Topic: International Economics, Development & Immigration

Cuban Credible Fear Asylum Claims Surge After Ending Wet Foot, Dry Foot

In January 2017, President Obama eliminated the decades-long policy of “wet foot, dry foot” that allowed Cubans who made it to the United States to enter legally in order to apply for a green card under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. Prior to the change, the numbers of Cubans had steadily increased to the highest levels since the early 1990s. At the time, I wrote:

Because the normal asylum system is so backlogged, [ending wet foot, dry foot] could result in Cubans filing asylum claims under the normal system, as Central Americans do … The current asylum system, which is already massively backlogged, will only grow more so as a result. At a time when a record number of asylum seekers from Central America are coming to the border, the United States is going to throw the Cuban refugees in with the rest, making a dysfunctional system that much more broken.

While the number of Cuban arrivals did drop precipitously, the numbers have spiked once Cubans understood that they could access the normal asylum process. Figure 1 shows the number of “credible fear” claims—which trigger the start of the asylum process at the border or ports of entry—by Cubans since December 2016, rising from none to more than 1,000 in December 2018 and January 2019. Altogether, Cubans have submitted about 11,000 asylum claims. They first cracked the top 5 nationalities for credible fear claims in April 2017, and they have seen a 708 percent increase since then.

Figure 1: Cuban Credible Fear Claims by Mont

So far in the first four months of fiscal year 2019 (starting in October 2018), Cubans have averaged 11 percent of all credible fear claims, which is remarkable given the surge of Central Americans during this time. In December 2018, they reached 14 percent of all claims and cracked the top 3 nationalities with the most claims for the first time (knocking out Salvadorans). It is clear that the end of wet foot, dry foot has only contributed to further overwhelming the nation’s asylum system.

Figure 2: Cuban Share Credible Fear Claims by Month

Cubans who used to come to the U.S. ports of entry along the Mexican border to seek wet foot, dry foot protection continue to apply for asylum at ports of entry. The Trump administration’s metering policy at ports—which places a hard cap on the number of asylum claims that can be made per day—is actually limiting the growth in the Cuban asylum claims.

The limit is causing long backups at ports of entry as rejected applicants pile up on the Mexican side awaiting their turn. Cubans first tried to enter at ports in the Laredo field office in Texas because it is the shortest trip. But Figure 3 illustrates how the policy of metering—which came into full force in mid-2018—caused Cubans who were pushed back at the Laredo ports to move further west to the El Paso ports and try again there. This increased the share of Cuban claims at El Paso from 1 percent to 54 percent.

Figure 3: Share of Undocumented Cuban Arrivals (Inadmissibles) at Ports of Entry by Field Office

Partly as a result of the metering, the arrivals at ports are still far below the levels in late 2016 (Figure 4). But we don’t have figures for Cuban arrivals between ports of entry, and we know that metering already causes Central Americans seeking asylum to cross illegally between ports. Cubans have such a long tradition of entering through ports and may face fewer cartel threats in Mexico that it is possible that they are still waiting on the other side of the border. On the other hand, homelessness in Mexico is untenable, so it is likely that Border Patrol will witness an increase in crossings between ports by Cuban asylum seekers this year.

Figure 4: Undocumented Cuban Arrivals (Inadmissibles) at Ports of Entry

Whatever the case, ending wet foot, dry foot has exacerbated America’s immigration problems. Yes, the flow of Cubans is lower now, but under the old policy officials could simply parole the arrivals into the country without spending an enormous amount of resources on interviews, transportation, detention, and courts. Forcing Cubans to undergo the formal asylum process has only further burdened the system.

The administration should restore the wet foot, dry foot policy, which worked for this country for decades. The ultimate result was that more than a million Cubans freed themselves from a communist regime under the policy. As I have stated before, Cubans don’t receive special treatment because they are inherently unique but because Cuba was—until Venezuela—the only not free country in the Americas, according to Freedom House. The law states that the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 would end only when “a democratically elected government in Cuba is in power.”

This was a sound principle and one that should be expanded to Venezuelans. Taking Cubans and Venezuelans out of the broken asylum system would streamline the process for everyone else and make the asylum process function better than it does under the status quo.

