Adverse Possession doctrine can be applied to our immigration debates?

I’ve been observing Americans fight in the media and on Facebook regarding immigration policy. A lot of people exhibit what seems at first like a logical inconsistency. They want laws to keep the majority of would-be immigrants out of the U.S. But they object to deporting people who are here in violation of immigration laws (cue “No Human Being is Illegal” T-shirt).

Deporting a person is certainly a dramatic step, but on the other hand immigration determines (1) the size of our population [and therefore how crowded our country will be, what kinds of traffic jam our grandchildren will experience, our impact on the planet, the intensity of competition for space to rent, etc.], and (2) the kind of society we will have (since the culture and values of the people are what make up “society”).

Why does it matter how long someone has been in the U.S. if he or she is in violation of the law? Is it that there come a point where it is simply rude to kick someone out of the country?

I’m wondering if the legal concept of adverse possession can be applied here. Taking over someone else’s house is illegal. But if you do it for long enough (about 15 years in most states; Wikipedia has a map) then it becomes legal.

Most undocumented immigrants haven’t made any serious attempt to hide from the various police forces and government agencies that the U.S. operates. Thus this corresponds to the “open and notorious use” element of adverse possession.

Note that if we accept that extending the idea of adverse possession to citizenship this restores logical consistency to a huge block of Americans.

Readers: What do you think? If we’re going to do absurd stuff such as claim that El Salvador is in some kind of temporary emergency for 16 years (it is slightly more dangerous than Detroit and significantly less dangerous than New Orleans) should we then lose the right to kick people out?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Merits of immigration, explained simply

From our town mailing list:

Sort of Off Topic since this forum is not ‘Wayland Talk’ but I noticed that some of those ‘Stop the Wayland Monster’ signs now cropping up in [Happy Valley] so I figured it has something become more relevant here. Does someone want to give a somewhat unbiased overview of the pros and cons of this development

Wayland is a suburb where a typical house sits on at least one acre of land (1/2 acre is the zoning minimum; Happy Valley has a 2-acre zoning minimum). A developer is trying to build a four-story apartment complex characterized by opponents as “89-bedroom” (about 45 apartments if they average two bedrooms each).

I know a passionate Bernie/Hillary supporter who lives near the site and summarized his point of view in my response to the list:

My understanding, from a Wayland resident who lives near one of these proposed buildings:

1) immigration into a nation of 325 million is good and needs to be supported with passionate political effort

2) immigration into a town of 13,444 is bad and needs to be fought with passionate political effort

This yielded a firestorm of responses. Example 1:

People who are living there locally are probably objecting to a huge development in their neighborhood that is going to overload the roads and services, add noise and will change the peaceful enjoyment of the area.

American-style auto-centric development is brutal. It makes sense to develop in either in areas with adequate public transportation and services or in small cities trying to reach a critical mass where transportation services other than cars become viable.

So we should grow the U.S. population, but make sure that our own “peaceful enjoyment” is not affected? There are other areas of the U.S. with uncongested roads and underutilized services where the next 100 million Americans will be happy to settle?

The hot-button word “immigration” sparked righteous thoughts, despite the fact that the “immigration” I was talking about was from Sudbury or Framingham to Wayland (i.e., most likely a native-born American moving from one suburb to another):

I missed something: How did this turn into an immigration debate?
Where should immigrants live if not in our cities and towns? Immigration works well if integration is possible, and that is best achieved for small numbers of immigrants in small communities.

The mandate of having 10% affordable housing is very reasonable and needs to be enforced in some way, otherwise it is not going to happen. Wayland proved that point. I am grateful to those in our town who have worked hard to make sure we have 10% of affordable housing, not just because it protects us from unwanted developments, but because diversity is good for all of us.

I.e., diversity is good, but maybe 89 new people (average of 1 per bedroom) is too many for a town of 13,444? A pro-immigration sentiment from another anti-development fellow citizen:

Thank you! And, we should remember that all of us were immigrants at one time, unless you are Native American.

Some of us are first generation, and some of us 5th or more, but, immigrants all.

[To my knowledge there aren’t any Native Americans who have chosen to purchase 2-acre lots in our town so we didn’t hear from them regarding how immigration has worked out from their perspective.]

The simplest response to my note:

Well said. I personally find the Wayland persons comment bigoted and ignorant.


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

How was the immigration of Akayed Ullah supposed to benefit native-born Americans?

According to “New York attack: What do we know about Akayed Ullah?” (BBC):

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Ullah entered the US on an F43 visa.

This means he was the child of someone with an F41 visa, which is available to people who are the “brother or sister of a US citizen at least 21 years old”.

