Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Best of Liberty Corner

Go to "Favorite Posts" at Politics & Prosperity.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cell Phones and Driving, Once More: Addendum

This is an addendum to "Cell Phones and Driving, Once More," at Liberty Corner. In that post, I dispense with the attempt by Saurabh Bhargava and Vikram Pathania (B&P) to disprove the well established causal link between cell-phone use and traffic accidents through a poorly specified time-series analysis. (Their paper is "Driving Under the (Cellular) Influence: The Link Between Cell Phone Use and Vehicle Crashes," AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, Working Paper 07-15, July 2007.) The question I address here is whether it is possible to quantify that link through time-series analysis.

Coming directly to the point, a rigorously quantitative time-series analysis is impossible because (a) some of the relevant variables cannot be quantified -- item by item, along a common dimension -- and (b) others are strongly correlated with each other.

The relevant variables that cannot be quantified properly are improvements in the design of automobiles and the streets and highways on which they travel. There simply have been too many different improvements over too long a period of time, during which other significant (and correlated) changes have taken place. There can be no doubt that the design of automobiles has evolved toward greater safety almost since their initial production in the 1890s. What were flimsy, open-bodied carriages with no protection for their occupants are now reinforced, air-bag and shoulder-harness-equipped juggernauts with safety glass, power brakes, and power steering. In parallel, city streets have evolved from unmarked, uncontrolled, unlighted buggy routes to comparatively broad, well-controlled, well-lighted avenues; and highways have evolved from rutted, dirt wagon tracks to comparatively smooth, wide, controlled-access expressways. Thus the combined, long-term effects of design improvements on traffic safety can be seen in aggregate statistics, to which I will come.

Relevant variables that are strongly correlated with each other are traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles (the dependent variable in this analysis); the proportion of young adults in the population, as measured by the percentage of persons 15-24 years old; the incidence of alcohol consumption, as measured in gallons of ethanol per year; per capita cell-phone use (in average monthly minutes); and the passage of time (measured in years), which is a proxy for improvements in the safety of motor vehicles. Here are the cross-correlations among those variables for the period 1970-2005 (1970 being the earliest year for which I have data on alcohol consumption):




Cell phone




















Cell phone












(The endnote to this post gives the sources for the various statistics discussed and presented in this analysis.)

Obviously, given the strong correlations between the percentage of persons aged 15-24, per capita alcohol consumption, and year, only one of those three variables can be accounted for meaningfully in a regression on the dependent variable, fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles. Year is the obvious choice, in that it accounts not only for the percentage of 15-24 year olds and alcohol consumption, but also for improvements in the design of motor vehicles and highways.

That cell-phone use is negatively correlated with the fatality rate is merely an artifact of the general decline in the fatality rate, which began long before cell phones came into use. Similarly, the negative correlation between the percentage of 15-24 year olds and the volume of cell-phone use is an artifact of the trends prevailing during 1970-2005: a general decline in the percentage of 15-24 year olds (after 1977), accompanied by a swelling tide of cell-phone use.

Regression analysis illustrates these points. First, I used year as the sole explanatory variable. Despite the high R-squared of the regression (0.911), it lacks nuance; graphically, it is a straight line that bisects the meandering, downward curve of fatality rate (see below). Introducing 15-24 year olds and/or alcohol consumption into the regression would yield a better fit, but because those variables are so strongly correlated with time (and one another) their signs are either intuitively incorrect or their coefficients are statistically insignificant. (This is true for15-24 year olds, even when the regression covers 1957-2005, the period for which I have data for the percentage of 15-24 year olds.)

Adding cell-phone use to year results in a better fit (R-squared = 0.948), and the coefficient for cell-phone use squares with the results of valid studies (i.e., it is significant and positive). But because of the exclusion of 15-24 year olds and alcohol consumption, cell-phone use carries too much weight. Here is the equation:
Annual traffic fatalities per 100mn vehicle-miles =
- (0.105 x year)
+ (0.0022 x number of cell-phone minutes/month/capita in a year)

The t-values of the intercept and coefficients are 21.847, -21.565, and 4.886, respectively (all significant at the 0.99 level). The adjusted R-squared of the equation is 0.945. The mean values of the dependent and explanatory variables are 2.52, 1987.5, and 50.602, respectively. The standard error of the estimate (0.232)/the mean of the dependent variable (2.522) = 0.092. The equation is significant at the 0.99 level.
This equation, when viewed graphically, loses its charm:

It is obvious that the variable for cell-phone use carries too much weight; it over-explains the fatality rate. According to the equation, in 2005, when monthly cell-phone use had ballooned to more than 500 minutes per American, almost 80 percent of traffic fatalities were caused by cell-phone use. That's an absurd result: an artifact of the difficulty of statistically analyzing traffic fatalities when key variables (time, 15-24 year olds, and alcohol consumption) are strongly correlated. I have no doubt that cell-phone use contributes much to traffic accidents and fatalities (see main post), but not as much as the equation suggests.

A more meaningful relationship is found in the strong, positive correlation (0.973) between cell-phone use and the portion of traffic fatalities that the passage of time fails to account for after 1998, that is, where the blue line crosses below the black line in the graph above. (Similarly, the "hump" in the black line that occurs around 1980, and the declivities that precede and follow it, can be attributed to the rise and fall of the population of 15-24 year olds and the consumption of alcohol.)

It's time to pull back and look at the big picture. The rate of traffic fatalities has been declining for a long time, owing mainly to improvements in the design of autos and highways. Thus:

Even though a meaningful time-series analysis of traffic fatalities is impossible, it is possible to interpret broadly the history of traffic fatalities since 1900. The first thing to note, of course, is the strong negative relationship between the fatality rate and time, which is a proxy for the kinds of improvements in automobile and highway safety that I mention earlier. Those improvements obviously predate the ascendancy Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed (1965), and the ensuing hysteria about automobile safety. Consumers had, for a long time, been demanding -- and getting -- safer (and more reliable) automobiles. The market works, when you allow it to do its job.

The initial decline in the fatality rate, after 1909, marks the transition from open-sided, unenclosed, buggy-like conveyances to cars with closed sides and metal roofs. Improvements in highway design must have helped, too. Ironically, the drop in the fatality rate became more pronounced after the onset of Prohibition in 1920. It leveled off a bit in the late 1920s, when the "reckless youth of the Jazz Age" came to the fore, equipped with cars and bootleg gin. The rate then spiked at the (official) end of Prohibition (1933), suggesting that that ignoble experiment had some effect on Americans' drinking habits. The slight bulge during World War II reflects the increasing unreliability of autos then in use; relatively few Americans could afford new cars during the Depression, and new cars weren't built during the war. The vigorous descent of the fatality rate from 1945 to the early 1960s captures the effects of (a) the resumption of auto production after WWII and (b) continued improvements in auto and highway design. Later bulges and dips in the fatality rate can be traced to the influence of a growing, then declining, population of young adults and the (presumably related) rise and fall in per capita alcohol consumption. Then, along came the cell-phone eruption, with its tidal wave of inattentive drivers, as impaired as if they had been drinking. (The prospect of encountering a cell-phone-using drunk driver is frightening.)

Here are some observations and predictions:
  • In the 48 years from 1909 to 1957 -- when the Interstate Highway System was in its infancy and eight years before Nader published Unsafe at Any Speed -- the fatality rate dropped from 45.33 to 5.73 fatalities per million vehicle-miles. That's 39.6 fewer fatalities per million vehicle-miles, a drop of 87 percent.
  • In the 48 years from 1957 to 2005 -- the era of federalization -- the fatality rate dropped to 1.45 fatalities per million vehicle-miles. That's 4.28 fewer fatalities per million vehicle-miles, a drop of 73 percent. The smaller absolute and relative decline during these 48 years than in the preceding ones can be explained, in part, by the Peltzman effect (discussed below).
  • Traffic fatalities will continue to drop at about the same rate, whether or not cell-phone bans are widely adopted and enforced. Why? Because technology will save the day. Moore's law (a description of the declining cost of computing technology) will lead to cheap, reliable, sensor-controlled warning, steering, and braking systems.
  • But the already low fatality rate can't go much lower, in absolute terms. It may drop another 70 to 80 percent in the next 48 years, from about 1.5 to about 0.3.
I now come to the Peltzman effect: "the hypothesized tendency of people to react to a safety regulation by increasing other risky behavior, offsetting some or all of the benefit of the regulation." The effect is named after Sam Peltzman, a professor economics at the University of Chicago, who in the 1970s originated the theory of offsetting behavior. Peltzman, writing in 2004, had this to say:
A recent article [here] by Alma Cohen and Linan Einav (2003) on the effects of mandatory seatbelt use laws.... shares with most such studies the crucial bottom line: The real-world effect of these laws on highway mortality is substantially less than it should be if there was no offsetting behavior. [Cohen and Einav] conclude that the increased belt usage occasioned by these laws should, in the absence of any behavioral response, have saved more than three times as many lives as were in fact saved.

Equally important, this kind of "regulatory failure" does not arise because the engineers at NHTSA are wrong abou the effectiveness of the devices they prescribe. Most studies show that, if you are involved in a serious accident, you are much better off buckled than not and with an air bag rather than without. The auto safety liberature attributes the shortfall, either implicitly or explicitly, to an offsetting increase in the likelihood of aserious accident.
Imagine the lives that would have been saved without the "help" of the Naderites of this world.

Fatality Rates. These are from the Statistical Abstract of the United States (online version), Table HS-41, Transportation Indicators for Motor Vehicles and Airlines: 1900 to 2001, and Table 1071, Motor Vehicle Accidents--Number and Deaths: 1980 to 2005.

Population aged 15-24. The numbers of persons aged 15-24 are from the Statistical Abstract, Table HS-3, Population by Age: 1900 to 2002, and Table 7, Resident Population by Age and Sex: 1980 to 2006. The same tables give total population, which I used to compute the percentage of the population aged 15-24.

Alcohol consumption. Estimates of annual, per capita consumption for 1970-2005 are from Per capita ethanol consumption for States, census regions, and the United States, 1970–2005 (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).