The Brussels Behemoth Isn’t Just a Conservative Fever-Dream

In a 2016 interview, Daniel Hannan, an MP in the European Parliament, offered the following criticism of the UK’s continued membership in the European Union:

The economic price is not just the £19bn gross (£10bn net) that we hand to Brussels every year—enough to build and equip a state-of-the-art NHS hospital every week. It also takes the form of the regulatory burden that falls on our businesses, especially smaller firms…for we pay both a democratic price and an economic price. The democratic price is that laws are handed down by institutions that no one elects… European commissioners are immune to public opinion, invulnerable to the ballot box.

His attack against over-regulation by Brussels as both an economic drag and a violation of representative democracy neatly echoes conservative and libertarian lamentations over the administrative state on this side of the pond. Far from a Madisonian republic in which the legislative branch “necessarily predominates”, the U.S. Congress has delegated sweeping grants of authority to the executive branch, thereby derogating its constitutional role as the creator of law (with apologies to Randy Barnett and his natural law fellow-travelers). Far from the canard of three “co-equal” branches, the original constitutional ambition was to establish a legislative branch and two derivative branches to respectively execute and exposit the former’s output.

Libertarians argue that excessive regulation is not only violative of democratic principles, it is economically costly to boot. Yet this is only cause for alarm, in Hannan’s case, if the EU is in fact over-regulating. Let’s look at the numbers.

The online EUR-Lex database contains comprehensive measures of EU legal output since 1990. The three principle lawmaking bodies of the EU are the Parliament, the Council, and the Commission. The first two are popularly elected, whereas the Commission is the unelected executive arm, currently headed by Jean-Claude Juncker. EUR-Lex categorizes all legal output from the Parliament and the Council as “legislative” in nature, whereas Commission output constitutes “non-legislative acts”. Each of the three entities may generate three types of output: regulations, directives, and decisions.

Every year, each of these three entities promulgates X number of new regulations, directives, and decisions, and every year Y number of regulations, directives and decisions are either repealed or expire after a sunset period. This means that it’s possible to tabulate the net number of regulations, directives and decisions emanating from each of the three legal bodies each year since 1990, and to then generate a yearly cumulative count of all extant legal acts. And that’s precisely what I’ve done:

First, some limitations on the data. I present only raw numbers, without a measure or word length or number of restrictive words. Thus, it is difficult to translate these trends into the regulatory burden they impose on the private sector. Moreover, because the data begin in 1990, any negative cumulative numbers indicate a net drop from the unknown 1990 baseline, and not the metaphysical absurdity of a negative number of laws!

Caveats duly heeded, the patterns that do emerge are worth commenting on. As we can see, the EU Parliament is the least active of the three bodies. Perhaps these infrequent legislative acts are massive in size, providing the statutory basis for the explosion of executive activity being pursued by the Commission. Whatever the explanation, the trendlines unambiguously demonstrate that the unelected “non-legislative” EU Commission is an order of magnitude more active than its “legislative” peer branches.  

    

Immigration and Civil War - Should You Be Worried?

Some modern immigration restrictionists are arguing that immigration will cause a civil war in the United States or other countries unless it is curtailed or radically altered. Reihan Salam’s recent book Melting Pot or Civil War? is the most glaring example. In addition to the title, he points to immigration being a problem in and of itself that also increases the severity of other issues dividing American society. The result could be a civil war. Salam writes that “[t]he divisions that define this moment in American history are not yet as worrisome as those that led to the Civil War or the bloody battles putting workers against industrialists at the dawn of the last century … [n]evertheless, it is hard to shake the feeling that our luck might soon run out.”  

David Frum hints at the possibility of a racialized civil war by arguing that young white voters are also worried about immigrants bringing demographic changes, leading to the rise (again) of nationalist political parties in Europe that are running on platforms to restrict immigration. The problems of immigration are apparently so well-known that even countries that are not the destinations for immigrants, such as Hungary and Poland, are turning to nationalist politicians – sometimes. The notion of a racialized civil war caused by immigrants or as a reaction to them has even entered popular culture. Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission, which is about a Muslim political party winning a presidential election in France in the near future and pursuing policies to turn that nation into an Islamic theocracy, includes conversations between characters about a civil war in France. 

But could immigration cause a civil war? Since it’s been raised so often, I think it’s an important issue to address. Much of my research over the last several years is about how immigrants affect the economic and political institutions of the countries where they settle, finding positive or null effects. But if immigrants did cause civil wars, which are usually the deadliest types of wars, then that would be a very large cost that we’d need to consider. 