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission told CNN that Ullah held a taxi driver’s licence from March 2012 to March 2015.

The Inspector General of Police in Bangladesh, AKM Shahidul Haque, said Ullah had no criminal record in Bangladesh.

In light of the Port Authority bombing that he perpetrated, it seems safe to say Mr. Ullah’s life in the U.S. didn’t turn out well either for him or for us, but what was the best case scenario for native-born Americans? Mr. Ullah’s education and skills were presumably appropriate to the taxi-driving job that we expect to be eliminated by robots. Mr. Ullah settled in a city that most Americans regarded as already overcrowded when he immigrated.

[Mr. Ullah was a law-abiding citizen in Bangladesh, according to the BBC, so he likely would have been better off staying there.]

Readers: What is the theory that drove us to welcome Mr. Ullah?


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

How was the immigration of Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov supposed to benefit native-born Americans?

“New York City attack: Who is Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov?” (CBS News) says that the man who killed 8 people in New York City was an immigrant from Uzbekistan and arrived in the U.S. in 2010.

Plainly, at least from native-born Americans’ point of view, Mr. Saipov’s immigration did not work out as hoped and will likely punch a multi-billion dollar hole in the U.S. economy. There will be direct losses from deaths and injuries in the attack itself, costs of treating, prosecuting, and imprisoning Mr. Saipov, costs of providing welfare to his wife and two children (Mr., Saipov won’t be earning a lot in prison), etc. There will be indirect losses due to extra security measures that cities will put in place to try to prevent a repeat jihad.

Perhaps it is too soon to look at the dollars and cents, but how was Mr. Saipov’s immigration supposed to benefit native-born Americans in the best case? The CIA says that Uzbekistan has a per-capita GDP of roughly $ 6,600 per person, #159 out of 230 countries (ranking). Mr. Saipov was 29 years old and worked as a truck/Uber driver, a job that is expected to disappear within his working lifetime. He had two children and a wife with no reported job. The U.S. has an average per-capita GDP of $ 57,400 per person per year. So Mr. Saipov would have had to earn $ 229,600 per year in order to make the U.S. wealthier on a per-capita basis. Maybe somehow existing Americans can become better off if the population grows, but the GDP per-person shrinks? A Mr. Saipov will truck their goods around at a low price. But how can that make them better off overall given our traffic gridlock and skyrocketing housing prices? Mr. Saipov, his wife, and their children have to live somewhere and also get around.

There is more to life than having spending power, avoiding traffic jams, and being able to afford a house, right? So perhaps Mr. Saipov, in an ideal world, could have made the U.S. better even if he had made it poorer per capita and more crowded. But how? By introducing neighbors to Uzbek cuisine? By persuading neighbors to give up their sinful secular and/or infidel ways and live an Uzbek/Islamic lifestyle? What?

See also “From Truck Driver to Uber Driver to Terror Attack Suspect” (nytimes); “New York Terror Suspect Entered U.S. Under Visa Program Trump Wants to End” (Newsweek); and “Trump Blames New York Terrorist Attack on Schumer and Immigration Policies” (nytimes).


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Perspectives on immigration and long-term economic and political forecasts from the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands

Some perspectives from reading the guidebooks and listening to tour guides in Portugal, the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands…

Low-skilled immigration makes a country poorer according to the Lonely Planet Portugal guidebook, otherwise filled with politically correct sentiments:

In 1974 and 1975 there was a massive influx of refugees from the former African colonies, changing the demographic of the city and culturally, if not financially, adding to its richness.

The fewer immigrants the better according to Lonely Planet Canary Islands:

Migration from Africa has also stabilized with just 288 migrants arriving here in 2014, compared to a staggering 32,000 in 2006 when some days several hundred Africans would reach the islands in their rickety wooden boats.

Guides in the Canaries told us that, in addition to using military force to resist immigration from Africa, they use police and regulations to resist immigrants from other parts of the EU. To stay in the Canaries one must have either a W-2 job or prove to authorities that one has sufficient savings and income to sustain oneself without collecting welfare.

The accepted narrative in guidebooks and among locals is that population growth historically led to unemployment and poverty for which the only relief was emigration. This is where the “tough to make predictions about the future” angle of the title comes in. During the last 120 years or so, the countries that seemed the most promising destinations for ambitious young Atlantic islanders: Cuba, South Africa, Venezuela. (A lot of folks ended up bouncing back, sometimes a couple of generations after emigrating.)

