Summary Judgment

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I have occasionally used Reflections to inform readers about free-market publications and thinktanks with which they might have been unacquainted. I would like to do this again, pointing to the estimable American Enterprise Institute and its web-based journal, The American. And as it happens, four pieces recently published in that journal have to do with topics I’ve written about in these pages.

Consider first Michael Barone’s excellent piece, “An Immigration Tipping Point?” (Sept. 29). Barone points out something interesting: the percentage of foreign-born Americans (FBAs) has declined this past year for the first time since 1970. Not a huge amount, to be sure – from 12.60/0 in mid-2007 to 12.5% in mid-2008 – but a definite decline, one that represents 40,000 fewer foreign-born people in the country.

Barone notes that in the second half of the 19th century, the percentage of FBAs rose from 9.7 (in 1850) to 14.7 (in 1890), then – after dropping a bit – again hit 14.7 in 1910. After anti-immigration laws were passed in 1921 and 1924, the percentage of FBAs started dropping, hitting a low of 4.7 in 1970. With the passage of the 1965 immigration act (and along with the amnesty program of 1986, I would add), the percentage nearly tripled in less than two generations. Barone says that this was contrary to the intentions of the framers of the 1965 act, but I am not so sure: the act gave preference to immigration applicants with family already in this country, so it set the stage for ever-increasing numbers of immigrants.

Barone attributes the recent drop to the recession and to tighter enforcement of immigration laws. Indeed, his data go only to mid-2008, before the explosion of unemployment; he thinks the census for mid-2009 will show an even steeper drop. I think he’s right.

Barone raises the interesting question of whether immigration will increase when the recession ends. He notes that the tighter enforcement will probably continue, and that birth rates in Mexico and Latin America have been dropping over the past two decades. I would add that in Asia, there has been another major change: the embrace of market economic systems in large countries that had formerly eschewed them (such as China, Vietnam, and to some extent India). Economic improvement tends to keep potential immigrants home, and even attract some immigrants back.

The second piece I want to mention is “Making Bush Look Like a Piker,” by Veronique de Rugy (Sept. 30). De Rugy makes the simple point that Bush ran high deficits, but Obama’s deficits will dwarf them. She has some credibility here, since she was a vocal critic of Bush’s spending. And the Congressional Budget Office figures show that for each of Obama’s years in office, his projected deficit will vastly exceed any of Bush’s years.

In fact, de Rugy notes that these deficits are apt to be even worse, because Obama keeps increasing his spending, while the budget figures are based on the assumption that the stimulus spending will have stopped by 2011. The budget estimates are also based on the assumption of a rapid and robust recovery from the recession, something that seems increasingly doubtful.

The third article, “Our Uncrowded Planet” (Oct. 1), by Ronald Bailey, takes on a Malthusian prophet, Paul Farrell. Farrell, following neo-Malthusian biologist Jared Diamond, cites 12 factors that supposedly forecast our doom. The factors include overpopulation, food shortages, water shortages, farmland shortages, deforestation, chemical pollution, and ozone layer depletion; there is even an “alien species” factor. Bailey neatly debunks each source of concern.

He observes, for example, that both Farrell and Diamond fail to note that during the past century, crop yields grew at about 20/0 per year, double the current rate of population growth. Bailey doesn’t mention the pivotal role played by the Green Revolution, the dramatic increase in crop yields pioneered by the late Norman Borlaug, but he does quote the agronomist Paul Waggoner, who calculates that if the average world farmer achieved the productivity of the average American corn farmer, the world could feed 10 billion people at the current caloric level of the American consumer – on one-half the farmland used today. Bailey’s rejoinders to the other eleven points are equally thought provoking.

Finally, there is Charles Johnson’s informative article, “Blood Money” (Oct. 2). Johnson writes about the history and prospects of the private market for blood. Before the 1940s, he says, private blood banks were common in America, with people selling their blood on the open market. But during World War II, many people began to worry about blood being donated by victims of hepatitis and jaundice. In 1947, the Journal of the American Medical Association set out guidelines to help blood banks screen donors (such as not taking blood from anyone with a history of hepatitis, or anyone who had received blood or had been hospitalized during the past year).

Then two dubious studies appeared. In 1959 an American doctor purported to show that hepatitis rates were dramatically higher among recipients of paid than of unpaid donor blood. In 1971 a British social scientist argued that paid blood donation would crowd out volunteer (unpaid) donation. Johnson refutes each study in detail. Nevertheless, the studies started a chain of federal and state regulations, leading to an effective ban on paid donor blood in 1978.

Never mind that these studies were dubious. Never mind that the science of screening blood was improving year after year. The logic of regulation took over: to prevent harm, pass a regulation, then another, then another, until you arrive at the “safest” approach: prohibition. Of course, the “safest” approach – the one with the fewest bad consequences – is different from the “best” – the one with the most favorable balance of bad and good consequences. Johnson concludes by offering some valuable suggestions for how a free market in blood might be reinstated safely.

The American is a useful source of ideas and information.

Check it out.

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