Bloggingheads Show Notes

Some people who watched my recent diavlog with the Rev. Chuck Currie were asking for me to extend my remarks, or at least clarify them. So let’s try that.

Mass immigration mostly benefits the upper middle class.

Yes, my thinking on that is pretty influenced by George Borjas. Borjas’ essay may be 14 years musty at this point, but the nature of America’s immigration crisis hasn’t changed in that time, it has simply gotten bigger.

As we have seen, the net gains from current immigration are small, so it is unlikely that these gains can play a crucial role in the policy debate. Economic research teaches a very valuable lesson: the economic impact of immigration is essentially distributional. Current immigration redistributes wealth from unskilled workers, whose wages are lowered by immigrants, to skilled workers and owners of companies that buy immigrants’ services, and from taxpayers who bear the burden of paying for the social services used by immigrants to consumers who use the goods and services produced by immigrants.

Distributional issues drive the political debate over many social policies, and immigration policy is no exception. The debate over immigration policy is not a debate over whether the entire country is made better off by immigration — the gains from immigration seem much too small, and could even be outweighed by the costs of providing increased social services. Immigration changes how the economic pie is sliced up — and this fact goes a long way toward explaining why the debate over how many and what kinds of immigrants to admit is best viewed as a tug-of-war between those who gain from immigration and those who lose from it.

Yes, the Know Nothings Burned Down the Catholic parish I attend, but I’ll defend them

My point here is that, loathsome as they could be, those who opposed the mass immigration of Catholics from Ireland (and Italy) were basically right to be alarmed. Two things destroyed the early 19th century version of small-r republicanism. The first was Jacksonian democracy and the gradual extension of the franchise. The second was mass immigration. The two combined to create Tammany Hall and other political machines that obviously corrupted the American experiment.

Secondly, anti-Catholics often better understood Papal encyclicals better than the average Catholic. If Catholics are to give even moral authority to the Pope, and the Pope was inveighing against “Americanism”, democracy, private judgement in religion, and the separation of Church and state – well, it isn’t difficult to imagine that some people feared the mass immigration of Catholics and their subsequent children might make the nation much more Catholic in those ways.

Lastly, many people, even the liberalized descendants of Know Nothings, still fear the effect of Catholics on our politics and use the same language about Pope Benedict XVI as was aimed at Pope Leo XIII. But instead of protecting democracy from the Pontiff’s criticism, they protect abortion rights.

Now there are plenty of historical complications to this. The same democratic passions that drove Tammany Hall were in the Know Nothings as well. And America was going to become a mass democracy whether Catholics immigrated or not. But Know Nothings correctly perceived that mass Catholic immigration was a danger to their interests. It seems uncontroversial to credit them with that much.

Hipster Christians (and I) are not that interested in the last 200 years of Biblical scholarship

Well, I was putting too fine a point on this. I own the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, so I’m more interested than people who fancy themselves experts after reading one Adam Gopnik essay. Mainly, what I meant to say is that Hipster Christians (and I), believe that certain strains of Biblical scholarship have been discredited or were fundamentally flawed from the beginning. If you build your historical-critical method on the principle of “double disqualification”, you have failed in our eyes, because it is unreasonable to believe that anything first century Jews or Christians said could not have also been said by the historical Jesus.

Also much of the “high scholarship” being developed in Germany and elsewhere over the last two centuries was plainly bonkers and contradictory. Read through Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God and you get a sense of how this “scholarship” revealed that Christ was forerunner of democracy, only to later discover that he was an Aryan Superman, etc. Or look at this candid essay from a historical Jesus scholar.

We should also ask what kind of scholarship are we talking about? If you are a conservative Bible-carrying Christian and believe that Jesus performed miracles, you are going to reject scholarship that assumes all the miracle stories are made-up propaganda.

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