July 8, 2006

More fun with economists

- I give Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution a harder time than most economists because he has a more sophisticated mind. While a lot of economists are rather obviously a little Aspergery (for example, Alan Greenspan was an Ayn Rand cultist for much of his adult life, yet by the standards, such as they are, of right wing economists, Greenspan's personality seemed pretty normal), Tyler is a civilized, cultured gentleman.

Cowen lists some:

Sad facts of the day

Tyler Cowen

"80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year."

"58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school."

"...more people probably read Engadget than all of the top 50 science blogs combined."

I have no idea if these are true, but what's striking is that Tyler considers them "sad," while simultaneously enthusiastically promoting the further Hispanicization of America, without mentioning the causal linkage between Latin American immigration and lack of book reading in America. When he gets his wish, he's going to be sad ...

Here's a 2005 ranking of the Top Ten of America's Most Literate Cities:

1. Minneapolis, MN
2. Seattle, WA
3. Pittsburgh, PA
4. Madison, WI
5. Cincinnati, OH
6. Washington, DC
7. Denver, CO
8. Boston, MA
9. Portland, OR
10. San Francisco, CA

And here's the Bottom Ten:

70. Garland, TX
71. Fresno, CA
72. Arlington, TX
73. Long Beach, CA
74. Anaheim, CA
75. San Antonio, TX
76. Santa Ana, CA
77. Corpus Christi, TX
78. Hialeah, FL
79. El Paso, TX

Do you notice any demographic differences between the Top Ten and Bottom Ten?

Cowen's political positions on immigration are driven by his amoral tastes, making him reminiscent of Camille Paglia's portrait of Oscar Wilde as the cruel, irresponsible aesthete (see Cowen's Paglian review of "The Devil Wears Prada"). Cowen enjoys Mexican cuisine and painting, so turning vast patches of America into Hispanic slums, even into shantytowns, seems like a good idea to him because of the possibility that it will increase his opportunities to more conveniently indulge his aesthetic predilections.

It's a little hard to argue with a political stance that self-absorbed, other than to point out that Tyler's plan for Hispanicizing our country to benefit his personal tastes is:

(A) Internally inconsistent with his other, more elitist personal tastes.

(B) Unlikely to work because Hispanic immigrants don't bring with them traditional village art forms like the Mexican amate painting that Cowen has written a book about. Instead, they watch telenovelas on Univision and go to movies with big explosions.

(C) Running hard into diminishing marginal returns. Is the U.S. at present truly lacking in Mexican restaurants? Will increasing the number of Hispanics in the country from 45 million to 145 million enhance the indulgences of foodies like Cowen noticeably? (Perhaps Cowen's plan is to use mass immigration to keep down the wages of busboys, thus making his foodie lifestyle marginally more affordable.)

- Cowen's fellow George Mason U. econ prof Bryan Caplan of EconLog represents a very different personality type. Bryan is bright, brave (he is one of very few economists who will publicly mention the letters "IQ"), but not exactly a man of the world. Caplan's view are driven by narrow, rigid, unrealistic, and rather adolescent moral dogmas, largely derived from the works of Julian Simon. Thus:

What We Owe Immigrants
Bryan Caplan

... Suppose two men, John and Julio, are heading to a job interview. Julio tells John: "I need this job more than you do. Please drop out of the race so I get it." It's perfectly reasonable for John to make Hardenberg's reply: "No. You're a stranger and I don't owe you anything." At this point, Mangan and I are in full agreement.

But suppose instead that John handcuffs Julio to a tree to prevent him from going to the interview. Julio says "Let me go. I deserve a shot at this job too." At this point, it's ludicrous for John to reply, "No. You're a stranger and I don't owe you anything." Julio isn't demanding help; he's just demanding that John leave him alone. And if John were to object, "You're not leaving me alone. That job is MINE, and you're trying to steal it from me!" we'd have to answer, "The job isn't yours. It's up to the owner of the business to decide who he wants to employ."

All of this is obvious to any upright 10-year-old.

Which is most perfect self-characterization of Bryan's worldview imaginable: that of a very bright, very self-righteous Webelos.

You're under no obligation to give your toys away to less fortunate kids, but you're certainly not allowed to steal toys from less fortunate kids.

Unfortunately, if the victims happen to be born in another country, most adults don't have the moral sense of a 10-year-old. Don't want to help poor foreigners? Fine. But at least leave them free to sell their labor to willing employers, rent apartments from willing landlords, and buy goods from willing merchants.

But suppose instead that John handcuffs Julio to a tree to prevent him from going to the interview. Julio says "Let me go. I deserve a shot at this job too." At this point, John replies, "You're trying to to drive to the interview IN MY HOTWIRED CAR! I'm calling the police."

But then Julio, who got a B.A. in economics at George Mason and so knows the lingo, says, "But how dare you appeal for help to an American government agency! By what moral right does the Fairfax County Sheriff's office have the right to prevent me from freely exercising my autonomy just because we're within arbitrary lines drawn on a map? And what is this "registration" that you keep waving with your name on it other than a piece of paper issued by some other immoral government agency?"

Then John, who got a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason and so is a true believer, says, "Oh, my God, you're right!. I'm so sorry. Here's the keys to the car. And here's $50 to fill it up."

I doubt if Caplan will ever notice:

A. That his beloved property rights don't enforce themselves, but depend upon a political community.

B. That there are more than 6 billion foreigners on Earth, and that 5 billion of them live in countries with lower average per capita GDP's than Mexico's?

C. That immigration is not like trade because immigrants come with massive externalities?

D. That Americans, being a civilized and at least minimally prudent people, will never adopt a system of pure laissez-faire for immigrants, but will continue to provide them with medical care, inoculations, policing, jailing, education for their children, and the like.

- Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, recently the Chairman of the Presiden'ts Council of Economic Advisers, explains on his blog:

Why economists like immigration

The study of economics leaves a person with two strong impulses.

The Libertarian Impulse: Mutually advantageous acts between consenting adults should, absent externalities, be permitted. The ability to engage in such trades is how people in free-market economies achieve prosperity. When the government impedes voluntary exchange, it prevents the invisible hand of the market from working its magic.

The Egalitarian Impulse: The market economy rewards people according to supply and demand, not inherent worth. Markets often fail to provide people the ability to adequately insure themselves against the vicissitudes of life and accidents of birth. We should, therefore, look for ways to help those who end up at the bottom of the economic ladder.

This is certainly true. What's striking is that the study of economics does not normally encourage the Realist Impulse or the Empirical Impulse or the Skeptically Prudent Impulse or whatever you want to call it.

Most economists feel both of these impulses to some degree. The difference between right-leaning and left-leaning economists is how strongly they feel each of them. Right-leaning economists have a stronger libertarian impulse, whereas left-leaning economists have a stronger egalitarian impulse.

And realist economists, if they exist, don't have a team to belong to.

Although some debates in economics come down to which impulse a person feels more strongly, on immigration the two impulses are reinforcing. The libertarian impulse says, let the American employer hire the Mexican worker, for it is voluntary exchange.

The egalitarian impulse takes note that the Mexican immigrant is the poorest person involved in the situation, and he benefits from more relaxed immigration restrictions.

That there are 4,976,000,000 people living in countries with lower average per capita GDP's than Mexico's will probably never penetrate the consciousnesses of many economists because it is a four-letter-word: F-A-C-T.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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