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Goebbels or Gompers?: A Closer Look at Stephen Miller’s Immigration Manifesto

Stephen Miller, architect of the Trump administration’s immigration policy is getting a lot of bad press these days. Some wags (and even relatives?) juxtapose Miller’s photo to one of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, insinuating likeness of facial expression is a predictor of ideological leaning and propaganda technique. The comparison is as unhelpful as it is unfair. A more apt comparison would be with Samuel Gompers, founding president of the American Federation of Labor.

Miller doesn’t look at all like Gompers but his rhetoric echoes Gompers’s Chinese exclusion advocacy from the 1880s to the dawn of the twentieth century. It is only by discerning the similarities and differences between Miller’s position and Gompers’s that an effective rebuttal to Miller’s policy prescriptions can be mounted.

Miller’s 2015 anti-immigration manifesto, Immigration Handbook for the New Republican Majority, is an articulate, compelling strategy polemic. It also discretely avoided any overt expression of racism or white supremacism. The handbook stresses polling that concluded “an economically focused message [on immigration] resonates with voters of all economic backgrounds and all ethnic backgrounds.” More specifically, it cites the result that “86% of black voters and 71% of Hispanic voters said companies should raise wages and improve working conditions instead of increasing immigration.”

For those without either the time or stomach to wade through Mr. Miller’s analysis and polemic, here is a synoptic collection of excerpts:

Simply put, we have more jobseekers than jobs.

The principal economic dilemma of our time is the very large number of people who either are not working at all, or not earning a wage great enough to be financially independent. The surplus of available labor is compounded by the loss of manufacturing jobs due to global competition and reduced demand for workers due to automation.

We have an obligation to those we lawfully admit not to admit such a large number that their own wages and job prospects are diminished. A sound immigration policy must serve the needs of those already living here.

So whether comprehensive, piecemeal, step-by-step, incremental, or whatever other process one conceives, the question that must be asked is this: will the legislation make life easier or harder for American workers?

Is there a single more reasonable proposition than to say that a nation’s immigration policy should consider first what is good for its own citizens?

Republicans—who stood alone in Congress to save America from the President’s [Obama’s] immigration bill and who alone have fought against his executive amnesty—must define themselves as the party of the American worker, the party of higher wages, and the one party that defends the American people from Democrats’ extreme agenda of open borders and economic stagnation.

No issue more exposes the Democrats’ colossal hypocrisy than their support for an immigration agenda pushed by the world’s most powerful interest groups and businesses that clearly results in fewer jobs and lower wages for Americans.

Paragon polled three sentences lawmakers should use that have been too absent in the immigration conversation:

  • The American people are right to be concerned about their jobs and wages, and elected officials should put the needs of American workers first.
  • The first goal of immigration policy needs to be getting unemployed Americans back to work—not importing more low-wage workers to replace them.
  • Immigration policy needs to serve the interests of the nation as a whole, not a few billionaire CEOs and immigration activists lobbying for open borders.

I especially like the part about Republicans defining themselves “as the party of the American worker, the party of higher wages.” That is not to say they would have to be the party of workers and higher wages. But who could argue with that polling sentence about what the first goal of immigration policy needs to be?

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Preponderance of evidence from poor housing permits points to slowdown in GDP

Preponderance of evidence from poor housing permits points to slowdown in GDP

The preponderance of evidence, based on this morning’s report on housing permits and starts, is that increased interest rates and continuing increased prices are beginning to take a bite out of the market.

First of all, let’s take a look at single family permits — the most reliable, least volatile of all the measures — (red, left scale) and total permits (blue, right scale):

Both declined this month, but more importantly, both made 7 month lows. Outside of the expiration of the housing stimulus way back in 2010, this is the first time that single family permits have made this significant a decline — off about 4% — during this expansion.

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Time for some not very big data biotech

It appears that the US government has separated mothers and their children and doesn’t know how to get them back together again. In particular, this is extremely difficult if the children are under 2 and don’t know their family name (looking for someone identified only as “mommy” or “mia madre” is challenging.

I think a data company with some need to apologize to the world can make itself useful. It is not too hard to match 3000 children who are too young to speak and their mothers provided the mothers eagerly cooperate.

DNA fingerprinting is possible. Maternity and paternity tests are possible. taking all 6000 or so DNA fingerprints and matching parents and children requires a few person days at most of programming then a millisecond of the processing power available to, say, Facebook.

The problem of getting addresses for matched pairs of parents and children has been solved long ago provided one has permission from the parents.

If it isn’t done, it’s because they don’t care.

uodate: good news from a firm which needs some good publicity and is, for whatever reason, doing the right thing. I applaud MyHeritage . They are offering free DNA tests to get families back together.

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Prime age employment participation and wages: not so clear a relationship

Prime age employment participation and wages: not so clear a relationship

In the last couple of months variations of the same graph which is supposed  to “solve” the wage conundrum have been going around. I saw another version this weekend:

Easy to see, there is what looks like a nice, nearly linear relationship between the prime age (25-54) employment to population ratio (left scale) with wages as measured by the employment cost index (ECI)(bottom scale).

