Do Liberals Notice That Their Goals Are Contradictory?

At National Review, Reihan Salam makes an important point, briefly and eloquently:

If I had to identify the two issues that left-of-center American intellectuals care about most, I’d probably choose rising economic inequality in the United States and the threat posed by anthropogenic climate change.

But the left–not the Democrats’ rank and file voters, but virtually all Democratic politicians and pundits–also favor major increases in immigration. Does that make any sense?

[V]irtually all immigrants to the U.S. come from countries where per capita carbon emissions are far lower than the U.S. level. By way of comparison, the average American was responsible for 17 metric tons of carbon emissions in 2011. Per capita carbon emissions in neighboring Mexico that same year were a mere 3.9, and the rate for India was an even lower 1.7, or one-tenth of the U.S. level. When an Indian moves to the United States, she earns a much higher income, and her productivity is likely to go up as well.

It is indisputable that immigration to the U.S. means more carbon dioxide emissions. Liberals may respond that this unfortunate fact is outweighed by the immigrant’s opportunity for a better life:

One could argue that this is of no concern, as what really matters most is that moving to the United States will allow this Indian immigrant to better her life, regardless of the consequences for the climate. This view strikes me as reasonable enough. But of course something like this view would also tell us that there is nothing objectionable about India making greater use of its coal resources to raise the standard of living for the billion or so Indians who won’t or can’t make that same journey themselves.
Even if the U.S. were to halve its per capita carbon emissions from 2011 levels, we’d still be emitting far more carbon per capita than, say, the British. So what matters more — the climate crisis or the (supposed) moral imperative of greater international labor mobility? If you take the climate crisis seriously, I’m afraid you might have to conclude that the United States should immediately close its borders, to prevent foreigners from being seduced into our gas-guzzling ways.

It is also indisputable that more low-skill immigration increases income inequality in the United States:

[L]ess-skilled immigration is associated with quite substantial increases in 90/10 and 90/50 income inequality (that is, it appears to increase the gap between the 90th and 10th income percentiles as well as the 90th and the 50th), according to a recent study by the social scientists Ping Xu, James C. Garand, and Ling Zhu.

A possible rejoinder is that this is true, but immigration reduces global inequality:

One could square this particular circle by disavowing any interest in domestic economic inequality, and instead focusing solely on global economic inequality. Yet such a focus would lead to an entirely different set of policy priorities, as it is not at all clear why a government focused on reducing global economic inequality would devote vast sums of taxpayer dollars to, say, Medicaid instead of channeling these resources towards low-cost, high-impact interventions in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and other impoverished regions.

I don’t see any Democratic politicians advocating such an international reorientation of priorities.

These are all rather elementary points. Do Democrats really not see that their most devoutly held views are fundamentally in conflict? No doubt many Democrats are simply confused, but I don’t think the party’s political and ideological leaders are too muddle-headed to understand these contradictions. I suspect that, rather, they are not entirely candid about their beliefs and objectives. I suspect that most leaders of the Democratic party and the liberal movement believe something like the following:

1) They know that the purported threat of global warming is absurdly over-hyped, but think the scare is a good pretext to seize control over more of the American economy.

2) They know that income and wealth inequality, to the extent they are considered excessive, cannot be remedied by any plausible government policies, and in fact are made “worse” by their own policies. But they think the issue nevertheless can garner votes for Democrats.

3) They know that increased low-skill immigration will contribute to income inequality as well as create many environmental, social and infrastructure problems, but they think those problems are a small price to pay for the opportunity to import millions of Democratic voters. An additional benefit is cheap labor and domestic help for their rich donors.

If your purported concern about these issues is merely a pretext, and your real object is your own power as a leader of the Democratic Party, then it all makes perfect sense.

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