Wretched Refuse? vs. Ominous Speculation

An army of immigration skeptics warn that mass immigration paves the road to socialism and tyranny.  When they express these fears, they almost always find a receptive audience.  Even thinkers inclined to favor immigration often get cold feet when they visualize the new arrivals’ broader political effects.

Yet if you search for actual research on what economists call “the political externalities of immigration,” you won’t find much.  George Borjas himself writes: “Unfortunately, remarkably little is known about the political and cultural impact of immigration on the receiving countries, and about how institutions in these receiving countries would adjust to the influx.”  Indeed, to the best of my knowledge there isn’t a single book published on this general topic.

Until now.  Early next year, Cambridge University Press releases Alex Nowrasteh and Ben Powell’s Wretched Refuse? The Political Economy of Immigration and Institutions.  Immigration skeptics will no doubt protest that both authors are well-known for their pro-immigration stances.

Yet the fair question to ask skeptics is: Shouldn’t you have published your book on this topic years ago?    They, after all, are the ones predicting doom.  The fact that Nowrasteh and Powell are beating them to the punch is deeply revealing at the meta level: Even the more scholarly critics of immigration rely heavily on ominous speculation.  In social science, pessimists normally present concrete evidence of social ills, and critics try to rebut them.  For immigration, the critics often have to create the pessimists’ case for them, then rebut it – because the pessimists don’t go beyond vague Cassandra cries.

I’ll discuss Wretched Refuse? in depth when it releases.  For now, I’ll just say that I’ve read the book, and it’s excellent.  Pre-order now!

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Bryan Caplan

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Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He is the author of The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, named “the best political book of the year” by the New York Times, and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN.

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