Per capital cell-phone use. I derived monthly cell-phone use, by year, from Trends in Telephone Service, February 2007 (Wireline Competition Bureau, Industry Analysis and Technology Division, Federal Communications Commission). I obtained total monthly cell-phone usage by multiplying the December values for the number of subscribers, given in tables 11-1 and 11-3, by the average number of minutes of use per month, given in table 11-3. The values for monthly minutes begin with 1993, so I estimated the values for 1984-92 by ussing the average of the values for 1993-98. To estimate per capita use, I divided total monthly minutes by the population of the U.S. (see above).

Monday, August 06, 2007

Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice: Part IV

The prologue is here, part I is here, part II is here, and part III is here. In this post -- probably the last in the series -- I argue that cosmic justice (a.k.a. redistributionism) is largely futile. Those who are created less-than-equal -- with respect to the attributes that yield material success -- cannot be made equal by handouts, "head starts," or affirmative action. UPDATE: For a long, well-substantiated survey about the validity of intelligence as a concept, the validity of race as a concept, persistent differences in IQ between races, and related matters, go here.
I say in Part II that
[l]iberals' arrogant willingness to play at being gods [i.e., meting out cosmic justice through redistributionism]...rests on these deep[] (and usually unacknowledged) assumptions:
  • One person's well-being can be measured against another person's well-being through interpersonal comparisons of utility.
  • There is a kind of cosmic justice -- or social welfare function -- that is advanced by harming some persons for the benefit of other persons. That is, a benefit cancels a harm -- at least when the benefit and harm are decided by liberals.
  • Taking wealth and income from those who have "too much" does not, on balance, harm those who have "too little" by dampening economic growth and voluntary charity....
(The first and second assumptions enable [liberal redistributionists] to assert that "positive freedom entails negative freedom." To [liberal redistributionists], there is one big "welfare pie" in sky, in which we all somehow share -- despite the obvious fact that A is made worse off when some of his wealth or income is confiscated and given to B.)
...Given the foregoing, liberals see it as necessary and desirable to redistribute wealth and income from persons who have "too much" to persons who have "too little" -- or "too little" of the things that wealth and income can buy. Otherwise, those who have "too little" wealth or income (or the things they can buy) would enjoy only "theoretical" freedom. But the use of the word "theoretical" is a rhetorical trick, a bit of verbal sleight-of-hand. It implies, without proof, that anyone who does not enjoy a certain "minimal" state of health, wealth, etc. -- as "minimal" is defined by a liberal -- simply lacks the wherewithal to strive toward ends that he or she values....
The liberal argument for redistribution, therefore, is really a circular argument intended to justify liberals' particular sense of fitting outcomes.
A "liberal" (or "progressive") would be quick to proclaim that most of the poor are not poor simply for lack of wherewithal (i.e., education and training); rather, they are victims of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or gender. That is, they are "trapped by the system," and it is the duty of liberals to rectify the system's wrongs.
But are the poor (and other groups favored by liberals) really trapped by the system, that is, by prejudicial discrimination? Or are they generally lacking in wherewithal because they are trapped by their genetic and cultural inheritance? If the latter, as I argue here, the quest for cosmic justice through redistribution is counterproductive, largely futile, and unfair. How so?
The quest for cosmic justice through redistribution is counterproductive for three reasons
  • Redistribution is like giving a person a fish instead of teaching him how to fish; if he becomes dependent on the handout he is less likely to better himself, within the scope of his ability.
  • Because redistribution reduces the rewards that accrue to superior achievement it leads to a lower rate of economic growth -- to the detriment of all, including those for whom liberals' hearts bleed. (For more about the counterproductive effects of redistribution, see this, this, and this.)
  • The lowering of rewards for superior achievement (i.e., taxation) reduces voluntary charity. And yet it is voluntary charity that is most likely to help those in need better themselves. Why? Because voluntary donors, operating through truly non-governmental organizations (i.e., not the Red Cross, United Way, and their ilk) are personally committed to -- and vigilant about -- the effective use of their contributions.
The quest is largely futile because -- contrary to liberal rhetoric and political correctness (which are much the same thing) -- all races, ethnic groups, and genders are not equal when it comes to mental and behavioral inheritance. (Races, ethnic groups, and genders differ broadly in their mental and behavioral traits, but each race, ethnic group, and gender is not And it is one's mental and behavioral inheritance that largely determines one's income. homogeneous, even though liberals like to treat them as if they were.) Redistribution -- in any form (e.g., welfare payments, preferential hiring and promotion of "protected" groups) -- does not offset the "barriers" of race, ethnicity, and gender because, in the main, it cannot do so. Because liberals will not admit the futility of redistribution they are bound to redouble and perpetuate it, as they have done for more than 70 years.
As to the unfairness of redistribution, I think Anthony de Jasay hits it on the head in "Risk, Value, and Externality":
Stripped of rhetoric, an act of social justice (a) deliberately increases the relative share....of the worse-off in total income, and (b) in achieving (a) it redresses part or all of an injustice....This implies that some people being worse off than others is an injustice and that it must be redressed. However, redress can only be effected at the expense of the better-off; but it is not evident that they have committed the injustice in the first place. Consequently, nor is it clear why the better-off should be under an obligation to redress it....
For more about the counterproductive and unfair nature of redistribution, see parts II and III (linked above). My focus, from here on, is the essential futility of the redistrutionist urge.
The rest of this post summarizes some of the evidence that is available with respect to relationships between genes, intelligence, and behavior. Much of the evidence is controversial not because it is false but because (a) some of its authors are controversial* and (b) it tells a politically incorrect story:
  • There are heritable differences in behavior and intelligence.
  • Those differences show up in education and income.
  • Those differences run (generally) along the lines of race, ethnicity, and gender.
Those who deny such evidence do so, I believe, because their political leanings preclude objectivity. They are committed to the dispensation of cosmic justice in the service of "equality." They are therefore committed to the enforcement of discrimination in favor of certain classes of persons. Their first, loudest, and everlasting reaction to evidence which indicates that races, ethnic groups, and genders are not created equal when it comes to income-producing aptitudes is to cry "racism" and "sexism."
Thus this anticipatory disclaimer:
I anticipate -- and reject -- accusations that I am a racist and a misogynist. A racist is "a person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to others." A misogynist hates women. I hew to neither trait.
I am very far from being a woman-hater; women are (among other things) essential to civil society, without which liberty is impossible (e.g., see this). More generally, I do not believe that a particular race, ethnic group, or gender is a superior one -- in the sense of being entitled to a position of power over other races or ethnic groups or another gender. I do believe, based on evidence of the kind I sample below, that there are very real, measurable, and persistent differences in aptitudes across races, ethnic groups, and genders, and that those differences underlie persistent differences in the average incomes earned by various races, ethnic groups, and genders.
My belief is based not on prejudice: "an adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts." I was once a prejudiced (i.e., ignorant) liberal, a believer in cosmic justice. Facts, experience, and reason have led me away from that benighted persuasion.
The careful reader will observe that the evidence I sample here most decidedly does not support any claim of "white supremacy." White supremacy in the United States involves the presumption that whites are superior to blacks. But there is more to it than that. White supremacy also encompasses anti-Semitism and prejudice against such "non-white" groups as Arabs and Asians. Moreover, white supremacists in the United States usually are anti-Catholic, and they consider persons of Eastern and Southern European origin to be of inferior stock. The IQ measures I cite here decidedly favor Ashkenazi Jews and East Asians over the particular kinds "whites" favored by white supremacists (e.g., the "Herrenvolk").
Intelligence, a Central Concept
I should now elaborate on the concept of intelligence -- in particular, IQ or "general intelligence" -- and its importance in the context of this post. I do not deny the possibility of "multiple intelligences." But, for the purpose of this post, the relevant kind of intelligence is
a property of mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend ideas and language, and learn....

Despite the variety of concepts of intelligence, the most influential approach to understanding intelligence (i.e., with the most supporters and the most published research over the longest period of time) is based on psychometric testing. Such intelligence quotient (IQ) tests include the Stanford-Binet, Raven's Progressive Matrices, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale and the Wechsler-Bellevue.

