Should we expect less pollution with a larger population?

“Air quality in the US is getting worse and could be killing thousands, study finds” (CNN).

The implication of the article is that, given sufficiently aggressive government regulation, we should expect improved air quality every year.

But if we combine a growing population (chart) with a trend toward greater urbanization (data), wouldn’t our starting assumption about air quality be that the typical American would be breathing filthier air every year? If we hit any kind of technological plateau, a larger denser population should experience dirtier air, no?

We are gradually adopting some cleaner technology, but we are also gradually growing in number of people and density. Why is CNN shocked that one growth curve can’t beat the other consistently?

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Fast-food economics in Massachusetts: Higher minimum wage leads to a shorter work week, not fewer people on welfare

One reason for a $15/hour minimum wage cited by advocates is that current minimum wage workers are generally on welfare (public housing and Medicaid if not also food stamps, etc.) and therefore, the theory goes, the employer is being subsidized by taxpayers.

(How a $15/hour job would lift a household above the welfare thresholds is unclear; in our corner of Massachusetts, a family of four is entitled to housing and/or health insurance subsidies up to $130,000/year. At $15/hour, that’s 167 hours/week, 52 weeks/year.)

I recently talked to the owner of 12 fast-food outlets here in Massachusetts. He is a Democrat and enthusiastically supports the party’s proposals for increasing the number of migrants to the U.S. “Immigrants work harder than Americans,” he said, “who have been on welfare for multiple generations and don’t have a culture of work.” He also appreciates immigrants as customers.

There is one part of the Democrat platform that he does not agree with: the $15/hour minimum wage. “Every time wages go up,” he said, “my employees ask to work fewer hours so that they don’t lose MassHealth [Medicaid].” On his side, he does not want anyone working more than 30 hours per week, the threshold that would trigger a requirement for him to provide health insurance under Obamacare. Out of 160 workers total, he provides health insurance to only 10. “My premiums are sky-high,” he noted, “because we have so few people on the policy.”

(This may show the irrelevance of Econ 101 principles in a half-planned economy like the U.S. Econ 101 says that the higher wage would induce workers to supply more labor hours, not fewer. But Econ 101 never met MassHealth and other means-tested programs!)


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Immigrant who drove up prices for housing now runs for office on a rent control platform

Kshama Sawant is running for re-election to the Seattle City Council. One of her campaign posters from August:

From her site:

Seattle needs rent control, citywide and without corporate loopholes, to stop skyrocketing rents. We need to build tens of thousands of units of social housing, paid for by taxing Amazon and big business, to provide a public alternative to the broken private development system. … Meanwhile, skyrocketing housing costs and weak tenant rights laws have combined to lead to an epidemic of evictions. … As a member of Socialist Alternative, I wear the badge of socialist with honor, and I’m excited to see candidates identifying as socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez winning elections across the country.

What has driven up the cost of housing in Seattle? Maybe it was Sawant herself! Wikipedia says that she migrated to Seattle from India via a marriage to a programmer at Microsoft. “New milestone in King County: Immigrant population tops 500,000” (Seattle Times): “Since the start of the decade [2010], King County has had the third biggest increase in foreign-born residents among all U.S. counties. … That means that nearly one in four inhabitants of the county (24 percent) were born outside the United States, significantly higher than the national average of 14 percent.”

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Why do we put tourists through immigration interviews when our borders are open to asylum-seekers?

On a typical cruise, passengers hand over their passports at the beginning of the trip and the ship’s staff handles any and all immigration bureaucracy. The countries being visited rely on the cruise line to authenticate people and to take at least most of the visitors away.

When we arrived in Canada this standard practice was observed. The Canadians presumably had an opportunity to inspect a list of people on board, but they didn’t invest time and money to talk to each tourist and/or crew member.

It was a different story coming into U.S. waters. A group of immigration officials were flown up from Anchorage to Barrow, one of the most remote towns on our planet. They proceeded by tender boat to join us on board. The ship set up an assembly line so that La Migra could talk to each passenger at least briefly, scan and offer to stamp passports, and then go back to Anchorage by tender boat, taxi, and airplane. It was a huge waste of time and money for everyone involved.

