All posts by meanderer007

Seeking to Walk Beautifully on the Earth : A Surreal Meandering Adventure of the Mind

John Moriarty, was lecturer I encountered briefly, in 1967-68 at the University of Manitoba where he taught English literature and I was a humble but eager freshman student trying to soak up as much knowledge as I could.  It was an incredible experience being lifted from a small town to what I thought was the intellectual centre of the universe.

I have posted about him once in the past so this post is a bit repetitive because it has taken me a long time to meander back to it. That is how meandering works. Slowly.

After that year I never saw him again. I lost complete track of him. I didn’t know what he had done after that year. Did he return to Ireland? Did he get to teach at another Canadian or American university? I did not know.

Moriarty had been a beloved Professor by many students, even those, like me, who never took an actual course or class with him, but just heard him lecture a few times.

Since then, thanks to the Internet I have learned that Professor Moriarty died in 2007. Thankfully, some fans recorded a lecture he gave a couple of years before he died, and posted with it one photograph on YouTube. Listening to the talk brought me back to 1967. This was a remarkable experience.

I was astonished when I listened to it, that the good Professor had been absorbed with some of the same issues that have been tugging at me for years now, mainly around the subject of the necessity for a new attitude to nature and what indigenous people of North America can teach us about that. That was precisely his search. He said, at the end, it was a search for the Navajo Cradle.

I want to blog about some of the things he talked about in his lecture and add my own comments to them for what those comments are worth.

For me this has been an experience of delight. He called his lecture, learning to walk seeking to walk beautifully on the earth. What a great idea.

That epitomizes what I have beeb talking about more prosaically as  new attitude to nature.

 

Some old White Men Still have it

 

We have just spent 3 months in the United States and realize this is a great country. But it is not perfect. Far from it.

A lot of Americans brag about how theirs is the greatest country in the world.  There is some truth to such claims, but they are certainly not absolutely true. It could be better in many ways. Bernie Sanders appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and gave an off the cuff brilliant speech about America. This is what he said,

“In the last couple of years we have made some progress on a number of important issues. We have a long way to go. This is the greatest country on earth. This is the wealthiest nation on earth. We should not have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major nation on earth. We should not be the only wealthy country that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people as a human right. We should not have a federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. We should not have billionaires and large corporations not paying a nickel in federal income tax. We should lead the world in transforming our energy system to save the planet for our kids and grandchildren…We have to have the courage, and this is not easy, to take on a very powerful corporate ruling class whose greed in many ways is ruining this country. We have to take them on and create an economy for all and not the few.”

 

And this man is 1 year older than Joe Biden!  Some old white men still have it. Bernie is certainly  one of them.

 

Keep out the Hate

 

The problem with all the animus at borders around the world is that it interferes with good thinking. Hate rarely improves thinking. And that is a problem in Canada as it is in the United States.

The economist Paul Krugman said one of the problems was a persistent fallacy that has gripped politicians and their followers. He called it the “lump of labor fallacy.” He called that a zombie idea by which he meant an idea that refuses to die—like a zombie—but instead meanders (oops I mean wanders) along eating people’s brains. It prevents them from being smart. It prevents critical thinking.

According to Krugman

“This is the view that there is a fixed amount of work to be done and that if someone or something — some group of workers or some kind of machine — is doing some of that work, that means fewer jobs for everyone else.”

 That is not how the economy actually works, but it underlies Trump’s false economic view of immigration.  And it is a surprisingly resilient idea.  For example, the brilliant writer Kurt Vonnegut also subscribed to the view. He wrote a book called Player Piano in which he saw a future where there would be so much automation that it would lead to massive unemployment. If the machines could do everything there would be no need for workers anymore. As we know, this did not happen. As Krugman said, “But the crude argument that technological progress causes mass unemployment because workers are no longer needed is just wrong.”

 The problem is that there is always a large group of people who could be called, as Krugman did, the “lumpencommentariat.”  These people believe—wrongly—that there is always a limited amount of work to be done so it is unwise to use technology to increase the productivity of immigrants, because they will just take away jobs from Americans in the US or Canadians in Canada.

 In France in the 1970s their political leaders also believed in the same idea. When Mitterand came to power in France he feared a steep rise in unemployment and to counter that he thought it would be wise to reduce France’s retirement age from 65 to 60.  I admit I once thought it was economically wise as well. French politicians believed this would encourage more people  in the work force to free up jobs for young people. Unfortunately, for France it did not work that way.  As Krugman said, “Mitterand’s successors have spent decades trying to undo the damage.”