All forms of IQ tests correlate highly with one another. The traditional view is that these tests measure g or "general intelligence factor". g can be derived as the principal factor using the mathematical method of factor analysis.
Why is IQ the relevant kind of intelligence? Arnold Kling explains:
[T]he reality is that the intelligences that feed into IQ are what drive economic success. I have an unwritten essay on the meadow and the food court. It's a way of capturing Gregory Clark's economic history in a metaphor.
In a meadow economy, the human race is a grazing herd. The naturalists are the ones who eat the best. This was the economy up until about 1800 everywhere, and it still applies in the underdeveloped world today.
In the West since 1800, we've been moving to the food court economy, where we use complex recipes and convoluted trading mechanisms to translate basic ingredients into fancy consumption goods. Overall, most of the value nowadays is in the recipes, not in the ingredients.
Nature Outweighs Nurture
Bruce Sacerdote's "What Happens When We Randomly Assign Children to Families?" (October 2004) directly addresses the issue of nature versus nurture. Wading through the statistics, we come to this key conclusion:
[T]ransmission of education and income for adoptees is much less strong than for non-adoptees. Hence, by definition, either initial endowments [i.e., genetically transmitted traits] or the interaction between family environment and initial endowments must be driving a large portion of the transmission of income and education to children.
In sum, according to "Nature versus nurture" at Wikipedia,
[e]vidence suggests that family environmental factors may have an effect upon childhood IQ, accounting for up to a quarter of the variance. On the other hand, by late adolescence this correlation disappears, such that adoptive siblings are no more similar in IQ than strangers.[5] Moreover, adoption studies indicate that, by adulthood, adoptive siblings are no more similar in IQ than strangers (IQ correlation near zero), while full siblings show an IQ correlation of 0.6. Twin studies reinforce this pattern: monozygotic (identical) twins raised separately are highly similar in IQ (0.86), more so than dizygotic (fraternal) twins raised together (0.6) and much more than adoptive siblings (~0.0). [6] Consequently, in the context of the "nature versus nurture" debate, the "nature" component appears to be much more important than the "nurture" component in explaining IQ variance in the general adult population of the United States.
Cultural Differences That Influence Income Are Heritable
I turn now to Nicholas Wade of The New York Times, whose International Herald Tribune article ("Cultural Differences: A DNA Link?," March 2006) suggests that an
explanation for such long- lasting character traits [as social interdependence] may be emerging from the human genome. Humans have continued to evolve throughout prehistory and perhaps to the present day, according to a new analysis of the genome reported last week by Jonathan Pritchard, a population geneticist at the University of Chicago.
So human nature may have evolved as well.
If so, scientists and historians say, a fresh look at history may be in order. Evolutionary changes in the genome could help explain cultural traits that last over many generations as societies adapted to different local pressures....
In a study of East Asians, Europeans and Africans, Pritchard and his colleagues found 700 regions of the genome where genes appear to have been reshaped by natural selection in recent times. In East Asians, the average date of these selection events is 6,600 years ago....
Some of the genes are active in the brain and, although their role is not known, may have affected behavior....
Some geneticists believe the variations they are seeing in the human genome are so recent that they may help explain historical processes.
"Since it looks like there has been significant evolutionary change over historical time, we're going to have to rewrite every history book ever written," said Gregory Cochran, a population geneticist at the University of Utah.
"The distribution of genes influencing relevant psychological traits must have been different in Rome than it is today," he added. "The past is not just another country but an entirely different kind of people."
John McNeill, a historian at Georgetown University in Washington, said "it should be no surprise to anyone that human nature is not a constant" and that selective pressures have probably been stronger in the last 10,000 years than at any other epoch in human evolution....
The political scientist Francis Fukuyama has distinguished between high-trust and low-trust societies, arguing that trust is a basis for prosperity. Since his 1995 book on the subject, researchers have found that oxytocin, a chemical active in the brain, increases the level of trust, at least in psychological experiments.
Oxytocin levels are known to be under genetic control in other mammals.
It is easy to imagine that in societies where trust pays off, generation after generation, the more trusting individuals would have more progeny and the oxytocin-promoting genes would become more common in the population.
If conditions should then change, and the society be engulfed by strife and civil warfare for generations, oxytocin levels might fall as the paranoid produced more progeny.
Napoleon Chagnon for many decades studied the Yanomamo, a warlike people who live in the forests of Brazil and Venezuela. He found that men who had killed in battle had three times as many children as those who had not. Since personality is heritable, this would be a mechanism for Yanomamo nature to evolve and become fiercer than usual.
Since the agricultural revolution, humans have to a large extent created their own environment. But that does not mean the genome has ceased to evolve. The genome can respond to cultural practices as well as to any other kind of change.
Northern Europeans, for instance, are known to have responded genetically to the drinking of cow's milk, a practice that began in the Funnel Beaker Culture that thrived 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. They developed lactose tolerance, the unusual ability to digest lactose in adulthood....
The most recent example of a society's possible genetic response to its circumstances is one advanced by Cochran and Henry Harpending, an anthropologist at the University of Utah.
In an article last year they argued that the unusual pattern of genetic diseases found among Ashkenazi Jews (those of Central and Eastern Europe) was a response to the demands for increased intelligence imposed when Jews were largely confined to the intellectually demanding professions of money lending and tax collection.
Though this period lasted only from A.D. 900 to about 1700, it was long enough, the two scientists argue, for natural selection to favor any variant gene that enhanced cognitive ability....
But the variant genes common among the Ashkenazi do not protect against any known disease. In the Cochran and Harpending thesis, the genes were a response to the demanding social niche into which Ashkenazi Jews were forced and the nimbleness required to be useful to their unpredictable hosts.
No one has yet tested the Cochran-Harpending thesis, which remains just an interesting, though well worked out, conjecture. But one of its predictions is that the same genes should be targets of selection in any other population where there is a demand for greater cognitive skills. That demand might have well have arisen among the first settled societies where people had to deal with the quite novel concepts of surpluses, property, value and quantification.
And indeed Pritchard's team detected strong selection among East Asians in the region of the gene that causes Gaucher's disease, one of the variant genes common among Ashkenazim.
Intelligence and Race
To this point I have reviewed evidence that nature (i.e., genetic inheritance) generally outweighs nurture (i.e., environmental factors) in determining intelligence and income. Also, I have reviewed evidence that suggests the heritability of certain cultural traits (e.g., the kind of group solidarity that leads to economic betterment). Consider, now, some evidence about intelligence as it relates directly to race.

From "Race and Intelligence" at Wikipedia:
The modern controversy surrounding intelligence and race focuses on the results of IQ studies conducted during the 20th century, mainly in the United States and some other industrialized nations. In almost every testing situation where tests were administered and evaluated correctly, the mean IQ of Blacks was approximately one standard deviation below that of Whites. [That is, the average white person has an IQ higher than about two-thirds of all black persons: ED.]....

It is a matter of debate whether IQ differences between races in the U.S. are...entirely environmental or...partly genetic. Several published consensus statements agree that the large differences between the average IQ scores of Blacks and Whites in the U.S. cannot be attributed to biases in test construction, nor can they be explained just by simple differences in socio-economic status, however they are still well with in the range that may be attributed to other environmental factors....
But are inter-racial IQ differences "well within the range that may be attributed to...environmental factors"? Charles Murray, writing in Commentary about two years ago (article now behind paywall), reviews what had been learned about gender, race, and IQ since the publication of his (and the late Richard Herrnstein's) The Bell Curve (1994). As for race, Murray reviews the evidence at length and concludes
that we know two facts beyond much doubt. First, the conventional environmental explanation of the black-white difference [in IQ] is inadequate. Poverty, bad schools, and racism, which seem such obvious culprits, do not explain it. Insofar as the environment is the cause, it is not the sort of environment we know how to change, and we have tried every practical remedy that anyone has been able to think of. Second, regardless of one’s reading of the competing arguments, we are left with an IQ difference that has, at best, narrowed by only a few points over the last century. I can find nothing in the history of this difference, or in what we have learned about its causes over the last ten years, to suggest that any faster change is in our future.
John J. Ray, an Australian psychometrician, observes that
[McElwain and Kearney] constructed a test that WAS biased -- but biased towards blacks rather than towards whites. They included in their test (the Queensland Test or QT) only those items that blacks responded well to and which actually could be shown to be valid predictors of problem solving performance among blacks. In effect, blacks constructed the test themselves -- by providing the responses used to select the individual questions within the test.

But you know what happened, don't you? On a test intrinsically biased against them, whites still greatly outperformed blacks. So there really is an underlying difference between blacks and whites. The difference is not just the result of naively constructed tests.
Some (e.g., Thomas Sowell) have argued that the persistence of the inter-racial IQ gap is owed to black culture -- "black redneck" culture, in Sowell's words. But, as I say here,
[i]f "black redneck" culture is the cause of the inter-racial gap in IQ, and if blacks choose to perpetuate the "black redneck" culture, then the perpetuation of the IQ gap might as well be genetic. For, it will be the result of blacks' self-imposed servitude to the forces of ignorance.
And it well may be that the "black redneck" culture has become a genetically heritable trait.

Finally, on this topic, let us hear again from Rushton. In a review of Lynn's book, Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis (2006), he says:
Lynn’s book represents the culmination of more than a quarter of a century’s work on race differences in intelligence. It was in 1977 that he first ventured into this field – some would say minefield – with the publication of two papers on the IQ in Japan and Singapore. Both showed that the East Asians obtained higher means than white Europeans in the United States and Britain....

His conclusions are that the East Asians (Chinese, Japanese and Koreans) have the highest mean IQ at 105. These are followed by the Europeans (IQ 100). Some way below these are the Inuit (Eskimos) (IQ 91), South East Asians (IQ 87), Native American Indians (IQ 87), Pacific Islanders (IQ 85), South Asians and North Africans (IQ 84). Well below these come the sub-Saharan Africans (IQ 67) followed by the Australian Aborigines (IQ 62). The least intelligent races are the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert together with the Pygmies of the Congo rain forests (IQ 54).

After the ten chapters setting out the evidence for each of the ten races there follows a chapter on the reliability and validity of the measures. These show that the studies have high reliability in the sense that different studies of racial IQs give closely similar results. For instance, East Asians invariably obtain high IQs, not only in their own native homelands but in Singapore, Malaysia, Hawaii and North America. To establish the validity of the racial IQs he shows that they have high correlations with performance in the international studies of achievement in mathematics and science. Racial IQs also have high correlations with national economic development, providing a major contribution to the problem of why the peoples of some nations are rich and others poor. He argues further that the IQ differences between the races explain the differences in achievement in making the Neolithic transition from hunter-gathering to settled agriculture, the building of early civilizations, and the development of mature civilizations during the last two thousand years.

Lynn tackles the problem of the environmental and genetic determinants of race differences in intelligence and concludes that these contribute about equally to the phenotypic differences. He argues that the consistency of racial IQs in many different locations can only be explained by powerful genetic factors....

He elaborates the argument he has advanced over the last fifteen years that the race differences in intelligence have evolved as adaptations to colder environments as early humans migrated out of Africa. In North Africa and South Asia, and even more in Europe and Northeast Asia, these early humans encountered the problems of having to survive during cold winters when there were no plant foods and they had to hunt big game to survive. They also had to solve the problems of keeping warm. These required greater intelligence than was needed in tropical and semi-tropical equatorial Africa where plant foods are plentiful throughout the year....His analysis relating race differences in intelligence to exposure to low winter temperatures has recently been independently corroborated by Templer and Arikawa (2005)....

