fbpx

Why the Left Favors Immigration but Opposes Trade

The American Left generally welcomes immigration, but opposes foreign trade. There are exceptions of course, but generally the further left one moves this combination of policy preferences is even starker. Bernie Sanders seems wholly opposed to free trade and yet favors immigration. Indeed, he wants to make citizens of immigrants, even if they have come here illegally.

What explains this divergence? It cannot plausibly be concern for low-wage workers in the United States. It is true that trade, while being generally beneficial, can depress the income of low-wage workers (at least in the short term), because they must compete more with low-skilled workers elsewhere. But the effect of low-skilled immigrants  is the same. It puts pressure on the wages of low-skilled Americans.

It can’t be concern for the poor abroad. Certainly, it is also true that immigration to the United States can be a boon to the poor of the world. The move from bad to relatively good governance immediately increases the value of immigrants’ human capital. But trade does the same for those foreigners who can get a higher price for their products and services in a more open market. Indeed, trade has hugely improved the lives of the most wretchedly poor around the globe, helping decrease the number of those who live on less than one dollar a day from 50 percent of the world’s population to twenty percent. And free trade helps many poor foreigners who cannot emigrate to the United States.

Two factors explain the difference in the Left’s preference for immigration over trade. First, the Left likes multicultural societies, and greater immigration helps create and sustain one in the United States. One piece of confirming evidence is that the Left is also less enthusiastic about assimilation. It embraces a variety of policies from bilingualism to ethnic preferences that encourage ethnic consciousness.

Second, the Left gets a political advantage from new low-income immigrants once they become citizens, because low-income voters support the Left more. The multicultural society also helps perpetuate this advantage by making ethnic consciousness a greater determinant of voting, even as immigrants move up the income scale.

I would welcome contrary explanations of the Left’s divergent views of immigration and trade. But for me, the divergence raises questions about the Left’s central claim to be an ideology focused on the improvement of humanity’s lot rather than on the acquisition of raw political power.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on April 06, 2016 at 20:10:15 pm

I would put it slightly differently. The Left are suspicious of private political action and of attachment to existing social arrangements. Newcomers can expect to be less attached. Hence preferring immigration over trade.

read full comment
Image of Lorenzo from Oz
Lorenzo from Oz
on April 06, 2016 at 20:11:10 pm

That should be "private economic action".

read full comment
Image of Lorenzo from Oz
Lorenzo from Oz
on April 07, 2016 at 00:44:46 am

You nailed it. Specially the part on ethnic consciousness. I am latino (Puertorican) and I cannot count the times I have confronted people from my own ethnic background that espouse conservative (both morally and economically) viewpoints and yet will never vote for the republican party. They feel like their place is in the democratic party even though they do not support the path where the left is taking the country. Susana Martinez, Governor of New Mexico, is another great example of this. She started as a democrat, for the sole reason that she was a latina, and switched party lines when she was confronted by republican friends that took her to lunch. What happenned when she left the luncheon with her husband in her own words follows: "When we left that lunch, we got in the car and I looked over at Chuck and said, 'I'll be damned – we're Republicans.'"

read full comment
Image of Luis A Perez
Luis A Perez
on April 07, 2016 at 07:42:07 am

What a remarkable series of half truths supporting a questionable conclusion. Let's take just one major example:

"Second, the Left gets a political advantage from new low-income immigrants once they become citizens, because low-income voters support the Left more."

Now most immigrants these days are from cultures that are much more religiously fundamentalist than the US. They thus favor much more "conservative" "social values." The decided home of such values and such people is "on the Right." Leftists favor all those "cultural values" they despie. So, ceteris paribus, immigrants would vote Right, not Left.

Of course, things aren't at all ceteris paribus, since the contemporary Right has built most of its appeal on xenophobia.

read full comment
Image of Craig J. Bolton
Craig J. Bolton
on April 07, 2016 at 10:31:20 am

"...much more religiously fundamentalist than the US."

Of course, one may want to consider the *nature* of this religosity. could it be that the years of "liberation Theology" proffered in these countries leads these immigrants to be somewhat more prone to appeals from the Left. See Mr. Perez's fine comments above.

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe
on April 07, 2016 at 10:44:50 am

Craig,

That is the Karl Rove theory, that immigrants and hispanics especially are "natural conservatives". It has been disproven by voting statistics.

New immigrants always vote majority Democrat, that is true going all the way back to the first waves of Catholic immigration, without which the New Deal wouldn't have been possible. Third and fourth generation Americans trend more towards a 50-50 Dem/Rep voting balance. But as long as we keep accepting new waves of immigrants, the raw numbers for any immigrant group never comes close to 50-50, let alone tipping to the right.

In America today, Whites are roughly 50-50 Dem/Rep, and democrats own healthy majorities of all minority groups.

read full comment
Image of Jack Mcgraff
Jack Mcgraff
on April 07, 2016 at 22:22:16 pm

So, I guess there isn't and hasn't been any xenophobia or reaction to it? Good to know.

read full comment
Image of Craig J. Bolton
Craig J. Bolton
on April 10, 2016 at 10:45:56 am

I think it is simpler: See: http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2013/04/how-i-am-partly-to-blame-for-mass-immigration.html

"When I was a Revolutionary Marxist, we were all in favour of as much immigration as possible.

It wasn't because we liked immigrants, but because we didn't like Britain. We saw immigrants - from anywhere - as allies against the staid, settled, conservative society that our country still was at the end of the Sixties.

Also, we liked to feel oh, so superior to the bewildered people - usually in the poorest parts of Britain - who found their neighbourhoods suddenly transformed into supposedly 'vibrant communities'.

If they dared to express the mildest objections, we called them bigots.

Revolutionary students didn't come from such 'vibrant' areas (we came, as far as I could tell, mostly from Surrey and the nicer parts of London).

We might live in 'vibrant' places for a few (usually squalid) years, amid unmown lawns and overflowing dustbins.

But we did so as irresponsible, childless transients - not as homeowners, or as parents of school-age children, or as old people hoping for a bit of serenity at the ends of their lives.

When we graduated and began to earn serious money, we generally headed for expensive London enclaves and became extremely choosy about where our children went to school, a choice we happily denied the urban poor, the ones we sneered at as 'racists'."

read full comment
Image of Richard McClellan
Richard McClellan
on April 10, 2016 at 15:22:19 pm

What? No *gated* communities!

Oh, the humanity of it all!

Your post is spot-on. However, OUR elites do like to employ these *vibrant* types as common laborers - partly because they are simply not intelligent enough to know which end of the lawnmower should be pushed.

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.