Now being a retired guy, who I often feel did not retire early enough, I admit early retirement also has a lot of good things going for it. It’s complicated.

But the ones who really screwed things up were Donald Trump and his immigration “architect,” Stephen Miller. Miller told everyone that one of the things he and Trump wanted to do was “turn off the faucet of new immigrant labor.” Not just illegal immigration either! All immigration even the immigration America desperately needed. Trump and Miller were hostile to almost all immigration.

 As Krugman pointed out,

 “Remarkably, Trump issued an executive order meant to deny visas to highly skilled foreigners, many working in the tech sector. Miller and his boss apparently believed that this would mean more plum jobs for Americans, when what it would actually do was undermine American competitiveness in advanced technology.”

 

In other words, Trump and Miller turned back a lot of people that could really have helped the American economy! And they did that out of animus. Hate interfered with their thinking.

The fact is that when incomes rise people find things on which to spend their money. That creates new jobs to replace those displaced by technology or newcomers.  Now some jobs are lost in such circumstances and we must be alert to help those people out. But we must do that smartly, not just by increasing tariffs or keeping valuable people out of the country.

As Krugman explained,

“Machines do, in fact, perform many tasks that used to require people; output per worker is more than four times what it was when Vonnegut wrote, so we could produce 1952’s level of output with only a quarter as many workers. In fact, however, employment has tripled.”

 

Keep out the hate; keep in clear thinking and we’ll all be better for it.

The Lump of Labor Fallacy

 

Paul Krugman is a professor of economics at an Ivy league university, the winner of a Nobel Prize in economics, and a columnist for the New York Times where he tries his best to explain economics to ignorant people like me. Sometimes he tries to explain the economics of immigration. He has written a number of articles on that subject for the New York Times.

He explained in one of those columns that there was a common fallacy among people who commented on immigration. In his colorful way he put it this way:

What did Kurt Vonnegut, the novelist, and François Mitterand, the socialist president of France from 1981 to 1995, have in common with Donald Trump? Both, at some point, believed in what economists call the lump of labor fallacy. This is the view that there is a fixed amount of work to be done and that if someone or something — some group of workers or some kind of machine — is doing some of that work, that means fewer jobs for everyone else.”

 

Donald Trump is a regular contributor to this fallacy. For example, he uses it again to explain why he believes in increasing tariffs at the border. Sometimes, tariffs are warranted, but Trump usually advocates them when they will do the most harm!  He makes the same mistakes when it comes to immigration—calling for restraints on immigration when the US really needs immigrants! Then he gins up his base to  hate the immigrants.

 We all know Trump is hostile to immigration but many of us don’t understand the false economic basis for that position. It is important for us to understand this so we don’t follow Trump’s hatred. Trump’s fallacy is followed by many people who are opposed to legal immigration and therefore it is particularly pernicious. It gives a false economic polish to animus that is very unhelpful in discussing an issue that is permeated with bias.

 

Paul Krugman has a colorful name for this economic mistake: “the lump of labor fallacy.” He also refers to it as a zombie idea. By that he means an idea that has long been discredited but keeps on influencing people anyway “eating people’s brains” along the way. These are ideas we really must get rid of.

 

Another example Krugman frequently lambasts is the trickle-down theory of economics which says giving tax breaks to rich people is better for non-rich people than giving them actual cash. That idea too has long been discredited but clings to life among those people who most benefit from it—i.e. rich people.

Funny how that works. Not.

Such fallacious ideas make it much more difficult to solve problems that are already difficult–problems like immigration.

Side Benefits of More Immigration

 

There is another huge economic benefit to immigration that is often forgotten by my American friends, as Paul Krugman pointed out:

 

immigration appears to have been a big plus for U.S. economic growth, among other things expanding our productive capacity in a way that reduced the inflationary impact of Biden’s spending programs.”

 

In other words, if it were not for immigration inflation in the US would probably have been worse!

There is another added bonus caused by immigration: If immigration is not squelched by a new Trump administration or something similar, or deportation is not radically increased, those immigrants will help pay for Social Security and Medicare in the US.  The independent and non-partisan Congressional Budget Office .B.O expects that 91% of new adult immigrants between 2022 and 2034 will be under 55 compared with 62% for the overall population.  Those are people that pay into those social programs. The rest are more like what Hitler called useless eaters. People like me. Seriously, that means there will be a lot of additional workers contributing to these programs without drawing from them for many years.