To the arguments presented by Jensen (1998) for a substantial genetic determination of the difference in intelligence between blacks and whites in the United States, Lynn adds a more general one. He advances the general principle of evolutionary biology that wherever subspecies, strains or races have evolved in different environments they invariably develop differences in all characteristics for which there is genetic variation as a result of mutations occurring in some subspecies and of adaptations to different environments, and asserts that intelligence cannot be an exception. He concludes witheringly that:

“The position of environmentalists that over the course of some 100,000 years peoples separated by geographical barriers in different parts of the world evolved into ten different races with pronounced genetic differences in morphology, blood groups and the incidence of genetic diseases, and yet have identical genotypes for intelligence, is so improbable that those who advance it must either be totally ignorant of the basic principles of evolutionary biology or else have a political agenda to deny the importance of race. Or both."
Intelligence and Gender

On to the gender gap in IQ. There is a male-female gap, in favor of males, but it is much smaller than the black-white gap. In "Sex differences on the progressive matrices: A meta-analysis," Intelligence, September-October 2004) Richard Lynn and Paul Irwing report this:
A meta-analysis...of 57 studies of sex differences in general population samples on [Raven's] Progressive Matrices....showed that there is no difference among children aged 6–14 years, but that males obtain higher means from the age of 15 through to old age. Among adults, the male advantage is...equivalent to 5 IQ points. These results disconfirm the frequent assertion than there are no sex differences on the progressive matrices and support a developmental theory that a male advantage appears from the age of 15 years....

Given that [an] increasing female advantage in educational achievement coexists with somewhat lower scores among adult women on the progressive matrices, it can be inferred that there are other factors predominantly possessed by women that facilitate this achievement. Possibly, this may be stronger work motivation. Thus, it has been found in the United States that women obtain lower mean scores on the SAT-M [Scholastic Aptitude Test for Mathematics] but they did not obtain lower math grades (Wainer & Steinberg, 1992). The most probable explanation is that women’s stronger work motivation compensates for their lower test scores.
Rushton and Douglas N. Jackson confirm the male-female IQ gap in "Males have greater g: Sex differences in general mental ability from 100,000 17- to 18-year olds on the Scholastic Assessment Test" (Intelligence, September-October 2006). This is from the abstract:
In this study we found that 17- to 18-year old males averaged 3.63 IQ points higher than did their female counterparts on the 1991 Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). We analysed 145 item responses from 46,509 males and 56,007 females (total N=102,516) using a principal components procedure. We found (1) the g factor [general intelligence] underlies both the SAT Verbal (SAT-V) and the SAT Mathematics (SAT-M) scales with the congruence between these components greater than 0.90; (2) the g components predict undergraduate grades better than do the traditionally used SAT-V and SAT-M scales; (3) the male and the female g factors are congruent in excess of .99; (4) male–female differences in g have a point-biserial effect size of 0.12 favoring males (equivalent to 3.63 IQ points); (5) male–female differences in g are present throughout the entire distribution of scores; (6) male–female differences in g are found at every socioeconomic level; and (7) male–female differences in g are found across several ethnic groups. We conclude that while the magnitude of the male–female difference in g is not large, it is real and non-trivial.
Jennifer Roback Morse, writing at on the concept of male-female equality, adds this:
Cambridge professor of Psychology and Psychiatrist Simon Baron-Cohen [who] reports on numerous studies that have found differences in skill levels between men and women. In his book, The Essential Difference: the Truth about the Male and Female Brain, Dr. Baron-Cohen explains that sex differences in math have been documented in children as young as seven years old. And when you look at the different aspects of math, an even more interesting fact emerges. There is no difference in the ability to calculate, or the "primary mathematical abilities." The difference shows up in the "secondary abilities," such as geometry, spatial relationships and problem-solving.
For instance, boys tend to perform better than girls at a test called the Mental Rotation Test. The examiner shows someone two shapes and asks whether they are mirror images of each other. This ability to visualize a shape even when rotated in space helps in a whole variety of other skills, including building things from plans, interpreting schematic drawings, tying knots or reading maps.
That is to say, males generally outperform females in key dimensions of intelligence, such as the capacity to reason, solve problems, and think abstractly. Why? Because male and female brains differ in fundamental ways. To put it another way, the female genome produces a somewhat different brain structure than that of the male genome.

Intelligence and Income: Intra-National Differences
Intelligence correlates with income and race on two levels: intra-nationally (within the U.S.) and internationally. Looking at the U.S., let us begin here:
Relation between IQ and earnings in the U.S.
IQ <75 75–90 90–110 110–125 >125
Age 18 2,000 5,000 8,000 8,000 21,000
Age 26 3,000 10,000 16,000 20,000 42,000
Age 32 5,000 12,400 20,000 27,000 48,000
Values are the average earnings (1993 US Dollars) of each IQ sub-population.
Next, consider this, from La Griffe du Lion, writing in March 2000:
Figure 3 shows how math SAT scores increase with family income for both whites and blacks....However, black students from families earning more than $70,000 (1995 dollars) score lower than white students whose families earned less than $10,000. Figure 4 shows more of the same for the verbal SAT. Here too, the wealthiest blacks score below the poorest whites. (Complete data can be found in Appendix B.)

For more, we go to the abstract of Anne Case and Christine Paxson's NBER Working Paper No. 12466 ("Stature and Status: Height, Ability, and Labor Market Outcomes," August 2006):
On average, taller people earn more because they are smarter. As early as age 3 — before schooling has had a chance to play a role — and throughout childhood, taller children perform significantly better on cognitive tests. The correlation between height in childhood and adulthood is approximately 0.7 for both men and women, so that tall children are much more likely to become tall adults. As adults, taller individuals are more likely to select into higher paying occupations that require more advanced verbal and numerical skills and greater intelligence, for which they earn handsome returns. Using four data sets from the US and the UK, we find that the height premium in adult earnings can be explained by childhood scores on cognitive tests. Furthermore, we show that taller adults select into occupations that have higher cognitive skill requirements and lower physical skill demands.
Finally, on the intra-national level, there is Jay L. Zagorsky's paper, "Do you have to be smart to be rich? The impact of IQ on income, wealth, and financial distress." (The paper, which has received much publicity, is still "in press" at the journal, Intelligence.) Zagorsky confirms the positive relationship between IQ and income but then, anomalously, posits no relationship between IQ and wealth (i.e., net worth):
How important is intelligence to financial success? Using the NLSY79, which tracks a large group of young U.S. baby boomers, this research shows that each point increase in IQ test scores raises income by between $234 and $616 per year after holding a variety of factors constant. Regression results suggest no statistically distinguishable relationship between IQ scores and wealth. Financial distress, such as problems paying bills, going bankrupt or reaching credit card limits, is related to IQ scores not linearly but instead in a quadratic relationship. This means higher IQ scores sometimes increase the probability of being in financial difficulty.
How could IQ positively affect income but not wealth, given that (for most of us) wealth is derived from income? Zagorsky doesn't know, and admits as much; all he offers are non-quantitative guesses. Many others have made much of Zagorsky's "findings" (envious Leftists, for the most part), but I have not yet found a critique of it by an academic economist. (It may be too soon for that; the paper was published only a few months ago.)

Here are some of my reactions to the paper. To begin with, IQ, wealth, and income are highly correlated, as you might expect. This is from Zagorsky's paper:

The correlations at the bottom of the table are Zagorsky's stated correlations between between IQ and net worth and IQ and income, respectively. Those correlations are for the entire data set (N=7403). But the correlations for the data given in table are as follows:
IQ and net worth -- 0.981
IQ and income -- 0.984
Net worth and income -- 0.970
The point is that the low correlations reported by Zagorsky are, in fact, significant. There is a lot of "noise" in the data, but the underlying trends are what you would expect. That leads me to suspect that Zagorsky set out to find what he found. Here are some of my concerns and objections about what he found and how he found it:
  • There is the obvious anomaly in table 2, at the cell represented by IQ 110, where (a) net worth is lower than at IQ 105 and (b) income is barely higher than at IQ 105. How could that be if there are about 700 for that IQ cell, as one would expect given 11 IQ cells and a sample size >700?
  • For married persons, Zagorsky divided family income and wealth by two, so as to avoid a "bias" toward married persons. What that does, of course, is bias the results toward single persons, who generally earn less and have less wealth than married persons. (See, for example, the correlations for "ever married" and "divorced" in table 1 of the paper.) The income and wealth of a married person is his or her income and wealth, legal fictions aside. Family income and wealth is higher but not fully accounted for because the income and wealth contributed by a "non-working" spouse generally goes unrecognized. Dividing the income and wealth of married persons in half is a shady trick and/or an indication of Zagorsky's incompetence.
  • In any event, Zagorsky wasn't satisfied with the obviously strong relationships between IQ, income and wealth, so he used regression analysis to "control" for other factors other than income that might determine wealth. In the end, Zagorsky simply runs regression after regression, most of them meaningless because he uses the "kitchen sink" style of analysis: throwing in every variable at hand (e.g., siblings, ever married, ever divorced, heavy smoker, light smoker, and self-esteem(?)). It is regression analysis at its worst: a data-mining fishing expedition, pure and simple.
  • Where Zagorsky reports the results of regressions on a limited number of (mostly) relevant variables (table 3), the regression that best fits the data (highest r-squared) yields a positive coefficient on IQ.
  • Zagorsky draws largely on self-reported survey data (a major weakness, in itself) for persons aged 40 to 47 years. That is, Zagorsky's sample represents persons who, for the most part, are a decade or three from their peak earnings and wealth. And persons with higher IQs will tend to accumulate wealth more rapidly than those with lower IQs because (a) they will have learned more from their past mistakes and (b) over a decade or three wealth usually grows at a rate that is closer to exponential than linear (compound interest, stocks for the long run, and all that).
  • Finally, it is clear that Zagorsky is in over his head. He is not an economist or statistician but, rather, some kind of sociologist. His home base is Ohio State's Center for Human Resource Research. Some of his other research (if you can call it that) undermines the so-called findings that I have summarized here.
In sum, Zagorsky's paper is junk. I felt obliged to acknowledge it because the "finding" about IQ and wealth garnered a lot of attention when the paper was published earlier this year.
Intelligence and Income: International Differences
I return to Rushton's review of Lynn's Race Differences: An Evolutionary Analysis:
Lynn’s book...tak[es] a global perspective and consists of a review more than 500 studies published world wide from the beginning of the twentieth century up to the present. He devotes a chapter to each of ten races, differentiated by Cavalli-Sforza, Menozzi and Piazza (1994) into “genetic clusters”, which he regards as a transparent euphemism for races.