Separately, for those who didn’t emigrate you might ask what life is like. On the Azores the answer is “awesome.” The islands have fantastic roads, considering the mountainous terrain, which are never crowded. “All of these roads and tunnels were funded by the EU starting in the 1990s,” explained our guide. Every small town has a festival at least once per year and residents will party until sunrise. “There are a lot of little towns here,” explained our guide, “so we’re usually at a festival about once every week.” This prompted a Swiss tourist to mutter “When do these people work?” Locals stress the safety and security of their lives on the islands, the good schools for their children, and the strong connections to family and neighbors. The economy of the Azores is built on agriculture and some islands are just covered in dairy farms. The farther south you go to Madeira and the Canary Islands the more it feels like an artificial tourist outpost, but the locals express some of the same sentiments as do those in the Azores. One thing these folks love is transportation. Towns are clustered around harbors and airports are built absolutely as close to a town as possible. Nobody complains about overflight noise of inter-island turboprops or jets from the mainland.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Why aren’t there more shootings at U.S. airport immigration facilities?

Mom and I finished our cruise trip with a TAP Portugal flight from Lisbon to Boston. In every other country that I can remember visiting the people who check passports are unarmed. If there is a perceived likelihood of armed conflict with deplaning passengers there might be one or two specialist soldiers or police officers walking around. At Logan Airport, however, every immigration or customs official was armed with a pistol. Thus there were roughly 100 people with guns confronting the arriving passengers. If this situation is replicated all across the U.S., I wonder why there aren’t more shootings. Presumably it is unlikely that an arriving passengers will actually have a gun, but why wouldn’t there be at least occasional shootings of unarmed passengers by officials saying “I thought he was pulling out a gun”?

[Separately, if you ever do fly TAP Portugal, make sure that you sign up for specific seats towards the front of the aircraft. It seems that TAP operates a three-class service, but the middle class (where you probably want to be) was apparently unknown to our travel agent (Frosch). TAP sells Business for crazy $ $ . They have a regular Economy for which you pay the Economy fare and then go to their site and pay an extra 25 euro or so to get a seat with a normal amount of legroom (maybe like JetBlue’s worst seats). Then they have a Steerage class in the back for people who are 5′ tall and/or desperately poor and unable to afford the 25 euro. We let Frosch handle everything and of course ended up in Steerage.]


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Sociology Masters Thesis Idea: Interview People in Traffic Jams Regarding Immigration

Boston-area traffic now includes regular mid-day traffic jams, not a huge surprise considering that the road network has more or less the same capacity as in 1990 when the population was 3.78 million (in 2015 it was 4.35 million and growing rapidly; see Boston Foundation report).

The other day I was stuck in Cambridge near Alewife. The car in front of me was a Subaru with bumper stickers celebrating Elizabeth Warren (a Native American) and unlimited immigration (“No Human Being is Illegal”).

I was wondering “Given that U.S. population growth is almost entirely driven by immigration and children of recent immigrants, and that traffic jams are driven by population growth (combined with our inability to build infrastructure), if we interviewed that Subaru driver right now, would she support immigration enthusiastically?”

So here’s an idea for a Sociology Masters project: Interview people at highway rest stops and ask

Compare the answers from times when the highway is clogged with traffic and when the highway is flowing freely.

Readers: What do you think? Would this be an interesting data set to gather?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Immigration idea: make employers buy immigrants

“A Modest Immigration Proposal” (Seltzer) is kind of interesting. He points out that if immigrants are actually boosting an economy then employers should be happy to pay for them.  Therefore, if the goal is maximizing economic growth (or paying back $ 20 trillion in debt), the best way to choose non-refugee immigrants is to auction slots to the highest-bidding employers.

Seltzer heaps derision on central planners in the slightly-smarter countries:

At the moment, countries that try to restrict the inflow to the most productive applicants rely on bureaucrats to decide which skills are most needed, and assign points to applicants possessed of those skills. If recollection serves, in Australia social workers received more points than economists, a system that is clearly flawed, at least in the view of this practitioner of the dismal science.

The Canadian system, which requires bureaucrats to assign points to prospective immigrants, the system that President Trump unthinkingly holds up as a model, just doesn’t work, as the pro-immigration New York Times recently pointed out. “The formula has changed over the years, with points for training and job categories rising or falling as officials’ ideas on job readiness changed. .??.??. Head scratching.” Worse, one province decides it needs long-distance truck drivers, another food and beverage processors. There is no sensible way to balance regional interests to produce a permit allocation that is in the national interest.

Where I would part company with Mr. Seltzer is on his top-level “Set a limit on total immigration” procedure. He says “it can be reviewed annually, perhaps adjusted in response to changing labor-market conditions—down in periods of rising unemployment, up if tight labor market conditions threaten an inflation upsurge.” Immigrants and their children and grandchildren will determine our population size 50 or 100 years from now. It doesn’t make sense to change a 50- or 100-year goal based on immediate labor market conditions (see Should everyone be glad that judges have blocked Donald Trump’s restrictions on entry to the U.S.?).