Fortunately, there is a large set of peer-reviewed literature on the causes of civil wars that should diminish the fears of immigration restrictionists who think the United States or other Western countries could sink into racialized civil wars due to immigration. According to a wonderful review in the Journal of Economic Literature by Christopher Blattman and Edward Miguel, civil wars are more likely to occur in countries that are poor, are subject to negative income shocks, have weak state institutions, have sparsely populated peripheral regions, and possess mountains. Modern developed countries do not possess most of those features. 

Civil wars likely have causes on both the micro level and on the macro level. On the micro level, a theoretical multiplayer game model developed by Joan Esteban and Debraj Ray where each player has imperfect information about the costs of conflict shows that Pareto-improving social decision making becomes impossible and conflict is certain to ensue with four or more players. Based on additional research by Ray (cited here), conflict may be unavoidable even with enforceable contracts between coalitions. Thus, in a situation where society divides along multiple lines – by geography, religion, race, ethnicity, or economic class – it may be impossible for the government to arrange a set of transfers or policies that prevent conflicts among all divisions simultaneously. If immigration increases the number of divisions in society, then it is theoretically possible that it would increase the chance of civil war according to these models.

On the macro level, a country’s degree of ethnic fractionalization reduces the chance of civil war, income inequality has no effect, and democratic government is not a significant predictor of conflict risk conditional on the existence of poverty, negative income shocks, weak state institutions, sparsely populated peripheral regions, or mountains. The finding that more ethnic fractionalization does not lead to civil war seems counter-intuitive, but that’s due to observer bias.  Economist Paul Collier observed that “[c]onflicts in ethnically diverse countries may be ethnically patterned without being ethnically caused. International media coverage of civil wars often focuses on history and ethnicity because rebel leaders adopt this sort of discourse.  Grievances are to a rebel organization what image is to a business. The rebel group needs to stimulate a sense of collective grievance to build cohesion in its army and to attract funding from its diaspora living in rich countries.” 

Furthermore, republican institutions reduce the chance of civil war as they help to enforce intertemporal commitments and lower transaction costs. As a result, immigrants would be more likely to cause a civil war if they weakened republican political institutions, but there is no evidence of that, no evidence that democratic political institutions attract immigrants (independent of other factors), and plenty of evidence that immigrants move between countries with similar levels of democracy.

The exception to this is that refugee flows increase the chance of civil wars under very specific circumstances that do not exist in developed countries. From 1951 through 2001, Salehyan and Gleditsch found that the baseline chance of a country fighting a civil war if there were no refugees present and no civil war in a neighboring country was about 3.5 percent per year. That percentage rose to 4.5 percent per year if the ratio of refugees to the population goes up to the global average. A similar increase in refugees combined with a civil war in a neighboring country further increased the annual chance of having a civil war to 6.2 percent. From zero refugees and no neighboring civil war to an average number of refugees and a neighboring civil war, the chance of having a civil war increased by 2.7 percentage points or 77 percent. Stronger democratic governments and more interregional trade diminish the chance of civil war even in the presence of civil war in a neighboring country and refugee flows who are members of cross-border ethnic groupsAll of the civil wars during the 1951 through 2001 period that Salehyan and Gledistch considered occurred in poor countries with weak governing institutions. 

Since a civil war has never been caused by immigrants in a developed country and refugee flows only increase the chance of civil war under very specific circumstances in developing countries from 1951 through 2001, immigration restrictionists should feel relieved. On the other hand, the extreme downside risk of electing nationalist governments in the developed world is very high. The extreme downside risk of civil war caused by refugee or immigrant inflows into a developed country has historically been zero. Both or either of these findings could change in the future and there is a possibility that immigration could lead to the election of nationalists, but nationalism is the far greater threat for those concerned about civil war or other radical shifts that could damage our civilization.  In either case, managing the nationalist reaction or immigration seems easier and more likely to succeed than acceding to their policy demands before they are elected.

Illegal Immigrants and Crime – Assessing the Evidence

Whether illegal immigrants bring a significant amount of crime to the United States is one of the most important questions to answer in the debate over immigration policy.  President Trump also seems to think so as he launched his campaign in 2015 with the now infamous quote: “[Mexican illegal immigrants] are bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people.”  From executive orders to major talking points to the President’s speeches, which Vox reporter Dara Lind has aptly described as “immigrants are coming over the border to kill you,” Trump is interested in this important topic.  