His conclusions are that the East Asians (Chinese, Japanese and Koreans) have the highest mean IQ at 105. These are followed by the Europeans (IQ 100). Some way below these are the Inuit (Eskimos) (IQ 91), South East Asians (IQ 87), Native American Indians (IQ 87), Pacific Islanders (IQ 85), South Asians and North Africans (IQ 84). Well below these come the sub-Saharan Africans (IQ 67) followed by the Australian Aborigines (IQ 62). The least intelligent races are the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert together with the Pygmies of the Congo rain forests (IQ 54).

After the ten chapters setting out the evidence for each of the ten races there follows a chapter on the reliability and validity of the measures. These show that the studies have high reliability in the sense that different studies of racial IQs give closely similar results. For instance, East Asians invariably obtain high IQs, not only in their own native homelands but in Singapore, Malaysia, Hawaii and North America. To establish the validity of the racial IQs he shows that they have high correlations with performance in the international studies of achievement in mathematics and science. Racial IQs also have high correlations with national economic development, providing a major contribution to the problem of why the peoples of some nations are rich and others poor. He argues further that the IQ differences between the races explain the differences in achievement in making the Neolithic transition from hunter-gathering to settled agriculture, the building of early civilizations, and the development of mature civilizations during the last two thousand years.

Lynn tackles the problem of the environmental and genetic determinants of race differences in intelligence and concludes that these contribute about equally to the phenotypic differences. He argues that the consistency of racial IQs in many different locations can only be explained by powerful genetic factors. He works out the genetic contribution in most detail for the sub-Saharan Africans. His argument is that sub-Saharan Africans in the United States experience the same environment as whites, as regards determinants of intelligence. He argues that they have as good nutrition as whites, as shown by their having the same average height in studies going back to World War 1, and they have approximately the same education as whites. He presents evidence that blacks in the southern states have very little white ancestry and have an IQ of about 80, and that proposes that this can be adopted as the genotypic IQ of blacks, i.e. the IQ that blacks attain when they are reared in the same environment as whites. The IQ of blacks in sub-Saharan Africa is a good deal lower at 67. Hence, the adverse environment in sub-Saharan Africa, which he regards as consisting principally of poor nutrition and health, contributes about 13 IQ points to the low IQ in sub-Saharan Africa. Lynn’s estimate is not too different from that advanced in 1969 by Jensen to the effect that about two thirds of the low IQ of blacks in the United States is attributable to genetic factors, and the more recent estimate of Rushton and Jensen (2005) that the figure is around 80 percent. Lynn has (unsurprisingly for those familiar with his work) put a bit more weight on the genetic factor.
Lynn (with Tatu Vanhannen) had earlier (2002) written IQ and the Wealth of Nations (summary and criticisms, here). That book seems to be an outgrowth of a Lynn-Vanhannen article in The Mankind Quarterly ("National IQ and Economic Development: A Study of Eighty-One Developing Nations," Summer 2001). (For corroboration of Lynn and Vanhannen's findings about the positive influence of IQ on national output, see Garrett Jones and W. Joel Schneider's "Intelligence, Human Capital, and Economic Growth: A Bayesian Averaging of Classical Estimates (BACE) Approach," June 2005.)
Gerhard Meisenberg, writing in "IQ Population Genetics: It's Not as Simple as You Think" (The Mankind Quarterly, Winter 2003), offers a comprehensive view of the evolutionary causes of IQ differences across geographic regions and the effects of those differences on GDP. Meisenberg draws on the Lynn-Vanhannen data and many other sources. Meisenberg says that
[s]ome scholars, most notably Richard Lynn and Philippe Rushton, propose climate and ecology as selective forces. According to Lynn, the dependence on big-game hunting in northern climates necessitated complex social organization with efficient cooperation and intelligent planning, while tropical populations could always fall back on cognitively undemanding food gathering (Lynn, 1991).

Rushton emphasizes the need for close family ties and high parental investment in harsh climates. While most childhood mortality in the tropics was caused by uncontrollable endemic diseases, most childhood mortality in the arctic was due to the predictable challenges of seasonal food shortages and the rigors of the climate. These challenges demanded intelligent planning in addition to stable families (Rushton, 1995).

These theories postulate that physical and cognitive race differences evolved at roughly the same time, starting about 100,000 years ago when modern humans first ventured out of the tropics and into the inhospitable wastelands of central and northern Asia. Thus both Lynn and Rushton predict that intelligence genes cluster with climate-selected physical traits such as skin color. Both make the specific prediction that intelligence is highest in Mongoloids, lowest in Negroids, and intermediate in Caucasoids.

This prediction is borne out by the data in Table 1. The average IQ is 97.1 for Mongoloids, 93.9 for Caucasoids, and 69.6 for Negroids. IQ also correlates with latitude (Pearson’s r = 0.7559) and per-capita GDP (r = 0.7348). However, in multiple regression models with either latitude or GDP or both as copredictors of IQ, race remains a statistically significant predictor at the P <0.0001>
La Griffe du Lion has solved the puzzle. First, some background. La Griffe's analysis of March 2002, highlights the "puzzle":
In Figure 2, the [Lynn-Vanhannen] data [table here] is [sic] divided into contributions from four groups: blacks, (European) whites, East Asians and "others." I did not include the outliers: South Africa, Barbados, Qatar and China.

Figure 2. Per capita GDP by racial group. "White" here means European white; "East Asian" means the racially homogenous polities: Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan.
La Griffe, in a later post (May 2004) addresses the seeming anomaly in the relationship between IQ and GDP. As shown in the figure directly above, four East Asian (or Northeast Asian) countries (Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan), which have the highest average IQs, do not have the highest per capita GDPs. The short of it is this: GDP is best explained by verbal IQ, as opposed to a measure of IQ that encompasses both verbal and quantitative skills. Thus figure 7:

La Griffe observes that the IQ of (North)east Asians
is bifurcated. NE Asians have the highest IQ of all peoples other than Ashkenazim. They owe that superior IQ, however, to extraordinary visuospatial ability, which, despite verbal shortcomings, lifts their IQ above that of Europeans....

Among the races, only NE Asians and Amerindians exhibit this particular kind of verbal-nonverbal cognitive split. For other races verbal and general IQ averages have similar values, making the distinction between the two transparent to smart fraction theory. In the 12 studies reporting both general and verbal IQ for NE Asians, the general-verbal gap averaged 6.5 IQ points....

[T]he spectacular visuospatial ability of NE Asians, while accounting for their high [overall] IQ scores, does not necessarily make them good capitalists. Hunting strategies have little to do with wealth production. And a new tool, irrespective of point of origin, is now soon available worldwide. The structure of NE Asian intelligence did not come about in response to pressures to be attorneys or editors or production managers or copywriters or salesmen or programmers or systems analysts or insurance adjusters or purchasing agents or account executives.
In sum, IQ strongly determines both personal income and, therefore, per capita GDP. Verbal IQ turns out to be an important (negative) determinant of income in those (few) cases where it is a relatively weak component of overall IQ.

But what about the influence of income on IQ? Let's return to Meisenberg's article:
The massive rise of IQ that took place in many countries over the past century shows conclusively that environmental effects can have a powerful effect on the average intellectual level of large populations. Presumably one or another aspect of “standard of living” is responsible for this secular trend: education, nutrition, health care, mass media, or, most likely, a combination of all of these.

Gross domestic product adjusted for purchasing power (GDP in Table 1) is an indicator for the population’s “standard of living”. If a high standard of living does indeed raise IQ test performance, then GDP should be an independent predictor of national IQ even when the effects of race and latitude are partialled out.

When race, latitude and GDP are used as co-predictors, GDP does indeed have an independent effect in predicting national IQ (P = 0.0007). In this model, race and latitude remain powerful independent predictors, each with P <0.0001. href="">Flynn effect [link added: ED] these results suggest that the causal arrow points both ways. High intelligence produces a high standard of living, which in turn raises intelligence even more. Thus intelligence and economic development are mutually reinforcing in a positive feedback loop....

This feedback loop explains...the rise in mental test performance that has become known as the Flynn effect.

This feedback loop between intelligence and standard of living can explain the great magnitude of the IQ differences between nations. It predicts that even in cases where genetic differences affecting mental ability are small, the observed phenotypic differences become amplified because the slightly more gifted populations achieve a higher standard of living which raises their measured intelligence even more, which in turn raises their standard of living yet further. Similar “amplifier effects” have previously been proposed as explanations for the Flynn effect (Dickens and Flynn, 2001).
There you have it: The smarter get richer and the richer get smarter, not at the expense of the poorer and not-as-smart but by virtue of their genes and the material advantages afforded by those genes. Forceful transfers of income and wealth from the smarter and richer to the not-so-mart and poorer might be helpful to the latter -- but more likely not, as I argue earlier. But such transfers definitely diminish the ability of the smarter and richer to help the not-so-smart in more lastingly productive ways: through technological advancement, job creation, mutually beneficial trade, and well-targeted charity.
Redistribution in an effort to make us "more equal" is not only counterproductive and unfair, it is futile. Or if not entirely futile, largely wasteful. All human beings (or at least those who are citizens and lawful residents of the U.S.) deserve equal rights. But the equal rights they deserve are the negative rights of the original Constitution, not the positive rights sought by generations of so-called liberals and progressives. There is nothing "liberal" or "progressive" (in the root meanings of those words) about redistribution.
Some related posts:
The Cost of Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
Race, Intelligence, and Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Affirmative Action, One More Time
Much Food for Thought
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
The Main Causes of Prosperity
Why Class Warfare Is Bad for Everyone
Fighting Myths with Facts
Debunking More Myths about Income Inequality
A Century of Progress?
Socialist Calculation and the Turing Test
Taxes, Charitable Giving, and Republicanism
Productivity Growth and Tax Cuts
Zero-Sum Thinking
Liberty, General Welfare, and the State
The Causes of Economic Growth
Republicanism, Economic Freedom, and Charitable Giving
The Last(?) Word about Income Inequality
Status, Spite, Envy, and Income Redistribution
Things to Come
* The more controversial scientists whose work I sample here are Charles Murray, J. Phillipe Rushton, Richard Lynn, and Napoleon Chagnon.
Murray is controversial mainly for The Bell Curve, which brought to a wide audience the large body of long-standing evidence of persistent inter-racial differences in IQ. Rushton and Lynn are controversial because of their findings on race, gender, and intelligence, and because of their affiliation with the Pioneer Fund. The Fund's roots and some of its current connections are tainted with the label "white supremacist." The Fund (website here) has responded to those allegations. Whether Rushton, Lynn, and others who produce similar research are white supremacists is beside the question of the validity of their research. Judge for yourself.
Chagnon is controversial for other reasons, namely the ethics (or purported lack thereof) in his field work. (For Chagnon's statements about the controversy, go here.) In the "small world" department, I note that Chagnon hails from the village where my maternal grandparents raised ten children. The doctor who delivered many of those children bore the name Napoleon Chagnon. The sketchy biographical information about the anthropologist (p. 6, here) indicates that he was not the son of the medical doctor, but given the village's small population (perhaps 500 when the anthropologist was born), it seems likely that he was related to and named for the medical doctor (a grandson, perhaps). And it was in honor of "old Doc Chagnon" that my maternal grandparents chose Napoleon as the middle name of the tenth and last of their children.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

An Immigration Roundup

This post consolidates and replaces several posts that I have written about immigration.