Paul Krugman had an interesting conclusion about all of this:

 “The bottom line is that while America’s immigration system is dysfunctional and really needs more resources — resources it would be getting if Republicans, pushed by Trump, hadn’t turned their backs on a bill they helped devise — the recent surge in immigration has actually been good for the economy so far, and gives us reason to be more optimistic about the future.”

 

I think my American friends should take a closer look at the economics of immigration.

 

 

Economic Reality at the Border

 

The American economy in the post-pandemic has been amazingly strong to the surprise of many—particularly the American right and their supporters. Of course, it doesn’t help that the Republicans have a strong interest in persuading the American public how bad the American economy is working. It is in their interest to deny that the economy is doing well, just as it is in the interest of the Democrats to say the economy is doing swimmingly. Added to that, the Republicans are interested in proving the weak economy is very much the fault of immigrants. In fact, they blame nearly everything on immigrants, their favourite scapegoat.

So where does the truth lie? Let’s take a look.

According to Paul Krugman the Nobel prize-wining economics professor the American economy is doing surprisingly well and not only that, but the cause of the buoyancy is also surprising. Immigrants are driving the economic boom.  According to him, “immigration is helping the U.S. economy — indeed, that it may be a major reason for our surprising economic success.”

 

Krugman pointed out how during Covid many people were deeply concerned that millions of American workers would lose their jobs and as a result many of those would lose their skills. Many of those might permanently lose skills. Investment and new business did in fact drop, but economists at the American Congressional Budget Office made projections just before Covid struck and then later realized some fascinating things. First the fears many Americans had that because of Covid millions of workers would be laid off and would leave the work force for good. That did not happen.

As Krugman explained

“If we compare the current state of the U.S. economy with Congressional Budget Office projections made just before the pandemic, we find that real G.D.P has risen by about a percentage point more than expected, while employment exceeds its projected level by 2.9 million workers.

How did we do that? American workers and businesses turned out to be more resilient and adaptable than they were given credit for. Also, our policymakers didn’t make the mistakes that followed the 2008 financial crisis, when an underpowered fiscal stimulus was followed by a premature turn to austerity that delayed a full recovery for many years. Instead, the Biden administration went big on spending, probably contributing to a temporary burst of inflation but also helping to ensure rapid recovery — and at this point the inflation has largely faded away while the recovery remains.

 

Instead of driving down the American economy as Trumpsters feared, immigration actually increased the economic potential of the economy. As Paul Krugman said in one of his series of New York Times articles on the subject,

“The budget office recently upgraded its medium-term economic projections, largely because it believes that increased immigration will add to the work force. It estimates that the immigration surge will add about 2 percent to real G.D.P. by 2034.”

 

As a result Krugman concluded, “there is no good evidence that immigrants are taking away jobs from workers born in America.

 

Here is another unjustified common concern: Immigration will put downward pressure on wages because relatively uneducated immigrants will compete with better educate native born Americans. Krugman actually said he once believed that too. So did I. But unlike Krugman I am not a Nobel Prize winning economist.

Krugman says studies have shown that immigration has very little effect on the wages of native-born workers even when they have similar education levels. He says this is because the immigrants often complement the native born workers because they bring different skills to their occupations. They work together well! As Krugman said,

“Have wages for lower-wage workers declined? On the contrary, what we’ve seen recently is a surprising move toward wage equality, with big gains at the bottom.”

 

I was constantly told by friends in the US that immigration was wrecking the economy because the immigrants were taking advantage of the system. I t looks like that was not true.

Can Canada teach the world something?

 

In the last few years I have been shocked by the number of people in my small home town of Steinbach  who don’t look like the people who used to live here. I am used to a community filled with immigrants from Europe, particularly from Russia, Germany, France, Ukraine and the like. But things have changed drastically. Now when I walk through town or go to a restaurant like MacDonalds I am amazed at how many of the people there look like they come from other places—places like Asia. And from all over Asia. Some people are concerned about that. Some people feel threatened by that. I don’t. I love the diversity. There are good people in the world who aren’t Mennonites. What has led to such enormous changes?

Some countries noticed what it was that made America so prosperous. According to Robert Guest, it was the openness to immigration. Welcoming people from all sorts of places was good for the economy. Building walls was bad for the economy.

 Canada was a good example of a country who saw the benefits of immigration. America’s population is 14% foreign born while Canada’s population is now nearly 23% foreign born. Canada has said it wants to bring in 1.5 million new immigrants in the next 5 years.

Now that also brings problems in its train. After all, where can we house these people? And how will this drive inflation? These are major concerns so Canada must be smart about how it admits people into the country. And it hasn’t always been smart.

