Thursday, December 24, 2009

Julian Simon on Environmental Hoaxes and Immigration

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Conservatives and Republicans who oppose liberalization of immigration laws would be well-advised not to throw overboard one of their greatest allies in another vital policy area, that of climate change and other environmental issues. I am referring to the late Julian Simon. His book ‘The Ultimate Resource 2’ and works based on or inspired by it represent the nuclear warhead arsenal of the conservative and capitalist movements against radical environmentalist fraud. He catalogs and debunks over a hundred cases of environmental scare campaigns in the past 200 years that turned out to be so much global hot air emitted by carbon-spewing political activists out to grab power and earn big bucks (and frequent-flier miles) through notoriety. What’s more, he systematically explained WHY objectively it must be so that all such scares end up as hoaxes (not that that ever deters the activists from inventing new ones with every generation, if not season). Julian Simon is an indispensible ultimate resource all by himself in this regard. Simon’s work has been praised by Milton Friedman, George Gilder, Rush Limbaugh and many writers on the Wall Street Journal editorial page.
Having a strong agreement on one or any number of points does not mean that we will always agree on others. We can all easily name people with whom we agree wholeheartedly on some issues while being fiercely at odds on others. But at the very least, the views of someone whom we respect so highly ought to deserve a fair, honest, and open-minded hearing. To do less would be rather shallow and petty.
Simon named his book The Ultimate Resource to make the point that in the final analysis, physical assets like coal, oil, water and food are only as good, useful and available as the PEOPLE who gather, collect, mine, extract, refine, grow and harvest them. It is human beings living under liberty and the rule of law that are the most precious, scarce, productive and needed resource. In the short run, physical resources are of course finite; but in the long term, they are virtually unlimited, only constrained by human imagination, ingenuity, freedom and hard work. In simple arithmetic, since the average human being on earth, when given a chance, is perfectly capable of producing more wealth than he must consume, the more people we have on earth, the more wealth there will be all around. And this principle extends into the realm of all other problem solving as well, not just production of food and wealth but managing pollution, waste, health hazards etc; the more free people available, the cleaner the environment.
In The Economic Consequences of Immigration and Immigration: The Demographic and Economic Facts, Simon focused his pro- (human) life thesis on the specific case of people who decide to move from one place or country on Earth to another in search of opportunity and/or in flight away from persecution and/or poverty. He concludes that the supposed economic arguments against immigrants break down under examination of facts. Consider a sampling of Simon’s findings, which have changed little since he asserted them about 20 years ago:
• The total number of immigrants per year (including illegal immigrants and refugees) nowadays is somewhat less than it was in the peak years at the beginning of the 20th century when U.S. population was less than half as large as it now is.
• Immigration as a proportion of population is about a third of what it was in the peak years.
• The foreign-born population of the United States is 8.5 percent of the total population (as of 1990). It had always been above 13 percent during the period from 1860 to 1930.
• More than half of illegal aliens enter legally and overstay their visas and permits. Less than half cross the nation's borders clandestinely.
• New immigrants are more concentrated than are natives in the youthful labor-force ages when people contribute more to the public coffer than they draw from it;
• The average education of new immigrants has been increasing…[nevertheless] [t]he proportion of adult new immigrants with eight or fewer years of education is much higher than the proportion of adult natives.
• The proportion of immigrants with bachelor's or postgraduate degrees is higher than the proportion of the native labor force.
• Immigrants do not cause native unemployment, even among low-paid or minority groups.
• Immigrants who enter legally through regular quotas are not permitted to receive public assistance for three years, and they may be deported if they obtain such assistance.
• If refugees are excluded from the assessment…the rate of welfare use for new immigrants who entered between 1980 and 1990 is considerably below the rate for natives ages 15 and above.
• Social Security and Medicare are by far the most expensive transfer payments made by the government. These payments go almost completely to natives. This is because immigrants typically arrive when they are young and healthy, and also because older recent immigrants do not qualify for Social Security for many years after their arrival.
• As of the 1970s, immigrants contributed more to the public coffers in taxes than they drew out in welfare services.
The Summary of Important Facts about Immigration may be read here:
The complete pamphlet is available here:

Simon died a premature death at age 65 in 1998, but his influence and rigorous methodology may be readily recognized in the work of his disciples, among them Stephen Moore and Daniel Griswold. The Cato Institute’s August 2009 Handbook for Policy Makers contains a succinct chapter on immigration which is the culmination of this decades’ long research effort. This document deserves to be carefully studied by any serious person interested in how the system should be reformed. Its recommendations in brief are:
• Expand current legal immigration quotas, especially for employment-based visas;
• Repeal the arbitrary and restrictive cap on H1-B visas for highly skilled workers;
• Create a temporary worker program for lower-skilled workers to meet long-term labor demand and reduce incentives for illegal immigration; and
• Refocus border-patrol resources to keep criminals and terrorists out of the country.