Topic: Trade and Immigration

Donald Trump on Immigration: Same Anti-Immigration Ideas, New Salesman

Donald Trump’s newly released position paper on immigration is the precise mix of fantasy and ignorance that one has come to expect from the recently self-described Republican.  Specifically, his position paper reads like an outline of this April op-ed by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL).  Trump is still a candidate in the GOP primary supported mainly by older white men who are not particularly conservative.  Although the electorate has never been more supportive of expanding legal immigration, Trump has never been more opposed.

Trump’s position paper attempts to lay the foundation for his immigration policy as president. Below, I review how his ideas measure up. Quotes from his paper are in quotes, my responses follow.

Here are the three core principles of real immigration reform:

  1. A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall across the southern border.
  2. A nation without laws is not a nation. Laws passed in accordance with our Constitutional system of government must be enforced.
  3. A nation that does not serve its own citizens is not a nation. Any immigration plan must improve jobs, wages and security for all Americans.

The first sentence is true by definition, but assumes that for a border to be real, it must have a wall around it. Whether a wall is warranted should depend on the circumstances at the border, which are vastly more safe than Trump claims. 

The last two principles are vague enough that they could support any immigration policy from a total ban on immigration to open borders. The rest of his position paper narrows their focus.

U.S. taxpayers have been asked to pick up hundreds of billions in healthcare costs, housing costs, education costs, welfare costs, etc. Indeed, the annual cost of free tax credits alone paid to illegal immigrants quadrupled to $4.2 billion in 2011.

This analysis factors in only fiscal costs, which will always lead to negative fiscal outcomes. It ignores the fiscal benefits that come from a larger economy.  The fact remains that poor immigrants use less welfare than poor Americans.  They contribute mightily to Social Security, Medicare, and other portions of the U.S budget.  Over time, immigration’s impact on the U.S. taxpayer is about a net-zero.  In other words, immigrants and their descendants pay for themselves. 

Immigration can turn fiscally positive by further restricting welfare access.  Right now illegal immigrants do not have access to means tested welfare programs, but their American born children do.  However, their benefit levels are adjusted downwards to account for the non-eligible members of their households.  Short of lowering welfare benefit levels for everybody, which would be a positive move, the government cannot deny citizens access based on who their parents are.  However, Congress can deny all non-citizens access to welfare.  Cato has published the only guide of how to do that. Removing the Earned Income Tax Credit for unauthorized or other categories of non-citizens would also be easy.

The position paper doesn’t factor in the estimated $400 to $600 billion government cost of removing all unauthorized immigrants as well as the lost tax revenue from the subsequently smaller economy.  Doing so reveals how fiscally damaging this immigration plan would be if it ever became law. 

The effects on jobseekers have also been disastrous …

The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – to earn a middle class wage.

There is a lot of research on whether immigrants displace Americans in the job market – and the general finding is that immigrants displace very few American workers. 

Sugar and the TPP

How much Australian sugar should be allowed to enter the U.S. market?  That’s a key question the U.S. government must answer prior to concluding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.  The United States is the largest sugar market in the TPP, consuming about 11 million metric tons (MMT) per year.  It also is the largest producer (7-8 MMT) and importer (3 MMT) in the group.  Australia generally is believed to be the most cost-competitive sugar producer among the12 TPP nations.  It also is the largest exporter, annually shipping 3-4 MMT to other countries. 

To complicate matters further, sugar liberalization was explicitly excluded from the 2004 Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) due to U.S. political sensitivities.  Australian sugar producers understandably want to redress that omission.  Failure to obtain commercially meaningful access to the U.S. sugar market could lead to rejection of the pact by the Australian parliament.

The U.S. sugar program includes a price-support level for raw cane sugar of 22.25 cents per pound ($490/MT), with refined sugar supported at 26 cents.  Those levels effectively have been raised more than 10 percent to around 24.7 cents ($545/MT) and 30-32 cents, respectively, under the trade-restricting terms of the recent settlement agreement in the antidumping/countervailing-duty (AD/CVD) dispute involving imports from Mexico. (For more on U.S.-Mexico sugar issues, see here and here.)  Mexico is the largest supplier of U.S. sugar imports, generally providing between 1.0-1.5 MMT per year.  Suffice it to say that the agreement between the U.S. and Mexican governments will limit the amount of sugar Mexican producers can export to the United States, and also force that sugar to be sold at higher prices. 