 Many people in Canada—not everyone—can see that immigration is not a threat to Canada. It is an opportunity for Canada!

 As Fareed Zakaria pointed out,

  “Study after study has shown, immigrants are world class entrepreneurs. Over 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Immigrants in America are 3 times more likely to start a business than the native ones, by one count.”

 

Canada is expecting a similar return on investment. Canada has not opened its borders either. It carefully chooses who is allowed into the country. According to Zakaria, “since the 1960s Canada has a forged a unique approach to immigration favouring immigrants with the skills that their country needs.”  Robert Guest says Canada has been cherry-picking by making sure it gets immigrants it really needs. But isn’t that the best for the host country and the immigrants? Zakaria says, “Canada’s merit-based system has become the gold standard, copied by Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and now Germany.” Who would have known?

Germany also has a similar labour shortage. It too needs immigrants. Germany has also been working on a merit-based immigration policy so that crucial job openings can be filled.

But, as Zakaria, says, “While other countries are opening its doors, America is falling behind.”  As immigration attorney Rachel Self put it: “These countries are going to be better than us some day, because we aren’t allowing the best to come here anymore!” During the brief, but too long reign of Donald Trump and Stephen Miller America actually refused entry to a lot of proposed immigrants from the tech industry that it very much needed. It even kept people away from its universities. None of this was smart.

Canada should not fall into this trap. We must remember smart immigration is smart economic policy.

 

A New Immigration Crisis

 

Paul Krugman is not the only one who recognizes how important immigrants are for the American economy. Fareed Zakaria also knows that as he explained in his 2023 CNN special report.

 

Zakaria pointed out how Under Trump legal immigration plummeted by 2/3rds. And Trump tried to build a wall to keep out those seeking sanctuary. Trump was no John Kennedy.  As Zakaria said, “those new policies led to a new immigration crisis.” And no one talked about it.

 

This crisis was brought on by a sharp demand for immigrant workers for jobs Americans no longer wanted. There were 2 job openings in the US for every job seeker. As Fareed Zakaria said, “Populist politicians are right. America is facing an immigration crisis.  It was just not the crisis they thought it was.

 

Donald Trump said he would send a message to all the immigration and asylum seekers that “our country is full.” As Zakaria said, “The real crisis is not that too many immigrants have made it to the US, it’s that we aren’t letting in nearly enough.’

 

Part of the reason for this is that American women decided not to have babies. Zakaria said, “America is in the middle of a baby bust.” The American birth-rate had fallen below the replacement level. The Americans being born were less than those dying. That is not good for an economy. Starting during the Trump regime, because the numbers of immigrants dropped so sharply, the country was “cut off from the workers we so desperately need” said Zakaria.

 

This then fanned the flames of inflation. There were too few workers pursuing too many jobs. And this started during the Trump administration partly as a result of declining numbers of immigrants. America, not Mexico was paying a big bill for the wall Trump was building.

 

The author Robert Guest, another person who recognized the importance of immigrants,  said America had 3 options: “you can either have more babies, or you can welcome more immigrants, or you can dwindle and fade into stagnation and irrelevance.” The first option according to experts just won’t happen. The last alternative is not very attractive to Americans who insist on being #1 in everything except justice. That leaves more immigration not less. Otherwise, the labour shortage will continue and social security will become unsustainable. As Fareed Zakaria said, “instead we have chosen the third—stagnation. Refusing to let in more foreign workers according to one estimate could cost the US economy 9 trillion dollars by 2030.

That would make the loss of immigration more expensive than their vaunted military!

For years it has been my belief—an unpopular belief—that the justification for countries to impose barriers to immigration are dubious. After all, what gives us the right here in North America the right to keep others out? Everyone wants to control immigration, but few can give rational justifications for it, other than personal preference. We want the right so we must have the right. But is it really that simple?

Once again Americans, particulars those who follow demagogues, have chosen to vote against their own self-interest, when they voted for Trump.  As Robert Guest said, “If everyone in the world who wanted to move could move, by one estimate the total income of humanity would double!” This would happen as people from less affluent economies moved to more prosperous economies.

The world needs more immigration!

 

 

 

Trump and Miller are wrong-headed about Immigration

 

During my last week in Arizona, I was at a small party where the Americans were complaining that there were a lot of jobs that just weren’t getting done. I spoke up loudly (OK too loudly) that the problem with the United States was that it needed more immigrants.  Everyone was quiet. I think I was right. 

