Should everyone be glad that judges have blocked Donald Trump’s restrictions on entry to the U.S.?

Donald Trump seems to be having trouble from the judicial branch in implementing executive orders aimed at restricting entry to the U.S. Presumably folks who were opposed to these orders are happy about this roadblock. I’m wondering if even people who support Trump’s attempted policies should also be happy about this.

As Hawaiians and Native Americans can attest, immigration can completely change the character of a country and the experience of life as a citizen. Why would we want to let one person, however wise (Obama!) or unwise (the hated King Donald) make decisions regarding what kind of a country we will have in 2050 or 2100?

Should Congress figure this out and limit the authority of Presidents to make massive changes via executive order?

Instead of experiencing dramatic unplanned changes, why not get a political consensus around two main points:

  • how large a population do we want to have?
  • what kind of fellow citizens do we want to share the country with?

Most of our population growth is driven by immigration either directly or through the higher fertility of the immigrants we have accepted (Pew). If we increase immigration we can accelerate our growth from 325 million up to 600 million or perhaps even 1.35 billion (works for the Chinese, right? They don’t have any more land than we do.). If we shut off immigration entirely we could perhaps hold at somewhere between 325 million and 400 million. If we eliminate immigration and tax incentives to native-born Americans to have children, we could gradually restore the U.S. to the level of crowding circa 1970 when 200 million folks occupied this land (plus roughly 1 million Native Americans, who could not be considered “occupiers”).

There is no rational fact-driven approach to determining a “correct” population size, which is why it would make sense to decide it via a political process. Some people value solitude, open space, and affordable real estate. Others might prefer a society packed with interesting people to talk to and are happy to live in 300-square-foot studio apartments.

What about the Jihad/no-Jihad choice that Trump highlights? Maybe that is the wrong question.

Let’s start with economics. We owe $19 trillion and want someone else to work to pay it back. In light of The Son Also Rises, if we want successful people in our population we can give priority to immigrants from the most successful economies worldwide and to immigrants who come from exceptionally successful families (look at parents, aunts/uncles, grandparents, siblings).

There’s more to life than money, right? What could be more important than being surrounded by happy people? We can give priority to immigrants from any country ranked as happier than the U.S. and be more selective about immigrants from comparatively unhappy countries. (Note that at least one study shows that people in Syria and Yemen are extremely unhappy and therefore a heavy weight toward this factor would accomplish the same thing as Trump’s proposed restrictions.)

How about political stability? To judge by Facebook, at least half of Americans express terror on a daily basis regarding the consequences of perceived political instability under the Trump Administration. Why not give priority to immigrants from countries with a long history of political stability?

Facebookers are also prone to complaining that a lot of Americans don’t respect science and scientists. Instead of tearing ourselves away from the TV to study, we could give priority to immigrants from those countries whose 15-year-old citizens scored well in science on the PISA test. Alternatively, we could seek immigrants from countries with higher numbers of scientific publications published per capita (it might work out to more or less the same countries).

Crime makes people unhappy. Why not give priority to immigrants from countries that have a low crime rate?

The above are simply examples. My point is that we have a representative government. Why not let our representatives in Congress decide explicitly what the population should be and what kind of people we would hope to attract? Have the population size be an input to immigration policy rather than an unexpected output. Have at least some of the personal characteristics of the “new Americans” be a goal rather than a surprise.

Maybe this can be wrapped up with a Constitutional Amendment that tweaks the Fourteenth Amendment so that it is no longer enough simply to be born on U.S. soil.

Readers: What do you think?



  1. Andrew

    February 14, 2017 @ 11:21 pm


    I think you’re trying to be absurd, but I will note that many countries already give priority to citizenship-seekers with higher levels of education and professional experience — and of course wealth — in their immigration policies.

    These are not countries that have a cultural identity wrapped up in the Horatio Alger mythology, though. It might be a tougher sell in the US.

  2. Brian Gulino

    February 15, 2017 @ 12:10 am


    I pretty much agree with Phil and I don’t think he is being absurd. I would add that any policy we have will be ruthlessly exploited by people around the world who want to live here, e.g. extend priority to spouses of Americans, expect sham marriages.

    Immigrationists have been successful in framing the question in purely economic terms, “does the policy result in a bigger or a smaller economic pie?” Any considerations other than economic in choosing immigrants is viewed as racist by a large proportion of the population.

