want to enjoy some immigration-related humor, we have a video about Americans migrating to Peru and a story about American leftists escaping to Canada.

P.P.S. For those interested in the issue of birthright citizenship (a.k.a. anchor babies), I’ve shared some interesting analysis from Will Wilkinson and George Will.

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Advocates of limited government favor a small public sector because more resources in the productive sector of the economy translates into faster growth, more job creation, and higher living standards.

Statists, by contrast, favor big government for two main reasons. First, many of them belong to well-connected interest groups that have their snouts in the federal trough. Second, some of them sincerely think government spending “stimulates” an economy and/or “helps” people.

I want to address the latter group of statists, most of whom are well meaning.

I’ve learned over time that such voters generally don’t pay that much attention to economic arguments.

To the extent they sometimes favor small government, it’s because they think Washington wastes money. Indeed, I suspect a majority of voters would agree with P.J. O’Rourke that “giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”

Yet many of those voters (perhaps even including some of the ones that recognize that DC is riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse) can be persuaded to support bigger government. Having engaged in thousands of conversations with such people over several decades, I think they’re motivated by a desire to be part of a society that “cares.” So, regardless of Washington’s track record of exacerbating problems rather than solving them, these folks sometimes think more government is the right approach. Like second weddings, this is a triumph of hope over experience.

Today, at the risk of jumbling my analogies, let’s try to convince such people that you don’t want a second wedding if it means you’re getting hitched to an institution that is unavoidably wasteful and incompetent.

And we have some fresh eye-popping evidence. Here are some excerpts from an exposé published by the Washington Post.

…the government has spent more than $1 billion trying to replace its antiquated approach to managing immigration with a system of digitized records, online applications and a full suite of nearly 100 electronic forms. A decade in, all that officials have to show for the effort is a single form that’s now available for online applications and a single type of fee that immigrants pay electronically. The 94 other forms can be filed only with paper.

Amazing. After 10 years and $1 billion, the net result is a total cluster-you-know-what.

…officials at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes USCIS, were aware that the project was riddled with hundreds of critical software and other defects. …Only three of the agency’s scores of immigration forms have been digitized — and two of these were taken offline after they debuted because nearly all of the software and hardware from the original system had to be junked. ..A report last year from the DHS inspector general’s office said it sometimes took up to 150 clicks for employees to navigate the system’s various complex features and open documents.

So is the incompetent contractor (IBM) getting punished? Are any of the bureaucrats in charge of the project getting fired?

Of course not. This is government! So why you waste some money, that’s merely a prelude to wasting even more money.

This project, run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was originally supposed to cost a half-billion dollars and be finished in 2013. Instead, it’s now projected to reach up to $3.1 billion and be done nearly four years from now.

By the way, the incompetence revealed in this story this is not an argument for immigration or against immigration.

My point is simply that governments have long track records of squandering other people’s money, with this story simply being another straw on the camel’s back.

Or maybe it would be better to describe it as another bit of dead weight financed by over-burdened taxpayers.

I don’t know if this will make anyone feel better, but other governments are similarly incompetent and foolish.

Here’s an example of government blundering from overseas. As reported by the UK-based Guardian, the European Commission just admitted that it has successfully process 0.00015 percent of refugees.

EU members states agreed in September to relocate 160,000 people in “clear need of international protection” through a scheme set up to relocate Syrian, Eritrean, and Iraqi refugees from the most affected EU states – such as Italy and Greece – to other EU member states. So far 116 people have been relocated, and only 1,418 places have been made available by 14 member states, according to data released on Tuesday by the European Commission.

Wow. It’s been a while since I was a student, but I remember that you need 70.0 percent for a C and 60.0 percent to avoid failing.

With that in mind, I wonder what sort of grade you get for 0.00015 percent? Is there such as thing as F-, though I guess Z- would be more appropriate.

Here’s a graphic from the article.

By the way, the EU’s incompetence at processing refugees is one issue. Another issue is whether European nations should be granting refugee status to hundreds of thousands (and eventually millions) of people from cultures that don’t assimilate very well.

And I imagine that refugee status in Europe means access to welfare, so the system presumably creates the same perverse incentives we find on the American refugee program.

But for today, I’m simply focused on the fact that government bureaucracies are spectacularly incompetent.

Yet there are still many people who want to give more power and money to politicians.

Let’s close with a serious point.

Unless you’re an anarcho-capitalist, there are some things you want government to do, and you want those things to be done well.

So how, given the natural incompetence of the public sector, can you get good (or at least acceptable) results?

The only feasible answer is to have small government, as Mark Steyn has explained with his usual dose of sarcasm. A bloated public sector guarantees slipshod performance everywhere. But if the federal government concentrates on just a few tasks, oversight and monitoring will be easier and it will be easier to weed out incompetence.

And this isn’t just theory. The European Central Bank has produced a measure of public sector efficiency and their research shows that smaller governments are much more competent at producing desired results.

P.S. Bizarrely, some folks acknowledge government incompetence but think the right solution is more power for government.

P.P.S. Some of this is common sense. What government do you think is more competent and effective, France with its big government or Switzerland with its medium-sized government? Where do you think government is more effective, Singapore with its small government or the United States with its medium-sized government?

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In most cases, I can understand why immigration is a controversial issue.

Take amnesty, for instance. Opponents make reasonable points about the downside of rewarding folks who cut in line while supporters make reasonable points about deportation being harsh and impractical.

There’s also a fight relating to welfare, with critics (and not just in America) saying that immigrants are more likely to be poor and a burden on taxpayers and advocates pointing out that it makes more sense to wall off the welfare state rather than walling off the country.

The “anchor baby” issue is another emotional topic, with people on both sides of the issue making both legal and practical arguments about whether children born in the United States should automatically become citizens.

And then there’s the biggest question of all, which is deciding on the “right” number of immigrants, with answers ranging from none to completely open borders.

I get why these topics don’t have answers that are satisfactory to all sides.

But there is one immigration controversy that leaves me most puzzled. Why are some people opposed to the “EB-5” program designed to attract rich investors to America?

As I noted when defending Governor Scott Walker’s support for the program, this should be a slam-dunk issue. The program attracts people who will create jobs and won’t be a burden on taxpayers. Isn’t that a win-win situation?

Apparently not. Check out these excerpts from a hostile column by Kenric Ward in Roll Call.

Set to expire by year end, the EB-5 immigration program is up for renewal on Capitol Hill. Can Americans expect the biggest supporters of controversial investor visas to bring them under control? There are ample reasons to scrap the pay-for-play system that has been exposed by numerous government investigations. …Ostensibly, the EB-5 program uses foreign capital to create U.S. jobs. In fact, no one knows how many jobs. No one knows exactly where the money comes from, or where it winds up. Such niggling details don’t matter to lawmakers. They glibly call EB-5 a job-creating tool. That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it. …a visas-for-cash program was ill-conceived and ultimately unenforceable. The American model that uses hundreds of freewheeling middlemen as “job creators” is even more ripe for cronyism and outright fraud.

By the way, Mr. Ward makes a very valid point about cronyism. I’ve also criticized this aspect of the program, which almost seems designed to reward politicians and other insiders.

But I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Other people, however, think the baby is the problem.

This Washington Post story basically says the program is unfair because rich people get to come to America.

…unions and immigrant advocates are focusing attention this week on a federal visa program that they deride as “Immigration Reform for the 1%.” The target of a series of press conferences in a half-dozen cities is the EB-5 immigrant investor program, which allows foreigners to get green cards by investing at least $500,000 in American businesses, as long as the money creates at least 10 jobs. Created by Congress in 1990 as a way to stimulate the U.S. economy, the program is supported by business groups and has increasingly been used in recent years by real estate developers and other firms seeking foreign investors. …“We have this program that gives a pretty fast track to immigrants from the 1 percent and gives incredible advantages to developers,” said Isaac Ontiveros, a research analyst for UNITE HERE, a union that represents nearly 300,000 hotel, casino and food service workers. He estimated that one-third of businesses funded by EB-5 are hotels or casinos.

Though I wonder whether Mr Ontiveros is simply looking to hold up reauthorization of the program in hopes of adding amnesty to the legislation.

Ontiveros added: “How does this help the 11 million people in this country who are stuck in immigration reform limbo?” …some critics saying the program doesn’t do enough to benefit targeted poor areas, especially rural ones… Ontiveros said…“We want those in Congress and at the local level to be aware of the inequities of this program,” he said.

