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Immigration and Redistribution

Why is it that, as I said yesterday, restricting the flow of immigrants would give a boost to redistributionist politics? Here’s the issue. Suppose I propose a measure that would reduce the well-being of the highest-income third of Americans but increase the well-being of the lowest-income third of Americans. Well, I’m going to have trouble getting anywhere with this proposal because the top third have way more political influence than the bottom third. There are a whole series of reasons why the top third’s influence is greater — money in politics, higher turnout on election day, more social capital, etc. — but one reason is that many people at the bottom of the income spectrum are immigrants who can’t vote.

Right now, in other words, the median voter’s income is substantially higher than the median person’s income. If we totally cut off immigration, that would still be the case, but over time the gap would get smaller so a political agenda centered around bolstering the incomes of low-income people would grow more viable. That’s not, I think, an adequate reason to favor cutting-off immigration but it is one reason why savvy conservatives might have some doubts about the wisdom of the restrictionist agenda.

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