  3. Tom

    February 15, 2017 @ 4:15 am


    I’d say the “bigger pie” argument is in the rear view mirror by now.

    As for sham marriages, recall the cute romcom from 1990 with Andie McDowell and Gerard Depardieu, Green Card. These days, however, the focus is not on a mere green card but on family reunification scams. For example, we have Ilhan Omar, a Somali who is now a legislator of Minnesota, who may have married her brother. It’s a bit hazy.

    From some experience in Europe, I would say this sort of thing is “not unusual”.

  4. Tom

    February 15, 2017 @ 4:18 am


    Skilled immigration: Canada even halted their Immigrant Investor Programme, leaving 45,000 putative Chinese millionaires stranded. But they still take in plenty of refugees, of course, so not all is lost.

  5. dwight looi

    February 15, 2017 @ 5:18 am


    Everyone should be HORRIFIED by the dangerous precedent set by the ILLEGAL INJUNCTION issued by this James Robart and subsequent actions by his fellow activists on the 9th appellate circuit. Everyone should be even more concerned by the Trump administration’s decision to play along instead of challenge the authority of this activist judiciary regardless of whether or you agree with Trump’s immigration policies or the motivations behind them. Let me explain…

    (1) The United States is NOT a judicial absolute monarchy and this is a clearly illegal order by a judge which usurps the separation of powers.

    (2) The is nothing in the US constitution which protects the right of foreigners to visit or immigrate to the USA. Period.

    (3) Immigration is regulated by the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) passed by the US Congress. And, within this law is the absolute delegation of authority to the President to override all existing criteria and due process stipulated for apply, receive and appeal the documents and privilege to enter and immigrate to the USA. US Code 8 section 1182(f) reads [quote]


    Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens, or of any class of aliens, into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”

    (4) As precedent, this power has been utilized over 90 times by 7 presidents in the ast 50 years to block the entry of specific people from specific regions, nation of origin or creed.

    (5) A Judge does not have the authority to 2nd guess a president’s judgement on foreign affairs. He has even less authority to countermand it regardless of the soundness of policy, or the lack thereof, behind the decisions made. Let me put it another way… the judge has as much authority to issue an injunction on such matters as he does when the president expels a foreign ambassador or order for the commander of a missile base to launch a an interceptor against an incoming missile. If this is allowed, and the judiciary is permitted to press pause anytime they wish, the nation cannot survive.

    (6) What should have happened in this specific case is that President Trump could have declared the injunction illegal, refuse to heed it, publicly condemn the Judge as a usruper of powers and immediately ask congress to impeach and remove the judge. Congress can move to impeach the Judge and the appellate judges on the 9th circuit under the following grounds:-

    Usurpation of the separation of powers. Issuing of an illegal injunction outside of his authority. Demonstration total incompetence in the understanding of constitutional and statutory law (which is unbecoming of a judgeship).

    Whatever President Trumps motivations are to appeal the injunction and appear conciliatory and moderate, it sets an extremely dangerous precedent which this nation can ill afford. This is true regardless of whether you agree with Trump on immigration and/or banning the entry and immigration from those seven countries.

  6. David K.

    February 15, 2017 @ 7:56 am


    Although I hadn’t looked up the statute, I expected to find what Dwight has shown: that the president was well within his rights to dictate immigration policy. I mean, after all, doesn’t it make sense to at least give the POTUS the discretion to modify immigration specifics on the fly, even if we want Congress to establish the larger policy?

    The premise of the liberal news coverage of the order and the injunction was that it was “un-Constitutional.” I kept asking the authors and talking heads: In what way? By what citation? By what precedent? No one explained that. But in a glorious example of “fake news” today, probably 30-40% of the country now thinks that Trump made up his order whole cloth.

    I’m left wondering, with news coverage so obviously inciting, and a judiciary that was so obviously mendacious, how in the world are we to avoid another civil war? The coasts against the middle?

  7. Tiago

    February 15, 2017 @ 9:25 am


    @dwight looi, @David K.: the president is not above the law or the constitution. No court said the president cannot dictate immigration policy. Please read the judgement before making unfounded claims. And let us know which parts are illegal, by the way.

  8. David K.

    February 15, 2017 @ 10:08 am


    The injunction opens with Washington State and the D.C. claiming to find the order unlawful and unconstitutional. The crux seems to be that these states claim IRREPARABLE harm from a TEMPORARY stay in immigration from the SEVEN countries because they won’t be able to hire professors to teach and do research at their universities.