In any event, I actually agree with Ontiveros that the program is inequitable. But that’s precisely the point. Lawmakers in America are picking and choosing who to let in the country and they’re deciding that it’s better to have successful investors.

Now let’s look at the issue from the other side. Why do upper-income people from overseas want to become Americans?

Well, an article in Quartz explains that they often come from nations that have unpalatable policies and that they want greater long-run stability.

The world’s wealthy and super-rich are increasingly on the hunt for second passports as they seek to protect their wealth, optimize their children’s education and move to countries with…greater economic and political stability. A report from New World Wealth reveals the top eight countries that have become popular second citizenship destinations for 264 000 of the world’s millionaires from 2000-2014. …Most countries with large outflows of millionaires have stringent tax regimes, prompting the super-rich to move to countries that are more favourable for their wealth.

This chart shows the countries with the greatest number of departing millionaires.

I imagine that folks escape France and Italy because of excessive taxation, while they leave the other countries because of a desire to redomicile in places where the quality of life is better and rule of law is stronger.

By the way, it’s a good sign when rich people want to come to the United States and a worrisome indicator when they don’t. Indeed, America would attract more really rich people if we didn’t have an onerous worldwide tax system.

P.S. In my humble opinion, the most troubling aspect of our immigration system is the way the refugee program is funding terrorists with welfare checks.

P.P.S. To close on a happier note, here some immigration-themed humor, starting with this amusing video about Americans sneaking into Peru and ending with this satirical column about Americans sneaking into Canada.

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I can understand why immigration reform is so contentious since it touches on all sorts of hot-button issues, such as jobs, politics, national identity, and the welfare state.

But I don’t understand why there’s a controversy just because Governor Walker of Wisconsin supports a specific part of the immigration system that provides easier access for foreigners who are willing to invest money and create jobs in America.

Seems like a win-win situation, but check out these excerpts from a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

We’ll start with a description of the program.

Congress created the EB-5 program in 1990… Under the Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Immigrant Investor Program, foreigners can obtain these visas by investing $500,000 in high unemployment areas — or $1 million elsewhere — in projects generating or saving 10 jobs over two years. According to The New York Times, the federal government puts the green card applications from these foreign investors on the fast track. In general, it takes about two years to obtain legal residency through the program; other visa programs take much longer.

Not let’s get to the controversy over Governor Walker’s support.

…there’s one federal visa program you won’t hear him attack. It’s the controversial and deeply troubled immigrant investor program. The program — known as EB-5 — puts wealthy foreigners on the path to U.S. citizenship if they invest at least $500,000 in an American commercial project that will create or preserve 10 jobs. Critics have called the abuse-riddled program a “scam” that essentially sells green cards to the affluent and their families, with more than 80% of those in the program coming from China. …David North, a fellow with the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, said…the program is flawed in its premise. “I think it’s immoral, fattening and otherwise unattractive to sell visas, which is what we’re doing now,” North said.

By thew way, there are reasons to be unhappy about the EB-5 program, at least in the way it operates.

I’ve already shared examples of how political insiders are manipulating the program for cronyist purposes.

But today let’s look at the concept of whether it’s good to have an “economic citizenship” program.

And we’ll start the very relevant point that any immigration system is going to be arbitrary.

  • A lottery system is arbitrary because you get to come to America because of luck.
  • A family-reunification system is arbitrary because you get to come to America because of your genes.
  • A system based on refugee status is arbitrary because you get to come to America based on geopolitical circumstances.
  • Even an “open borders” system is arbitrary because you don’t get to come to America if you’re a terrorist, criminal, have communicable diseases, etc.

So if a system is going to be based on arbitrary factors, what’s wrong with deciding that one of the criteria is economic benefit to the United States?

Indeed, maybe I’m too myopic because of my background and training, but it seems like economic benefit should be a factor that everyone can support. After all, these won’t be people seeking handouts from the welfare system.

Consider these passages from a recent New York Times story about all the EB-5 money that’s boosting the Empire State’s economy.

Through a federal visa program known as EB-5, foreigners, more than 80 percent of them from China, are investing billions of dollars in hotels, condominiums, office towers and public/private works in the hope it will result in green cards. Twelve-hundred foreigners have poured $600 million into projects at Hudson Yards; 1,154 have invested $577 million in Pacific Park Brooklyn, the development formerly known as Atlantic Yards; and 500 have put $250 million into the Four Seasons hotel and condominium in the financial district. The list of projects involving EB-5 investments also includes the International Gem Tower on West 47th Street and the New York Wheel on Staten Island. …In the last four years, the program’s popularity has surged. In fiscal year 2010, 1,885 visas were issued. But by fiscal year 2013 that figure jumped 354 percent to 8,564, according to government data. Last year, the entire annual allotment of 10,000 visas had been claimed by August — before the end of the fiscal year in October. This year the quota was reached even earlier, on May 1.

As an aside, this program isn’t attractive to those with lots of money because of America’s punitive tax system.

“This program is not for the very rich in China, because the superwealthy do not want to pay U.S. taxes.” Instead, he said, the wealthiest Chinese prefer to have their legal residences in low tax jurisdictions like Hong Kong or Singapore, and then take advantage of 10-year tourist visas to the United States.

While I’m tempted to now explain why we should fix our bad tax system, let’s stick to the topic of immigration and delve further into the issue of whether it’s good to attract economically successful foreigners to America.

Some scholars say the answer is yes, but they think the EB-5 program is inefficient.

Here’s some of what Professor Eric Posner of the University of Chicago Law School wrote for Slate.

The program is a mess. …it’s almost impossible to figure out whether a specific investment generates jobs rather than reshuffles them from one place to another. There have also been examples of outright fraud and political cronyism. Part of the problem is a lack of documentation but the real problem is that the program is misconceived. …the price we charge for citizenship is extraordinarily low. …A shrewd investor will find an investment that pays a couple percentage points below the market rate. If he invests $500,000 in order to obtain, say, a 6 percent return rather than an 8 percent return, then the true price he pays for U.S. citizenship is $10,000 in foregone return.

So what’s the alternative?

Gary Becker, the late University of Chicago economist and Nobel laureate, once proposed that the United States should sell citizenship to foreigners for a flat fee. The EB-5 program approximates Becker’s proposal, albeit in the most inefficient way possible. Becker argued that citizenship is a scarce good just like tomatoes and hula hoops, and is thus subject to the law of supply and demand. America owns visas and should sell them to willing buyers at the market-clearing price. We would attract immigrants who are skilled enough to earn wages that would cover the fee, and we would gain again from the tax on their wages once they began work in this country. These types of immigrants—the ones who could afford the fee—would be least likely to burden the public fisc by needing welfare payments.

The Becker plan, which Posner basically supports, certainly would be simpler than the EB-5 program.

And it presumably eliminates the instances of corrupt cronyism that taint that otherwise good system.

Moreover, many of the nations with economic citizenship programs use this approach.

But here’s the downside. If you sell citizenship directly, the money goes to the government rather than to the productive sector of the economy.

That might be acceptable if it meant that the politicians reduced or eliminated some tax. But I fear the real-world impact would be to simply give the crowd in Washington more money to waste.

So perhaps the real challenge is to figure out some smarter way of operating the EB-5 program so we get even more private investment and job creation while also reducing opportunities for cronyist intervention.

P.S. If you want to enjoy some immigration-themed humor, here’s some involving Peru and Canada.

P.P.S. While I don’t like government getting more money, that shouldn’t be the only factor when grading a policy proposal. I fretted, for instance, that pot legalization in Colorado would be a mixed blessing because it would generate more tax revenue. But thanks to Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the politicians haven’t been able to spend all the new money, so it’s unambiguously a win-win situation.

P.P.P.S. The Princess of the Levant is in America because of the immigration lottery, so I certainly won’t be complaining too much about arbitrary systems. [correction: The PoTL has informed me that her U.S. residency is the result of her grandfather’s application and not the lottery]

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As an economist, my primary objection to excessive government is – or at least should be – based on foregone growth. After all, government spending (whether it is financed by taxes or borrowing) diverts resources from the productive sector of society and results in the misallocation of labor and capital.