What about temporary labor?

In the case of the temporary (e.g., seasonal) permits, the employer would post a bond, refundable upon proof that the worker had left the country when his/her visa had expired. Over time, employers would learn which workers were most efficient and might raise the bids for permits for those workers every year. We would soon learn whether agribusinesses are correct when they say that Americans simply won’t take these sorts of jobs, their alternative being to spend hard cash on temporary visas.

(I’m not holding my breath waiting for Americans currently on SSDI/Oxy to start harvesting lettuce.)

The trend in the U.S. is away from market-based approaches like this and towards central planning. However, it is kind of an interesting mental exercise nonetheless!

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Hawaii and immigration

Hawaii had a stable society, culture, religion, and language for at least 500 years (Wikipedia). Then the haole immigrants showed up. From Lonely Planet Hawaii:

The missionaries found one thing that attracted avid, widespread interest: literacy. The missionaries formulated an alphabet for the Hawaiian language, and with this tool, Hawaiians learned to read with astonishing speed. In their oral culture, Hawaiians were used to prodigious feats of memory, and ali?i understood that literacy was a key to accessing Western culture and power. By the mid-1850s, Hawai?i had a higher literacy rate than the USA and supported dozens of Hawaiian-language newspapers.

Conversion to a Western-style property system didn’t work out well for the natives:

Amid often conflicting foreign influences, some Hawaiian leaders decided that the only way to survive in a world of more powerful nations was to adopt Western ways and styles of government. Hawai?i’s absolute monarchy had previously denied citizens a voice in their government. Traditionally, no Hawaiian ever owned land, but the ali?i managed it in stewardship for all. None of this sat well with resident US expatriates, many of whose grandparents had fought a revolution for the right to vote and to own private property. Born and raised in Hawai?i after Western contact, King Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli) struggled to retain traditional Hawaiian society while developing a political system better suited to foreign, frequently American tastes. In 1840 Kauikeaouli promulgated Hawai?i’s first constitution, which established a constitutional monarchy with limited citizen representation. Given an inch, foreigners pressed for a mile, so Kauikeaouli followed up with a series of revolutionary land reform acts beginning with the Great Mahele (Great Division) of 1848. It was hoped the Great Mahele would create a nation of small freeholder farmers, but instead it was a disaster – for Hawaiians, at least. Confusion reigned over boundaries and surveys. Unused to the concept of private land and sometimes unable to pay the necessary tax, many Hawaiians simply failed to follow through on the paperwork to claim titles to the land they had lived on for generations. Many of those who did – perhaps feeling that a taro farmer’s life wasn’t quite the attraction it once was – immediately cashed out, selling their land to eager and acquisitive foreigners. Many missionaries ended up with sizable tracts of land, and more than a few left the church to devote themselves to their new estates. Within 30 to 40 years, despite supposed limits, foreigners owned fully three-quarters of the kingdom, and Hawaiians – who had already relinquished so much of their traditional culture so quickly during the 19th century – lost their sacred connection to the land. As historian Gavan Daws wrote, ‘So the great division became the great dispossession.’

Haoles weren’t content to overrun the islands themselves:

The natural first choice for plantation workers was Hawaiians, but even when willing, they were not enough. Due to introduced diseases like typhoid, influenza, smallpox and syphilis, the Hawaiian population had steadily and precipitously declined. By some estimates around 800,000 indigenous people lived on the islands before Western contact, but by 1800 that had dropped by two-thirds, to around 250,000. By 1860 Hawaiians numbered fewer than 70,000. Wealthy plantation owners began to look overseas for a labor supply of immigrants accustomed to working long days in hot weather, and for whom the low wages would seem like an opportunity. In the 1850s wealthy sugar-plantation owners began recruiting laborers from China, then Japan and Portugal. After annexing Hawaii in 1898, US restrictions on Chinese and Japanese immigration made O?ahu’s plantation owners turn to Puerto Rico, Korea and the Philippines for laborers.