    Two things.

    First, seriously?! I mean, like really?! Seriously?! Whatever you think of the merit or efficacy of the president’s order, THIS should be the reason it’s unconstitutional? Because it violates the States’ rights to… interstate commerce, or something?

    Secondly, if there is a specific citation in the order as to what provision of the Constitution or federal code the order violated, I’m not going to find it in the 29 pages of things I have no basis to read and understand. That would be only slightly more useful than the 9th Circuit judges trying to read the code I’m currently writing, and trying to tell me what it does.

    @Tiago: Feel free to clarify the injunction in layman’s terms, and tell me how the 9th found that it violated the Constitution AND federal law. Because I STILL haven’t seen that actually elucidated anywhere online. All I see are platitudes about it from the left, and legal arguments against it on the right. I’m honestly just confused where the left is coming from at this point.

    You can say that I “claim” that the court shouldn’t be able to stop the president from dictating immigration policy, but if the courts can rule that he can’t issue THIS order, then what power to dictate immigration policy does he actually have? What State can’t make some ridiculous claim of harm from ANY order the president might issue regarding immigration?

  9. Shimon

    February 15, 2017 @ 10:14 am


    I would love it if we could set immigration goals through political means, and I even mostly like the criteria you suggest. Much of the country would disagree with us, though, and very strongly. We’ve got this system precisely because the US population has diverse and conflicting opinions on immigration:

    – Some of us want to help refugees; others argue we can’t afford the cost or security risk.
    – Some believe economic contributions from investors and entrepreneurs merit admitting them; others argue such criteria unjustly favor the economically advantaged or that it would dilute traditions and national identity.
    – Some believe low-wage worker immigrants hurt job prospects for Americans, some of the very same still like cheap strawberries.

    So – the incoherence we have in the systems of legislation, enforcement, and economics around immigration is not just a bug in the implementation, it’s a reflection of the incoherent requirements. The incoherence is widespread and poorly addressed by our current political and education systems, which seem to exacerbate polarization around many of these issues. Maybe more democracy would help (i.e. increasing levels of citizen involvement in government and reduction of

  10. Shimon

    February 15, 2017 @ 10:15 am


    …and reduction of entrenchment/legacy in political power (for elected officials, career bureaucrats, and overrepresented voting blocs).

  11. David McClain

    February 15, 2017 @ 10:21 am


    The whole World population could fit neatly in Texas, no need for 300 sq. ft. apartments. Texas has 1,000 sq. ft. per person in the World. Build average 6-8 story apartments, and we could all live happily ever after.

  12. philg

    February 15, 2017 @ 10:35 am


    Shimon: I agree with you about disagreement (i.e., that there is a lot of it among the existing 325 million residents of the U.S.). My point was that the recognized way to reconcile differing points of view on important issues is through Congress. I didn’t mean to suggest that everyone in the U.S. would be happy with the outcome, only that the outcome would have more legitimacy if set by Congress rather than by a President’s executive order.

    In theory the executive branch is supposed to work out the details. Congress says that they don’t want airplanes to crash and the FAA comes up with certification standards for ice protection. My point is that setting the U.S. population level for the future is not a “detail”.

    David McClain: It sounds as though you’re going to vote for the 1.35 billion option. More power to you! But I also think it would be legitimate for a Texan to vote for a gradual shrinkage to 250 million because “If my grandkids end up middle-class I want them to be able to afford a suburban house with yard.”

  13. bobbybobbob

    February 15, 2017 @ 11:43 am


    There has been a consensus in the electorate for decades that immigration is too much and out of control. Talking about “political consensus” badly misconstrues the situation. The reality is an elite entirely at odds with the American people has shoved immigration down the nation’s throat and continues to do so.

  14. bobbybobbob

    February 15, 2017 @ 11:48 am


    > The whole World population could fit neatly in Texas

    You hear arguments like this all the time and it’s shocking that people could be so naive. Yes, we can theoretically fit thousands of people in an acre. What do we do with their poop and how do we get clean water to them? Such infrastructure costs trillions. Where do we grow their food and how do we transport it to them, energy logistics being a key consideration? What can they do that produces an economic return?

  15. philg

    February 15, 2017 @ 12:20 pm


    Bobby: I think I know part of the answer! On the ground floor of every high rise there is a Costco stocked with food grown in Mexico. As for the waste products, we are already dumping salty agricultural run-off into Mexico through the Colorado River. So we apparently don’t have any moral qualms about dumping waste onto other countries.