It is difficult to know whether illegal immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans are.  All immigrants have a lower criminal incarceration rate and there are lower crime rates in the neighborhoods where they live, according to the near-unanimous findings of the peer-reviewed evidence.  Since 1911, large nationwide federal immigration commissions have asked whether immigrants are more crime-prone than native-born Americans and each one of them answered no, even when the rest of their reports unjustifiably blamed immigrants for virtually every problem in the United States.  From the 1911 Immigration Commission, also known as the Dillingham Commission, to the 1931 Wickersham Commission, and 1994’s Barbara Jordan Commission, each has reported that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. 

That research combines legal and illegal immigrants to calculate a crime rate for all immigrants, but the modern debate is over the crime rates of illegal immigrants.  Most people seem to accept that legal immigrants have lower crime rates than natives.  Measuring illegal immigrant crime rates is challenging for several reasons.  First, the American Community Survey does not ask which inmates in adult correctional facilities are illegal immigrants.  Second, federal data on the number of illegal immigrants incarcerated on the state and local level is recorded through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which is a combination of stocks and flows that is incomparable to any other measure of inmates.  Third, 49 states do not record the immigration statuses of those in prison or convicted.  Until recently, these data limitations allowed pundits to say anything about illegal immigrant crime without fear of being fact-checked. 

Cato scholars have since published numerous Immigration Research and Policy Briefs to shed light on this topic.  Michelangelo Landgrave, a doctoral student in political science at the University of California, Riverside, and I released a paper today that estimates that illegal immigrant incarceration rates are about half those of native-born Americans in 2017.  In the same year, legal immigrant incarceration rates are then again half those of illegal immigrants.  Those results are similar to what Landgrave and I published for the years 2014 and 2016.  We estimated illegal immigrant incarceration rates by using the same residual method that demographers use to estimate the number of illegal immigrants in the United States, only we also applied that method to the prison population.  We used the same method to also find that the incarceration rate for young illegal immigrants brought here as children and theoretically eligible for deferred action is slightly below those of native-born Americans.

The second strand of research from Cato looks at criminal conviction rates by immigration status in the state of Texas.  Unlike every other state, Texas keeps track of the immigration statuses of convicted criminals and the crimes that they committed.  Texas is a wonderful state to study because it borders Mexico, has a large illegal immigrant population, is a politically conservative state governed by Republicans, had no jurisdictions that limited its cooperation with federal immigration enforcement in 2015, and it has a law and order reputation for strictly enforcing criminal laws.  If anything, Texas is more serious about enforcing laws against illegal immigrant criminals than other states.  But even here, illegal immigrant conviction rates are about half those of native-born Americans – without any controls for age, education, ethnicity, or any other characteristic.  The illegal immigrant conviction rates for homicide, larceny, and sex crimes are also below those of native-born Americans.  The criminal conviction rates for legal immigrants are the lowest of all.

There Is No National Emergency on the Border, Mr. President

President Trump today declared a national emergency on the border to construct some portion of his promised border fence.  “We’re talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs,” President Trump said during his remarks today.   

Lawyers will spill much ink arguing about the legalities surrounding the law and whether President Trump can declare a national emergency.  Regardless of what the law ultimately means, no reasonable person can look at the southern border and agree that it rises to the level of a national emergency.  Below, I will counter the most common arguments made by President Trump and others in support of declaring a national emergency.

Crime

The most common argument in favor of a national emergency is that there is an epidemic of immigration-induced crime and death on the border.  This is simply not the case.

First, the crime rate in the 23 counties along the U.S. border with Mexico is below that of counties in the United States that do not lie along the Mexican border.  Violent and property crime rates are both slightly lower along the border, but the homicide rate along the border is a whopping 34 percent below the homicide rate in non-border counties.  If the entire United States had a homicide rate as low as that along the border in 2017, then there would have been about 5,720 fewer homicides nationwide that year.  Murder rates in U.S. border states aren’t even correlated with murder rates in neighboring Mexican states.

Second, illegal immigrants apprehended along the border have a low criminal conviction rate.  When Border Patrol apprehends an illegal immigrant, they run their fingerprints through the IAFIS system and other databases to see if the individual is a convicted criminal or if he is wanted for crimes here or abroad. The government then publishes the number of criminal convictions that apprehended illegal border crossers have been convicted of by the type of crime. 