Haole immigrants gradually decided that they needed political control:

The 1875 Treaty of Reciprocity, which had made Hawai?i-grown sugar profitable, had expired. Kalakaua refused to renew, as the treaty now contained a provision giving the US a permanent naval base at Pearl Harbor – a provision that Native Hawaiians regarded as a threat to the sovereignty of the kingdom. A secret anti-monarchy group called the Hawaiian League, led by a committee of mostly American lawyers and businessmen, ‘presented’ Kalakaua with a new constitution in 1887. This new constitution stripped the monarchy of most of its powers, reducing Kalakaua to a figurehead, and it changed the voting laws to exclude Asians and allow only those who met income and property requirements to vote – effectively disenfranchising all but wealthy, mostly white business owners. Kalakaua signed under threat of violence, earning the document the moniker the ‘Bayonet Constitution.’ Soon the US got its base at Pearl Harbor, and foreign businessmen consolidated their power.

Native Hawaiians now face one of the toughest real estate markets in the country:

In 2014 Hawaii was ranked the healthiest state in the nation, with high immunization rates and lower than average rates of smoking. Over 90% of residents have graduated from high school, and nearly 30% have a bachelor’s degree or higher (both above the national average). Unemployment, which dropped to 4.3% in mid-2014, and violent crime rates are also lower than the national average. Despite the mass quantities of Spam consumed in the islands, Hawaii had the second-lowest obesity rate in the US in 2013 – only Colorado, another outdoors-oriented lifestyle state, did better. In 2012 Hawaii’s median annual household income ($ 66,259) ranked sixth and its poverty rate (11.6%) was seventh lowest among US states. Those last statistics, however, gloss over glaring inequity in the distribution of wealth. There are a large number of wealthy locals and mainland transplants with magnificent estates and vacation homes skewing the average, while a much larger number of locals, particularly Pacific Islanders, struggle with poverty and all the social challenges that come with it. The state is currently trying to control one of the highest rates of ice (crystal methamphetamine) abuse in the US, a problem that leads to illness, unemployment, robberies and violent crimes. Homelessness remains another serious concern: on average, more than 6300 people are homeless statewide. Most telling about the cost of living in Hawaii is the following statistic: up to 42% of its homeless people are employed, but still can’t make ends meet. Sprawling tent communities have popped up at beach parks and other public areas. Every now and then police disperse them, but the problem is never solved – only moved. Hale o Malama, the state’s new strategic plan for ending homelessness, aims to more closely coordinate among city, county, state and federal agencies that offer emergency housing, medical services and social support to Hawaii’s homeless population. At the same time, the state is giving free plane tickets to some homeless people in Waikiki so that they can fly back to wherever they came from on the mainland – a proposal that is politically controversial, not to mention expensive.

[The above excerpt is kind of interesting for the use of the word inequity, “injustice or unfairness”, to characterize an unequal situation. It a “glaring” injustice that the person who works 80 hours per week running a business has a higher spending power than the person who collects SSDI and relaxes on the beach.]

Haoles don’t seem to feel guilty about having grabbed this prime land and then paving over paradise with Walmart and Costco parking lots They point to Western education and medicine as advantages for the native Hawaiians. Yet the Hawaiians could have gotten everything useful from the West via trade, hosting Westerners as visitors and tourists, and sending Hawaiians out to Western schools. One historian there said that the U.S. was the last country on Earth that the Hawaiians wanted to be part of. Great Britain, for example, would have been much higher on their list of countries with which to ally.

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Immigration, politics, and public finance in Ancient Rome

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard describes Rome as perhaps the first great society of immigrants:

in one episode of the Aeneid, the hero visits the site of the future city of Rome and finds it already settled by primitive predecessors of the Romans. And who are they? They are a group of settlers under a certain King Evander, an exile from the land of Arcadia in the Greek Peloponnese. The message is clear: however far back you go, the inhabitants of Rome were always already from somewhere else.

As with the U.S., some of the immigrants arrived as slaves:

Roman slavery was in some respects as brutal as Roman methods of military conquest. But for many Roman slaves, particularly those working in urban domestic contexts rather than toiling in the fields or mines, it was not necessarily a life sentence. They were regularly given their freedom, or they bought it with cash they had managed to save up; and if their owner was a Roman citizen, then they also gained full Roman citizenship, with almost no disadvantages as against those who were freeborn.

The scale was so great that some historians reckon that, by the second century CE, the majority of the free citizen population of the city of Rome had slaves somewhere in their ancestry.

At a very rough guess there might have been between 1.5 and 2 million slaves in Italy in the middle of the first century BCE, making up perhaps 20 per cent of the total population.

Where would the Romans have come down on the question of refugees?