  16. Neal

    February 15, 2017 @ 2:39 pm


    This proposal makes the unproven assumption that existing demand for immigration visas will continue indefinitely.

  17. Jack

    February 15, 2017 @ 3:13 pm


    Very witty especially the observation about the Hawaiians and Native Americans. Not clear though why people from winner countries would want to emigrate to the US. I have never heard of, e.g., a Singaporean emigrating to the US and leaving behind a far more more competent government, healthcare system and education system — as well as far better food & infrastructure. Would be kind of like an American emigrating to North Korea or Chad. The better strategy is to cream off the best from very big loser countries like India. In my opinion we already bring in enough people from happy countries, who seem quite content doing jobs that Americans won’t touch because the jobs are a lot harder than video gaming and enjoying buffet style video streaming.

  18. bobbybobbob

    February 15, 2017 @ 4:11 pm


    > immigrants from any country ranked as happier than the U.S.

    Corruption is one of the biggest economic problems throughout the world. I propose we screen potential immigrants on the basis of societal corruption. This concern should dwarf intelligence and degrees.

    A smart scammer is a huge net negative, such that an idiot is preferable. Consider that intelligent foreigners *always* top the fugitive list for medicare fraud:

    As it happens, north west europe and japan are the only parts of the world where people aren’t constantly trying to cheat each other. That’s a limited pool but I think we can work with it.

  19. superMike

    February 15, 2017 @ 7:56 pm


    While we’re at it, I think we should accept zero male immigrants from places where women are treated badly

  20. Neal

    February 15, 2017 @ 9:14 pm


    Even the high immigration scenarios I’ve found project U.S. population under 450 million by 2050 so talking about 1.35 billion is kind of a straw man.

  21. philg

    February 15, 2017 @ 9:22 pm


    If the world were going to end in 2050, Neal, I would be completely persuaded by your reasoning.

    shows a projection under the “highest series” of 553 million Americans in 2050 and 1.18 billion in 2100. That’s with no significant change to immigration policy and at most 3.6 million immigrants in the year 2100.

    I’m not sure why we couldn’t hit 1.35 billion in 2050 by liberalizing our immigration policy and, for example, seeking immigrants from countries with a high population growth rate (Syria, for example; see ).

  22. Neal

    February 16, 2017 @ 1:01 am



    The projections you linked to are almost 20 years old.

    Hopefully the world won’t end in 2050, but any immigration policy can end at any point in the future (and other factors change) so eventually projections start to lose value in terms of illuminating the impact of various policy alternatives under consideration today.

    1.35 billion x 2050 may be “possible” but it isn’t a realistic policy alternative.

    I should say the idea of setting overall immigration quotas explicitly based on target future population numbers has some merit. It highlights trade offs (e.g. the ecologic impact of population growth, our ability to maintain economic and military dominance in the world) that otherwise don’t get the attention they deserve. There are other factors, such as potentially variable economic demand for (or supply of) specific skills, which would also need to be factored in somehow.

  23. Russil Wvong

    February 16, 2017 @ 12:00 pm


    Philip: “Instead of experiencing dramatic unplanned changes, why not get a political consensus around two main points: (1) how large a population do we want to have? (2) what kind of fellow citizens do we want to share the country with?”

    Agreed. Right now there’s no consensus. When there’s no consensus, there’s paralysis and drift, because nobody can agree on what to do, and old policies can’t be changed.

    I would caution that immigration policy is linked to foreign policy. If the US were to shut down immigration completely, or to shut down immigration from certain countries, that would have a significant impact on its foreign policy.

    What kind of foreign policy does the US need? George Kennan points out that American security depends on the balance of power in Europe and Asia. If a single power were able to dominate the continent (France under Napoleon, Germany under Wilhelm II or Hitler, the Soviet Union), it would also be strong enough to threaten the US. This gives the US a strong interest in maintaining the independence of Western Europe (especially Britain) and Japan.