Table 1 shows the raw number of convictions of illegal immigrants apprehended by Border Patrol by year and crime.  Over the entire period, the immigration crime of “illegal entry, re-entry” accounted for 42 percent of the convictions and “other” accounted for 16 percent.  The most serious offense of “homicide, manslaughter” accounted for 0.04 percent of all convictions of apprehended illegal immigrants from FY2015 through August 31, 2018.  

Table 1: Annual Criminal Convictions by Crime for Illegal Immigrants Apprehended by Border Patrol

Table 2 shows the criminal conviction rate by crime for illegal immigrants apprehended by Border Patrol per year.  The immigration offense of “illegal entry, re-entry” is far and away the highest.  In 2018, the “homicide, manslaughter” conviction rate was 0.8 per 100,000 illegal immigrants apprehended by Border Patrol.  Over the entire time, the “homicide, manslaughter” conviction rate was 1.8 per 100,000 illegal immigrants apprehended by Border Patrol. 

Table 2: Annual Criminal Conviction Rate by Crime for Illegal Immigrants Apprehended by Border Patrol

The criminal conviction rates of illegal immigrants apprehended by Border Patrol appear small when compared to their criminal conviction rates in Texas and overall crime rates in the United States.  Those are not ideal comparisons, but I would have to make too many assumptions to estimate the proper numerator for comparison: The number of criminal convictions against people in the United States who are currently outside of prison.

The number of apprehended illegal immigrants who have “homicide, manslaughter” convictions is falling as the percentage of the flow of family units and unaccompanied alien children rose from less than 25 percent of apprehensions in 2015 to just under 40 percent in 2018 (Figure 1).  Those in family units and children are less likely to be murderers.  Regardless, the number of criminal illegal immigrants trying to enter is tiny and many of them are being stopped currently – as they should be.    

Figure 1: Annual Family Unit and Unaccompanied Alien Children Apprehension Rates

Third, resident illegal immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated or convicted of crimes than native-born Americans.  The estimated nationwide illegal immigrant incarceration rate in 2016 was 47 percent below that of native-born Americans, including those in immigration detention.  According to a different measure of illegal immigrant criminals incarcerated in state prisons only, their nationwide incarceration rate is about 28 percent below that of legal immigrants and natives combined.  Texas is the only state that tracks criminal convictions by immigration status.  In 2015 the illegal immigrant criminal conviction rates were 50 percent below native-born Americans while their homicide conviction rate was 16 percent below natives in Texas.  Only about 36 percent of that gap in criminal conviction rates between native-born Americans and illegal immigrants in Texas can be explained by lower illegal immigrant recidivism rates due to deportation.  Other researchers have found that illegal immigrant populations did not drive up non-violent crime rates nor did they increase violent crime rates. 

Fourth, Border Patrol agents are unlikely to be murdered while on the job.  If there was a national emergency on the border, we should at least expect that that would be reflected in a murder rate of Border Patrol agents killed in the line of duty.  From 2003 through the end of 2018, six Border Patrol agents were murdered on the job.  All of those are tragic, but that amounts to a murder rate of about 2 per 100,000 agents per year during that time.  That’s far below the national murder-rate of about 5.1 per 100,000 per year during the same time.  Other police officers (state, county, and local) have an on the job murder rate of about 19.7 per 100,000 per year during that time – about 10 times higher than Border Patrol agents.  Americans and police officers inside of the United States are more likely to be murdered than Border Patrol agents.

Fifth, there is no evidence that the federal government’s construction of a border fence in El Paso, Texas lowered crime rates there.  El Paso was a relatively peaceful city before and after the fence was built, with the exception of a spike in homicides a few years after the fence was finished.  That city’s experience with a border fence is not a good argument for building a wall to reduce crime.

Sixth, gang apprehensions by Border Patrol agents in the Fiscal Year 2018 (through August 31st), account for about 0.2 percent of all apprehensions.  One must take these statistics with a grain of salt, but there is no obvious large-scale crossing of gang members along the border.