With global raw sugar prices currently at relatively low levels of around 12 cents, Australian cane growers find the possibility of selling more sugar to the United States at high prices to be quite intriguing.  However, those sales currently are limited to the amount allocated to Australia under the U.S. tariff-rate quota (TRQ) regime – a modest quantity of only 87,000 MT.  Australia is asking that the TRQ be boosted by 750,000 MT, an increase of more than nine times.  The United States apparently has offered an additional 65,000 MT (official figure not disclosed), which would not even double Australia’s current access. 

Free Trade Within Canada

I blogged last year about efforts to promote free trade within Canada, through an improved “Agreement on Internal Trade.” Some Canadians are now attempting a new approach to addressing this problem: Invoking the Canadian Constitution.

Here’s what happened to trigger the constitutional litigation, via the Canadian Constitution Foundation:

On October 6, 2012, New Brunswick resident Gerard Comeau decided to go to Quebec on a booze run. As a result of his trip, Mr. Comeau was surprised to find himself charged with violating New Brunswick’s Liquor Control Act.

Here is the strange part: Mr. Comeau’s purchase of beer and liquor in Quebec was entirely legal. His alleged crime was bringing it home to New Brunswick.

Mr. Comeau was stopped in Campbellton, New Brunswick just after crossing the bridge spanning the Quebec-New Brunswick border. He had been followed by the RCMP while he made two stops to buy liquor in Quebec. He was charged with violating the ban on bringing in more than 12 pints of beer or liquor from an out-of-province source (per s. 43 of the Act). As a New Brunswick resident, you can legally buy larger amounts only from a New Brunswick Liquor Corporation store. This crown corporation holds a legally enforced monopoly on liquor sales in the province, and it effectively protects its monopoly across provincial borders through the Liquor Control Act’s prohibitions on importation.

So what does the Canadian Constitution say about all this?  Section 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867 states that: “121. All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.”  You might think that would be enough to ensure free trade, but apparently there is a 1921 Supreme Court decision narrowly interpreting the provision so that it only prohibits customs duties imposed at the border.

The Patent Case that Threatens the Internet

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments today in a case about dental retainers that could threaten the free flow of information over the Internet.  The question is whether the U.S. International Trade Commission has the authority to bar the “importation” of digital transmissions.  The case has serious implication for the future of 3D printing, internet service providers’ liability for copyright piracy, and the internet’s global infrastructure. 

The ITC has the power to ban imports to prevent “unfair competition” and has become a popular venue to enforce U.S. patents.   A Cato Policy Analysis from 2012 details how the ITC’s patent enforcement powers are unnecessary, protectionist, and inconsistent with U.S. trade obligations

The case before the appeals court today involves products that are manufactured inside the United States based on schematics generated by a computer in Pakistan.  The production of those schematics is covered by a patent owned by Align Technology, who successfully petitioned the ITC to issue an order barring its competitor ClearCorrect from transmitting the data from Pakistan to the United States.

An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times explained the dangers of allowing the agency to have power over digital transmissions:

The I.T.C. has long had the power to forbid companies from importing physical goods like electronics, books and mechanical equipment that violate the patents, copyrights and trademarks of American businesses. It does so by ordering customs officials to seize items at the border or by issuing cease and desist orders to importers. The commission’s order to ClearCorrect was the first time it had sought to bar the transfer of digital information. If the appeals court upholds this decision, it could set a precedent that would allow businesses to seek to block all kinds of data transmissions.

Of course businesses should be able to protect their patents and copyrights. But there are far better ways to do so. In this case, for example, Align could sue ClearCorrect and seek damages for patent infringement. Or the company could ask a judge to order ClearCorrect to stop selling products made using the information contained in the files.

It is not even clear that the commission has the authority to restrict international data transfers. Congress has given it authority to block the import of “articles,” which for decades has been understood to mean physical goods. In last year’s ruling, a five-member majority of the commission ruled that the word “article” includes data.

Groups like the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America are supporting the commission’s view. They argue that, as trade increasingly becomes digital, the definition of “article” should include data. The Internet Association, which represents companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter, is asking the court to reverse the decision.

We already know from leaked documents that the MPAA plans to use the ITC’s potential jurisdiction over data transmissions  as a way to block Americans from accessing foreign websites that host copyrighted movies.

The purpose of the ITC’s patent enforcement power is to make sure that U.S. companies have a remedy against foreign infringers who are otherwise unreachable by a domestic court.  That’s why the ITC’s remedy is a ban on future imports rather than money damages for past infringement like you would get in federal district court.  But the bulk of the ITC’s caseload, including the Align case, involves disputes between parties that can and do sue each other in U.S. courts. 

In today’s global economy, it’s particularly pointless to have a specialized IP court for imports, digital or otherwise.  The fact that an article is imported from outside the United States or a piece of information travels through a foreign computer server has no bearing on whether that product infringes a U.S. patent or copyright. 