This “screen everyone” practice might have made sense 30 years ago. But with families stepping over the southern border of the U.S. and saying “I am entitled to asylum because I live in a place that is almost as violent as Baltimore or New Orleans,” what is the point? Anyone willing to spin a yarn of violence and suffering can get set up for three generations of public housing, free health care via Medicaid, food stamps, and free smartphone. So the point of the passport check cannot be to make sure that people will go home. Anyone from our cruise could have asked for asylum just the same as someone who migrated up from Central America.

Since 9/11, a good catch-all explanation for apparently wasteful government spending is “because terrorism”. I don’t think that is the reason for screening every passenger on a cruise visiting a U.S. port, though. German senior citizens do not fit the profile of a typical terrorist. The agents who see people face to face do not seem more likely to spot a terrorist than a person with a computer looking at all of the passport data provided by the cruise line.

Readers: Now that there are so many ways to stay in the U.S. forever (and at taxpayer expense for multiple decades), is this screening process obsolete? If complete face-to-face screening is a such a good idea, why don’t the Canadians do it?

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Demanding more refugee migrants in Arlington, Virginia

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (founded with private money to help Jews settle in the U.S.; currently running with tax dollars to bring in non-Jews) helped set up a protest at National Airport in Arlington, Virginia: “Waiting for Refugees Who Are Not Coming”. They demand at least 95,000 migrants right now.

What if the refugee-migrants did show up? Can they sign up for a taxpayer-subsidized house? From the Arlington ministry of housing:

No. The Housing Choice Voucher Program wait list is closed and we are not accepting new applications. We do not anticipate that the waitlist will be opened for several years. …. The average wait for a voucher is approximately 5 years. There are many families and individuals who have applied for housing assistance and are on the waiting list for the Housing Choice Voucher Tenant-Based program.

Maybe things are better in the semi-private sector? “Arlington’s Affordable Housing Crisis” (Arlington Magazine, February 19, 2019):

Arlington’s affordable housing shortage has grown increasingly dire in recent years. And that’s before Amazon announced plans to bring 25,000 new jobs—and more people needing places to live—to the area.

A county report issued in 2017 surmised that only about 8.2 percent of Arlington’s housing stock—9,369 units—was affordable for households earning less than 60 percent of [area median income].

What about a little farther away? Somewhere else in the Greater D.C. area? “Northern Virginia’s growing crisis in affordable housing” (The Arlington Catholic Herald, August 30, 2019):

Years ago, people with low incomes could easily find a market-rate affordable apartment, that is, a dwelling place in a privately owned complex that had relatively low monthly rent because of the age of the building, lack of amenities or a less desirable location. An apartment is considered affordable if people making 60 percent of the area median income spend 30 percent or less of their income on rent.

Now, those market-rate affordable apartments, also known as MARKs, are nearly gone. Officials in Arlington and Alexandria say they have lost approximately 29,000 MARKs in the past 19 years mostly due to rent increases.

Maybe it was better back in 2013 before Donald Trump ruined everything? “3,600 apply for 122 new Arlington apartments” (Washington Post, 2013).

So… the HIAS folks are standing in a town where, due to population growth and consequent market demand, Americans can no longer afford to live. After commuting in through a multi-hour traffic jam, they’re holding signs demanding the importation of migrants who will need to compete for the same housing supply and highway capacity.


  • What were garages for people born in the mid-20th century will be homes for their children and grandchildren (NYT on California)
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Could Ali Hassan Saab have avoided prosecution by writing a novel?

According to our Justice Department:

“According to the allegations, while living in the United States, Saab served as an operative of Hizballah and conducted surveillance of possible target locations in order to help the foreign terrorist organization prepare for potential future attacks against the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “Such covert activities conducted on U.S. soil are a clear threat to our national security and I applaud the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this investigation and prosecution.”

“As a member of the Hizballah component that coordinates external terrorist attack planning, Alexei Saab allegedly used his training to scout possible targets throughout the U.S,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. “Even though Saab was a naturalized American citizen, his true allegiance was to Hizballah, the terrorist organization responsible for decades of terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds, including U.S. citizens and military personnel. Thankfully, Saab is now in federal custody, and faces significant prison time for his alleged crimes.”

