Tuesday, May 30, 2006

More Phony "Labor Shortages"

Dean Baker picks up another phony labor shortage article (for more background, see here and here). As any econ101 student should know, genuine shortages of any kind produce rising prices (in the case of labor, wages). Yet when we look at the trends for wages in jobs traditionally filled by immigrant labor--construction, maintenance, and food service--we don't see a trend of rising wages, we see a trend of declining wages. Declining wages, as any econ101 student should know, are evidence of a labor surplus. Dean Baker, again, skewers this all-too-common fallacy.


As the article reports, there are a huge number of less-skilled jobs waiting to be filled by immigrants, but almost no visas are available for immigrants to come across the border and work at these jobs legally.

To prove this case, the article quotes Stephen P. Gennett, president of the Carolinas chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America (a builders’ trade group), “we have a problem here, a people shortage.”

While Mr. Gennett is undoubtedly knowledgeable about the state of the labor market for construction workers, he also represents an organization that has a clear interest in this issue, they want cheap labor. Ordinarily, the claim that there is a people shortage would imply that wages are rising at an extraordinary rate. (This is the way economists ordinarily think about markets – shortages mean higher prices.) This means that there is a quick way to verify Mr. Gennett’s claims about a people shortage: see if wages in construction have been rising at an extraordinary rate.

A quick trip to the Get Detailed Statistics section of the Bureau of Labor Statistics website tells us that inflation adjusted wages for construction workers have actually fallen about 5 percent since 1980, a period in which productivity has increased by more than 70 percent. So, we have wages falling in spite of a labor shortage – not where I learned my economics.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Laws Are Like Sausages

It's best not to see them being made. John O'Sullivan has the latest on the "foul smell" emanating from the Senate.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Bad History

Razib of the Gene Expression has a good post on why the Da Vinci Code is historically inaccurate. He's uncomfortable having to agree with the fundamentalists, but sides with truth.

That being said, why does it matter that The Da Vinci Code is historically inaccurate? Some readers might view it as fantasy, but the problem is that it is billed as historical fiction (see the preface to the book). 45 million Americans have read this book, that's 20% of the population. A small minority, on the order of millions, claim to have had their view of the Bible and Christianity altered. This is nothing to sneeze at, if a new religious movement claimed millions in a few years we would take note.

For me, the biggest problem with The Da Vinci Code is that the fundamentalists are right! All the critiques that the fundamentalists make about The Da Vinci Code have a lot of truth in them, and when I'm agreeing with fundamentalists, something is wrong. It puts them on the same side as the majority of Biblical scholars, and that hasn't happened in a long time. Instead of "refuting" scholarly debunkings of the inerrant or literal character of the Bible, fundamentalists are now drawing from the wellspring of New Testament scholarship to debunk a rival superstition.

Among the many historical inaccuracies, he lists:

1) Christians did not overwhelmingly believe Jesus Christ was human before the Council of Nicea

2) The Council of Nicea had little to do with what books were included in the New Testament

3) There were celibate Jewish males around the time of Jesus, and if they were celibate they were very likely to have expressed the opinions that Jesus himself expressed (in other words, basic conditional probabilities here, even if Jewish males were unlikely to be celibate at this time, Jewish males who expressed the religious opinions that Jesus reputedly did were far more likely to be celibate than the basal frequency)

4) The Dead Sea Scrolls say nothing about Jesus (though they give us an interesting glance into the minds of radical Jews of the time)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Wow

Woman rips her husband's testicles off--with her bare hands.

The 52-year-old Tioga-Nicetown man, who we are identifying only by his first name of Howard, arrived home late Wednesday, hours after his wife allegedly tore off two parts of his genitalia with her bare hands. Surgeons at Einstein successfully managed to repair the damage.