Steve Antler (EconoPundit) has a neat graphic in this post, which illustrates a key point. The point? The minimum wage -- to the extent that it is actually paid by employers of illegal immigrants -- raises the unemployment rate. That, in turn, gives pandering politicians yet another opportunity to buy votes by expanding welfare benefits for illegal immigrants (and other low-income groups).

Minimum wage laws and welfare programs are especially favored on the Left (though large corporations have no objection to taxpayer-funded welfare programs that subsidize labor). An article by Ben Johnson at details the Leftist connections to the massive protests of proposals to curb illegal immigration; for example:
As events spanned from California to Detroit, Phoenix to Washington, D.C., the media kept up its anti-enforcement drumbeat. Although some have credited Latino DJs for the 500,000-strong illegal immigrant turnout in Los Angeles alone – and some credit is deserved – the real legwork was done by a more eclectic group of organizations: leftist labor unions, George Soros-funded agitators, Open Borders lobbyists, Roman Catholic clergy, and teachers unions. . . .

Andres Jiminez, director of the University of California's California Policy Research Center, told the media, “It's not only Latinos who are marching in the streets, its unions too: firefighters, farm workers and Hispanic students who had thought of U.S. law as protecting them and are now starting to see it as a threat to their future.”

He was right about this much: Latino organizations did not act alone. The media has failed to report that organized labor directed the illegals and minors. The L.A. Times revealed the rally’s “security” was handled by a union identified only as “Local 1877.” That would be local 1877 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the far-Left union founded by New Left radical Andrew Stern, which called for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq in June 2004 and worked in concert with Ted Kennedy to roll back anti-terrorist Homeland Security measures. According to the L.A. Times, the SEIU’s goons kindly helped “herd marchers along the route.” That was not the extent of SEIU’s help, though. The union also “coordinated the more than 100 buses that dropped off marchers from throughout California, Las Vegas and a few Southwestern cities.”

In other words, the massive rally against Homeland Security – since that is what gaining control of America’s borders would promote – was staged by a leftist labor union and staffed primarily with illegal immigrants.

SEIU did not work alone in this. It was aided by other radical or left-wing political pressure groups [which Johnson details].
Pandering to illegals is, of course, an exercise in building political power. The pandering curries favor with those legals who want the company of their "brothers and sisters" from south of the border. And many of the illegals will become voters themselves -- sooner rather than later if the Left has its way. (U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) analyzes the Left's strategy in an article at Human Events Online: "Democrats Will Use Immigration to Divide and Conquer.") President Bush seems to believe that he can corral some of those voters into the GOP, but I have no doubt that the GOP will come up with the short end of the stick.

Which leads me to Thomas Sowell, who makes sense, as usual, in "Guests or gate crashers" at
The Bush administration is pushing a program to legalize "guest workers." But what is a guest? Someone you have invited. People who force their way into your home without your permission are called gate crashers.
If truth-in-packaging laws applied to politics, the Bush guest worker program would have to be called a "gate-crasher worker" program. The President's proposal would solve the problem of illegal immigration by legalizing it after the fact. . . .

None of the rhetoric and sophistry that we hear about immigration deals with the plain and ugly reality: Politicians are afraid of losing the Hispanic vote and businesses want cheap labor.
What millions of other Americans want has been brushed aside, as if they don't count, and they have been soothed with pious words. But now the voters are getting fed up, which is why there are immigration bills in Congress.

The old inevitability ploy is often trotted out in immigration debates: It is not possible to either keep out illegal immigrants or to expel the ones already here.

If you mean stopping every single illegal immigrant from getting in or expelling every single illegal immigrant who is already here, that may well be true. But does the fact that we cannot prevent every single murder cause us to stop enforcing the laws against murder? . . .

Let's hope the immigration bills before Congress can at least get an honest debate, instead of the word games we have been hearing for too long.
I fully understand and agree with the economic arguments for "open borders" -- and I do favor free trade and outsourcing (e.g., read this post and follow the links at the bottom). But the immigration issue is really about political power. The cause of illegal immigration is mainly (though not entirely) a Leftist play for power and the expansion of the welfare state.


Immigration, legal or not, is more than an economic issue. Most economists -- even economists I respect -- just don't get it. It is stupid to let people enter the U.S. if the result of doing so is an expansion of the regulatory-welfare state, both directly -- for the benefit of immigrants -- and indirectly -- as a result of the votes those immigrants cast (eventually) for politicians who seek to expand the regulatory-welfare state.

It's time to seal the borders and admit immigrants based strictly on their demonstrated ability to make an immediate, positive economic contribution. That prescription might seem to run against my interest, inasmuch as I live in Texas, which is a first stop for immigrants who work for low wages. Given the cost of the regulatory-welfare state of Texas, however, I believe that I would be better off with fewer immigrants. In any event, the long-run economic vitality of the United States requires a citizenry that has a stake in, and is more likely to support, limited government and free markets.

An immigrant to the U.S. makes a positive contribution to economic growth only if he or she can be more productive here than in his or her homeland. That's true of Mexican construction workers who are harnessed to America's economic-growth engine, but it's even more true of scientists and engineers from Europe and Asia, who can advance the technology that enables economic growth. Furthermore, those scientists and engineers are not going to demand welfare benefits, and they are less likely (on the whole) to vote for politicians who seek to expand the regulatory-welfare state.

Immigration is an economic issue, but a far more complex issue than the one depicted by most economists, who omit the economic implications of the politics of immigration.

UPDATE: The Conservative Philosopher says
. . . if we could kick out one leftist for every immigrant, I'd favor it.
Roger that.

Recommended reading:

Answering 13 Frequently Asked Questions About Illegal Immigration, at Right Wing News.

The 1965 Immigration Act
, at WizBang! A related note: constant-dollar (real) GDP per capita grew at an annualized rate of 2.1% in the 39 years from 1965 through 2004, compared with a rate of 2.3% for the 39 years from 1926 through 1965. The higher rate for 1926-65 was accomplished in spite of the Great Depression; for the 10 years from 1929 through 1939, real GDP per capita grew at an annual rate of 0.2%.

April 1, 2006 -- SOCIETAL SUICIDE

Eternity Road has an excellent post about societal suicide in the West. Relatedly, this op-ed at OpinionJournal suggests that the Supreme Court is about to help the U.S. slide a bit further down the slippery slope of defenselessness.


Noted economist Greg Mankiw (who now has a blog) seconds one of my key points. Here's Mankiw:
The hard issues tend to revolve around the immigration of unskilled workers, who are more likely to drain resources from the social safety net and increase U.S. income inequality by pushing down wages at the bottom of the wage distribution.

Immigration of skilled workers is another matter. A skilled worker coming into the United States will likely pay more in taxes than he or she gets in social benefits. Moreover, an increased supply of skilled labor will tend to reduce income inequality. A strong case can be made that any worker with significant skills (such as a college degree) should be admitted without restriction.
Meanwhile, over at EconLog, Arnold Kling quotes himself:
What should you call someone who wants government to provide for our education, competitiveness, and health care but whose concern about "us" stops at the border? The obvious label would be national socialist. But George Bush and Paul Krugman are not Nazis...

The alternative ideology that I would propose might be called transnational libertarianism. The ideal libertarian world would have no economic borders. There would be no problem of illegal immigration, because all forms of immigration would be legal.
My comment:
The ideal libertarian world would be governed by a unified rule of law. That rule of law would protect citizens from predators -- including government-sponsored predation (e.g., welfare programs). To the extent that immigrants come to the U.S. because it offers "better" welfare programs, those immigrants are engaging in predation and enabling the election of politicians who would multiply the predation. Your prescription works in the ideal world, but not in the real one that we inhabit.
Mankiw is that rare economist who sees the real world.


This message is prompted by the attempt to hijack the "melting pot" concept for the advancement of the regulatory-welfare state. The "melting pot" -- properly understood -- refers to the assimilation of immigrants to the prevailing culture and rule of law, not to the subversion of that culture and rule of law by a wave of illegal immigrants and their Leftist proponents.

Not all cultures and legal systems are beneficial, and none is perfect. But one culture and legal system -- the Anglospheric culture that shaped the Founding Generation of Americans and the Constitution they bequeathed us -- comes as close to perfection as one might reasonably expect in this imperfect world. It is no longer de rigeur to say that. And therein lies the tale.

Americans -- whether or not they know it -- are in a last-ditch fight to save the already much-diluted culture and rule of law that made possible our now-vanishing liberty and pursuit of happiness. And yet, many Americans and American institutions persist in enabling efforts to further dilute that culture and rule of law. This dilution, which is essentially anti-American and anti-liberty, arises from the Left -- as represented by Ted Kennedy, Michael Moore, and Hollywood -- and is abetted by the parrot-like political correctness that passes for thought among public "educators," academicians, the media, much of the legal profession, and most government officials and employees. At the rate we are going, I give the U.S. another ten years before it becomes a listless, socialist "paradise" on a par with Canada and Great Britain.

I can only hope that the Supreme Court will prove me wrong.

