Immigration and Elections
Long before I started posting here at the DR, there was an interesting dust-up on immigration's effects on political culture, and whether we should care:
If you believe (as Russell claims to) that in a country like the US, an influx of people hostile to freedom will reduce the freedom of people in that country, one is led inexorably to an uncomfortable conclusion. Namely, that the impact on freedom is the combination of gains from the increased freedom of the immigrants and losses from the decreased freedom of the residents. We can let in the coercers and be coerced, or we can coercively keep them out.
Now, there is plenty of room for debate about the resulting net impact. But if immigrants truly are anti-freedom, then the real question is how to evaluate this tough tradeoff. Not whether libertarians can have their immigration and a small government too.
Mr Luttmer and Ms Singhal analyse data from the European Social Survey, a biennial multi-country exercise, on the attitudes of over 6,000 immigrants who have moved from one of 32 countries in the survey to another and they find precisely this result.
Even after controlling for income, education and other relevant economic and social factors such as work history and age, views about redistribution in an immigrant’s home country are a strong predictor of his own opinions. Indeed, this measure of “cultural background” explains as much as income levels, and three-fifths as much as income and education combined. These results hold even for immigrants who moved 20 years before they were surveyed; they cannot be attributed to people not having had time to adjust their views.
Nor is it true that simply waiting out for the next generation of immigrants will solve the problem:
Even more convincing evidence of the impact of culture comes from second-generation immigrants. The opinions of children born in the host country about the desirability of redistribution are strongly influenced by the norms that prevail in the countries their parents came from.
Now, there are several possible reactions one could take to this finding, assuming it holds up, which is always tricky in social sciences. One is to find that the net benefit of immigration for libertarians is still positive. Another is that free movement of people is simply a basic civil right, consequences be damned (I'm not wholly unsympathetic to this view). A third would be to blame this entire problem in the existence of the state, which strikes me as true but irrelevant (since anarchy isn't coming any time soon, I fail to see why we shouldn't consider how our policies on immigration will effect the world as it currently is).
But what is unacceptable is to just sweep aside concerns over the cultural and political effects of immigration as simple racism. What this study shows us is that it really does matter who constitutes the voting public, and that immigration could easily change the beliefs of the people in ways libertarians will find discomforting.