Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Displaced Voters

You are a regulator responsible for flight safety.  Your staff has proposed a rule that will reduce deaths per million miles traveled by air.  However, it will also impose costs on travelers, inducing some travelers to choose other methods of travel.  If those other methods of travel are less safe than air travel, then you have to weigh two effects of the proposed regulation:  (1) deaths from air travel will fall (both because fewer people will travel by air, and because air travel will be safer), and (2) deaths from non-air travel will increase (because more people will travel by non-air means).  If the net effect is to increase the number of deaths, then arguably the regulation is a bad idea.

David Frum has suggested that something like this goes on in politics.  If the enforcement of immigration laws is labeled "racist" and put off-limits for mainstream politicians, then this may have the effect of reducing immigration enforcement.  But it has another effect, which is to force people who believe in immigration laws to express their views through non-mainstream channels.  The net effect on politics may not be positive, even from the perspective of immigrants.

Of course regulators may have other reasons to impose rules beyond the considerations I've mentioned, and similarly politicians have motivations beyond the welfare of immigrants, so even if the math works out to be bad for immigrants, there might be other reasons to marginalize people who believe in immigration law.  Also, whereas airline regulations probably operate pretty smoothly, there are sharp discontinuities in politics (something like punctuated equilibrium).  Extremists can be marginalized for years or decades, and then can be swept into power in a paroxysm of anger.  But maybe the paroxysm never comes, or maybe it's one of those "when the paroxysm comes we'll have bigger things to worry about" kinds of calculations.

In any case, I share Frum's worry that what we have is an unstable situation ripe for an opportunistic nationalist campaign.  Luckily (?!?) Trump seems to be too inept to mount a successful campaign (though I urge you not to be complacent).  But the choice that the Democrats are increasingly embracing seems dangerous to me, and I think it would be prudent to pay attention to the forces that are building up as a result.

3 Comments:

Blogger Zed said...

It is logically possible to care about "enforcement of immigration laws" without being xenophobic or racist, and it is also logically possible that a hypothetical person with this issue profile would react as you say. However I question what any of this has to do with reality. I am not aware of anyone -- whether a public figure or an acquaintance -- who remotely meets this description. The distribution of political views among people who consider immigration an important issue is starkly bimodal as far as I can tell.

In any case, the UK seems to refute the empirical parts of this argument. Since Cameron beat Brown, the immigration debate has consistently drifted rightward, with a general *consensus* on cutting immigrant flows. It hasn't had the desired effect on discourse or on politics. (Would you rather be an immigrant in today's UK or the UK of say 2006? Would you rather be an immigrant in today's UK or today's US?)

I don't think marginalizing racist views through discourse policing is an especially appealing thing, but it does seem less bad than the alternatives. (Also, given that the Ukip/Trump vote skews old, it really might be a smarter strategy than it seems at first sight.)

5:41 PM  
Blogger James said...

I think the working-class Democrats who are supporting Trump due to his views on immigration are a pretty good example of what I mean.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Zed said...

My prior is that they are mostly actually racist (as is evidenced by the fact that the areas where they live were much more anti-Obama than anti-Gore, and voted against Obama in the primaries, although Obama is obv. not an immigrant. The natural control is what such people think about native-born black Americans...

12:17 AM  

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