Based on my blood pressure, though, I get even more upset about the perverse unfairness of Washington. It galls me that well-connected insiders obtain undeserved wealth by using the coercive power of government.

And I get especially agitated when I think about ordinary Americans, most of modest means, who have less income and lower living standards because of DC’s corrupt profligacy.

So when I write about shutting down the Export-Import Bank, closing the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and reforming the tax code, I make the standard economic arguments for smaller government. But I also explain that reform is a way of dealing with political sleaze.

Heck, insider corruption is so pervasive that it even causes problems in those rare instances when government is doing sensible.

Let’s look at the example of the EB-5 program that was set up to attract wealthy foreigners to America if they create jobs.

This should be a feel-good story. After all, everyone presumably agrees that these are best type of immigrants since there’s no danger that they’ll wind up on the welfare rolls.

In theory, the program is very simple. As explained by Wikipedia, “individuals must invest $1,000,000…, creating or preserving at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers.”

In reality, though, the program is a bureaucratic mess because…well, simply because that’s the way government operates.

And that means plenty of opportunities for corrupt insiders to work the system.

Here are some of the unseemly details of one example. As reported by the Washington Post, it involves an Obama appointee, the Governor of Virginia, and the brother of Hillary Clinton.

The now-No. 2 official at the Department of Homeland Security intervened on behalf of politically connected favor seekers — including Democrat Terry McAuliffe not long before he was elected Virginia governor, a new report from the department’s inspector general has found. The intervention, on behalf of McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive company, “was unprecedented,” according to the report… The long-anticipated report reviewed Mayorkas’s management of the EB-5 program, which allows foreign nationals who create jobs in the United States to obtain green cards. The report concluded that Mayorkas’ actions “created an appearance of favoritism and special access.’’ …McAuliffe’s company was working Gulf Coast Funds Management, a firm that specializes in obtaining EB-5 visas for investors. Gulf Coast was led by Anthony Rodham, brother of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. …In addition to the case involving McAuliffe’s car company, the inspector general focused on actions Mayorkas took on behalf of a film project in Los Angeles and construction of a casino in Las Vegas, the latter supported by Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, who was Senate majority leader at the time.

Speaking of Senator Reid, the Washington Free Beacon exposes his sordid – and extended – efforts to use the power of his office to get special treatment for donors…and to line the  pockets of his son.

The Senate’s top Democrat was more deeply involved than previously known in an effort to secure U.S. visas for Chinese investors in a Las Vegas casino despite the concerns of career federal officials, according to an inspector general report released on Tuesday. …Executives at the casino’s parent company, a client of Reid’s son Rory, donated thousands of dollars to Reid’s campaign after he helped speed consideration of its applications for visas for its Chinese investors. That expedited consideration came despite warnings from career USCIS officials that applicants had forged paperwork, tried to conceal the sources of their investment, and, in one case, had ties to a child pornography business. …new details in the inspector general’s report reveal that his involvement was deeper and more prolonged. Reid requested and received regular updates from then-USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas on the status of SLS’ EB-5 applications, agency employees told the IG. The IG report criticized Mayorkas for creating an “appearance of favoritism” in the EB-5 application process. …the senator also had connections to Stockbridge/SBE Holdings, the company behind the SLS project. His son Rory, then an attorney at Lionel Sawyer & Collins, a Nevada law firm, represented SBE Entertainment, one of its parent companies. …USCIS employees interviewed for the IG report described the process as unfair and overly political.

By the way, notice how both examples feature a relative of a powerful politician. Why is that? Because if you’re related to a DC bigwig, donors and special interest groups figure you have inside access to the favor factory in Washington.

A very odious form of nepotism, I think you’ll agree.

Ugh, I feel like I need to shower after writing about this topic.

But now let’s step back and consider the big picture. In most cases, eliminating an agency or shutting down a program is the simple way to deal with DC corruption.

What’s the right approach, though, when government is actually doing something that’s theoretically useful.

Remember, the underlying theory of the EB-5 program is very admirable. Indeed, many nations have similar “economic citizenship” programs because it makes sense to attract successful investors to your country.

Big nations such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Spain have policies similar to America’s EB-5 program, as do little countries such as Latvia, St. Kitts and Nevis, Cyprus, Dominica, Malta, and Antigua and Barbuda.

So why is America’s system a mess? In part, the answer is that it’s not a simple system. Unlike other nations, where a simple cash payment or property purchase qualifies an investor for residency, the U.S. system requires the creation of 10 jobs. As you can imagine, it’s not necessarily a simple matter to measure job creation, particularly if an investor is putting money into a business that’s already in operation.

And this means the bureaucrats who oversee the program have a reason to drag their feet. Which means an opportunity for well-connected insiders to manipulate the system to the advantage of their friends, cronies, donors, and clients.

Moreover, all nations require some form of background check to weed out criminals. That’s a good thing, of course, but it also gives bureaucrats another excuse to avoid quick approvals. And this creates an opportunity for lobbyists and other members of the political class to use their political pull to get their clients quick and favorable treatment.

All of which means the rule of law is eroded and replaced by discretionary and arbitrary enforcement.

By the way, I spoke at an economic citizenship conference earlier this month in Dubai. My role was to warn that greedy governments would try to hinder the mobility of investors and entrepreneurs, particularly as the welfare state gets closer to collapse.

But it was also very interesting to hear reports from various nations about the operation of their programs. Most of them have shortcomings, to be sure, but it does appear that politicians in America have made our system one of the least effective.

For further background on the seemingly unbreakable link between big government and corruption, here’s a video I narrated for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

P.S. Government corruption is also a problem at the state level.

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Sweden is an odd country, at least from the perspective of public policy.

On the positive side, it has private Social Security accounts. It has an admirable school choice system. And it was a good role model of spending restraint back in the 1990s.

But on the negative side, Sweden has one of the world’s biggest welfare states. Even after the spending restraint of the 1990s, the public sector consumes about 50 percent of economic output. And that necessitates a punitive tax code.

There’s also a truly perverse fixation on equality. And you won’t be surprised to learn that the government-run healthcare system produces some unpleasant outcomes.

Today, let’s build on our understanding of Sweden by looking at how the country’s welfare state interacts with the immigration system.

Writing for CapX, Nima Sanandaji discusses these issues in his adopted country of Sweden.

Sweden has had an unusually open policy towards refugee and family immigrants. The Swedish Migration Agency estimates that around 105,000 individuals will apply for asylum only this year, corresponding to over one percent of Sweden’s entire population.

This openness is admirable, but is it successful? Are immigrants assimilating and contributing to Sweden’s economy?

Unfortunately, the answer in many cases is no.

…the open attitude towards granting immigrants asylum is not matched by good opportunities on the labor market. An in-depth study by the daily paper Dagens Nyheter shows that many migrants struggle to find decent work even ten years after entering the country. …The median income for the refugees in the group was found to be as low as £880 a month. The family immigrants of refugees earned even less. Ten years after arriving in the country, their median income was merely £360 a month. These very low figures suggest that a large segment of the group is still relying on welfare payments. Dagens Nyheter can show that at least four out of ten refugees ten years after arrival are supported by welfare. The paper acknowledges that this is likely an underestimation.

So what’s the problem? Why are immigrants failing to prosper?

Nima suggests that government policies are the problem, creating perverse incentives for long-term dependency.

To be more specific, the country’s extravagant welfare state acts as flypaper, preventing people from climbing in the ladder of opportunity.

The combination of generous benefits, high taxes and rigid labour regulations reduce the incentives and possibilities to find work. Entrapment in welfare dependency is therefore extensive, in particular amongst immigrants. Studies have previously shown that even highly educated groups of foreign descent struggle to become self-dependent in countries such as Norway and Sweden. …The high-spending model is simply not fit to cope with the challenges of integration.

The part about “highly educated groups” is particularly important since it shows that the welfare trap doesn’t just affect low-skilled immigrants (particularly when high tax rates make productive activity relatively unattractive).

So what’s the moral of the story? Well, the one obvious lesson is that a welfare state is harmful to human progress. It hurts taxpayers, of course, but it also has a harmful impact on recipients.

And when the recipients are immigrants, redistribution is especially perverse since it makes it far less likely that newcomers will be net contributors to a nation.

And that then causes native populations to be less sympathetic to immigration, which in unfortunate since new blood – in the absence of bad government policy – can help boost national prosperity.