Coulter Goes After Amnesty/Bush

Coulter has a new column on immigration and it's not too kind to El Presidente. Some highlights:

"At least Bush has dropped his infernal references to slacker Americans when talking about illegal immigrants. In his speech Monday night, instead of 47 mentions of "jobs Americans won't do," Bush referred only once to "jobs Americans are not doing" — which I take it means other than border enforcement and intelligence-gathering at the CIA. For the record, I'll volunteer right now to clean other people's apartments if I don't have to pay taxes on what I earn.

"Instead of a moratorium on new immigration, I'd settle for a moratorium on the use of the expression "We're a nation of immigrants." Throw in a ban on "Diversity is our strength" and you've got my vote for life.

"Bush calls this the "rational middle ground" because it recognizes the difference between "an illegal immigrant who crossed the border recently and someone who has worked here for many years." Yes, the difference is: One of them has been breaking the law longer. If our criminal justice system used that logic, a single murder would get you the death penalty, while serial killers would get probation. Bush claimed the only other alternative — I assume this is the "irrational extreme" — is "a program of mass deportation." Really? Is the only alternative to legalizing tax cheats "a program of mass arrest of tax cheats"? This is the logic of the pro-abortion zealots (aka "the Democratic Party"): Either lift every single restriction on abortion or ... every woman in America will be impregnated by her father and die in a back-alley abortion!

"Bush thinks it's not fair to favor people with special skills — a policy evidenced by his Harriet Miers pick. How about this: It's not fair to want to go out with someone just because that person is attractive and has a good personality because it discriminates against people who are ugly with bad social skills! That's our immigration policy.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Martinez Campaign 2004

A Polipundit reader points to a google cache of his campaign website which promises Martinez is against amnesty, and states that "immigration must always be legal" (PDF of webpage). Senator Martinez is, of course, one of the authors of the Hagel-Martinez Bill.

Aftermath of Speech

I didn't put much faith in the initial reports of the speech Monday helping El Presidente. The the opinion-making conservative intelligentsia (the base-maker) wasn't happy with it and however elitist this sounds, that matters a lot. Compare to the Miers debacle; many Republicans and conservatives trusted the President's choice because they trusted the President. It took awhile for disastisfaction to percolate among the base, but it did. The conservative intelligentsia exposed the truth and the base shifted away from the President. Those loyalists, like Hewitt, looked pretty foolish by the end of that fiasco.

It's also important to note that even if the a majority of the American public prefers Bush's immigration proposal, this does not translate into Bush being more popular. He has alienated virtually all Democrats and most moderates. His base stayed with him very strongly until Miers (and to some extent, Katrina), but immigration is decimating his remaining support. Bush's poll numbers will continue to sink because a small and shrinking percent of Republicans support his immigration plan (as of today, it's 60%).

For Presidential approval ratings, I prefer Rasmussen's tracking poll (he was the most accurate in the 2004 Presidential election and his results were much more consistent). Kaus says that tommorrow's data will have him at 36%, a record low for this poll (a 3% drop from the day of the speech).

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Price & Quantity Supplied

I'm heartened by this Cornyn amendment to the Senate bill but I have trouble believing it will do much without specifying how wages affect the "willingness" of American workers to fill a job.

The amendment protects U.S. workers by requiring the Department of Labor to certify that there is not a U.S. worker who is able, willing, qualified and available to fill the job position that is offered to the foreign worker.


More econ101. Price is central. A firm can advertise X job for $5.25/hour and when no Americans bite, are they in the clear? Americans will work any of the jobs currently done by illegals for a higher wage. And if there is a shortage of workers (no workers "available"), a higher wage will induce more workers to enter that field. That is how markets work; this is what we call supply and demand. Why are we afraid to let the market work? We wouldn't want income inequality to decrease or anything!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Kaus Eviscerates

Bush's speech. As usual his analysis is spot-on. Bush proposed creating a national ID for every foreign worker. Sounds good, right? Not as effective as a national ID for everybody, but still good. WRONG.