In 2000, Saab lawfully entered the United States using a Lebanese passport. In 2005, Saab applied for naturalized citizenship and falsely affirmed, under penalty of perjury, that he had never been “a member of or in any way associated with . . . a terrorist organization.” In August 2008, Saab became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Finally, unrelated to his IJO activities, in July 2012, Saab married another individual (CC-1) so that CC-1 could apply for naturalized citizenship in the United States based on their marriage. On March 13, 2015, Saab and CC-1 jointly filed a petition seeking to obtain naturalized citizenship for CC-1. In doing so, Saab and CC-1 falsely claimed under penalty of perjury that their marriage was “not for the purpose of procuring an immigration benefit.”

Could Mr. Saab have done almost everything that he did perfectly legally? What if he wrote and published (electronically) a novel about an American jihad in which targets were scouted out and the characters discussed the challenges and merits of attacking the different targets? He could even have included his explosives drawings and been protected under the First Amendment. Mr. Saab’s colleagues back in Lebanon could have downloaded the book and gotten all of the information that he attempted to convey to them covertly.

[Separately, consider the impact of this event on the American immigration and criminal justice industries. They banked revenue when Mr. Saab immigrated in 2000. They got paid more during his citizenship process. They got paid again, presumably, when it was time for Mr. Saab to bring in his spouse (of unspecified gender ID?), “CC-1”. The press release from the Federales describes a potential prison sentence of 50+ years, so that’s decades of paychecks, health care, and pension checks for people who work in the Federal prisons. Plus a couple of years of paychecks for a judge, lawyers, and other court-affiliated personnel.]


  • Five fast facts about the accused jihadi: “In 2005, he flew through Turkey back to the U.S. and was stopped and interviewed at the airport ‘due to the detective of an explosive substance on his luggage or clothing.’ He had just completed his explosives training.” (but three years later, he was approved for citizenship)
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Offering U.S. citizenship to those who prove they cannot live without taxpayer assistance

I learned recently that transitioning from Green Card to U.S. citizenship requires paying a $725 fee. However, the fee can be waived if the new American can prove that this would be a hardship to pay, e.g., because the Green Card holder is receiving taxpayer-funded benefits, such as public housing, food stamps, etc. In other words, our government has an official policy of granting citizenship to working-age people who prove that they (a) receive means-tested benefits (“are on welfare”), and (b) can’t scratch up $725.

How does it work in practice? The case I learned about involves a family that won a Green Card via lottery five years ago. After arriving in the U.S., they were entitled to means-tested prices for essentials, i.e., taxpayer-funded housing, taxpayer-funded health care, taxpayer-funded food (SNAP or “food stamps”), etc. On realizing that there was no social stigma to being a divorced woman in the U.S., the wife divorced the husband, explaining that she had never wanted to be married, but had only done it because it was expected in her birth culture. Neither of the parents earned much money so there wasn’t significant divorce litigation. As children don’t yield significant cash compared to public assistance, she and the father were able to agree to a 50/50 schedule. The result for U.S. taxpayers was there were now two households eligible for government-provided housing, health insurance, food stamps, and smartphones. And soon those will be two citizen-led households…

[Note: the typical American newspaper would not describe someone living in a taxpayer funded house, receiving taxpayer-funded health insurance, eating taxpayer-funded food, and calling friends on a taxpayer-funded smartphone to be “on welfare” because the foregoing are all non-cash benefits.]

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Ireland and immigration

The same question of “How do you run a welfare state with open borders?” that Milton Friedman answered with “You can’t” remains a live one in Ireland: “The Irish are losing control of Ireland once again?” is a video that an Irish friend sent me. Gemma O’Doherty, towards the end, asks what the point was of fighting the British colonizers if Ireland ultimately will be primarily occupied by non-Irish. She also points out that one third of “social housing” in Ireland is currently occupied by non-Irish. (Not sure how this can be true since, as in America, there is a long waiting list for a free house (yet folks say that free housing is a basic human right! But if it is actually a right, why is there a waiting list? If it is not a right, why do some people get a free house?)).