Though let’s at least give Sweden credit. I’m not aware that its welfare programs are subsidizing terrorism, which can’t be said for the United Kingdom, Australia, France, or the United States.

P.S. Here’s my favorite factoid about Sweden.

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While immigration is a very contentious issue for the politicians in Washington, there’s actually some level of agreement among people in the real world.

Almost everybody agrees that it would be foolish and short-sighted not to allow some immigration, particularly from young, educated people with valuable skills.

Similarly, there is widespread agreement that you can’t have completely open borders, particularly for those who are unlikely to be net contributors to the economy.

So the real debate (and this is where there is a lot of room for disagreement) is who gets to come to America and under what conditions.

I don’t raise this issue because I have any wise words – much less proposed solutions – on the overall issue of immigration.

Instead, let’s look at the profoundly perverse way that the federal government is using the refugee program to expand the problem of dependency.

Here are some excerpts from a disturbing story in the Washington Times.

The State Department has helped to relocate tens of thousands of refugees from the war-torn African nation of Somalia to Minnesota, where they can take advantage of some of America’s most generous welfare and charity programs. …Most of Minnesota’s Somali population started off as legal refugees through a program administered by the U.S. State Department through the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Minnesota was selected among the nation’s states for relocation primarily because of its robust entitlement offerings.

Gee, isn’t that wonderful. We’re bringing people into the country and settling them where they can get the largest amount of handouts.

And apparently that’s Minnesota, the France of America.

“Minnesota is exceptional in many ways but it’s the closest thing in the United States to a true social democratic state,” said Ahmed Samatar, a professor of international studies at Macalester College, in St. Paul. “That translates into the way Somali refugees have been received here they’ve been given a secure environment, housing, education, health care, perhaps even some minimum income to sustain them until they can stand on their own feet. That’s all provided by Minnesota,” said Mr. Samatar, who has tracked the State Department’s refugee program. Outside Alaska, Minnesota spends more per low-income person on public welfare than any other state in the U.S., according to a report by the Center for the American Experiment, a think tank located in Minneapolis. The report found Minnesota outspent its average peer state in welfare subsidies by nearly $4,000.

Oh, just in case you’re thinking that maybe the situation isn’t so bad because at least private charities are involved, it turns out that those organizations are simply contractors for the government.

…the…charitable organizations operating within the state with which the State Department contracts …In addition to its generous welfare subsidies, Minnesota also has a number of charitable organizations that contract with the State Department like Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, and World Relief Minnesota.

In other words, taxpayers are getting hit twice, once for official welfare payments and once for coerced “charity” laundered through groups jostling for space at the public trough.

At this point, you may be wondering whether all this spending is having a desirable effect?

As taxpayers, are we getting value for our money?

Yes, but only if you define dependency and unemployment as valuable.

Even though Minnesota has a good job market, that doesn’t seem to have translated into jobs for the Somali refugees. Minnesota’s state demographer’s office reports that only 41 percent of Somali men are working and 54 percent of Somali women are employed, meaning many may rely on the state’s handouts to survive, and are more susceptible to extremists pull. “It seems safe to assume that if they’re not working, then they’re likely receiving public welfare benefits,” said Peter Nelson, director of public policy at the Center of the American Experiment.

Amazingly, the left-wing governor of the state has doubled down on failure, expanding handouts.

Gov. Mark Dayton has expanded the state’s entitlement programs, although he remains mum on the state’s expense at doing so.

Though, to be fair, maybe he doesn’t care because Uncle Sam is the sugar daddy, picking up a big part of the tab.

“The state of Minnesota receives funding through the federal Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement to promote the successful resettlement and integration of refugees in Minnesota,” said a spokeswoman at the state’s Department of Human Services. …Minnesotans have also welcomed them onto their entitlement rolls, with the state’s cash assistance and food stamp programs, skyrocketing in recent years. The number of Somali adults and children who participated in the Minnesota’s family cash assistance program jumped 34 percent from 2008 to 2013, according to the state’s statistics. Likewise, Minnesota’s food assistance participation increased 98 percent, to 17,300 adults and children, which does not include U.S.-born Somalis, in the same timeframe.

At this point, you’re probably very upset. At least if you’re a taxpayer.

After all, haven’t we learned from painful experience that redistribution subsidizes poverty?

But I’ve saved the “best” for last.

…the effort is having the unintended consequence of creating an enclave of immigrants with high unemployment that is both stressing the state’s safety net and creating a rich pool of potential recruiting targets for Islamist terror groups. This population is…being targeted by Islamist terror organizations like the Islamic State and al-Shabab, a Somalia-based group with links to al Qaeda, according to U.S. officials. Among Minnesota-based Somali-Americans, American converts to Islam or Somali refugees, there have been numerous convictions for various levels of collaboration with Islamist terror groups, plus reports of fighting with al-Shabab or other Islamist groups.

Yup, tax dollars for terrorists.

It seems that these bums want a little excitement in their lives.

So they’re joining al-Shabab.

Since 2008, as many as 40 men from Minneapolis have joined Islamist groups after being pulled in by jihadists through social media, federal officials say. Last year, an American youth named Douglas McAuthur McCain died in Syria fighting for the Islamic State. Mr. McCain was recruited in Minnesota, where he lived. In 2009, another Minnesota youth, Troy Kastigar posted a recruiting video for al-Shabab before he was killed fighting for the terrorist group in Somalia. Kastigar and McCain are thought to have been friends. That same year a Somali man who left Minneapolis joined al-Shabab and blew himself up in a suicide bombing at an Ethiopian consulate in Somalia, killing 24 people.

Just like the Tsarnaev brothers. Just like the deadbeat scrounger from Australia, the nutjob moocher from the United Kingdom, and the wacko sponge in France.

So now let’s circle back to our main question. Why is the federal government bringing people into the country, luring them into dependency, and subsidizing terrorism?

Leftists sometimes like to tell us that “Government is simply the name for the things we do together.”

Well, “we” do some really stupid stuff when we act “together” through government.

Instead of a misguided refugee program that steers dodgy people into dependency, why not – with a condition of no handouts or dependency – open the door to Chinese engineers? Romanian software experts? Or Indian scientists? How about Nigerian businessmen? Maybe French doctors?

But I guess people who would assimilate and contribute to our economy aren’t as attractive as welfare recipients who despise our culture.

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Last month, I nailed Bill and Hillary Clinton for their gross hypocrisy on the death tax.

But that’s just one example. Today, we’re going to experience a festival of statist hypocrisy. We have six different nauseating examples of political elitists wanting to subject ordinary people to bad policy while self-exempting themselves from similar burdens.

Our first three examples are from the world of taxation.

Here are some excerpts from a Washington Times report about a billionaire donor who is bankrolling candidates who support higher taxes, even though he structured his hedge fund in low-tax jurisdictions specifically to minimize the fiscal burdens of his clients.

Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist who is spending $100 million to help elect Democrats this fall, is rallying support for energy taxes that could impact everyday Americans. But when he ran his own hedge fund, Mr. Steyer sought to help wealthy clients legally avoid paying taxes, confidential investor memos show. Mr. Steyer’s strategy included establishing funds in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Mauritius… Mr. Steyer boasted to investors such as major universities that his hedge fund, Farallon Capital Management LLC, had a “desire not to earn income which would be taxable to our tax-exempt investors,” one internal memo reviewed by The Washington Times showed. Mr. Steyer also helped his firm’s wealthy clientele avoid the highest of U.S. taxes and penalties by establishing arcane tax shelters… Mr. Steyer is pushing for a variety of new taxes on the energy sector. In California, Mr. Steyer supports an oil extraction tax, and he is funding politicians who support taxing carbon, including Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat.

By the way, Steyer did nothing wrong, just as Mitt Romney did nothing wrong when he utilized so-called tax havens to manage and protect his investments.

But at least Romney wasn’t overtly urging higher taxes on everyone else, so he’s not guilty of glaring hypocrisy.

Speaking of international taxation, how about the behavior of Senator Joe Machin’s daughter? She’s the head of an American drug-making company, a position that almost surely has something to do with her father being a senator.  Particularly since the company gets a big chunk of its revenues from sales to the federal government.

In any event, her company has decided that it’s okay to benefit from sales to big government, but that it’s not a good idea to pay taxes for big government. Here are some blurbs from a National Journal report.