    Today, standing at the end rather than the beginning of this half-century, some of us see certain fundamental elements on which we suspect that American security has rested. We can see that our security has been dependent throughout much of our history on the position of Britain; that Canada, in particular, has been a useful and indispensable hostage to good relations between our country and British Empire; and that Britain’s position, in turn, has depended on the maintenance of a balance of power on the European Continent. Thus it was essential to us, as it was to Britain, that no single Continental land power should come to dominate the entire Eurasian land mass. Our interest has lain rather in the maintenance of some sort of stable balance among the powers of the interior, in order that none of them should effect the subjugation of the others, conquer the seafaring fringes of the land mass, become a great sea power as well as land power, shatter the position of England, and enter–as in these circumstances it certainly would–on an overseas expansion hostile to ourselves and supported by the immense resources of the interior of Europe and Asia.

    I would suggest thinking in terms of options:

    1. Reduce unskilled immigration, particularly illegal immigration, and maintain or strengthen the existing social safety net. (I would describe this as traditional Democratic policy.) Paul Krugman. Christopher Jencks argues that to reduce illegal immigration, policy needs to focus on employers, not just the border. The Immigration Charade:

    Policing the places where immigrants work can also reduce the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States, because it can reduce the number of jobs open to them and thus eliminate a principal reason for coming here. Nonetheless, the United States has never made much effort to reduce employers’ willingness to hire illegal immigrants. Only fifteen firms were fined more than $5,000 for employing unauthorized immigrants in 1990, and the number dropped to twelve in 1994, two in 1998, and zero in 2004. The number of hours spent on worksite inspections also fell by more than half between 1999 and 2003. …

    Under current law employers have to check a job applicant’s documents, but they are not responsible for determining whether those documents are authentic. That seems reasonable. Yet as Peter Salins, a political scientist at the State University of New York, recently pointed out in The New York Times, the federal government could check the authenticity of workers’ documents soon after they are hired without even visiting worksites. Informed estimates suggest that roughly seven million people are working in the United States illegally. …

    The SSA takes a long time to identify employers who submit a lot of unmatched Social Security numbers. That means workers with fake credentials can find a job, hold it until the SSA catches up with their employer, and then move on to a new job. A better long-term solution would be for the SSA to replace today’s Social Security card with a tamper-proof card that included both a photo and information on whether the person was a citizen, a permanent resident authorized to work here, or a temporary resident with permission to work here until some specified date. The employer could then determine the legal status of all job applicants before making an offer. Moreover, courts could assume that employers who hired undocumented workers knew what they were doing. Civil libertarians have traditionally opposed such an identification system, but 86 percent of Americans now support the idea.

    Foreign policy implications: none.

    2. Continue or increase both unskilled and skilled immigration, while weakening the social safety net and cutting taxes. (I would describe this as the policy of the business-friendly part of the Republican establishment, and the libertarian right.) Immigrants often work harder, for lower wages, than native-born workers. Weakening the social safety net will further reduce the likelihood that people will want to come here without working.

    Foreign policy implications: none. The weakness of the US social safety net, and the level of inequality in the US in comparison to other countries, makes it less attractive as a model to be emulated, but this is outweighed by such strengths as its economic dynamism, the quality of its scientific research, and its top universities.

    I think it’s fair to say that Trump’s election is an angry reaction against this policy. Trump promised not to cut Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, which are the most important and expensive parts of the social safety net. He promised not just to repeal Obamacare, but to replace it with something better.

    3. Both open immigration (with amnesty for illegal/undocumented immigrants) and a strong safety net. This is the progressive-caricature position. As Krugman points out, it’s self-contradictory and therefore unworkable.

    4. Slow down both legal and illegal immigration, without excluding people by religion or national origin. Demographers project that white Americans will no longer be a majority by 2043; reducing immigration levels would push this date back.

    Foreign policy implications: none, as the policy isn’t aimed at particular countries.

    It may be possible to differentiate somewhat by national origin (to encourage European-origin immigration and extend the white majority further) without affecting foreign policy, so long as it’s clear that the aim of the policy is internal social stability, not hostility towards certain countries.

    5. A “White America” policy similar to the pre-1973 “White Australia” policy: continue to allow immigration, but exclude immigrants whose national origins are from Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, or Africa.

    Foreign policy implications: this would be a radical change. The US would have few friends in these regions; the obvious partner would be Russia, and any European countries where a similar white-nationalist policy is dominant.

    I’d describe this as the Bannon/Breitbart/alt-right position.

  24. philg

    February 16, 2017 @ 2:26 pm


    Russil: Thanks for the thoughtful essay.