Edgy in a different way was the idea of the asylum, and the welcome, that Romulus gave to all comers – foreigners, criminals and runaways – in finding citizens for his new town. There were positive aspects to this. In particular, it reflected Roman political culture’s extraordinary openness and willingness to incorporate outsiders, which set it apart from every other ancient Western society that we know. No ancient Greek city was remotely as incorporating as this; Athens in particular rigidly restricted access to citizenship. This is not a tribute to any ‘liberal’ temperament of the Romans in the modern sense of the word. They conquered vast swathes of territory in Europe and beyond, sometimes with terrible brutality; and they were often xenophobic and dismissive of people they called ‘barbarians’. Yet, in a process unique in any pre-industrial empire, the inhabitants of those conquered territories, ‘provinces’ as Romans called them, were gradually given full Roman citizenship, and the legal rights and protections that went with it. That culminated in 212 CE (where my SPQR ends), when the emperor Caracalla made every free inhabitant of the empire a Roman citizen.

Romans would probably not have been impressed by our cashflow-negative wars:

There were also important consequences for Rome itself of military success overseas. The literary revolution was only one part of it. By the mid second century BCE, the profits of warfare had made the Roman people by far the richest of any in their known world. Thousands upon thousands of captives became the slave labour that worked the Roman fields, mines and mills, that exploited resources on a much more intensive scale than ever before and fuelled Roman production and Roman economic growth. Bullion by the barrow load, taken (or stolen) from rich eastern cities and kingdoms, poured into the well-guarded basement of the Temple of Saturn in the Forum, which served as the state ‘treasury’. And there was enough left over to line the pockets of the soldiers, from the grandest general to the rawest recruit. There was plenty for Romans to celebrate. Some of the cash was ploughed into new civic amenities, from new harbour installations and vast warehouses on the Tiber to new temples lining the streets, commemorating the assistance of the gods in securing the victories that had brought all this wealth. And it is easy to imagine the widespread pleasure when in 167 BCE Rome became a tax-free state: the treasury was so overflowing – thanks, in particular, to the spoils from the recent victory over Macedon – that direct taxation of Roman citizens was suspended except in emergencies, although they remained liable to a range of other levies, such as customs dues or a special tax charged on freeing slaves.

Upset by today’s expensive elections and politicians pandering to the lowest common denominator?

Electioneering at Rome could be a costly business. By the first century BCE it required the kind of lavish generosity that is not always easy to distinguish from bribery. The stakes were high. The men who were successful in the elections had the chance to recoup their outlay, legally or illegally, with some of the perks of office. The failures – and, like military defeats, there were many more of those in Rome than is usually acknowledged – fell ever more deeply into debt. That was Catiline’s position after he had been beaten in the annual elections for the consulship in both 64 and 63 BCE. Although the usual story is that he had been leaning in that direction before, he now had little option but to resort to ‘revolution’ or ‘direct action’ or ‘terrorism’, whichever you choose to call it. Joining forces with other upper-class desperadoes in similar straits, he appealed to the support of the discontented poor within the city while mustering his makeshift army outside it. And there was no end to his rash promises of debt relief (one of the most despicable forms of radicalism in the eyes of the Roman landed classes) or to his bold threats to take out the leading politicians and to put the whole city to flames.

Plotting resistance to the Trumpenfuhrer?

If the assassination of Julius Caesar became a model for the effective removal of a tyrant, it was also a powerful reminder that getting rid of a tyrant did not necessarily dispose of tyranny. Despite all the slogans, the bravado and the high principles, what the assassins actually brought about, and what the people got, was a long civil war and the permanent establishment of one-man rule.

More: read SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

San Francisco Bay Area perspective on immigration

I talked with a guy in his 50s who does creative work for a company in the San Francisco Bay Area. His employer recently went public advocating against Donald Trump’s positions regarding immigration and travel from certain countries. He described his employer’s stance as “principled.” I said “Couldn’t the executives be doing it to keep costs low and thereby help themselves to larger bonuses?” He responded that this might be right for other kinds of companies but his employer was bringing in immigrants because they wanted extra creativity that could only come from having grown up in an exotic foreign land. He argued that his employer’s ability to hire immigrants would not depress wages for himself or other American-born employees in the same area.

What has actually happened to inflation-adjusted salaries in his industry over the past 30 years? “People get paid about half as much as they used to.” How is he doing personally? “I am not making as much as 20 years ago.” His workplace has gone from basically “no immigrants” to somewhere around one quarter immigrants (but maybe closer to one third).

[On the same day I talked to a hotel manager here in Hawaii. His previous job was managing a hotel in Singapore. He said that it was a tough challenge. How could that be? Weren’t people there educated and efficient? “You never had to tell anyone twice to do anything,” he responded. “And the level of education, skill, and dedication to doing things right is amazing.” What was the problem then? “The government required that 50 percent of our workers be citizens and it was very tough to hire locals to clean rooms or work in the restaurant.” Why not pay more? “Then we would have had to raise our rates to uncompetitive levels.”]