Ireland is far more hostile to immigrants and asylum-seekers than the U.S. Voters eliminated birthright citizenship in 2004 with a constitutional amendment. Asylum-seekers are dumped into cramped apartments, forbidden to work, and forgotten about (except by Amnesty International, which criticizes Ireland for this). The Irish with whom I spoke thought this was brutal, but effective. “Nobody is coming here to claim asylum anymore.”

During a May/June trip to Ireland, employers and developers of rental property were the most positive regarding the merits of immigration, praising the work ethic of Eastern Europeans, for example, and noting which neighborhoods in Dublin were now primarily occupied by (rent-paying) Pakistanis.

Folks who were not able to make money as a result of immigration and population growth were less sanguine. They missed the cohesion of a society in which they could find common ground for a conversation with anyone anywhere in the country. A retired police officer sounded unhappy that pedestrian streets now had to be protected from vehicular mass murder, a requirement that he attributed to the decision to allow Muslims to emigrate to Ireland.

The places in Ireland where an immigrant might settle, i.e., the cities with jobs, are jam-packed already. Traffic in Dublin and on the surrounding highways slows to a crawl in mid-afternoon. Commuter trains are standing-room-only during weekday morning and evenings. There is no realistic Chinese-style plan to add a subway system. Here’s the situation close to 9:00 am on a weekday, when people should already be at work:

Housing is not affordable for median-income earners (see “Dublin’s Housing Crisis Reaches a Boiling Point”: “The city’s average rent as of March was up to €1,875 ($2,176) a month. This is a large amount for anyone on the Irish average monthly wage of €3,181 ($3,692) and completely impossible for anyone paid anything close to the minimum hourly wage of €9.25 ($10.74).”) As in the U.S., the government engages in every possible scheme to fight the result of Econ 101 supply and demand curves. Developers of new buildings have to give apartments to central planners for them to allocate. Housing bureaucrats conceive grand plans for “social housing,” never imagining that demand for guaranteed free housing could outstrip supply (as in the U.S., the best way to get hold of a “social housing” unit is to have a child and refrain from working).

It is unclear what it would mean to apply a fashionable American politician’s open borders policy to Ireland. The country is home to roughly 5 million people. If 1 out of every 1,000 people currently living somewhere else decided that it would be nice to move to Ireland, that would be 7.6 million immigrants (from a baseline of 7.6 billion) and the country would no longer be “Irish”.

The debate is pretty much the same as in the U.S., but with all of the numbers scaled down. People who want to exclude 98 percent of would-be migrants claim the moral high ground by contrast with those who want to exclude 99 percent. Nobody who expresses love and concern for migrants actually wants to allow everyone in, much less shelter any of them in his or her own home. The country’s welfare state offers citizens the ability to refrain from work for an entire lifetime and, indeed, for multiple generations. People don’t want immigrants to come in and use the system as designed, but they have signed high-toned international agreements promising not to discriminate when ladling out the welfare.


  • “Migration in Ireland a huge issue but what we need’s a solution” (IrishCentral), concluding with “As the taoiseach said, the ultimate answer lies in improving the countries migrants are coming from, whether that’s in Africa or South America.” (i.e., Ireland now has to figure out how to make Africa and South America prosperous on a per-capita basis!)
  • “Huge scale of immigration is making our housing crisis worse” (Irish Independent)
  • “In Ireland, Bid to Restore Birthright Citizenship Gains Ground” (nytimes): “The government’s opposition is based on the special relationship between Ireland and Northern Ireland, said a spokesman for the Department of Justice and Equality, which has responsibility for immigration matters. Although Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, its people are legally entitled to both British and Irish citizenship. The Irish government fears that people living illegally in Britain could move to Northern Ireland, give birth to a child there and obtain Irish citizenship for their child after living there for three years. The parents could then use the child’s citizenship to obtain residency anywhere in Ireland or the United Kingdom which, though separate countries, confer extensive mutual residency and travel rights on each other’s citizens.”
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Why do Americans care if migrant children are housed in a poor environment?