Giving the ITC power to bar cross-border data transmissions invites mischievous litigation without serving any legitimate public policy goal.

A Poor Defense of Bernie Sanders

I am not surprised that Bernie Sanders is opposed to open borders.  There is a long tradition of socialists, labor unions, and Marxists opposing open borders in the United States.  Many left-wing intellectuals oppose liberalized immigration, let alone open borders, because it will destroy political support for redistribution and state control of the economy – and they might be right

However, I was surprised by the poor arguments made by Richard Eskrow in defense of Sanders.  On how immigrants affect Americans, there is little difference between the expressed opinions of Senator Sanders and Senator Sessions (see here for a rebuttal I wrote to Senator Sessions, some of the following is borrowed from it).  Senator Sanders, at least, wants to legalize the unauthorized immigrants who are here and probably doesn’t want to seriously limit future immigration.

Below I will block quote Eskrow’s arguments and respond to each one.

“Like many libertarian ideas, ‘open borders’ is bold, has superficial intellectual appeal – and is incapable of withstanding thoughtful scrutiny. It would benefit the wealthy few at the expense of the many, here and abroad.”

One of the main criticisms of immigration by restrictionists is that poor immigrants gain far more than Americans do.  Harvard professor George Borjas’ famous paper on the wage effects of immigration found that Americans benefitted very slightly from it while almost all of the gains go toward the immigrants themselves.  Even excluding the economic benefits to the immigrants themselves, poor Americans just aren’t hurt by having more people here.  Borjas did find that immigrants decrease the wages of lower skilled Americans relative to higher skilled American, but his work is the most negative in the economics literature and should be taken with several big grains of salt.  In that paper, he holds the supply of capital as fixed – an assumption that may be fine for an academic publication but it is not useful for making an argument against immigration in the real world.  The stock of capital is dynamic and increases with the populationIgnoring that important effect would make any increase in population decrease wages.  It should further be noted that Borjas, like other economists, admits that immigration does help Americans more than it harms them, but with some distributional consequences.

Maui: A Good Start Toward Finishing the TPP

Trade ministers from the twelve nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) met last week in Maui.  Some observers had expressed hopes that the Maui ministerial meeting would produce a final TPP agreement.  The “collapse” in Hawaii has caused some commentators to voice fears that it may not be possible to conclude TPP anytime soon.  Those fears are overblown.  My view is that the Maui meeting qualifies as quite a good start toward actually finishing the TPP. 

Bear in mind that the TPP negotiations have been going on for several years.  The United States became an active participant during President Obama’s first term.  However, until recently, U.S. negotiators have been handicapped by lack of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA, also known as “fast track”).  Other countries were understandably reluctant to try to conclude TPP without assurance that Congress would be willing to vote up or down on the agreement, rather than picking it to pieces with amendments.  So all previous negotiating sessions amounted to warm-up rounds, with the most serious discussions being held in abeyance until the United States finally was ready to engage without reservations.

Maui was the first TPP ministerial at which U.S. negotiators actually were in a position to consider closing the deal.  If all other countries had the same perspective on the issues as the Obama administration, the agreement could have been concluded.  Not surprisingly, other countries have various opinions on key topics.  The Maui talks allowed ministers to put those differences clearly on the table. Undoubtedly, negotiators now have a much better idea of the realm of possible outcomes.  They know what they will be expected to give in order to receive what they want in return.  By last Friday afternoon, it was time for ministers to leave Maui and head back to their capitals for high-level consultations.

Results from the Libertarianism vs. Conservatism Post-Debate Survey

The Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation recently co-hosted a debate in which interns from both organizations debated whether conservatism or libertarianism is the better philosophy. At the conclusion of the debate, the Cato Institute conducted a survey of debate attendees finding important similarities and striking differences between millennial conservative and libertarian attendees.

Full LvCDebate Attendee Survey results found here

The survey finds that libertarian and conservative millennial attendees were similar in skepticism of government economic intervention and regulation but were dramatically different in their stances toward immigration, LGBT inclusion, national security, privacy, foreign policy and perceptions of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

While the survey is not a representative sample, this survey offers a snapshot of engaged conservative and libertarian millennial “elites” who have higher levels of education and political information, and who chose to come to this event. To date, little information exists on young conservative and libertarian elites. Since these attendees are politically engaged millennials, their responses may provide some indication of the direction they may take both movements in the future.

Eighty-percent of millennial respondents self-identified as either conservative (41%) or libertarian (39%): This post will focus on these conservative and libertarian millennial attendees.