Demonizing those who are Different
By Amy Willis
Immigration is a topic still dominating the news. How people feel about the characteristics of immigrants in heir home countries, and how these characteristics lead them to feel about providing welfare benefits to them, was the topic of this episode with Alberto Alesina of Harvard University. Alesina and his colleagues explored native people’s perceptions about the number of immigrants living in their country, their standards of living, and their characteristics, and then looked at how these perceptions shaped the way respondents felt about redistribution in favor of immigrants. The results were astounding.
Which of Alesina’s findings surprised you most? Did you ask yourself the same questions Alesina posed while you were listening? How did your answers compare to Alesina’s findings?
1- How did the design of Alesina’s survey (the varying order of questions on immigration and redistribution) affect people’s answers? Why do you think this was the case? What does this suggest about the structure of policy debates in general?
2- How did Alesina find the respondents’ ideology affected their answers? To what extent did these results surprise you?
3- Alesina admits that his work offers no prescription for appropriate policies on immigration and redistribution, in part because, people “have no interest in correcting their biases.” To what extent do you believe this to be true? Why might people be unwilling to make such a correction? Is this more an information or an ideology problem? Explain.
4- In a monologue a few weeks prior to this episode, host Russ Roberts placed a large share of the blame for our deteriorating political discourse on the media and the (too?) easy access to information we have at our fingertips today. How does Roberts argue that this plays into the issue of immigration and redistribution? In what ways might we encourage a conversation on these issues that is both more civil and more productive?
5- The interview concludes with a question left unanswered- both in the course of the conversation and in Alesina’s empirical work. How would you answer thew following: How can/should immigrants integrate into cultures that are not melting pots, like America, but rather “little pots that don’t melt,” such as in Europe?