…this column happens to be about a Democratic senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, and his daughter, Heather Bresch, the chief executive of Mylan, a giant maker of generic drugs based outside Pittsburgh. Her company’s profits come largely from Medicaid and Medicare, which means her nest is feathered by U.S. taxpayers. On Monday, Bresch announced that Mylan will renounce its United States citizenship and instead become incorporated in the Netherlands – leaving this country, in part, to pay less in taxes.

By the way, I’m a big fan of companies re-domiciling overseas.

So long as our corporate tax system has high rates and punitive worldwide taxation, corporate expatriation is the best way of protecting the interests of American workers, consumers, and shareholders.

But it’s a bit hypocritical when the expatriating company is run by a major Democrat donor.

Our third example of hypocrisy also deals with corporate expatriation, and it’s probably the most odious and extreme display of two-faced political behavior. Here’s some of what was reported in the L.A. Times about the Secretary of the Treasury’s attack on corporate inversions.

Calling for “a new sense of economic patriotism,” a top Obama administration official urged Congress to take immediate action to stop U.S. companies from reorganizing as foreign firms to avoid paying taxes. …”What we need as a nation is a new sense of economic patriotism, where we all rise or fall together,” Lew wrote to the top Democrats and Republicans on the congressional tax-writing committees. “We should not be providing support for corporations that seek to shift their profits overseas to avoid paying their fair share of taxes,” he said. …Lew said such moves were unfair to U.S. taxpayers. …”Congress should enact legislation immediately — and make it retroactive to May 2014 — to shut down this abuse of our tax system,” Lew wrote.

Gee, big words from Mr. Lew. But too bad he didn’t say those words to himself when he was a crony capitalist at Citigroup. Why? Because he had big money parked in the Cayman Islands!

So he inverted his own funds but doesn’t want other taxpayers to have the right to make the same sensible choices.

Now let’s look at three non-tax related examples of hypocrisy.

First, we have a pro-Obamacare politician running for Congress. One of his main talking points is that his wife is an OB/GYN and he also trumpets his support for expansion of Medicaid (the government’s money-hemorrhaging healthcare program for lower-income people).

Here’s some of what was reported by the Free Beacon (h/t: National Review).

John Foust has made his wife the face of his campaign for Virginia’s 10th District. Dr. Marilyn Jerome is an OBGYN… Foust attacks his Republican opponent Barbara Comstock for opposing Medicaid expansion. Failure to expand Medicaid to rural hospitals could be “devastating,” he says. Dr. Jerome has also written in support of the Affordable Care Act on the Foxhall website, citing the Medicaid expansion as beneficial to low-income women.

But it seems that Medicaid expansion is only a good idea when other doctors are dealing with the government.

It turns out, however, that not all women can receive “compassionate reproductive healthcare” from Foxhall. The practice doesn’t accept Medicaid. …in public, Dr. Jerome is preaching the Affordable Care Act and praising the Medicaid expansion while, in her practice, she doesn’t accept it.

The message is that sub-standard government-run healthcare is okay for us peasants, but doctors who cater to the political elite in Washington want nothing to do with the program.

Sort of like the politicians and IRS bureaucrats who want to be exempted from Obamacare.

Second, it turns out that global warming alarmists use above-average amounts of energy.

Here are some tidbits from a column in the UK-based Telegraph.

People who claim to worry about climate change use more electricity than those who do not, a Government study has found. Those who say they are concerned about the prospect of climate change consume more energy than those who say it is “too far into the future to worry about,” the study commissioned by the Department for Energy and Climate Change found. …The findings were based on the Household Electricity Survey.

Not that this surprises me. I’ve previously shared evidence that elitist environmentalists want to dictate the energy consumption of ordinary people while suffering no cutbacks in their own extravagant living standards.

Third, we have a remarkable bit of political jujitsu from Martin O’Malley, the governor of Maryland, on the issue of illegal aliens. Here’s an amazing excerpt from a story in Politco (h/t: National Review).

Martin O’Malley says that deporting the children detained at the border would be sending them to “certain death” — but he also urged the White House not to send them to a facility in his own state.

Wow. Regardless of what you think about open borders, amnesty, and other immigration issues, O’Malley comes across as a craven politician. This is NIMBY on steroids.

In conclusion, I should point out that hypocrisy is not limited to leftists. I’m even harder on faux conservatives who pretend to favor small government when talking to voters but then aid and abet statism behind closed doors in Washington.

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I’ve shared this bit of political incorrect terrorism humor from England, as well as this somewhat un-PC bit of tax humor.

But perhaps motivated by the scandal of giving welfare to terrorists, this new video is the most amusing thing I’ve seen from across the ocean.

I almost didn’t post this because it singles out immigrants from the developing world, but since I’ve shared horror stories from home-grown moochers in the U.K., as well as examples of scroungers from Europe who are robbing British taxpayers, I think I’ve covered all the bases.

But in the spirit of inclusiveness, here are other satirical videos worth sharing.

My all-time favorite video satire is from Iowahawk, featuring the Pelosimobile.

And I’ve always thought this left-wing attack against libertarianism is very funny.

And this Tim Hawkins video on the government Candyman is great, as is another version of the song.

Speaking of Tim Hawkins, his home-schooling video is superb.

This spoof of the Chevy Volt also is extremely well done.

Last but not least, here are two brutal Obama teleprompter videos.

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I’ve been peppered with all sorts of questions about immigration this week. Many of them deal with the Heritage Foundation study, including the “dynamic scoring” issue and Jason Richwine’s resignation.

I’m also getting asked about other aspects of this debate, ranging from the desirability of a border fence to what I think about skills-based immigration vs. family-reunification immigration.

The short answer to just about every question is that I don’t know. I’ve never studied the issue and I’m not knowledgeable enough to give competent answers. As I remarked in my one interview on the subject, I like immigration but want people coming to America for opportunity rather than welfare.

Not exactly bold stuff, I realize. Heck, everyone from John McCain to Jeff Sessions presumably would be willing to publicly endorse those sentiments.

But I don’t want to dodge the issue completely, and one reader posed a question that got me thinking. She asked me to name the strongest arguments for and against amnesty.

I won’t pretend that these are the strongest arguments, but I will tell you the arguments that I find most compelling.

The most compelling argument for amnesty is that it’s a recognition of reality. Simply stated, the illegals are already here, any kids born in the US already are citizens, and there’s no practical way of getting any of them to leave. What’s the point of pretending otherwise?

I realize that’s a very practical argument, which distinguishes me from some fellow libertarians who make the moral case that people shouldn’t be constrained by government-imposed borders. But that argument doesn’t sweep me off my feet since it implies that everybody in the world has a right to come to the United States.

The most compelling argument against amnesty is that it will make America more statist. I’m not an expert on voting patterns, but I think it’s safe to assume that immigrants will have below-average incomes for the foreseeable future and that they generally will be likely – once they get voting rights – to support politicians who want to make America more like Europe. I’m 99.99 percent confident that this thought has crossed Chuck Schumer’s mind.

Once again, I realize I’m making a practical argument. And you can probably tell that my real concern is with redistributionism and majoritarianism, not immigration. But the bottom line is still the same. We desperately need to scale back the welfare state and I fear amnesty will make that an even bigger challenge.

But to close an a humorous note, perhaps this concern about amnesty can be allayed if we can encourage this type of emigration.

And since we’re sharing some humor, here’s a funny video about Americans sneaking into Peru.

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So we’ve now learned that the Boston Marathon terrorists were welfare bums. Why am I not surprised?

“Thanks for the handouts, suckers!”

Heck, it was only a couple of days ago that I announced the Moocher Hall of Fame and included terrorists from the United Kingdom and Australia (and I could have included a taxpayer-subsidized terrorist from France as well).

I’m tempted to joke about al Qaeda including welfare applications in their training manuals, but I’m worried that might give them new ideas.

Anyhow, here are some of the predictable details from a story in the Boston Herald.

Marathon bombings mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev was living on taxpayer-funded state welfare benefits even as he was delving deep into the world of radical anti-American Islamism, the Herald has learned. State officials confirmed last night that Tsarnaev, slain in a raging gun battle with police last Friday, was receiving benefits along with his wife, Katherine Russell Tsarnaev, and their 3-year-old daughter. The state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services said those benefits ended in 2012… In addition, both of Tsarnaev’s parents received benefits, and accused brother bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan were recipients through their parents when they were younger, according to the state.

