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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I get Shrill with Ezra Klein

Klein wrote

David Brooks gets this analogy right:

Harvard is tough to get into. To be admitted to a school like that, students spend years earning good grades, doing community service and working hard to demonstrate their skills. The system has its excesses, but over all it’s good for Harvard and it’s good for the students beginning their climb to opportunity.

The United States is the Harvard of the world. Millions long to get in. Yet has this country set up an admissions system that encourages hard work, responsibility and competition? No. Under our current immigration system, most people get into the U.S. through criminality, nepotism or luck. The current system does almost nothing to encourage good behavior or maximize the nation’s supply of human capital.

Our immigration system is unaccountably weird, relying, as it does, on family ties and lotteries. Just about all the discussion over the immigration bill has focused on the guest worker and citizenship programs, but the conversion to a points-based immigration system wherein applicants are judged across metrics of talent and economic potential is huge. Expect that system to expand in the House bill, where Silicon Valley Democrat Zoe Lofgren runs the relevant committee, and will undoubtedly jack up the allowance for high-skills visas.

I reply

That is actually the only thing about the bill which I don't like (yes I like the guest worker program *because* I assume the guests will overstay and become undocumented aliens without risking their lives in the Arizona desert). I think the USA can afford to train it's own high skilled technicians and professionals and shouldn't go out of its way to selectively admit those trained by poorer countries.

I think part of the appeal of the points based system is the sense that something valuable (an immigration visa) should be awarded on the basis of merit, because that is more fair. I don't think so. Harvard admitting people who demonstrate that they are smart and have served the community is fine as Harvard students have a high chance of being powerful and we have plenty of selfish powerful idiots (I did zippo for the community before going to Harvard and am totally powerless but hey even Byerley hall isn't perfect). That is, Harvard's admissions process has a sensible utilitarian basis totally aside from the question of whether someone deserves to be admitted.

The utilitarian effect of a points based visa system is that it takes from poor countries and gives to the USA. I think that is a terrible thing. I believe that highly trained people have the right to emigrate, but I don't think we should specifically aim to admit them and not their less advantaged country people.

I think Brooks's argument is useful, because it shows just how bogus arguments about incentives really are. Does Brooks really think that US immigration policy will have a significant effect on world wide "hard work [and]responsibility" or that Harvard's admissions policy has a significant effect on hard work, responsibility and community service in the USA (right now try to guess what fraction of American high schoolers understand that given financial aid at a university where middle class students are relatively poor they can afford to go to Harvard). This is nonsense. Brooks believes hard work and responsibility should be rewarded as a fundamental moral principle, not as a means to achieving useful incentive effects.

He's also clueless about the relative importance of hard work and responsibility and choosing the right parents, but that is not my point.


Anonymous said...

Ah, I understand, though it took a while, and I agree completely with Robert Waldmann who properly sets out our immigration heritage. Nice.


Anonymous said...

Brad DeLong has understood from the beginning at the New York Times that David Brooks is the same Charles Murray (Bell Curve) justifier of old. There is a moralism about Brooks that is strikingly a-moral and consistent through the writing.

Ben Kiernan pointed to the a-morality in a devastating letter early on during the occupation of Iraq.


Anonymous said...

The consistent smiling meanness of David Brooks does not much surprise me, there is an increasing stake in thinking in consistent terms for such analysts, so they do. What is surprising is the foolishness of readers whoever suppose there will or could ever be a change.


Anonymous said...

Now, to possibly present an exception, or to show I am really confused and pretend otherwise, Thomas Friedman is seemingly increasingly pushing to get us out of Iraq....

May 23, 2007

Laughing and Crying

Here's the sad truth: 9/11, and the failing Iraq war, have sucked up almost all the oxygen in this country — oxygen needed to discuss seriously education, health care, climate change and competitiveness, notes Garrett Graff, an editor at Washingtonian Magazine and author of the upcoming book "The First Campaign," which deals with this theme. So right now, it's mostly governors talking about these issues, noted Mr. Graff, but there is only so much they can do without Washington being focused and leading.

Which is why we've got to bring our occupation of Iraq to an end in the quickest, least bad way possible — otherwise we are going to lose Iraq and America. It's coming down to that choice.


Anonymous said...

On Brooks on US immigration policy : basically
the whole point of the so called ''new view'' on the brain drain is exactly
what you refuse to believe: i.e. that being able to emigrate can increase
human capital and welfare in the sending countries (by increasing the
return to human capital accumulation). R. Faini in in a paper called The
Brain Drain, un unmitigated blessing? expressed a profound skepticism about
this possibility. Stark ( one of the most prominent new viewers) was
invited by our department to give a seminar in the memory of Riccardo,
during which he didn't even mention this paper and said Riccardo would
have been very happy about his talk ( in fact the guy looked more than a
little deranged, but the fact is this new view is taken seriously in the academy