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Monday, June 19, 2006

Immigration and Political Polarization

Paul Krugman follows up on today's column "Class War Politics." In the follow-up, he talks briefly about research on immigration and political polarization he couldn't fit into the column. I'll be curious to hear reactions to his reason for being "less enthusiastic about immigration than many liberals":

Politicians Need to Go Back to Class, by paul Krugman, Money Talks, NY Times: Readers respond to Paul Krugman's June 19 column, "Class War Politics" ...

Lenore Scendo, New York: I think you're absolutely on target about class warfare and the futility of going centrist to reignite bipartisanship. But doesn't this consign our country to perpetual politics of division? After all, the New Deal succeeded in dire times. Are you suggesting we might need to experience a kindred upheaval before like-minded policies will again succeed?

Paul Krugman: I don't expect or hope for another depression. But think of it this way: what happened politically in the 1930's was that the public realized that true believers in conservative ideology just weren't able to govern effectively. Isn't something like that happening now, in slow motion?

Mary Ellen Verdu, Salem, Va.: ...Why do so many in the working class and lower middle class vote Republican? In Virginia ..., my liberal upper-middle class friends and I threw up our hands as working people voted for elimination of the car tax — and just this week, the estate tax... The same is true for other issues... As a liberal in the progressive tradition this has bothered me for a long time...

Paul Krugman: The point, I think, is that distraction works: many people think that conservatives represent their values, or are tough on terror. Also, bear in mind that there's far too little news reporting on actual policy ideas. During the 2004 election, the biggest domestic policy difference between Bush and Kerry was on health care policy. But I surveyed two months of network news reporting, and there wasn't a single explanation of the difference between the Kerry and Bush plans.

Paul Krugman: A final note. For readers interested in following up on all this, many of the McCarty et. al. charts are at

Also, because of the limits of space, I couldn't talk about an important secondary theme in their book, the role of immigration. They argue that when unskilled immigration is high, the effect is to create a disenfranchised class of low-wage workers, which makes it easier for the Republican party to shift right. And there's a strong correlation between the foreign-born share of the population and political polarization, visible in the charts at the Web address above.

This political effect of immigration, much more than the effect on wages, is the reason I'm less enthusiastic about immigration than many liberals; I fear that immigration undermines the political foundations for a decent social safety net.

Here are a few of the charts from the link, the first two are on income distribution and political polarization, the last shows immigration and polarization:



Click on graphs to enlarge

    Posted by on Monday, June 19, 2006 at 03:42 PM in Economics, Immigration, Income Distribution, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (29)


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