October 18, 2015

MEME: The One Question No Liberal Can Honestly Answer About Jobs And Taxes

If I had to identify the two issues that left-of-center American intellectuals care about most, I’d probably choose rising economic inequality in the United States and the threat posed by anthropogenic climate change.
There are other issues that energize and anger the liberal intelligentsia, to be sure, but I think it’s fair to say that the concentration of wealth and income and the prospect of rapid global warming, mass extinction, and rising sea levels are matters that the left takes to be of near-cosmic significance.
It thus occurs to me that there’s some irony to the left’s almost equally passionate commitment to increasing immigration levels. …

[A]mong large Democratic donors, policy scholars, senior bureaucrats, and cultural mandarins who constitute the Democratic elite, support for high immigration levels is near-universal. This is despite the fact that virtually all immigrants to the U.S. come from countries where per capita carbon emissions are far lower than the U.S. level. … When an Indian moves to the United States, she earns a much higher income, and her productivity is likely to go up as well. Yet it is also true that she will lead a far more carbon-intensive lifestyle. …
So what matters more — the climate crisis or the (supposed) moral imperative of greater international labor mobility?
If you take the climate crisis seriously, I’m afraid you might have to conclude that the United States should immediately close its borders, to prevent foreigners from being seduced into our gas-guzzling ways.
And to the extent that one cares about domestic economic inequality, it is worth noting that less-skilled immigration is associated with quite substantial increases in 90/10 and 90/50 income inequality (that is, it appears to increase the gap between the 90th and 10th income percentiles as well as the 90th and the 50th)[.]…

One could square this particular circle by disavowing any interest in domestic economic inequality, and instead focusing solely on global economic inequality. Yet such a focus would lead to an entirely different set of policy priorities, as it is not at all clear why a government focused on reducing global economic inequality would devote vast sums of taxpayer dollars to, say, Medicaid instead of channeling these resources towards low-cost, high-impact interventions in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and other impoverished regions. …
[T]he worldview of many of America’s left-liberal intellectuals is less-than-totally-coherent[.]

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