    One question: Why do you say “The weakness of the US social safety net”? An American with no job is entitled to a free house (maybe a long waiting list unless he or she has custody of a minor child), free food (SNAP), free health care (Medicaid), and a free phone (Obamaphone). Cash (SSDI) is available with a doctor’s note. What more can a Canadian who chooses not to work get?

  25. superMike

    February 16, 2017 @ 6:44 pm


    Warren over at coyoteblog has written a few articles about how our social net looks weak because we report on poverty pre-welfare and other countries do it post-welfare.

  26. Russil Wvong

    February 17, 2017 @ 4:29 pm


    “One question: Why do you say ‘The weakness of the US social safety net’?”

    I’m thinking of the US health-care system in particular. It’s like a variant of Godwin’s law: whenever there’s an Internet argument about international politics between an American and a non-American, eventually someone will say, “Hey, you don’t even have universal health insurance!” That quieted down a bit after Obamacare came in.

    Joseph Heath explains the efficiency gains we get from pooling risks across the entire population. (In 2015, Canada spent 11% of GDP on health care, public and private.)

    I’m sure there’s advantages to the US health-care system, but I think it’d be hard to say with a straight face that other countries should copy it.

  27. philg

    February 17, 2017 @ 4:42 pm


    Russil: Obviously the U.S. health care system is a disaster (consuming nearly 20 percent of GDP for one thing). But from the point of view of “the vulnerable” I don’t see how we are inferior to Canada. Why does the American who has never worked and is on Medicaid care that health insurance is expensive for someone with a lower-middle-class job?

  28. Russil Wvong

    February 17, 2017 @ 8:20 pm


    “But from the point of view of ‘the vulnerable’ I don’t see how we are inferior to Canada.”

    I’d argue that this is the wrong point of view! It’s easy to take money from A and give it to B, making B better off and A worse off. What’s more difficult is to run programs that are Pareto-efficient: they make everyone better off, or at least no worse off. That’s what Canadian public health insurance is: it’s a program that I’d be willing to pay more for than it actually costs me in taxes.

    Joseph Heath again:

    Many people assume that the fundamental role of the “social safety net” is to redistribute wealth, in order to promote greater equality. Another way of looking at it, however, is to see them as essentially a set of insurance programs, which are run by the government because the private sector fails to provide that sort of insurance, either at all, or at an appropriate price. From this perspective, the reason that the government provides medicare, or employment insurance, is fundamentally the same as the reason that it provides roads and sewers.

    Heath on the difference between hard left, hard right, center-left, and center-right: Lessons for the left from Olivia Chow’s faltering campaign.

  29. philg

    February 17, 2017 @ 9:00 pm


    Russil: Obviously the U.S. is not efficient. Otherwise how could we spend nearly 20 percent of GDP on health care and have a lower life expectancy than Singapore (spends about 4.5 percent). But I don’t see how the U.S. can be characterized as having a “weak” social safety net. Taxpayers here will provide a non-working resident with housing, food, health care, phone, etc. I can’t see how another country could have a substantially “stronger” social safety net. You’re saying that the U.S. wastes money while providing this strong social safety net. But that doesn’t make the safety net “weak” does it?

  30. Neal

    February 17, 2017 @ 9:21 pm


    Even if we assume that Medicaid is as good as Canadian coverage (which I doubt but don’t know one way or the other) we still have 30 million uninsured in the US some of which are probably among the “vulnerable”. Plus, how many Canadians don’t know if they will still have coverage in a year (like tens of millions of Americans)?

  31. Neal

    February 17, 2017 @ 9:56 pm


    This article suggests that the US safety net may be relatively “weak”:

  32. The Practical Conservative

    February 18, 2017 @ 1:57 am


    American poor are fatter than in other rich countries. So that article is more than a little misleading. The fact that they have to rely on the fake term “food insecurity” is the tell. People aren’t actually starving in America, so they have to create a metric they can use to make misleading claims that America’s free food for the poor (including breakfast, lunch and dinner in the most poor urban areas of the country provided by the public schools, including summer meals) is insufficient compared to…Estonia.

  33. The Practical Conservative

    February 18, 2017 @ 2:01 am


    American health tourism is lower than Canadian health tourism. Not that I live near an epicenter of Canadian health tourism or anything….

    Being uninsured in America is meaningless. You can get any health care provided to you that you want that isn’t expensive experimental surgery, which means uninsured Americans are actually in a better position than the average Canadian, who has to pay more of their personal income in premiums (Canadians pay for health care, they just never bother to mention how their system works so people think they don’t). The uninsured American goes in, receives their care and can pay whatever they please or don’t please months later. Hardly a sign of oppression.