How would creating an i.d. card for foreign workers prevent illegals, using forged documents, from posing as U.S. citizens? Why should employers require someone who seems to be a citizen to show a "foreign worker" card? (Presumably the idea isn't that employers will doubt the U.S. citizenship of any job applicant who looks "foreign.")


Among other criticisms Kaus, again, points out the dishonesty of the "back of the line" meme (see Lawrence Lindsey's excellent piece), and points to a promsing alternative circulating by email, the "exit amnesty":

You have 60 days to arrange your affairs and leave. If you leave during this exit amnesty period and have committed no other crimes against the American people, you will suffer no penalty or recriminations. You will not be harassed or persecuted in any manner while you depart from our nation. ...

If you leave voluntarily, you will be free to enter the U.S. in the future without prejudice or discrimination. You will be allowed to apply for lawful immigration to the U.S. in the future. However, you will be given no special privileges and will have to wait in line like every one else. And you will have to wait in your country not ours.

If you do not take advantage of our generous offer, and if you are caught after our amnesty ends, you will be banned from the U.S. for life. You will never be readmitted to the U.S. for any reason whatsoever. If you attempt to return to the U.S. after you are banned, you will be criminally prosecuted.

LIARS!

So says McClure of Polipundit are those who claim to be conservatives and oppose Bush's immigration proposals. They aren't conservatives. They are LIARS.

If you think that is amnesty, then you are either a moron or a liar. If you ar truly a Republican to begin with, if you are truly a conservative, then you will applaud this speech and support the reforms he has articulated. Otherwise, you are not a Republican. You are not a conservative. You are a LIAR. A LIAR

Symposium on Bush's Speech

Some interesting reactions over at National Review Online. John O'Sullivan, like most of us, predicted most of the content of the President's speech and was unimpressed:

I listened to the speech with some nervousness because my Chicago Sun-Times column was a critique of it, written and sent to press about two hours before Mr. Bush began speaking. (No shameful Fleet Street tabloid deception here—I leveled with the readers.) But would I be shown up as a laughably out-of-touch hack who had forecast all kinds of arguments the president never said and whose criticisms were accordingly wide of the mark?

Within minutes—no, seconds—I knew I was safe. Every misleading point I had deconstructed, every shallow rhetorical device I had unraveled, every omission I had forecast—all were trotted out, present and incorrect. None of this suggests any great insight on my part. The speech was a tired and tiring repetition of all the president’s previous sayings on immigration. Like them it was designed to suggest that he would be tough on border security and illegal immigration when in fact the small print of his proposals amounts to the “open door” that he celebrated in his peroration.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Why We Don't Need "Comprehensive" Reform

Andrew C. McCarthy on the search for the "Big Answer" and why we shouldn't go there:

The problem with this controversy is the seeming sense that it is essential for us to strike some kind of comprehensive solution. Although the proposed solutions are radically different, the sense of urgency for the Big Answer is common among all disputants, whether they are from the trans-nationalist, post-sovereign Left (for whom “rights” for illegals are a natural fit), the portions of the Right kindly toward illegal immigrants due to political/economic calculations, and those on the Right opposed to rights for illegals owing to cultural/economic/rule of law/national security concerns (in whose number I count myself).

I continue to be mystified by this. Government almost always resists hard choices, and thus when it occasionally tries for the Big Answer, it is virtually always the Wrong Answer. See, e.g., intelligence reform, Sarbanes-Oxley, etc., etc. Jonah will hopefully correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always thought Hayek explained the reasons for this – which lie in the inability of fallible humans to foresee and rationally regulate all downstream consequences of ambitious schemes – as well as anyone.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Freakonomics Falsehood

A commenter on Levitt's blog has challenged a central fact of Levitt and Dubner's recent NYT's column "A Star Is Made." Levitt starts the column:

If you were to examine the birth certificates of every soccer player in next month's World Cup tournament, you would most likely find a noteworthy quirk: elite soccer players are more likely to have been born in the earlier months of the year than in the later months.