UPDATE: See this post by the Maverick Philosopher and follow his link to a column by Cal Thomas. Steve Burton (Right Reason) makes an excellent offering in a similar vein. Burton ends his post with this:
W$J conservatives and libertarians . . . will point out that we've done it before, back when we absorbed wave after wave of Europe's huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, and turned them in short order into unhyphenated Americans.

To which I reply: the great waves of American immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries swept ashore in a harsh, sink-or-swim society where you either fit in and made your own way or died trying. The Latin American immigrants of today, on the other hand, show up in an advanced welfare state under the seemingly ineradicable spell of officially imposed multiculturalist dogma. So the first generation will be as hard-working and family-oriented as anyone could wish. But just wait until our educational system gets ahold of their children. Just wait. In the blink of an historical eye, their work ethic and family values will be replaced with a sense of aggrieved victimhood and entitlement to state compensation, with all the appalling panoply of ills that follow in their wake. After that, it will be ethnic separatism and socio-economic dysfunction as far as the eye can see.

It is a bitter cup that we are preparing for ourselves, and nothing in history teaches us how to drink it and live.
Dale Franks of QandO weighs in with this:
Allowing a large group of foreign persons into the country, and making no effort to assimilate them, will culminate in a disaster. Look at what is happening in Europe as a result of unbridled Muslim immigration. We're on a very similar path.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who comes here and makes the effort to become an American, and to subscribe to our ideals and values, is welcome. Those who prefer to maintain their primary allegiance to another country need to go back to that country, rather than trying to make mine a mirror image of the Third World hellhole they hated so much that they risked their lives to flee it.
Given the difficulty of knowing ahead of time who will try to assimilate and who will not, the most effective immigration policy is one that discriminates on the basis of skills. As I wrote here,
It's time to seal the borders and admit immigrants based strictly on their demonstrated ability to make an immediate, positive economic contribution. That prescription might seem to run against my interest, inasmuch as I live in Texas, which is a first stop for immigrants who work for low wages. Given the cost of the regulatory-welfare state of Texas, however, I believe that I would be better off with fewer immigrants. In any event, the long-run economic vitality of the United States requires a citizenry that has a stake in, and is more likely to support, limited government and free markets.

An immigrant to the U.S. makes a positive contribution to economic growth only if he or she can be more productive here than in his or her homeland. That's true of Mexican construction workers who are harnessed to America's economic-growth engine, but it's even more true of scientists and engineers from Europe and Asia, who can advance the technology that enables economic growth. Furthermore, those scientists and engineers are not going to demand welfare benefits, and they are less likely (on the whole) to vote for politicians who seek to expand the regulatory-welfare state.

See "Immigrating Terror," published today at

UPDATE (9:50 pm):
There's more from the Maverick Philosopher. (Be sure to follow his links to posts by Victor Davis Hanson.)

UPDATE (04/06/06, 6:35 pm): The Senate's apparent "compromise" on the immigration issue is a surrender. It doesn't increase border security and includes unenforceable provisions for illegals who are already here, or who arrive in the future. As reported by the NYT,
the compromise would place illegal immigrants in three categories:

¶Those who have lived in the country at least five years would be put on a path toward guaranteed citizenship, provided that they remained employed, paid fines and back taxes, and learned English, a senior Republican aide said. The aide said this group accounted for about 7 million of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants believed to be living here.

¶Those who have lived here for two to five years, said to number about three million, would have to leave the country briefly before reporting to an American port of entry, where they would be classified as temporary workers. They would be allowed to apply for citizenship but would have no guarantee of obtaining it. Those who did not would have to leave after participating in the temporary worker program for six years.

¶The remaining one million or so, those who have lived in the country less than two years, would be required to leave. They could apply for temporary worker status but would not be guaranteed it.
"Required" to leave? Who's going to make them leave, the Border Patrol, which can't even keep them out in the first place? The Immigration and Naturalization Service? Hah! Republicans are selling out for the false hope of attracting Latino votes. Democrats are posturing for even more concessions, though they'll gladly take what Republicans have handed them. But let the Times tell it:
Republicans said the compromise, whose prominent backers include Mr. McCain and Senators Mel Martinez of Florida and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, would attract votes from their members who are uncomfortable with broader legalization. But the compromise cannot pass without the support of Democrats, who said they were still weighing their options.

"Aren't we entitled to at least a chance to have a vote on a comprehensive approach?" Mr. Kennedy said.

There were signs, though, that some of Mr. Kennedy's allies among business and immigrant advocacy groups were throwing their support behind the compromise proposal.

The leaders of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, which represents hotels, restaurants and other service industries, said a limited legalization would be better than a bill that focused solely on tightening border security.

In sum: If the proposed "compromise" becomes law, illegals will continue to stream in, they won't be evicted, and most of them will become citizens who vote for expansion of the regulatory-welfare state.

UPDATE (04/07/06, 12:11 pm): Well, the "compromise" fell apart. A critic nails it:
"Today is a good day for America. The Senate -- in a rare moment of clarity -- rejected its amnesty-now, enforcement-later approach to immigration," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo. "Amnesty is a non-starter. If the Senate is serious about sending real security legislation to the President's desk this year, it must take a different approach."
UPDATE (04/10/06, 4:14 pm): Michelle Malkin points out the congruence between illegal immigration and the Leftist agenda.

UPDATE (04/11/06, 9:23 pm): Thomas Sowell waxes eloquent, as always; for example:
Both liberals and free-market libertarians often see this [immigration] as an abstract issue about poor people being hindered from moving to jobs by an arbitrary border drawn across the southwest desert.

Intellectuals' ability to think of people in the abstract is a dangerous talent in a world where people differ in all the ways that make them people. The cultures and surrounding circumstances of those people are crucial for understanding what they are likely to do and what the consequences are likely to be.

Some free-market advocates argue that the same principle which justifies free international trade in commodities should justify the free movement of people as well. But this ignores the fact that people have consequences that go far beyond the consequences of commodities. . . .

Unlike commodities, people in a welfare state have legal claims on other people's tax dollars and expensive services in schools and hospitals, not to mention the high cost of imprisoning many of them who commit crimes.

Immigrants in past centuries came here to become Americans, not to remain foreigners, much less to proclaim the rights of their homelands to reclaim American soil, as some of the Mexican activist groups have done. . . .

Today, immigrant spokesmen promote grievances, not gratitude, much less patriotism. Moreover, many native-born Americans also promote a sense of separatism and grievance and, through "multi-culturalism," strive to keep immigrants foreign and disaffected. . . .

Hispanic activists themselves recognize that many of the immigrants from Mexico -- legal or illegal -- would assimilate into American society in the absence of these activists' efforts to keep them a separate constituency. But these efforts are widespread and unrelenting, a fact that cannot be ignored.

Whatever is said or done in the immigration debate, no one should insult the American people's intelligence by talking or acting as if this is a question about the movement of abstract people across an abstract line.


Leftists often deploy blatantly muddled logic in support of their statist agenda. But they can, at times, be subtle. Consider the following passage, by one Barbara Katz Rothman (from an exchange at the Debate Club of legalaffairs):
Racism takes whatever differences are biological—skin color, hair texture, eye shape—and goes on to make assumptions about personality, values, abilities, interests. Sexism does the same, taking genitalia and reproductive potential as the biologic and then making assumptions about personality, values, abilities and interests.
Here's what Katz Rothman evidently believes, and would like others to believe:

  • Biological differences have no bearing on such attributes as personality, values, abilities, and interests. (Here, she hews to a flat-wrong axiom, beloved of the Left.)

  • If differentiation on the basis of personality, values, abilities, and interests results in differential treatment of races and sexes, such differentiation is, therefore, racism or sexism.

The immature and unsuspecting (e.g., school children and naive college students) will, of course, swallow such "logic." Thus does political correctness take root.

But biologically identifiable groups do exhibit different distributions of personality, values, abilities, and interests (e.g., this article, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one). It is valid to differentiate on those dimensions (by discriminating in favor of highly skilled immigrants or more intelligent job applicants, for example), and to let the chips fall where they may -- even if they do not fall equally on all races or both sexes.

Those who do let the chips fall where they may -- or who advocate doing so -- are not racists or sexists. The racists and sexists are those who persist in focusing on race and gender to the exclusion of socially and economically relevant differences in personality, values, abilities, and interests.

Keith Burgess-Jackson (AnalPhilosopher) is tougher than I am when it comes to immigration. He offers a 6-point program:
(1) deport everyone who is here illegally; (2) confiscate the property of everyone who is here illegally; (3) build a wall between the United States and Mexico; (4) stop all immigration from all countries for 20 years; (5) require that only English be spoken in public schools and courts; and (6) punish anyone who employs an illegal immigrant.
I agree with #s 1, 2, 3 (taking "wall" to mean a physical-surveillance barrier), and 5. But as for #4, I wouldn't rule out all immigration. Instead, as I wrote above, I would
seal the borders and admit immigrants based strictly on their demonstrated ability to make an immediate, positive economic contribution.
That is, I would keep out low-wage workers who are likely to attach themselves to the welfare system, but admit scientists, engineers, and the like.
Number 6 is problematic only because it may be economically sound -- and humane -- to hire an illegal immigrant who already is in the country. But I understand KBJ's point. If employers aren't deterred from hiring illegals, illegals will have a greater incentive to find a way into the country.

May 2, 2006 -- LET 'EM LEAVE

During yesterday's "Day Without Immigrants" an estimated 1 million illegal immigrants and their supporters didn't shop (or so they say), go to work, or attend classes. Instead, they spent the day protesting legislation that would criminalize illegal immigration. The idea was to show Americans what life would be like without illegal immigrants.
An obvious effect of not having illegal immigrants in our midst would be fewer protest marches that result in street closings and detours. Less obviously:
  • The welfare system (and our taxes) would be much reduced.
  • Fewer schools would be needed, so that property owners would face lower tax bills.
  • The extra costs incurred by governments and businesses to operate in two languages could be avoided. (There is no need to cater to persons who learn English as a prerequisite of citizenship.)
  • Democrats -- with their big-spending ways -- wouldn't control as many local and State governments, and they would be less of a force at the national level. Republicans would be able to revert to something like fiscal conservatism.
I say, let's have a permanent "Day Without Illegal Immigrants" -- for real.


