Arnold Kling is a smart fella. He reminds me of those girls who being pretty themselves, always go out to bars bringing a huge fat and ugly friend. They thing they look hot in comparison, and they do. But their friend is so disgusting that no sane man is going to approach anyway.
It seems he realised the problem and he now has a blog of his own. Again there’s something girly about it. He says he started the blog because he “missed being part of the blog conversation”. But most of his posts are short, dense and controversial, but he rarely responds to comments. So much for “conversation”. He’s very good though, probably the best economist blogging out there. But there’s also something quite unpleasant about the guy. He sounds like me when I’m in a bad mood. Cold and dismissive.
Economics can be defined in many ways but let’s say it’s the study of the interaction of humanity and natural resources. That is a very important matter, and that’s why economists today are held as the high priests of the modern world. They study important stuff. Yet so many of them really don’t understand the implications of their discipline. There is a shibboleth to determine whether an economist actually has a smart worldview, or is just another narrow-minded academician. Immigration. Sadly Arnold Kling can’t pronounce his palatals.
See his post on immigration. For all his talk on being charitable towards other people’s worldviews, he sternly dictates opponents of immigration are dead wrong. How so? He doesn’t say. Kling is big in the power of competition, so presumably he understands that immigration is the only way to bring competition to the political world. Countries that don’t perform well will see their citizens leave, so they would have to reform and perform properly to attract people.
Economists are big, real big on this kind of invisible-hand arguments. They forget an important value which is time. Yes countries might want to reform to avoid having a brain drain. But that might take forever. Or it might not happen at all. Or it might entail nasty consequences. The competition principle in the old days worked like this: country A is efficient, country B is not. Country A senses the chance and invades country B, kills the men, rapes the women and enslaves the children. Competition! Performance! Instead of invisible hand you might call it the visible sword. Or battle-axe.
Of course he doesn’t go into HBD, which I can understand given he blogs with his real name. Very smartly he does rephrase the HBD objection to immigration, saying that conservatives consider immigrants as barbaric, which is a reasonable objection. But it seems that the growth of barbarism doesn’t bother Mr. Kling. Perhaps he thinks it’s solvable? Just takes time and education? During the years he has been known as quasi accepting HBD, so it doesn’t seem likely that he thinks barbarism can be completely resolved. Yet he doesn’t think that it is a sufficient argument against immigration. The likely answer is that he likes his bubble as much as his pal Caplan. Who cares if barbarism is 5000km away or 50km away if you just don’t have to deal with it?
But anyway, let’s accept his argument about the competition principle. Immigration gives some needed stimulus to the economy. It puts people to work, for fear of being displaced. Protected industries tend to lag in innovation, so protected countries or individuals might do the same. It’s a fine argument. Competition is important. But does he really understand what he wants us to compete with? I’m not an expert but I think there’s a real lack out there for a good theory of economic competition.
Economic competition is seldom the domain of individuals competing in a level field. Aristoteles famously said that man is a political animal. What he means it that people are social. Some more than others, I might add. In the realm of the Asperger’s plagued economics profession, competition is about some individuals knowing more than others. In the real world, people form bands, then clans, then tribes, and use them to outperform others economically. Why are Jews so successful? In fact why do Jews exist at all? Most tribes of antiquity perished. But Jews thrived, even abroad. Why? Because they are a clan. Jews specialised in international trade since antiquity. Clans aren’t particularly efficient when all you do is subsistence farming, but trade is all about trust and information. And clans work very well in that. That’s why most trade was monopolised by minority clans until recently. Indeed it’s not that clans went into trade. You might understand it the other way around, traders around the world formed close-knit clans to stave off competition. Overseas Chinese were mostly farmers who didn’t have clans as such; but living abroad they had to become traders, so they just made them up by joining people who happened to have the same surname (even if not related at all). The morale is that organised groups will always outperform non-organised groups.
By allowing foreign cultures to mingle in the same land, you are giving them the incentive to specialise in any given market and make it their own ethnic fief. Jews famously own various industries in the US. The blogosphere is full of disgruntled software engineers complaining how Indian bosses only hire Indian employees. Old Chinese-Americans are acculturated but what about new immigrants? Of course they prefer to do business with their own kind. It goes beyond nepotism. Transaction costs are bad enough in a homogeneous nation, imagine having to deal with people removed thousands of years from your own.
Even if you ignore the problems with low-performing immigrants (and that’s ignoring a lot), high performing immigrants have problems of their own. The logical conclusion of free immigration is quite obvious to those who know any history. The land which has absorbed most immigrants during history has been India. It has been settled and invaded dozens of times mostly from its western borders. What happened when all those different cultures mingled in the same land? Did it produce a healthy competition ecosystem where smart and entrepreneurial individuals thrived? No. It produced castes. Profession cartels where people specialised to the detriment of society as a whole. Clans exist because they work. Individualism is the product of a very particular culture, in a very particular environment. It’s a minority because it is unnatural. Man is a political animal, and it does business in a political way. Keep bringing people all over the world and you’ll see what happens.