But the diligent work of a skeptical commenter, Bill Loyd, has uncovered the truth. There is no consistent pattern. The data for 1983 cited in support of this thesis is an outlier. Loyd looked up over 1,000 World Cup players and found that the split was 51-49%. In many years there were more players born in the last half of the year.

Levitt has refused to defend the column and has (as of yet) also refused to concede the point.

UPDATE: Levitt has now conceded that the World Cup data does not support his thesis and provides some interesting data for hockey.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Proof

The single best thing we can do to reduce illegal immigration and attrit the illegal population is to penalize employers and conduct raids on worksites that employ them.

Already, without any actual enforcement, the power of this approach is being illustrated:

Rumours are rampant in the city's immigrant communities that federal agents are swooping down into neighborhoods and plucking undocumented workers from restaurants, car washes and even soccer fields.

"My employees are nervous to come to work now," said Ana, a Woodhaven, Queens, hair salon owner who called the Daily News to report an unsubstantiated raid of a Latino food restaurant on Jamaica Ave. and 104th St. "I really don't know what to tell them."

Iraq Mistakes

Jeff Goldstein has a superb must-read post on the troop level controversy.

Friday, May 05, 2006

No Moral Relativism Here

Lithwick makes an astonishing statement in her article on the Moussaoui sentencing:

"These jurors understood that for this country to kill a terrorist for his ideas, hopes, and dreams is not much different than the terrorist's desire to come here and kill us for ours."

Wow. Are you kidding me?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Funniest Video Ever

Russert really makes a fool of himself. Wow.

Direct link to video here.

Partial transcript:

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Secretary, if, if demand is up but supply is down, why are the profits so high?

MR. BODMAN: For that reason.

MR. RUSSERT: No, think about that.

MR. BODMAN: You know?

MR. RUSSERT: Play it out.

MR. BODMAN: Demand is up.

MR. RUSSERT: Correct.

MR. BODMAN: Right?

MR. RUSSERT: Right.

MR. BODMAN: So you’ve got more demand, you’re going to force price up.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Assimilation or Conquest?

Charles Krauthammer sums it up perfectly:

If you found a stranger living in your basement, you would be far more inclined to let him stay if he assured you that his ultimate intent is just to improve his own life and not to prepare the way for his various cousins waiting on the other side of your fence.

And that's the critical issue that the demonstrators and their supporters ignore. Is the amnesty they are demanding/requesting the beginning or the end? Is it a precedent or a one-time -- last-time -- exception? Are they seeking open-ended immigration, or do they agree that they should be the last wave?

Diversity, Virtue or Vice?

It's both, I think. But I've always thought of true diversity as more of a challenge to a peaceful, unified society than anything else. It's a credit to the American system that it has brought so many different peoples together peacefully and prosperously.

Jim Pinkerton (who is a convert from the open borders crowd thinks so too):

"There's nothing wrong with a Spanish-language national anthem - if you live in a Spanish-language country. But if you live in an English-language country, the obvious seeds of ethnic and cultural conflict have been planted. "Diversity" might be nice in theory, but, in practice, differences are the gateway to conflict. "

Frist & Dobbs on Immigration

Frist seems to have caved in to the amnesty lobby. (Transcript)

Frist repeated the following key words and phrases throughout his appearance: Comprehensive. Compassion. "Out of the shadows." Fairness. Not amnesty (yeah right). Strong temporary (ha!) worker program.

Then there's the doublespeak. Frist says we must "first and foremost tighten up border security." First? Really? Well, why does Frist support a comprehensive plan? That doesn't sound like first to me. It sounds like the same sort amnesty doublecross we got in 1986.

Lou Dobbs was also on the program and had quite an exchange with King:

KING: Lou, everyone talks against amnesty, and I know we are a Judeo-Christian nation, so I don't mean this as a cheap shot, but doesn't both those faiths -- both those faiths preach forgiveness? Why don't we forgive?