“Government Watchdog Finds Squalid Conditions in Border Centers” (nytimes) and similar are upsetting to quite a few Americans (at least my friends on Facebook are constantly expressing their anguish on this subject).

It might seem obvious why they’re upset. Nobody wants to see children living in a bad environment.

But is it obvious?

Federal and state governments provide housing for millions of children who are not migrants. Some of this is directly operated public housing. Some is the Feds giving Section 8 vouchers so that people who don’t work can live in what might turn out to be some crummy neighborhoods.

The result is American-born children living in, for example, the “Top 25 Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in America”. See also this article on crime in New York City’s public housing.

The terrible environment for American-born children housed by the Federal government has persisted for decades without any serious objections from voters (who keep returning the same politicians to office to continue the same policies!). Now the Feds are providing a terrible environment for non-American children and it is a crisis that people say they’re motivated to address (as long as they don’t have to house any migrants in their own homes!).

One could argue that the children in dangerous crumbling taxpayer-funded (and sometimes government-run) housing are free to walk out at any time, unlike at the migrant concentration camps. A child who lives in a gang-plagued project is as free as Bill Gates to check into a 5-star hotel on the other side of town. Yet the practical value of that freedom seems to be limited, as evidenced by the fact that many families have stayed in these projects for multiple generations.

Why the interest in migrant children and the lack of interest in American children for whom the government provides housing?

Separately, have we reached a high water mark for the discrepancy between expressed concern and practical action? There are only about 10 million people in Honduras. If they could deposit the expressed goodwill of Americans who say that they want to help migrants, every Honduran could live in luxury and ease. Imagine if everyone who posted on Facebook against the Trumpenfuhrer’s concentration camps sent a check to a Honduran. Why, at that point, would any Honduran be motivated to make the trek to the U.S. border?

I poked around a bit among the Facebook virtuous say-gooders.

  • Say-gooder 1: The conditions are horrible there … Policy is political- but the treatment of these humans by US is disgusting. We are not that. Dignity is precious.
  • Me: “Revealed preference” as the economists say. Dignity for Hondurans is not, in fact, as precious to the average American as a new car for him/herself. That’s why the money is spent on a new car instead of being sent to help the Honduran enjoy a comfortable life south of the border.
  • Me: If you would like to spend your own money to rent an apartment in Mexico for migrants so that they don’t have to risk the border crossing and internment in a concentration camp, I will be happy to match your spending dollar for dollar.
  • Say-gooder 1: You have to be that pedantic? How horrible these conditions are to humans, people are being treated -families separated, conditions undignified. I pay taxes, btw. Treat other people, even refugees, with dignity. Why not? The political allocation of funds (or profiteering) is different than the basic humanitarian treatment of other humans. Call your congressperson or run for Congress.

  • Me: [people in Santa Monica who say that they want to help migrants and also make housing more affordable should turn their soon-to-be-vacant 227-acre airport into 40,000 units of housing instead of a park for existing wealthy/housed residents. This to chip away at the 568,000-unit shortfall of affordable homes in Los Angeles]
  • LA-based say-gooder: … I don’t think 40,000 is a correct number in any scenario, because that’s a hugely disproportionate ask of Santa Monica vs. the homeless population in the entire region as a whole. If you want to make such demands, at least demand it of everyone (including L.A. which by territory is the largest city and also has land available), not just Santa Monica.
  • Me: Why is it an ASK for Santa Monica? If immigration into the U.S. makes our country better, why wouldn’t immigration into Santa Monica make Santa Monica better?
  • LA-based say-gooder: Is there a reason you singling out Santa Monica specifically?
  • Me: Of all of the cities in the U.S., Santa Monica is the only one that I know of that is planning to shut down its city-owned airport. So it is the only city that is about to free up a huge vacant lot. AND it happens to be in Greater LA, where there is a shortfall of affordable housing. AND folks there say that they are passionate about helping those with low incomes. So it their words are sincere, it is odd that they are passing up what seems like an obvious opportunity to align their deeds with their words.
  • LA-based say-gooder: [Santa Monica shouldn’t have to do this. It is burdensome. Immigration, even from other parts of LA or the U.S., will make Santa Monica worse off.]
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