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Is there a poll asking whether Deplorables would look more favorably on immigration if our welfare state were dismantled?

Child support plaintiff Angelina Jolie is scolding American Deplorables for their irrational fear that immigrants will harm Americans: “Angelina Jolie: Refugee Policy Should Be Based on Facts, Not Fear”

Milton Friedman said that we wouldn’t be able to have a welfare state and open borders. Why isn’t the current political disagreement just evidence that Friedman was correct?

Residents of the U.S. with no income or low income are entitled to free housing (means-tested public housing), free food (via food stamps), free health care (Medicaid), a free cell phone, etc. Some families have gone for generations without anyone having to work. Why do we need “fear” to account for the fact that some taxpayers don’t want to invite millions more to join the taxpayer-funded party?

I wonder if it would be worth polling American Deplorables to ask “Would you be more open to immigration if immigrants and their descendants were not eligible for taxpayer-funded housing, food, health care, and telecommunications?” Maybe it will turn out that the Deplorables are mostly tightwads rather than xenophobes, racists, anti-Islamic, etc. Has this poll been tried?

[People still might oppose immigration for non-racist/non-xenophobic reasons, even if they were okay with adding to America’s welfare society. I had dinner last night here in Hawaii with a guy who grew up in West Seattle. When he started his working career it was a 10-minute drive from West Seattle to downtown, a 20-minute round-trip commute. When he retired it was a 40-minute drive each way, thus wasting an additional hour each day. Population growth has also led to spectacular inflation in housing costs.]


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Trump and Hillary voters looking at the same slides on immigration

At a gathering of photojournalists in California there was a presentation of photos and stories about immigrants from Afghanistan living in Sacramento. These folks typically got here because someone in their family had worked as an interpreter for the U.S. military or “were doctors, diplomats or engineers” somehow affiliated with our endless war. In other words at least one family member was fluent in English before arriving in California. Despite this advantage compared to many immigrants, the Sacramento Bee journalist told us that these 2,000 Afghans settled in Sacramento County are doing badly, consistent with the story saying “Professionals in their own country, they have been relegated to the American underclass, enduring poverty and crime.”

The audience vocally concluded from watching the slides and hearing the stories that our government needs to do a lot more for these folks (beyond the public housing, free unlimited health care, free cell phone, and food stamps to which they are already entitled). I pointed out that a Donald Trump supporter might conclude from the same story that we shouldn’t be accepting immigrants from Afghanistan if they can’t prosper here in the U.S. If they needed protection from their former neighbors, the Trump supporter would suggest that they be resettled in a culturally compatible country with a low cost of living (so as to reduce the burden on the American taxpayer).

This prompted a discussion amongst the 60 audience members as to whether anyone had a personal acquaintance with a Republican. For most of them it seems that the answer was “no” and therefore that they relied on conjecture and the press for what might motivate someone to resist Hillary Clinton (standard conclusion: voters who don’t support Hillary are stupid, sexist, and racist, in that order).

There was also a follow-up from a 2005 story regarding an Iraqi boy who came to Oakland for medical treatment. His entire family emigrated to the U.S. so now there are five kids, one of whom suffers from a permanent disability, and two adults being supported by the father’s paycheck as a truck driver plus any welfare (public housing, Obamacare, etc.) to which they are entitled.  Only a racist would ask “How can we generate per-capita economic growth if we bring in foreigners who earn a below-median wage?” and therefore nobody raised the subject of whether this had been a wise investment of tax dollars.

Separately, a top German photographer whose specialty is scientific subjects was present as well. Although he says that immigration has rendered Germany unrecognizable even compared to a year or two ago, he supports the current government and Angela Merkel because “They really had no choice. A friend was sitting at his farm near the Austrian border and his son said ‘Dad, look at the woods.’ Out of the forest came a swarm of migrants who walked across the farm. After they were gone not a single sheep, chicken, or any other animal remained. It was like a locust swarm. Merkel recognizes that the only other option is to shoot people at the border and she is making the best of a bad situation.”

What did the future look like from this German’s perspective? “When I talk to scientists privately they say that the Earth can sustain about 2 billion people. We will soon have 10 billion so that means that either the human race goes extinct or about 8 billion people will die.” [Readers: Can he be right about the best estimates of a sustainable human population for the planet? China seems sustainable, if not a pleasant place to live for many of its citizens, and yet it supports 1.3 billion people on much less than half of the Earth’s land surface. Perhaps they are sucking ground water dry?]