  34. Neal

    February 18, 2017 @ 12:00 pm


    >fake term “food insecurity” is the tell.

    I have personally known kids who were regularly hungry at certain times of the month because their family didn’t have enough money for all of the food they needed. It is hard to consider a metric “fake” when it brings specific faces to mind.

    >American health tourism is lower than
    >Canadian health tourism.

    Wrong end of the income spectrum.

  35. Neal

    February 18, 2017 @ 1:44 pm


    >The uninsured American goes in,
    >receives their care and can pay
    >whatever they please or don’t
    >please months later. Hardly a sign
    >of oppression.

    A very nice system. Why does anyone bother to carry insurance?

  36. philg

    February 18, 2017 @ 5:31 pm


    Neal: “Why does anyone bother to carry insurance?”

    Companies buy it as a perk, sometimes, because it is a way of giving workers compensation while working around U.S. payroll and income tax rates. Individuals generally don’t want to buy it, which is why Obamacare made it illegal for them not to buy it. If it were rational for a middle-income person to buy health insurance with post-tax dollars you wouldn’t need a federal law to force them to do it.

  37. philg

    February 18, 2017 @ 5:38 pm


    Neal: I’m glad that poor hungry kids have you as a friend.

    “Obesity and Socioeconomic Status in Children and Adolescents: United States, 2005-2008” ( ) says that “Low income children and adolescents are more likely to be obese than their higher income counterparts”

    It is possible that your experience and the research data are consistent. For example, in a welfare family with three children it might be that one kid gobbles up all of the food and becomes obese while the other two go hungry.

  38. Russil Wvong

    February 18, 2017 @ 5:47 pm


    Philip: “I don’t see how the U.S. can be characterized as having a ‘weak’ social safety net. Taxpayers here will provide a non-working resident with housing, food, health care, phone, etc. I can’t see how another country could have a substantially ‘stronger’ social safety net.”

    Sorry, maybe I wasn’t clear: my point is that in Canada (and most wealthy countries), public health insurance covers everyone, not just the poor and the elderly. We have universal coverage. In that sense, the US social safety net is considerably weaker: for the average person, life is more insecure than elsewhere, because health insurance is typically tied to permanent full-time employment, and employment everywhere has become less secure over the last three or four decades. Obamacare improved coverage considerably (following the basic design that Romney introduced in Massachusetts), but I expect Congress will dismantle it.

    Like I said in my initial comment, in the big picture this is outweighed by attractive features of American society, like its technological know-how and economic dynamism: Apple and Google are probably the most admired companies in the world, and countries everywhere are trying to develop their own versions of Silicon Valley.

    George F. Kennan on the relationship between domestic and foreign policy, in the Long Telegram (1946):

    Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow worth a thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiqués. If we cannot abandon fatalism and indifference in face of deficiencies of our own society, Moscow will profit–Moscow cannot help profiting by them in its foreign policies.

  39. Neal

    February 18, 2017 @ 7:20 pm


    >If it were rational for a middle-income
    >person to buy health insurance with
    >post-tax dollars wouldn’t need a federal
    >law to force them to do it.

    More precisely: If it were rational for healthy people to buy insurance when federal law prevents carriers from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions then one wouldn’t need a federal law to force them to do it.

    >It is possible that your experience and the research
    >data are consistent. For example, in a welfare family
    >with three children it might be that one kid gobbles
    >up all of the food and becomes obese while the other
    >two go hungry.

    If more kids are hungry in the US (for whatever reason including greedy siblings) than other countries that suggests the US safety net is weaker which was your original question. Rather than greedy siblings, I think a more likely explanation for the association of poverty and obesity is that periodic hunger could directly increase the risk of obesity. After all, one of the primary purposes of fat storage in the body is to carry the body through periods of low food availability.

  40. Russil Wvong

    February 18, 2017 @ 9:14 pm


    Philip: “Individuals generally don’t want to buy it, which is why Obamacare made it illegal for them not to buy it. If it were rational for a middle-income person to buy health insurance with post-tax dollars you wouldn’t need a federal law to force them to do it.”

    Because insurance premiums are getting more and more expensive. This is where inefficiency causes insecurity: because US health care is so expensive, insurance premiums are high, and people get priced out of staying insured. The pool of insured people gets older and sicker, driving up insurance premiums even higher.