The position of Trump and Miller on immigration was wrong-headed, because it was motivated by resentment against immigrants rather than an honest evaluation of the role they have played in the American economy. As Paul Krugman explained,

 

…negative views of the economics of immigration are all wrong. Far from taking jobs away, foreign-born workers have played a key role in America’s recent success at combining fast growth with a rapid decline in inflation. And foreign-born workers will also be crucial to the effort to deal with our country’s longer-term problems.

 

Many Americans don’t realize how well the United States has done at recovering from the pandemic. The Republicans in particular blame Biden, when really they should be acknowledging that in many respects he was right about how to deal with the consequences of the pandemic. Even though they spent an enormous amount of money trying to recover from the pandemic, the US has managed to stand-out compared to other western countries because it has combined disinflation with remarkably vigorous economic growth. According to Krugman, a stellar economist, the problem is that there has been an extraordinary growth in the American labor force. And where did that growth come from? It came from Immigrants!

This is what Paul Krugman said,

How much of that growth was due to foreign-born workers? All of it. The native-born labor force declined slightly over the past four years, reflecting an aging population, while we added three million foreign-born workers.

Did those foreign-born workers take jobs away from Americans — in particular, native-born Americans? No. America in early 2024 has full employment, with consumers who say that jobs are “plentiful,” outnumbering those saying jobs are “hard to get,” by almost five to one. The unemployment rate among native-born workers averaged just under 3.7 percent in 2023, as low as it’s been since the government began collecting the data.

In fact, I’d argue that the influx of foreign-born workers has helped the native born. There’s a large research literature on the economic impact of immigration, which consistently fails to find the often predicted negative effects on employment and wages. Instead, immigrant workers often turn out to be complementary to the native-born work force, bringing different skills that, in effect, help avoid supply bottlenecks and allow faster job creation. Silicon Valley, for instance, hires a lot of foreign-born engineers because they bring something additional to the table; the same is true for workers in many less-glamorous occupations.”

There is no doubt that the pandemic produced enormous stresses on the economy and immigrant workers have helped to resolve those disruptions. This is how

Krugman put it this way:

 Foreign-born workers are crucial to America’s fiscal future. To a first approximation, the federal government is a system that collects taxes from working-age adults and spends much of the proceeds on programs that help seniors, such as Medicare and Social Security. Cut off the flow of immigrants, who are largely working-age adults, our system would become much less sustainable.

So while the mess at the border needs to be fixed — and could be fixed if Republicans would help solve the problem instead of exploiting it for political advantage — don’t let that mess obscure the larger reality that immigration is one of America’s great sources of power and prosperity.”

 

Americans should stop scapegoating immigrants for their imaginary problems and should instead be embracing them for helping Americans get through the pandemic and the economic problems it created. As Krugman said in another Times article:

“There is “growing evidence that immigration is helping the U.S. economy — indeed, that it may be a major reason for our surprising economic success.

America needs immigrants and benefits tremendously from them. Republicans don’t like that message, but it is true.

 

Hostility to Immigrants is exactly counter-productive

 

The fact is that Donald Trump and those he surrounds himself with, like Steven Miller, who drafts most of his immigration policies, such as the “Muslim ban,”  actually don’t like any kind of immigration at all. Or at least any immigration other than immigrants with extraordinary qualification. As economist Paul Krugman said,

“Trump and those around him are profoundly hostile to immigration in general. Partly this is xenophobia, if not outright racism. If you repeatedly declare, as Trump has, that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” you don’t really care if they came here legally, you’re all but saying that what matters is whether they’re white.”

 

But there is more to it than that. Trump and his minions don’t understand how immigration affects employment and the economy. Neither did I until I read Krugman.  This is what he said, “People close to Trump have a zero-sum view of the economy, in which every job taken by someone born outside the United States is a job taken away from someone born here.” They don’t realize that the work of one immigrant worker can add to the work needed of other Americans.

But Trump and his fellows believe that work done by one immigrant always take away jobs from other Americans. The architect of Trump’s policies, Here is how Trump and Miller screwed things up:

“Back in 2020, Stephen Miller, one of the architects of Trump’s immigration policies, told Trump supporters that one of the goals was to “turn off the faucet of new immigrant labor.” Remarkably, Trump issued an executive order meant to deny visas to highly skilled foreigners, many working in the tech sector. Miller and his boss apparently believed that this would mean more plum jobs for Americans, when what it would actually do was undermine American competitiveness in advanced technology.

 

America needs a lot of those workers it is trying to keep out of the country.By relentlessly attacking immigrants, Trump was making things worse for American workers!