Steve Burton, writing at Right Reason, has much to say about a survey by the Pew Hispanic Center of the beliefs and attitudes of Hispanic Americans. Here's a sample:
Those surveyed overwhelmingly prefer "higher taxes to support a larger government that provides more services" - by contrast to American whites, who, by an equally overwhelming margin, prefer "lower taxes and...a smaller government that provides fewer services."
But I already knew that, as did most persons who are attuned to reality. As I wrote above,
It is stupid to let people enter the U.S. if the result of doing so is an expansion of the regulatory-welfare state, both directly -- for the benefit of immigrants -- and indirectly -- as a result of the votes those immigrants cast (eventually) for politicians who seek to expand the regulatory-welfare state. . . .
Immigration is an economic issue, but a far more complex issue than the one depicted by most economists, who omit the economic implications of the politics of immigration.
Most academic economists -- that is to say, "intellectuals" -- nevertheless ignore the economic implications of unfettered immigration. Over-educated idiots!

On March 31, I pointed to a post about immigration which includes these informative segments:
8) But, aren't these illegal aliens doing jobs Americans won't do? To begin with, in many of the industries most associated with illegal immigrant labor, you find that the majority of workers in those fields are not illegals. As Rich Lowry pointed out in National Review:
"According to a new survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, illegals make up 24 percent of workers in agriculture, 17 percent in cleaning, 14 percent in construction, and 12 percent in food production. So 86 percent of construction workers, for instance, are either legal immigrants or Americans, despite the fact that this is one of the alleged categories of untouchable jobs."
Moreover, it needs to be pointed out that there's no such thing as a job, "Americans won't do." There are only jobs Americans won't do at a certain price. Consider your job. Would you still do it if the pay were 50% less? For most people, the answer to that question is, "no."
Well, since illegal immigrants generally come from poor countries with mediocre economies, they're willing to work for much lower wages than the going market rate because they're still making substantially more than what they can make at home. So, if there's a large influx of illegal aliens into an America industry, it depresses wages so much that Americans simply won't do those jobs any more for the going pay rate.
This harms poor Americans the most, because they're the group that generally ends up competing with illegal aliens for jobs on the low end of the pay scale.
9) If these illegal aliens were to leave the United States, wouldn't there be a major impact on the American economy? There's disagreement about that, but it's highly doubtful. As Rich Lowry at National Review has pointed out:
"Phillip Martin, an economist at the University of California, Davis, has demolished the argument that a crackdown on illegals would ruin it, or be a hardship to consumers. Most farming — livestock, grains, etc. — doesn't heavily rely on hired workers. Only about 20 percent of the farm sector does, chiefly those areas involving fresh fruit and vegetables.
The average "consumer unit" in the U.S. spends $7 a week on fresh fruit and vegetables, less than is spent on alcohol, according to Martin. On a $1 head of lettuce, the farm worker gets about 6 or 7 cents, roughly 1/15th of the retail price. Even a big run-up in the cost of labor can't hit the consumer very hard.
Martin recalls that the end of the bracero guest-worker program in the mid-1960s caused a one-year 40 percent wage increase for the United Farm Workers Union. A similar wage increase for legal farm workers today would work out to about a 10-dollar-a-year increase in the average family's bill for fruit and vegetables. Another thing happened with the end of the bracero program: The processed-tomato industry, which was heavily dependent on guest workers and was supposed to be devastated by their absence, learned how to mechanize and became more productive."
If every illegal alien here today currently left America, the immediate economic impact would be insignificant and over the long haul, the impact would likely be negligible.
10) What about other costs to society? On the whole, are illegals a net benefit or net liability to the American economy?
The answer to this question can vary wildly depending on what's included as an asset and what's not included as a liability. For example, liberal economist and popular New York Times columnist Paul Krugman says that overall, illegals are an insignificant, positive asset to the economy, although their presence harms poor Americans:
"First, the net benefits to the U.S. economy from immigration, aside from the large gains to the immigrants themselves, are small. Realistic estimates suggest that immigration since 1980 has raised the total income of native-born Americans by no more than a fraction of 1 percent.
Second, while immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration - especially immigration from Mexico. Because Mexican immigrants have much less education than the average U.S. worker, they increase the supply of less-skilled labor, driving down the wages of the worst- paid Americans.
The most authoritative recent study of this effect, by George Borjas and Lawrence Katz of Harvard, estimates that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren't for Mexican immigration."
On the other hand, according to a conservative group, the Center for Immigration Studies:
"Based on Census Bureau data, this study finds that, when all taxes paid (direct and indirect) and all costs are considered, illegal households created a net fiscal deficit at the federal level of more than $10 billion in 2002. We also estimate that, if there was an amnesty for illegal aliens, the net fiscal deficit would grow to nearly $29 billion."
Again, estimates vary on how much of an impact illegals have on the economy, but most of the credible ones show the benefits are insignificant or even in the negative range.
A few days ago, thanks to a post at Politics of Prudence, I found a study by two Columbia University economists, who find that factor (e.g., labor) immigration from less technologically advanced countries costs U.S. citizens about "$72 billion dollars per year or 0.8 percent of GDP." (That's $360 billion over five years, the relevance of which I explain below.) The same Politics of Prudence post also points to an article in The Washington Post, which conveys this bit of information:
A new study by a liberal Washington think tank puts the cost of forcibly removing most of the nation's estimated 10 million illegal immigrants at $41 billion a year, a sum that exceeds the annual budget of the Department of Homeland Security.
The study, "Deporting the Undocumented: A Cost Assessment," scheduled for release today by the Center for American Progress, is billed by its authors as the first-ever estimate of costs associated with arresting, detaining, prosecuting and removing immigrants who have entered the United States illegally or overstayed their visas. The total cost would be $206 billion to $230 billion over five years, depending on how many of the immigrants leave voluntarily, according to the study.
So, the net, five-year benefit to U.S. citizens of rounding up and deporting illegal aliens would be about $100 billion, even if the presence of illegal aliens were otherwise costless to U.S. citizens (an unlikely proposition). And after five years, it would be all gravy. That's not to mention the inestimable benefits that would accrue with the shrinkage of the potential pool of socialist-leaning voters.

Patri Friedman, who writes at Catallarchy, has two excellent posts about the consequences of unfettered immigration. He, like I, rejects the simplistic "open borders" rhetoric of most economists. He then goes on to discuss generally how the preservation of liberty sometimes requires the performance of acts that (superficially) seem anti-libertarian.

UPDATE (05/26/06 @ 7:30 pm): And a non-Catallarch (Steve Antler of EconoPundit) says it straighter:
Hey, these two experts [Brad DeLong and Greg Mankiw] are smarter than you. They agree that immigration's no problem, so you should just shut up.

Listen to the experts.

UPDATE: For anyone who's interested, I've finally come around to the position the symbolics of the issue are more important than the actual economics.

Two basic facts define a nation: contol of its currency and its borders. To me, those who loudly whine we simply can't hope to control the border are gloating over what they see as an implicit victory -- that of international liberal multiculturalism over a traditional and conventional American patriotism they privately despise. . . .
That sums it up, for a host of issues. If the "man in the street" is agin' it, they're for it, because they're Cosmopolitans, not Americans. I guess they expect the Cosmopolitan army to defend them.
June 20, 2006 -- CAN 500 ECONOMISTS ALL BE WRONG?

That's the question asked and answered in the negative by Greg Mankiw. He links to a letter signed by 500 economists -- many of them eminent in their profession and beyond -- in which they claim that "immigration has been a net gain for American citizens, though a modest one in proportion to the size of our 13 trillion-dollar economy."

One problem with the letter -- aside from the arrogance of economists who say that only "a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration" -- is that it says nothing about the propensity of immigrants from Latin America to draw on social services and, when they become citizens, to vote for the expansion of those services.

Yes, 500 economists can be wrong -- and are wrong -- when they fail to take into account all the costs of unfettered immigration (illegal and otherwise).

I've written many times about the high cost of low-skilled immigrants, but I haven't touched on this aspect of the issue (from Greg Mankiw):
Immigration and African-American Employment Opportunities: The Response of Wages, Employment, and Incarceration to Labor Supply Shocks by George J. Borjas, Jeffrey Grogger, Gordon H. Hanson
The employment rate of black men, and particularly of low-skill black men, fell precipitously from 1960 to 2000. At the same time, the incarceration rate of black men rose markedly. This paper examines the relation between immigration and these trends in black employment and incarceration. Using data drawn from the 1960-2000 U.S. Censuses, we find a strong correlation between immigration, black wages, black employment rates, and black incarceration rates. As immigrants disproportionately increased the supply of workers in a particular skill group, the wage of black workers in that group fell, the employment rate declined, and the incarceration rate rose. Our analysis suggests that a 10-percent immigrant-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group reduced the black wage by 3.6 percent, lowered the employment rate of black men by 2.4 percentage points, and increased the incarceration rate of blacks by almost a full percentage point.
A reasonable inference is that the influx of low-skilled immigrants from Central America has pushed black Americans out of jobs and caused more of them to turn to crime. The higher incarceration rate of black males imposes a direct cost on society -- the cost of incarceration -- and indirect (but very real) costs: the breakup of more black families and the greater alienation of black males from the norms of civility.

Addendum: See this, by Roger Scruton at The New Criterion. Scruton, writing from a British perspective, observes that as a result of
[t]he liberal view of rights, as universal possessions which make no reference to history, community, or obedience, . . . [i]ndigenous people can claim no precedence, not even in this matter in which they have sacrificed a lifetime of income for the sake of their own future security. Immigrants are given welfare benefits as of right, and on the basis of their need, whether or not they have paid or ever will pay taxes. And since their need is invariably great—why else have they come here?—they take precedence over existing residents in the grant of housing and income support. . . .
It is not “racist” to draw attention to this kind of fact. Nor is it racist to argue that indigenous people must take precedence over newcomers, who have to earn their right of residence and cannot be allowed to appropriate the savings of their hosts.