All this raises a broader point about why the United States has a policy of letting people in the country who are not self supporting?

This is the point I made in my Fox Business News debate about immigration. Like most other libertarians, I’m very sympathetic to immigration, but I want people with initiative and ambition, not welfare tourists.

Speaking of welfare tourism, even Europeans realize it’s a problem when people come for handouts rather than opportunity. Here’s a blurb from a Daily Telegraph report.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has convinced her counterparts in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands to campaign for tighter restrictions to migrants’ access to welfare handouts and other state-funded services. In a joint letter, the countries have warned that migrants from EU members states are putting “considerable strain” on schools, healthcare and the welfare state…David Cameron has said he wants to restrict migrants’ access to housing benefit, legal aid and the NHS. The letter sent by the four countries warns that the EU free movement directive must not be “unconditional” and that major towns and cities “are under a considerable strain by certain immigrants from other member states”.

Of course, it’s hard to have much sympathy for the politicians in the UK, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands. After all, they certainly have the power to reduce their overly generous welfare systems.

But instead of taking that sensible step, they want to restrict immigration.

Which brings us back to Milton Friedman’s warning about the incompatibility of opens borders and the welfare state.

But the real reason to pare back the welfare state is that dependency is bad for poor people, regardless of whether they’re native born or immigrants. Even some honest liberals have acknowledged this problem.

If we want to help the less fortunate, economic growth is the best approach. That means free markets and small government.

And the combination of more growth and less welfare will ease concerns about immigration, so it’s a win-win-win situation. What’s not to love?

P.S. Better economic policy is desirable for many reasons, but I’m not under any illusion it will stop terrorism. As I wrote recently, there’s no way to create a risk-free society, particularly when there are people motivated by anti-modernity.

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A reader from overseas wonders about my views on immigration, particularly amnesty.

I confess that this is one of those issues where I’m conflicted.

On the general topic of immigration, I think the United States has benefited in the past – and can benefit in the future – from newcomers. And I express that position in this interview for Fox Business News.

But the real issue, which isn’t addressed in the interview, is magnitude. I assume almost nobody wants zero immigration. On the other hand, I also assume that very few people favor totally open borders.

So where do we draw the line? I think we should welcome lots of immigration, particularly people with skills, education, and money. This is the approach that is used to varying degrees by nations such as Australia, Canada, and Switzerland, and I wrote favorably about a similar proposal by Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado.

And I think substantial numbers of low-skilled people who want to work also should be welcome, but I don’t think everybody in the world who wants to come to America should have that right. I haven’t met more than a tiny handful of folks who disagree with Walter Williams’ assertion that, “not…everyone on the planet had a right to live in the U.S.”

Particularly since politicians have redistribution systems that can lure people into a life of dependency. Which is presumably why Milton Friedman warned, to the dismay of some other libertarians, “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.”

Even the Wall Street Journal, which is a leading voice for both increased immigration and amnesty for existing illegals, also is concerned that a growing welfare state could attract immigrants for the wrong reasons.

Speaking of amnesty, I suppose I should answer the question of how I would deal with people who are in the country illegally? And my response probably depends whether I answer with my heart or my head.

My heart tells me to give these people the benefit of the doubt. Every illegal I’ve met seems to be a good person. And I know if I lived someplace like Mexico, Somalia, or Honduras, I almost certainly would want to improve my family’s position by getting to America, legally or illegally.

On the other hand, I believe in the rule of law and I’m a bit uncomfortable rewarding those who jumped the line at the expense of those who followed the rules.

And to be perfectly honest, I also worry about the political implications of any policy that increases the number of people who – on net – will vote for redistribution. I could do without the partisan implications, but this Chuck Asay cartoon captures my concerns.

Immigration Cartoon

I also think that people respond to incentives. Another round of amnesty almost surely will encourage further illegal immigration. Putting myself in the position of a poor person in the developing world, I would logically conclude that it would just be a matter of time, so I would sneak across the border in order to take advantage of that future amnesty.

That doesn’t strike me as a good approach. Far better to figure out how to genuinely reform the system.

By the way, a senior staffer on Capitol Hill floated to me the idea of a new status that enables illegals to stay in the country, but bars them from citizenship unless they get in line and follow the rules. I’m definitely not familiar with the fault lines on these issues, but perhaps that could be a good compromise.

And it goes without saying that I want the strictest possible limits on access to welfare programs and other government handouts for immigrants, regardless of their status.

So, like everybody else, I want border security and some form of legalization as part of a new system that brings people to America for the right reason. See, I’m the epitome of reasonableness.

P.S. If you want to enjoy some immigration-related humor, we have a video about Americans migrating to Peru and a story about American leftists escaping to Canada.

P.P.S. On the issue of birthright citizenship, I’ve shared some interesting analysis from Will Wilkinson and George Will.

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Earlier this month, as part of my ongoing series comparing bone-headed bureaucracy in both the United States and United Kingdom, I wrote a post about a moronic green-energy subsidy program in the U.K. that was so convoluted that nobody in the entire country signed up for it.

Only government could be so bloody incompetent that it can’t even do a good job of giving away subsidies and handouts.

Since I’m a big believer if fairness (properly defined), I normally take turns in this series, first featuring an example of government stupidity in the U.K., followed by an example of foolish bureaucracy in the U.S., and so on and so on.

But I have to break the pattern. Check out these excerpts from a story about English bureaucrats deciding that a foster family no longer could take of kids because they support the United Kingdom Independence Party, which doesn’t believe in unlimited immigration.

The husband and wife, who have been fostering for nearly seven years, said they were made to feel like criminals when a social worker told them that their views on immigration made them unsuitable carers. …Nigel Farage, the leader of Ukip, described the actions of Rotherham borough council as “a bloody outrage” and “political prejudice of the very worst kind”. …The couple, who do not want to be named to avoid identifying the children they have fostered, are in their late 50s and live in a neat detached house in a village in South Yorkshire. The husband was a Royal Navy reservist for more than 30 years and works with disabled people, while his wife is a qualified nursery nurse. Former Labour voters, they have been approved foster parents for nearly seven years and have looked after about a dozen different children, one of them in a placement lasting four years. They took on the three children — a baby girl, a boy and an older girl, who were all from an ethnic minority and a troubled family background — in September in an emergency placement. They believe that the youngsters thrived in their care. The couple were described as “exemplary” foster parents: the baby put on weight and the older girl even began calling them “mum and dad”. However, just under eight weeks into the placement, they received a visit out of the blue from the children’s social worker at the Labour-run council and an official from their fostering agency. They were told that the local safeguarding children team had received an anonymous tip-off that they were members of Ukip. The wife recalled: “I was dumbfounded. Then my question to both of them was, ‘What has Ukip got to do with having the children removed?’ “Then one of them said, ‘Well, Ukip have got racist policies’. The implication was that we were racist. [The social worker] said Ukip does not like European people and wants them all out of the country to be returned to their own countries. “I’m sat there and I’m thinking, ‘What the hell is going off here?’ because I wouldn’t have joined Ukip if they thought that. I’ve got mixed race in my family. I said, ‘I am absolutely offended that you could come in my house and accuse me of being a member of a racist party’.”

What a disgusting mix of ideological bias and political correctness.

I agree that government officials shouldn’t place children in homes where there’s racism. So if the bureaucrats discovered that a household had people from the English equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan or the New Black Panther Party, then it’s understandable and appropriate that they don’t get to take care of foster children.

But I’ve met many people from UKIP and I keep close track of what’s happening in the English political world. From everything that I can tell, UKIP is a mainstream political party that seems most concerned about the loss of sovereignty to the European Union.

Are there some racists in UKIP? I’m sure that some exist, just as there racists in the Labour Party, Conservative Party, and Liberal Democratic Party. And, for what it’s worth, there are some racist Republicans and some racist Democrats. Like other collectivist impulses, racism is probably an inherent flaw in the human species.

But I’m digressing. The purpose of this post is to express disgust at bureaucrats in England who decided that belonging to UKIP automatically meant a foster family was racist. Even worse, these bureaucrats then took three children from this family, which means they put political correctness and ideological bias ahead of the best interests of the kids.

Let’s hope that those children aren’t now stuck in an orphanage or some other sub-standard form of institutionalized care.