While I see some merit to the approach, I don’t think the graph actually means what its purveyors think it does.

First, let me reproduce it with FRED data, which I am able to do through 2001:

Same pretty linear relationship, with maybe a slight bend at area of 79% participation and 2.5% wage growth.

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What to Do about Conservative Rationality in Addressing Climate Change?

What to Do about Conservative Rationality in Addressing Climate Change?

Two business-friendly conservatives, both former senators, Trent Lott and John Breaux, have an op-ed in today’s New York Times announcing the formation of new group, Americans for Carbon Dividends.  Now out of office, they recognize climate change as “one of the great challenges of our generation.”  To counteract it they propose a bipartisan coalition to institute a carbon tax, with all the revenues returned to the public on per capita basis.  The carbon price would cut emissions and spur the development of alternatives to fossil fuels; the rebates would redistribute income progressively and protect the incomes of the majority of the population.

What’s a progressive climate policy activist like myself to do?

Basically, I’d like to say, “Welcome to the party.  Let’s sit down and work out the details.”  While I believe resistance from capital is the underlying reason the last three decades of climate activism have been so dismal, I don’t see any purpose in drawing lines of ideological exclusion.  On the contrary, if the deepest problem is the role of wealth (at risk from rapid shifts in energy prices) and not divergent philosophies as such, we should be happy to form broader coalitions so long as they don’t require unacceptable compromises.

(I don’t subscribe to the Marxist base-superstructure formulation as a matter of theoretical commitment, but I think it applies pretty well to the problem of climate change.  There is no intrinsic conflict between political conservatism and climate action, except insofar as conservative ideology is a cover for the interests of owners of capital—which it typically is.)

I am in full agreement with the two fundamental principles laid down by Lott and Breaux, putting a price on carbon and rebating the revenues through equal dividends to all citizens.  Of course, I differ on other matters:

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War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength

A piece of work is Professor Walter E. Williams of George Mason University. Back in February, I flagged a column by Williams in which the nimble prof performed the lump-of-labor fallacy shuck and jive. One of the venues for that rendition of Will Automation Kill Our Jobs was David (“Trump is 100% right”) Horowitz’s FrontPage Mag.

Little did I know at the time that just three weeks earlier, Williams had penned a defense of Trump’s (Sessions’s, Miller’s) immigration policy, Immigration Lies and Hypocrisy also published at FrontPage Mag. One may admire the accuracy of article’s heading as a label of its contents until one realizes it is not actually intended as a confession.

I wrote to Professor Williams about the bizarre discrepancy between his January 30th column and his February 20th claims. I don’t really expect to hear back.

Dear Professor Williams,

I appreciate that you “can’t respond to every query” but my question raises urgent questions of morality and intellectual integrity. In February of this year, you wrote an opinion piece decrying the so-called “lump-of-labor fallacy” that you claim lurks behind concerns that automation will “kill jobs.” I noticed that one outlet that carried your syndicated column was David Horowitz’s “FrontPage Mag.”

Today, the Guardian featured an interview with Mr. Horowitz in which he asserted that Donald Trump’s immigration policy is “100% right.” Horowitz, the article notes, was a mentor to Stephen Miller, the Trump advisor who in 2015 authored Senator Sessions’s “Immigration Handbook for the New Republican Majority.” Here are a few excerpts from that document:

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The Lump That Begot Trump

I don’t want to pretend that this explains everything. But it is “another brick in the wall,” so to speak, if not the keystone. In January 2015, Senator Jeff Sessions produced an Immigration Handbook for the New Republican Majority,” written by his communications director, Stephen Miller.

Miller’s analysis in the handbook is just the sort of thing that economists would denounce as a “lump-of-labor fallacy.” Curiously enough, few did. They were much too busy snatching pensions from future old folks on the pretext that older people working longer wouldn’t “steal jobs” from youth.

Here are a few representative arguments from the handbook:

The last four decades have witnessed the following: a period of record, uncontrolled immigration to the United States; a dramatic rise in the number of persons receiving welfare; and a steep erosion in middle class wages. But the only “immigration reforms” discussed in Washington are those pushed by interest groups who want to remove what few immigration controls are left in order to expand the record labor supply even further.


No issue more exposes the Democrats’ colossal hypocrisy than their support for an immigration agenda pushed by the world’s most powerful interest groups and businesses that clearly results in fewer jobs and lower wages for Americans.

Here are the findings from a poll of likely U.S. voters commissioned by GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway:

  • 77% of respondents said jobs should go to current U.S.-born workers or legal immigrants already in the country—instead of bringing in new workers to fill those jobs
  • 88% of conservatives, 78% of moderates, 78% of independents, 71% of Democrats and 62% of liberals says current U.S. workers should get jobs preference
  • 80% of respondents said businesses should recruit the currently unemployed instead of expanding the labor supply with new workers from other countries


How are any members of the Democrat caucus going to explain why they are determined to provide instant work permits to every illegal immigrant and visa overstay in the country? How are they going to explain why they want to double the number of guest workers when we don’t have enough jobs for the workers here right now? How are they going to explain why they voted for legislation that will surge the labor supply at a time when wages are down and a record number of Americans can’t find work?