Terrorism

The perceived threat of terrorists crossing the border with Mexico has been a major justification for beefing up security, but there is little justification for it.  Those most worried about terrorists infiltrating along the border cannot point to any attack, any conviction for planning an attack, or any plot planned by an illegal immigrant who crossed the border with Mexico from 1975 through the end of 2017.

From 1975 through 2017, a total of nine terrorists entered the United States illegally and only three did so along the Mexican border: Shain Duka, Britan Duka, and Eljvir Duka.  They crossed as children with their parents in 1984 and were arrested as part of the planned Fort Dix terror attack that the FBI foiled in 2007.  The Dukas are ethnic Albanians from Macedonia.  They crossed the border with Mexico illegally, did so as children, and became terrorists decades later.

The majority of immigrants apprehended along the border are from Central America.  Not a single terrorist in any visa category came from Mexico or Central America from 1975-2017.

Disease

Many commentators have recently written and said that members of the migrant caravan and Central American immigrants are bringing diseases, even those that have been extinct for almost 40 years.  However, the vaccination rates in Mexico and Central American countries are either very similar to those in the United States or higher.  Recent measles outbreaks have more to do with clusters of American parents who refuse to vaccinate their children than with immigrants.

Conclusion

There will be a long legal battle over the President’s declaration of a national emergency along the border to build some of his border fence.  Regardless of the outcome, there is no good reason to declare the border a national emergency.

 

Socialism or Economic Mismanagement? Who Is to Blame for Venezuela’s Plight?

The Washington Post had an interesting story yesterday on how Venezuelans are questioning not only their dictator, Nicolás Maduro, but the ideology behind his regime: socialism. Who could blame them? Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, explicitly called their revolution “21st Century Socialism” and the result has been the Western Hemisphere’s greatest humanitarian crisis.

However, the Post wonders whether Venezuela’s plight should be blamed exclusively on socialism or whether there are other factors at play, such as economic incompetence. For example, it compares the disaster of Venezuela with “European socialism,” “free Canadian health care or high French taxes.” It also states that the South American country is very different from “communist Cuba or North Korea” since it still has a private sector—and even the random McDonald’s. If that weren’t enough, it quotes one of Venezuela’s leading intellectuals, Moisés Naím, who bluntly claims that he doesn’t “buy the whole ‘socialism caused this’ argument.” He also puts the responsibility on corruption and ineptitude.

Is it too simplistic to blame Venezuela’s collapse on socialism? First, let’s get the concepts right. The standard definition of socialism is a system in which the means of production are owned by the state. Under that characterization, not even Cuba would qualify as socialist since it has a small private sector. Therefore, we should discuss socialism—as well as capitalism—as a matter of degrees. For that, we must first understand that a single policy cannot explain whether a country has a free-market or socialist system. The fact that some European nations have high taxes or that Canada has a free healthcare system doesn’t necessarily qualify them as “socialist.” We must assess the entire scope of economic policy.

This is exactly what the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) report does. Published since 1996, it ranks 162 countries according to 42 indicators that are grouped in five broad areas of economic freedom: size of government, legal system and property rights, sound money, freedom to trade internationally, and (credit, business and labor) regulations. The higher the grade a country receives in the index, the freer its economy. By the same token, the lower the grade, the farther it is from being considered free market—and thus the closer it is to being one of the many manifestations of statism, including socialism.

The 2018 edition of the EFW ranks Venezuela as the least free economy among the 162 countries studied (there is not enough reliable data to grade Cuba and North Korea). By comparison, Canada is 10, Denmark 17, and France 57. Moreover, the EFW has data for Venezuela that goes back to 1970. We can then asses the real, not just rhetorical, impact that 21st Century Socialism has had on Venezuela’s economic freedom since Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999:

FIGURE 1: Economic Freedom in Venezuela

In this op-ed I document the most emblematic policies implemented in Venezuela since 1999, which include massive expropriations and nationalizations of farms and industries, a dramatic expansion of public spending and the government payroll, the imposition of draconian regulations and mandates on credit, labor, prices and foreign exchange, the debasement of the currency, among others. As we can see below, every single area of economic freedom experienced a dramatic reduction since 2000: 

FIGURE 2: Economic Freedom Index in Venezuela per Category

It is worth noting that a clear rhetorical aim—and a real consequence—of Chavez’s 21st Century Socialism is the confiscation of private property and the destruction of private businesses. For example, the Post notes that “In 1999, there were 490,000 private companies in Venezuela. By last June —the most recent count available— that number had fallen to 280,000.” This distinguishes Venezuela’s economic policies from say fascism, a system under which the government seeks to control, but not eliminate, the private sector.