P.S. If you want to be entertained and to learn more about UKIP, I’ve posted some remarkable videos of their MEPs as they speak at the European Parliament.

Farage is the head of UKIP, and he completely skewers the head bureaucrats of the European Commission in this speech.

His most famous speeches specifically eviscerated the “damp dishrag” of the European Commission.

Here’s Nigel Farage mocking European bailouts.

And since you know my favorite issue is tax competition, you’ll understand why I like these two short speeches by UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom.

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If we have another decade of big government interventionism like we’ve endured for the past 10 years under Bush and Obama, this amusing parody might turn into reality.

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This arrived in my inbox today. A quick search on the Internet reveals it is not a real article from a Canadian paper. But it is somewhat amusing, so enjoy.

“Build a Damn Fence!”
From The Manitoba Herald , Canada ;
by Clive Runnels, December 1st 2010

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration. The recent actions of the Tea Party are prompting an exodus among left-leaning citizens who fear they’ll soon be required to hunt, pray, and to agree with Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck.

Canadian border farmers say it’s not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal-rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night. “I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn,” said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield , whose acreage borders North Dakota . The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry. He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken. When I said I didn’t have any, he left before I even got a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?”

In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but the liberals scaled them. He then installed loudspeakers that blared Rush Limbaugh across the fields. “Not real effective,” he said. “The liberals still got through and Rush annoyed the cows so much that they wouldn’t give any milk.”

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons and drive them across the border where they are simply left to fend for themselves.” A lot of these people are not prepared for our rugged conditions,” an Ontario border patrolman said. “I found one carload without a single bottle of imported drinking water. They did have a nice little Napa Valley Cabernet, though.”

When liberals are caught, they’re sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumors have been circulating about plans being made to build re-education camps where liberals will be forced to drink domestic beer and watch NASCAR races.

In recent days, liberals have turned to ingenious ways of crossing the border. Some have been disguised as senior citizens taking a bus trip to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half-dozen young vegans in powdered wig disguises, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior citizens about Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney to prove that they were alive in the ’50s. “If they can’t identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we become very suspicious about their age.” an official said.

Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and are renting all the Michael Moore movies “I really feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just can’t support them.” an Ottawa resident said. “How many art-history majors does one country need?”

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On my recent trip to Colorado, I had dinner with Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat from Boulder. He’s not exactly a small-government conservative, but he understands the importance of low marginal tax rates, free trade, and other important economic principles (whether he votes the right way is a separate question, of course, so I’m curious to see what he decides to do about Obama’s plan to increase tax rates on investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners).

One of the topics we discussed was his proposal to create a special visa for entrepreneurs. I won’t pretend to be an immigration expert or legislative lawyer, so I reserve the right to quibble about the legislation if there are details I don’t like, but the concept is a no-brainer. America gets to bring in the best and brightest from around the world. We give a green light to people who will be creating jobs rather than people who might want to mooch off taxpayers. And we make it easier to retain job-creating foreigners who already are in the United States. What’s not to like? Am I missing something?

The Wall Street Journal has given this idea favorable coverage here and here, and here are some excerpts from an article at Businessweek.com.

A change to immigration policy could help create jobs and rev up economic growth. It’s a change that wouldn’t be hard to bring about. I’m talking about the establishment of a Startup Founders Visa program. The program would make it easier for those with great ideas and the desire to start a company to live and work in the U.S. The idea is simple, yet powerful. By letting in company founders, the U.S. would bring in risk-takers who want to create jobs and potentially build the next Google, Cisco Systems, or Microsoft. At the same time, a founder visa program could stem the tide of talented, tech-savvy foreigners who are leaving the U.S. to seek fortunes in their home countries, primarily China and India. …U.S. Representative Jared Polis (D-Colo.), himself a former entrepreneur, is developing legislation to make it easier for foreign founders of investor-backed startups to secure visas to remain in the U.S. On the other end of the political spectrum, even Newt Gingrich, the Republican former Speaker of the House, has blogged about the need to make the country “more accessible to skilled immigrants.” He wrote this after witnessing “the dynamic entrepreneurial and high-tech business culture in Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul”—countries with which we are competing for top talent. Representatives of both ends of the political spectrum can agree on this issue. As things stand, we’re losing the battle to retain the immigrants who fueled the recent tech boom. We’re experiencing the first brain drain in American history.Other countries in Europe and South America are realizing the potential of attracting skilled immigrants and are putting together programs to snap them up.

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I’ve never focused much on immigration issues, but this EU Observer story caught my eye. Libya’s dictator is asking the European Union to give his country €5 billion (more than $6 billion) each year as a price for stopping illegal migration across the Mediterranean. 
Mr Gaddafi suggested Monday during his speech to business representatives in Italy the EU should pay his country “at least €5 billion a year” to stop African migrants crossing the Mediterranean and avoid Europe becoming “black.” “Gaddafi is thinking what all north African leaders are thinking: they can’t and don’t want to be the keepers of Europe,” Mr Frattini said, adding that: “Europe needs to finally get a migration policy, giving plenty of funds to the migrants’ countries of origin and helping transitory countries face a huge burden.” While a European Commission spokesman declined on Tuesday to react to the Libyan leader’s comments, France said the immigration issue would be included in a broader accord with Libya, on the negotiating table since November 2008.
This floors me. I’m not surprised a kleptocrat like Gaddafi made the request, but I’m stunned that European politicians seem to be taking it seriously. It’s possible, I suppose, that I’m misinterpreting the article and the Europeans are merely being diplomatic, but why be polite? Won’t that encourage other North African nations to make similar demands? And if European nations actually agree to such payments, are they really dumb enough to think that North African governments have the ability (or desire) to block individuals from seeking a better life in Europe?
Since bad ideas have a nasty habit of migrating across the Atlantic, my next thought is to wonder whether politicians from Mexico and other Latin American nations will decide to make similar demands of the U.S. government. Given the rampant corruption and political greed in places such as Mexico, I’m sure the ruling classes would love an additional excuse to shake down American taxpayers. The unanswered question, of course, is whether U.S. politicians would make the same mistake as their European counterparts and respond with genuine interest rather than derisive laughter.

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My Cato colleague Will Wilkinson is not a big fan of those who oppose illegal immigration, so it is especially interesting that he has a column making the argument that ending “birthright citizenship” would be a positive step. At the risk of over-simplifying his position, he hypothesizes that this reform would defuse the concerns of those who come to America in hopes of mooching from taxpayers. And by allaying this fear, it would make it more feasible to expand mutually beneficial economic ties between the United States and Mexico.  I’ve already posted on some of the historical and legal aspects of this issue. Will’s column explores the consequences of reform.
The proposal to end “birthright citizenship” for the children of unauthorized immigrants springs from less than generous motives, and almost surely runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution. But ending it altogether is a better idea than you might think. (And if you already think it’s a good idea, it’s good for reasons you might find surprising.) For one, it would likely achieve the opposite of its intended result by making America more, rather than less, welcoming to newcomers. …The rule of law demands a clear set of equitable rules that respects and regulates natural patterns of traffic, that sets and sustains long-term expectations, that facilitates and channels the fundamental human inclination to seek out opportunity and the benefits of cooperation. To set up a stop sign every five feet and then to crack down on people who don’t follow the rules misses the point. So does establishing an imaginary line that restricts trade and travel while making a muddle of citizenship. Fortunately, we already have a model of sensible reform from a frequently insensible place – the European Union. By establishing a common labor market in which Americans and Mexicans (Canadians too!) may range freely, living and working where they please, we can channel the commercial energy of integration while maintaining distinctly separate citizenship. Indeed, the feasibility of this arrangement requires maintaining a clear distinction between the right to live and work in another country’s territory and the right to the benefits enjoyed by its citizens. It is a fact of modern life that the redistributive nation-state offers all manner of goods to citizens. To be a citizen of a wealthy country is a lot like being a member of a private club. Yet even the wealthiest national clubs are straining to deliver the benefits promised to members. If a club’s rules permit visitors, invited or not, to mint new members simply by giving birth, cash-strapped current members are bound to object. …not a single EU country has a birthright citizenship rule like that in the U.S. Birthright citizenship made sense for a frontier country with open borders, newly freed slaves, and a small, remote bureaucracy. But the time seems ripe to consider alternatives. …There’s ample reason to believe a change in policy could make America a more immigrant-friendly place while simultaneously restricting the costly benefits of citizenship. Though undocumented immigrants are ineligible for most forms of government assistance, their America-born kids do qualify, which is no doubt an attraction to some prospective immigrant parents. The hard-right Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce speaks for many Americans when he says birthright citizenship “rewards lawbreakers.” What’s more, because these children, once grown, can sponsor family members for authorized migration, they function as border-spanning bridges over which a retinue of relatives may trod. These relatives, once naturalized, can in turn sponsor aunts and uncles and cousins without end. Hence the fear of the “anchor baby,” a gurgling demographic landmine set to explode into a multi-headed invasion of Telemundo fans.