    So why not drop insurance and have people save individually, paying for the medical care through fee-for-service? Because the huge variability in medical costs means that everyone ends up either saving far too much or far too little. Joseph Heath:

    This still leaves us, the savvy health-care consumers [saving individually using proposed health savings accounts], with one very important decision. “How much should we save?” Well, let’s see. Someday you may need a heart bypass. That will cost about $15,000, assuming you have no complications. You might need kidney dialysis. That costs $2500 a month, for the rest of your life. Or you might need a liver transplant. That costs between $30,000 and $690,000, plus a couple weeks — maybe months — in intensive care, which can easily cost upwards of $5000 a day. (These are all Canadian estimates, for American figures multiply by four or five.)

    It all starts to add up pretty quickly. The problem is that we don’t know how many of these expenses we are going to incur. Furthermore, just knowing the background probabilities doesn’t help. Health care spending is characterized by extreme variability between persons, so if you try to save by looking at population averages you are almost guaranteed to save too much or too little. Thus a system in which everyone makes an individual decision regarding how much to save will generate massive inefficiencies.

    This is precisely why we have health insurance. While no one individual has any idea whether she will need a coronary bypass or a liver transplant, thanks to the law of large numbers we know almost exactly what percentage of the population will require bypasses and transplants every year. We therefore know how much we, as a society, should set aside for such procedures. It is precisely because of the utility gains that can be achieved through risk-pooling that we pay for health care through insurance schemes.

  41. The Practical Conservative

    February 18, 2017 @ 9:19 pm


    But more kids aren’t hungry. The use of the term “food insecurity” instead of “hunger” is because there are almost no genuinely hungry children in American society. Thus, they have to make up a different term for the poor literally-fat kids to make America look bad (but we need open borders and to have more people come to this hellish nightmare land with no safety net and terrible health care).

    Periodic hunger doesn’t lead to obesity in the rest of the world, so that seems to be on the more wishful side of thinking.

  42. The Practical Conservative

    February 18, 2017 @ 9:25 pm


    Also, Russil Wvyong is, uh, wrong about health care systems outside America. France and Germany don’t work that way, and Canadian coverage is not really national, but province-based, with some variations thereof.

    For the average American, disposable income is higher, debt burden is lower and household income is higher than the average Canadian. Canadians carry more debt than Americans on a lower income, which is the very definition of more economically fragile.

    The real tell on America, though, is that everyone wants to come here and enjoy our bounty. Hard to imagine they’d want to come if things were really so sparse and feeble.

  43. Russil Wvong

    February 19, 2017 @ 9:44 pm


    “The real tell on America, though, is that everyone wants to come here and enjoy our bounty.”

    The US is definitely attractive in terms of economic opportunities. In high tech, Silicon Valley is the center of the world; in finance, New York; in entertainment, Hollywood. Comparing Vancouver (where I live) and Seattle, Seattle has Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Starbucks. What does Vancouver have? Real estate and tourism.

    Even for an affluent household with children, though, there’s significant economic advantages to living in Canada instead of the US. We’ve already talked about health insurance: Canada, like France and Germany, has universal public coverage, which is worth several thousand dollars a year to a family with children. We have decent public schools here, so even affluent families typically send their children to public school rather than private school; schools are funded provincially rather than locally, so there’s less variation in quality, and students do well on international comparisons like PISA. There’s far less of a bottleneck when it comes to post-secondary education, with many more undergraduate spaces at our top universities (McGill, Toronto, UBC) at a much lower sticker price (less than $10,000 per year, compared to $50,000/year in the US). The prospect of having to save $100,000 or $200,000 per kid is pretty daunting, compared to saving $30,000 or $40,000.

    We’re accustomed to average household incomes being 10-20% lower in Canada than in the US, so it was surprising to see that median after-tax household income in Canada has now caught up with the US. I wouldn’t necessarily expect that to last, of course.

    The high level of household debt is certainly a big problem, which the Bank of Canada has been warning about for years now; it now exceeds the pre-crash level in the US. I thought Mian and Sufi’s House of Debt provided the best explanation of what happened in the US; in Canada, we can expect a long and painful recession once house prices start to fall and indebted homeowners cut back their spending.

    By the way, the biggest contrast between the social safety net in US and Canada is in health care. I don’t think we have much to brag about when it comes to poverty and hunger. We have food banks here, just like the US does.

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