DOBBS: You know, this is complicated enough, Larry, without taking it to theological...

KING: I'm just trying to hang you up a little.

DOBBS: Well, you're doing fine, but I am going to retreat from the -- I believe in the separation of church and state mightily.

KING: OK. No forgiveness.

DOBBS: No, you know, I -- in terms of forgiveness, whom do we forgive? Do we forgive the Republican and the Democratic Party who basically told the middle class in this country and working men and women and their families to go to hell? Do we forgive four administrations who permitted this problem to exist? Who do we forgive? Do we forgive Ted Kennedy, Senator Kennedy, because he failed to stand up in 1986 and instead gutted the enforcement provisions of the 1986 amnesty? Do we forgive the national news media for today reporting immigrant rights, immigrant demonstration, immigrant boycotts when what they're talking about is illegal immigration?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dems & Immigration

Former Democratic Governor of Oklahoma Brad Carson is urging his fellow Democrats to face reality on immigration.

On the elite or "overclass":

"From their cloistered positions, the solution to nearly all perceived problems - from globalization to crime -- is education, which was their own personal visa into the merit-obsessed overclass. For this group of people, immigration is not about inequality in America, but instead all about a cheap nanny, inexpensive lawn care, or proof of multicultural bona fides. Even to bring up the subject of immigration is to seem impolite, if not crass."

On the increasing underclass:

"In sum, a greater proportion of American young people are low-skilled dropouts than thirty years ago. Close to 50% of these dropouts are immigrants. Now there's a problem for the overclass to consider."

On the implications of immigration on progressive politics:

"Besides, the growing number of low-skilled workers, swelled by illegal immigration, makes these progressive interventions that much more expensive and, hence, unlikely."

Carson's recommendation:

"By recognizing the harmful effects of illegal immigration on low-skilled citizens and by supporting legislation to prohibit untrammeled immigration, Democrats would boost the economic prospects of their core constituencies while driving a wedge into the Republican base. Democrats could even oppose illegal immigration while welcoming legal immigration, especially of the high-skilled variety. Immigration presents Democrats with an unusual opportunity to shake up the coalitions that have guided the political parties for a generation, while proving to the struggling middle and working classes that the Democratic Party is serious about reclaiming its historic role as their champion. The overclass might frown, but I would bet that millions and millions of American workers would reward the Democratic Party with their electoral gratitude."

I would add that Democrats can come out tough-as-nails on immigration and probably emerge without losing much of the Latino vote--the media wouldn't claim it's racism or xenophobia if Dems cracked down on immigration, and they're coming from a stonger position (at least as far as perception) on race issues and civil liberties.

Will this happen? Probably not. Multiculturalism and ethnic-identity politics has become the heart of the Democratic Party and I doubt curtailing immigration is compatible with these visions. I am a very strong and lifelong Republican but I would consider voting for a moderate Democrat who I had confidence in on this issue.

Alito's First Opinion

Orin Kerr has a post examining Alito's first opinion (representing a unanimous court). He likes what he sees.

Spanish Anthem

It's been stangely satisfying watching Bush and Ted Kennedy squirm a bit about the Spanish version of the national anthem. Both exclaim that the anthem should be sung in English! Well, well, I'm glad they're with us on that, but what did they honestly think bilingual education and multiculturalism would lead to? The President campaigned in Spanish, conducts his weekly radio speech in Spanish as well as English, and has a Spanish version of the White House website. That's all OK, I guess. Yet Bush draws the line at the anthem! Well, that's some place to start. If people "ought to learn English" if they want to be American, why has the President made it easier for immigrants not to?

On a related note, Steven Sailer exposes the man behind the rewrite.

Well, it turns out Adam Kidron is not Hispanic at all. Indeed, he's from a very interesting family. He was born in England, where his father, Michael Kidron, was a famous Marxist theoretician and his uncle, the late "Tony Cliff," was the leader of the largest Trotskyite party in Britain, the Socialist Workers Party or SWP.