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I have mixed feelings about the right response to illegal immigration. I don´t favor amnesty because of my respect for the rule of law and because it would encourage more illegal immigration. On the other hand, I certainly do not want law enforcement resources diverted to hassling people who are in America solely in search of a better life based on hard and honest work. Walter Williams has a good column on the issue which concludes with a call for more legal immigration:

I believe most people, even my open-borders libertarian friends, would not say that everyone on the planet had a right to live in the U.S. That being the case suggests there will be conditions that a person must meet to live in the U.S. …most Americans would recoil at the suggestion that somebody other than Americans should be allowed to set the conditions for people to live in the U.S. …Probably, the overwhelming majority of Mexican illegal immigrants are hardworking, honest and otherwise law-abiding members of the communities in which they reside. It would surely be a heart-wrenching scenario for such a person to be stopped for a driving infraction, have his illegal immigrant status discovered and face deportation proceedings. Regardless of the hardship suffered, being in the U.S. without authorization is a crime. …Various estimates put the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. between 10 and 20 million. One argument says we can’t round up and deport all those people. That argument differs little from one that says since we can’t catch every burglar, we should grant burglars amnesty. Catching and imprisoning some burglars sends a message to would-be burglars that there might be a price to pay. Similarly, imprisoning some illegal immigrants and then deporting them after their sentences were served would send a signal to others who are here illegally or who are contemplating illegal entry that there’s a price to pay. …Start strict enforcement of immigration law, as Arizona has begun. Strictly enforce border security. Most importantly, modernize and streamline our cumbersome immigration laws so that people can more easily migrate to our country.

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My previous post dealing with whether citizenship should be automatic for babies born to illegals generated a lot of commentary, so it is with some trepidation that I wade back into the issue. But the Wall Street Journal column excerpted below seems to strike exactly the right chord and should (at least I think!) meet with approval from both sides of the immigration debate. And by “both sides,” I’m referring to the debate on the right (with some conservatives and libertarians on both sides of the issue) regarding the benefits of immigration generally and the treatment of illegals specifically.

…a larger welfare state is not conducive to comprehensive immigration reform. If foreigners start coming for handouts instead of economic opportunity, tighter restrictions will be justified. … A 2005 World Values Survey found that 71% of Americans see poverty as a condition that can be overcome by dint of hard work, while only 40% of Europeans share that viewpoint. …Belief in social mobility has informed welfare and immigration policy from colonial times. In 1645 the Massachusetts Bay colony was already barring paupers. And in 1882, when Congress finally passed the country’s first major piece of immigration legislation, it specifically prohibited entry to “any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” A problem that immigration reformers face is the public perception—fed by restrictionists and exacerbated during economic downturns—that the U.S. welfare state is already a magnet for poor immigrants in search of government assistance. It’s true that the U.S. attracts poor people, but it’s also true that they come here to work, not to go on the dole. We know this because the data consistently show that foreign nationals in the U.S. are more likely than natives to be employed and less likely than low-income natives to be receiving public benefits.  …While there’s no evidence that immigrants come here for public assistance, that could change as the U.S. welfare state grows. And one consequence could be less-welcoming immigration policies. The European experience is instructive. In countries such as France, Italy and the Netherlands, excessively generous public benefits have lured poor migrants who tend to be heavy users of welfare and less likely than natives to join the work force. Milton Friedman famously remarked, “you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state.” There is a tipping point, even if the U.S. has yet to reach it.

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George Will argues that the answer should be no. I’m not a lawyer, but I think he makes a compelling case regardless of how one feels about immigration in general or the specific issue of how to deal with illegals:

A simple reform…would bring the interpretation of the 14th Amendment into conformity with what the authors of its text intended, and with common sense, thereby removing an incentive for illegal immigration. To end the practice of “birthright citizenship,” all that is required is to correct the misinterpretation of that amendment’s first sentence: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” From these words has flowed the practice of conferring citizenship on children born here to illegal immigrants. A parent from a poor country, writes professor Lino Graglia of the University of Texas law school, “can hardly do more for a child than make him or her an American citizen, entitled to all the advantages of the American welfare state.” …If those who wrote and ratified the 14th Amendment had imagined laws restricting immigration — and had anticipated huge waves of illegal immigration — is it reasonable to presume they would have wanted to provide the reward of citizenship to the children of the violators of those laws? Surely not. …Congress has heard testimony estimating that more than two-thirds of all births in Los Angeles public hospitals, and more than half of all births in that city, and nearly 10 percent of all births in the nation in recent years, have been to mothers who are here illegally. Graglia seems to establish that there is no constitutional impediment to Congress ending the granting of birthright citizenship to those whose presence here is “not only without the government’s consent but in violation of its law.”

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I’ve been to Norway, Australia, and Iceland and they are all among my favorite nations, but are they really the three best places to live, as is implied by the latest Human Development Report from the United Nations? Here’s a brief blurb from the U.K.’s Daily Mail:

The UN list, which saw Norway retain its status as the world’s most desirable place to live, ranks sub-Saharan African states afflicted by war and Aids as the worst. Data collected prior to the global economic crisis showed people in Norway, Australia and Iceland had the best living standards… The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) index was compiled using 2007 data on GDP per capita, education, and life expectancy, and showed marked differences between the developed and developing world. …Liechtenstein has the highest GDP per capita at $85,383 in a tiny principality home to 35,000 people, 15 banks and more than 100 wealth management companies. People were poorest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where average income per person was $298 per year. Five countries – China, Venezuela, Peru, Colombia and France – climbed three or more places from the previous year, driven by greater earnings and longer life expectancy. China, Colombia and Venezuela also scored better due to improvements in education.

I’m very skeptical of the U.N. report. I strongly suspect migration patterns would show more Norwegians, Australians, and Icelanders emigrating to the United States rather than vice-versa. And the ratio presumably would be even more lopsided if it included unsuccessful residency requests. Isn’t that a more accurate measure of the best place to live? In any event, the U.N. report actually does have some interesting pieces of information. It turns out that two tax havens, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, are the two richest nations. This suggests these places are doing something right, but in the upside-down world of international economic policy, low-tax jurisdictions are being pressured by high-tax nations to adopt bad policy (see here for more information).

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While there is considerable disagreement regarding the value of low-skilled immigrants (especially with regards to whether illegals deserve amnesty), almost everybody agrees that the United States is a big beneficiary when highly skilled workers, investors, and entrepreneurs from around the world come to America. So it is a bit troubling that USA Today is reporting that many Indians and Chinese are deciding that they can achieve more by going back home. It is too soon to make sweeping pronouncements about the public policy implications of this demographic shift, but this preliminary evidence of a reverse “brain drain” certainly suggests that the big-government policies of Bush and Obama have made the American economy less vibrant and less dynamic:

More skilled immigrants are giving up their American dreams to pursue careers back home, raising concerns that the U.S. may lose its competitive edge in science, technology and other fields. “What was a trickle has become a flood,” says Duke University’s Vivek Wadhwa, who studies reverse immigration. …”For the first time in American history, we are experiencing the brain drain that other countries experienced,” he says. Suren Dutia, CEO of TiE Global, a worldwide network of professionals who promote entrepreneurship, says the U.S. economy will suffer without these skilled workers. “If the country is going to maintain the kind of economic well-being that we’ve enjoyed for many years, that requires having these incredibly gifted individuals who have been educated and trained by us,” he says. …Multinational companies that belong to the American Council on International Personnel tell Executive Director Lynn Shotwell that skilled immigrants are discouraged by the immigration process, she says. Some can wait up to a decade for permanent residency, she says. “They’re frustrated with having an uncertain immigration status,” she says. “They’re giving up.”

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