Immigration Opposing Jerks

YouNotSneaky (which I presume is a pseudonym) ponders an important question: “How much of a jerk do you have to be to oppose immigration?”

Let’s put on our annoying-economist hat and consider the question; if you consider a foreign national to be only 1/2 a human being (alright, alright, only 1/2 as “important”) as a native citizen, are you justified in opposing immigration? After all, it takes a real jerk to argue that foreign people’s welfare should not count at all. Suppose the foreigners are only 1/10th as important? Surely, if natives’ welfare counts for ten times as much as that of foreigners, we would be justified in banning immigration since it may adversely affect the wages of the unskilled in US?

The answer, derived from some sophisticated formulas that may or may not be econometric,* is that, using the most conservative assumptions, you would have to value each American low-wage worker “about 26 and a half times as much as a migrant” and that, with “more plausible” assumptions, “you need 55 and some migrants to make up one native.”

Now, I’m not sure that valuing your own more than some “Other” reasonably qualifies one as a jerk, but it’s an interesting and, as Alex Tabarrok observes, amusing analysis nonetheless.

*Scott Adams’ Dilbert Principle states that, “Everyone is an idiot… the only differences among us is that we’re idiots about different things at different times. No matter how smart you are, you spend much of your day being an idiot.” The corollary is that, from the standpoint of a genius — or even a highly trained individual in a difficult subject — the difference in IQ between most of us and our dogs is essentially meaningless.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    So if we value a fetus as only 1/10 a human being, does that make you feel better about whole scale slaughter of 3.5 million instead of the full price 35 million?

  2. James Joyner says:

    I’m not sure I follow.

    For one thing, I oppose abortion. For another, the point of YouNotSneaky’s calculation is not that immigrants ARE actually a fraction as valuable as an American but that one would have to operate with that assumption to oppose allowing people from incredibly poor countries to come in and make ten times more money at some fractional cost to poor Americans.

  3. LaurenceB says:

    The most creative thing I’ve read on the subject of immigration debate in about two years. Very thought-provoking.

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Having read the U. S Constitution, I did not read where it spoke of the right of citizens of other nations to migrate, invade or visit our Nation. Other countries seem to have the right to control their borders against intrusion by the unwelcome. Nations like Australia require a useful and needed skill before one can apply for citizenship. Is America the only country where we cannot and do not enforce our immigration laws? If you are not here legitimately, we have the right, the power just not the will, at least in congress to remove you from our territory. Lou Dobbs replied when the statement was made that we could not deport 12 million illegals, yes we can. A million a year for 12 years would do it nicely. For a model of a border fence, I would use the fence between the former East and West Germany.

  5. LaurenceB says:

    For a model of a border fence, I would use the fence between the former East and West Germany.

    I honestly don’t know whether this is meant to be a joke or not. Do I respond seriously to it? Can somebody please help me out here?

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    Well, I’ll give Zelsdorf an A+ for missing the point.

    The post isn’t about whether or not the U.S. has a right to “defend/secure it’s borders” (it does). Nor is it about the rights of non-citizens (although one could make an appeal to the Decleration of Independence that they have the same rights we do since these rights are unalienable), it is about how you value non-citizens relative to citizens. For example if the “theta” is 2, then if you see non-citizens as being equal to 1/50th of a citizen then you should favor immigration on the grounds that the net welfare change is positive.

    Of course, if you consider that a non-citizen is only 1/100th that of a citizen, then your in the asshole portion of the graph (assuming theta = 2).

    One could argue that the sum of utilities is not the proper “social welfare function” and all, but then you’d merely be changing the way the graph looks, not that there would be a graph.

  7. Michael says:

    LaurenceB: Knowing Zeldorf it was both not a joke, and not worth responding to seriously.

    Zeldorf: Good new on reading the Constitution, I didn’t know you had it in you. There is also an inscription on the Statue of Liberty that might apply better in this situation.

  8. Wayne says:

    My neighbor has an eyesore for a car. I spend infinitesimal amount of time working on my car compare to his. Does that mean I don’t care at all on how his car looks or if it is safe to be on the highway? No. Should I spend money or time fixing his car? No.

    The number and emotion game played out in this article is just that. The end game is we have right and obligation to take of ourselves first and our neighbors should take care of themselves. If we help them out it is out of charity not because we are obligated to. If our neighbor steal our car parts, we have a right to complain.

  9. Steve Verdon says:


    Apparently you need help understanding the point of the post. Even if you consider an immigrant less important than an American doesn’t mean you should oppose immigration. As I noted, if theta (the extent to which marginal utility diminishes with income) is say, 3 and you think 50 immigrants equal 1 citizen then you should favor immigration.

    If we help them out it is out of charity not because we are obligated to. If our neighbor steal our car parts, we have a right to complain.

    You commie bastard!

    Seriously though, I have to admit it is amusing when conservatives shift effortless between “competition is good” and “competition is bad”. Some sort of “I like capitalism so long as it benefits me, when that isn’t the case, bring on the socialism,” I guess.

  10. floyd says:

    Note to “Younotsneaky”;
    You may take solace in knowing that there are hundreds of millions of us who’s opinions are at least 55 times more valuable than yours.