What about corruption? Even though it’s a worldwide phenomenon, it seems to be more prevalent in certain countries than others. There are certainly cultural factors at play, but if we compare the EFW with Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, we can see that there is a strong correlation between economic freedom and transparency. This is not surprising. The more control politicians and bureaucrats have over the economy, the greater opportunities for graft and influence peddling:

FIGURE 3: Economic Freedom and Transparency

Finally, it is impossible to analyze Venezuela’s current predicament without considering oil. I briefly discuss it in my op-ed. It must be noted that oil has long played a distorting role in Venezuela’s economy and institutions, as documented by Raul Gallegos in his wonderful book Crude Nation. Venezuela experienced oil booms and busts prior to Hugo Chávez, but the magnitude of the current crisis can only be explained by the extent to which the oil bonanza of 2003-2014 was used to finance Chavez’s socialist (mis)adventures.

Economic management is a misnomer. It is not a coincidence that extensive state control of the economy is inevitably accompanied by gross mismanagement. The real culprit of Venezuela’s plight is socialism.

El Paso Homicides Spiked After Border Fence Was Completed; The Fence Didn’t Cause It

At a recent rally in El Paso, Texas, President Trump again claimed that that city had a high crime rate before a fence was built between it and Mexico in 2008 and 2009.  Many people have pointed out that El Paso has long been a more peaceful city than others, before and after the border fence was built.  This post adds just a few more visuals to hammer home the point made by others and an odd anomaly in homicides.

I constructed the figures using local police department crime data from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) database, focusing on departments that policed populations of between 500,000 to 1 million.  That population size was appropriate as El Paso’s population was 683,577 in 2017.  The local police departments variable identifies city police departments in the UCR, but it also includes several large urbanized counties in Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere.  In total, 41 different cities and counties met the criteria, including El Paso.  I further relied on the FBI population estimates to calculate the crime rates.  Lastly, I set the base year of 2000 at 100, and compared the crime rates in El Paso over time with the average crime rates across the other 40 other jurisdictions.

These charts convinced me that I did not need to run any regressions nor was the story significantly than that which was already reported, with one exception.  First, the consistent findings.  Figure 1 shows the overall crime rate in El Paso versus the other 40 jurisdictions.  The gray shaded area is when the El Paso border fence was under construction.  Looks like crime continued to decline in El Paso and in the other cities after the wall was built at about the same rate as it declined prior the government’s construction of a border fence there. 

 

Figure 1: All Crime

 

Figure 2 shows the violent crime rates in El Paso relative to the other jurisdictions, with more of a pre-fence dip in violent crime in El Paso relative to other cities, followed with a bit of a rise before construction began.  The construction of the border fence there looks uneventful.  Figure 3 shows property crime rates and it looks even less impressive than the first two figures.

 

Figure 2: Violent Crime

 

Figure 3: Property Crime

 

Figure 4 shows the homicide rate in El Paso versus the 40 comparison cities – and it spiked more than a year after the government constructed the fence between El Paso and Mexico.  The homicide rate in El Paso was 2.8 per 100,000 in 2008 when fence construction began, fell to 1.9 in 2009 when fence construction, fell again to 0.8 in 2010, spiked to 2.4 in 2011, and climbed again to 3.4 in 2012 before coming back down.  The big decline happened right after the fence was built, but the huge spike also occurred when the fence was fully constructed.  Without a lot more econometrics, I’m unable to even provide hypotheses to explain the crash and spike in homicides in El Paso.  Illegal immigration is probably not a factor as the number of apprehensions in El Paso crashed, partly because of the border fence and partly because of the end of mass illegal Mexican immigration.  Homicide rates in San Diego and Tucson, two other border cities, do not show a similar pattern. 

 

Figure 4: Homicide

 

Regardless of the potential explanations for the spike in homicides shortly after the government completed the border fence in El Paso, President Trump’s story is even less true than has been reported by others – at least according to the empirical standards of this public debate.  Please don’t take this post or what I wrote here as arguing that the border fence in El Paso caused the spike in homicides, as I see no evidence to support that claim and I have not carried out nearly enough statistical work on this issue to confidently state that.  

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