As I mentioned above, these are precisely the kinds of arguments that economists routinely denounce as being based on a lump-of-labor fallacy. In fact, although he didn’t use that phrase, Walter Ewing of the American Immigration Council countered the handbook’s claims with one of the fallacy claim’s stock surrogates — the “not a zero sum game” rebuttal:

Employment is not a “zero sum” game in which workers compete for some fixed number of jobs. Immigrant workers spend their wages in U.S. businesses—buying food, clothes, appliances, cars, etc. Businesses respond to the presence of these new workers and consumers by investing in new restaurants, stores, and production facilities. And immigrants themselves are 30 percent more likely than the native-born to start their own business. The end result is more jobs for more workers. The economic contributions of unauthorized immigrants in particular would be amplified were they given a way to earn legal status.

This is all very well and good… except for one problem: Miller’s and Sessions’s handbook cited an actual “zero sum” of net employment growth for U.S.-born workers:

…according to the BLS, all net employment gains since the recession have gone to foreign workers while 1.5 million fewer U.S.-born Americans hold jobs today than did then—despite the total population of U.S.-born adults increasing by 11 million over that same time.

Well, as the economist says, that may be true in practice but is it true in theory?  There is indeed a gap between what the evidence shows and what it proves. There is no guarantee that if “foreign” workers didn’t take those jobs, they would still be there for U.S.-born workers. Miller and Sessions fill that in with pure supposition. However…

However, in a contest between suppositions based on peoples’ perceptions and suppositions contrary to those perceptions, who do you suppose wins? As I have pointed out repeatedly, the “no zero-sum game” rebuttal, the lump-of-labor fallacy is a red herring. Sometimes there are empirically zero sums and there doesn’t have to be a “fixed amount of work” for the actual amount of work to be deficient. As tendentious as Miller’s and Sessions’s argument may be, Walter Ewing’s rejoinder is no less tendentious — and loaded down with hollow promises and empty platitudes to boot.

See also Sessions, Krugman, DACA and the Lump-of-Labor Fallacy

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by Bradford DeLong   (originally published at Grasping Reality with Both Hands)


I have long known that the thoughtful and pulls-no-punches Amitabh Chandra has no tolerance for fuzzy thinking from Do-Gooder Democrats. He is one of those who holds that not even a simulacrum of utopia is open to us here, as we muck about in the Sewer of Romulus here in this Fallen Sublunary Sphere. ”There are always trade-offs“, he says. “Deal with it“, he says. But here he leans to the other side, and, well, snaps: Amitabh Chandra: “GOP thinktanks are the biggest milksops. From healthcare policy to environmental policy, from national security policy to fiscal policy, they have tacitly endorsed a mountain of anti-market + anti-growth + anti-America policies so as not to not upset their political masters…

…There was a time when I could go to a GOP thinktank and debate Peter Bach or Henry Aaron or Mark Pauly. We agreed on lots of things, and disagreed on many others. Now, it’s completely fine to just shout socialism and markets, disparage expertise, and everyone claps. I don’t consider myself a Democrat, but the quality of the conversation at CAP or Brookings is orders of magnitude richer, and more sophisticated, than what is happening at GOP thinktanks. And I say this is someone who often disagrees with both of them. You still can debate Henry Aaron or Mark Pauly perfectly pleasantly and productively. (I don’t know Peter Bach.) We need to focus on the many intellectually honest folks along the political spectrum and try to ignore the fools. Honestly, my academic discussions haven’t changed…

You could never have a fruitful discussion with people from Heritage. They were focused on (1) political effectiveness for their high politicians and (2) pleasing their funders. Nothing else mattered. And so nothing they said could be taken at its face intellectual value. And no evidence you could bring forward would change their minds—or, rather, would change what they said and wrote. Maybe it did change their minds. But how the hell could anyone ever know, since their words were completely determined by triangulating between their political masters and their funders?

I think Cato, AEI, the American Action Forum, and others have now entered the Heritage zone. Yes, they are happy to have your endorsement to make whatever they say as they triangulate between their funders and their political masters. No, they do not want to listen to any evidence. No, they do not care about policy effectiveness—or if they do still at some level care about policy effectiveness, it is the effectiveness of the policies they will be able to work for two decades in the future after sucking up to funders and political masters has gained them enough credibility that somebody will actually listen to them on the substance. And, no, they are not interested in marking their beliefs to market—because knowing and reflecting on how false their promises were would make them sad without any ability to do anything, because for at least 20 more years they will have no room to do anything other than utter the words that best triangulate between the demands of their funders and their political masters.

Anyone at Cato, AEI, that AAF, or any of the others that this does not describe? Damn few.

Case in point: last winter’s tax cut bill. Professional Republican economist after Republican economist was falling over himself to get a 0.4% boost to annual economic growth in 2018 and 2019 from higher investment triggered by the tax bill. Do the arithmetic and that means an extra 800 billion dollars a year of investment in America. Six months later are we getting that extra investment? No. Are any of the professional Republican economists worried about why we are not getting that extra investment? No. By how much will the fact that we did not get that extra investment they projected change what they write in the future? Zero.

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