Environmentalism was a popular theme for the photojournalists at this gathering and the environmentalists all agreed that the growth of human population was the primary reason that the environment is being trashed. Yet none of them (all Hillary supporters) raised a hand to ask “Why would we want to work to increase the U.S. population through immigration and guarantees to provide housing, food, and health care to however many children an immigrant family (or low-income native-born family) chooses to have?” (A lot of these folks had chosen not to have children or had been working so hard that the female partner’s fertility was inadvertently exhausted. So it seems that they are doing something truly altruistic in working to save the planet for the benefit of others’ children and grandchildren.)

I’m wondering if this is one reason why poll numbers have barely moved despite a lot of media coverage of the relative merits of various candidates. Americans with different political affiliations will look at the same story and come to opposite conclusions about what should be done. People complain about what the media does but perhaps it has almost no influence at all regarding the big issues (can still do a lot with stories centered on soundbites, e.g., Trump’s unfiltered comments on hypothetical women).

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Another way to look at the scale of immigration to the U.S.

Most articles on immigration talk about the number of people arriving in the U.S. “Thousands Eager to Vote Won’t Become Citizens in Time” (nytimes) instead looks at the number who are becoming citizens:

In the last year almost 940,000 legal immigrants applied to become citizens, a 23 percent surge over the previous year.

If we want to see what kind of politician will be successful in the U.S. ten years from now should we look at what kinds of politicians are successful today in the countries from which immigrants are arriving? Or are there specific things that American politicians can promise immigrants in order to gain their votes?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Clearing immigration and customs at Logan Airport

My mom and I visited the following European countries: Iceland, France, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, and Denmark. We were on a Royal Caribbean ship with more than 3,000 passengers and crew, each of whom needed to go through a security screening process (metal detectors for humans; X-ray for bags) every day upon returning to the ship. During our three weeks in Europe, which included the cruise and three intra-European flights, the longest that we ever waited in a line was about 10 minutes. Then we came back to Logan Airport here in Boston. Our Icelandair 757-200 (flying like Donald Trump!) landed before 7 pm on August 6. We were early so our gate wasn’t ready and we sat on a taxiway for about 30 minutes. Then we entered a sea of humanity waiting for passport clearance. Mom is 82 years old and had ordered a wheelchair so we bypassed more than 1000 people and got into a line for “diplomats and wheelchairs” adjacent to the flight crew line. There we waited for about 25 minutes behind perhaps 7 family groups. Next to us and proceeding at the same pace was a British Airlines long-haul 747 crew. These folks travel every month to every corner of globe. Was this kind of line typical for Boston? “It is always like this,” responded a flight attendant, “but LA is a lot worse. The U.S. is the slowest and most disorganized country in the world now, but LA makes Boston look efficient.”

When we got to the front of the line, instead of the all-business approach taken by the unsmiling Russian immigration agents in St. Petersburg, the Department of Homeland Security (annual budget: $ 41 billion) agent chatted amiably with us. She was quite pleasant, but had already processed our passports and the result was a further delay for the folks behind us.

When we got to the baggage carousel I was feeling relieved about having skipped out on most of the wait. But our bags weren’t there. An hour after we’d landed. Then I realized that the baggage folks were likely accounting for the fact that the typical passenger would need at least one hour after arriving at the gate to get through passport control. Thus there was no point in having bags pile up on the carousel. They would then need to have extra people to come into the terminal and pull them off the carousel into a big heap. So mom and I waited another roughly 45 minutes before the bags from our flight began to arrive (a friend who is a Global Entry customer says that he seldom saves any time because he always needs to check a bag and when the system is backed up the bags take an extra hour or two to arrive; he just waits in a different part of the airport than if he did not have Global Entry). There are no bathrooms in this part of the airport, presumably because nobody imagined that travelers would be hanging out in this area for multiple hours. A European grumbled that “In Zurich this whole process takes 15 minutes from the time you land.”

Once we did get our bags, there was a line of about 400 people trying to get out. There were at least four DHS agents near the exit, but only two were taking the customs forms and waving people out. The other two were sitting chatting and waiting next to an X-ray machine in case anyone was flagged for an exception. During the 45 minutes that we waited I didn’t see this happen. If they had joined their colleagues they probably could have cleared out the backlog in 15 minutes, but instead they sat. idle.

We left the terminal with our bags roughly 2.25 hours after landing. The wheelchair guy pushed my mom all the way into the parking lot. He had been with us for 1.5 hours so I gave him a $ 20 bill (“for half of your next visit to Starbucks”) and he seemed happy.

[If you travel with only carry-on bags and would like to try to speed things up with Global Entry, the Customs folks are conducting interviews at Logan Airport. The next available time slot is in April 2017.]


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog