Skip to content

How to attack human rights and the U.S. economy at the same time

I received this email from a postdoc in a technical field:

As you might have heard, Trump signed an executive order today issuing a 30-day total suspension of visas and other immigration benefits for the citizens of Iran and six other countries. For my wife and me, this means that our visas are suspended; we cannot reenter the country if we travel outside. Moreover, this ban could become permanent after the 30-day period. This is really distracting and distressing, particularly given that my wife just came here to join me. I really hope the ban does not become permanent; I enjoy my experience here [in the United States] and would really like to finish my post-doc. But, to be prepared for the worst, I started to look for jobs in Canada, just in case the ban becomes permanent.

P.S. There is an open letter which will be published soon. It aims to show the strong opposition of the academic community to the new measure and hopes to prevent it going forward. It would be great if you could read this and if agreeable, send an email to the following email address to provide your support by writing your name, title and affiliation.

There’s some discussion in the above-linked news article about the constitutionality of the executive order, based on this passage:

Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the secretary of state, in consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.

This could be viewed as violating the “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” clause in the First Amendment, because, given the countries named in the orders (all of which are Muslim-majority), Muslims are singled out as the only non-protected religious group here.

But, hey, I’m no constitutional lawyer. Maybe the Supreme Court will not strike down this order because the discrimination is indirect, or because it only applies to foreigners, or because it’s an executive order so “Congress shall make no law” does not apply. Or maybe the whole plan is to enact this and other outrageous laws and executive orders, have the courts strike them down, and use that to stoke further political outrage. I have no idea.

I just wanted to share the above note, not so much to demonstrate the human cost of this policy, since the human cost is obvious, but rather to point out that (a) it’s affecting people who are already here legally, and doing valuable work, and (b) there’s also a direct economic cost, if productive researchers decide to go to Canada, or if potential future contributors to our economy decide not to come here in the first place.

And, by the way, even if the policy is a clever political feint in Steve Bannon’s game of 12-dimensional chess, it can still do its part to hurt our economy by dissuading talented people from coming here.

One could easily provide a long long list of immigrants from dangerous countries who became valuable contributors to the United States economy, culture, and defense. My #1 item on this list: Stanislaw Ulam.

P.S. While I was writing this list, my correspondent sent me an update:

In the final version of the order, they increased the 30-day ban (which was mentioned in the leaked draft) to 90 days.


  1. Steve Sailer says:

    Jews were singled out for special immigration / refugee treatment from the 1970s into the 1990s.

    I can recall in the 1990s my father-in-law’s blonde Russian girlfriend explaining how she was going to get some documents whipped up back home in Russia to demonstrate her Jewish ancestry so she wouldn’t get kicked out of the country just because her visa had expired. (This was the first time anybody had heard anything about her being Jewish.) But then she disappeared off to Las Vegas and the INS seemed to lose track of her, so I don’t what eventually happened.

  2. Pinko Punko says:

    Andrew, I cannot criticize you because you have a great blog and are a great scholar. But I must say the person above this comment is one reason why I don’t enjoy coming here. He writes for VDare. Just awful. And to see him the first comment on this post, I have just lost it. I have lost ability to be civil. I apologize.

  3. Steve Sailer says:

    Have you noticed how much hate there is going around these days?

  4. Llewelyn Richards-Ward says:

    This is sad — last night I asked my 11yr son to look up Xenophobia — his comparison was to a recent US President. We had a somewhat similar Prime Minister, a generation ago, who thought big (Robert Muldoon), spent big, and “overhauled” the economy. Then we went and ticked off the US over whether ships were nuclear or not when visiting here. It has been only in the last 10-15 years that our economy has become resilient and functioning, in large part due to those two major processes. As a small and loyal (then) nation, we learnt a lot about how much we can rely on major nations, which your correspondent and others will also (sadly) learn, rapidly.

    This time, as the US has made it clear that not only do they not want (some) foreign students, but they don’t want to trade with us either, we in Asia-Pacific will ensure we have ‘options’. One of these, China, is a country the US president says has too much influence. His cancelling of the TPP has now left the field open for China to continue ‘aid’ to poorer Pacific Island nations and increase the influence he thought he was moderating. This seems like a macro-level response (excluding nations) analogous to the current blog topic of specifically excluding people. In contrast to the policy noted above, we down here in Asia-Pacific actively seek the very people the US may be excluding. We want to become more of a ‘knowledge economy’, we want to increase our university rankings and build on what is a pretty affluent and idyllic life for most of us. We have increased our refugee and immigration numbers to allow this. Maybe, probably, the losses of talent in the US will be a gain for Asia-Pacific. But what a sad process for folk to go through. It seems to have created deep divisions for you in the US. How would we (NZ) respond to Stanislaw Ulam today? How would the US or the UK today?

    So how does xenophobia transact over time in nations? I don’t know, but history suggests nationalism, as opposed to statesmanship, is a wide but ultimately unrewarding path.

    NZ — not corrupt ( and a nice life to be had whilst pursuing an academic life of worth

  5. Shravan says:

    Germany has, by contrast, done an outstanding job of welcoming immigrants (and I am one of them). I got naturalized as a German citizen in 2011 or so, and it was a remarkably civilized process. Some paperwork had to be filled out, some simple criteria satisfied, and a pretty simple exam was administered, about how many rivers Germany has and whether it’s OK to marry more than one woman (at the same time); I had memorized the answers to these and other questions then but have forgotten the answers now.

    At least in Berlin, nobody thinks twice about someone being a foreigner. I lived in Saarbruecken for two years and there it was different. Sb had more like the kind of xenophobia one associates with the US today. At that time (2002-04) the political party CSU/CDU was selling the slogan “Kinder statt Inder”, roughly: produce children instead of importing Indian software engineers, and one could feel the hatred that the villagers in the lovely suburb of Dudweiler had for people like me.

    I guess the distribution of xenophobia must be similar across countries, with big cities vs elsewhere cleanly separated. Not sure how it is in India now; we Indians have long perfected the art of discrimination and are probably better than any other upstart country trying to get in on the act. 5000 years of culture and all that.

    • Rahul says:

      Then again, Berlin ain’t Germany, right? It’s like extrapolating to the US from Madison, WI.

    • Llewelyn Richards-Ward says:

      Nice example, thanks. Maybe part of the issue is around narrative — do we continue to use dichotomous language like foreigner/indigenous? Or should we focus more on ideas of people being people first, and where they were born being non-indicative of their politics or views? Here in NZ we accord indigenous people additional rights for the disadvantages of colonisation. Not that everyone completely agrees on all the parameters. At the same time, those of us non-indigenous folk argue for multiculturalism, in the main. It has been interesting how the level of tolerance toward others has shifted away from past views to a much more inclusive approach. Also, we all travel a lot to other countries and cultures, much like Germans. Compare that to the US, for example, where this I believe is a much less frequent experience. So while xenophobia and nationalism is everywhere, the dominant narrative is perhaps critical to whether a country has compassion for immigrants, as we all were once.

  6. Jonathan says:

    It’s completely legal: 8 USC 1182, subsection “(f) Suspension of entry or imposition of restrictions by President
    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. Whenever the Attorney General finds that a commercial airline has failed to comply with regulations of the Attorney General relating to requirements of airlines for the detection of fraudulent documents used by passengers traveling to the United States (including the training of personnel in such detection), the Attorney General may suspend the entry of some or all aliens transported to the United States by such airline.”

    That took less than a minute to look up. As to your correspondent, I’d suggest not leaving the US. And also because Iran won’t let him come to the US as of now either, in a display of tit for tat.

    As for precedent, Jimmy Carter required all Iranians on student visas in the US to report to immigration within a short period. Some hundreds were deported and some thousands essentially self-deported. (I’ve seen widely differing figures for both those numbers.) He also banned all Iranians, meaning no visas to be issued and outstanding ones to be invalidated. Fairly similar action in the ban, more of an action requiring Iranians to report. This from the noted humanitarian.

    • Slugger says:

      Carter’s action was during the hostage crisis, a time of increasing hostility. This is being done when things seem to be improving a tiny bit. Why turn back; is enmity with Iran in our national interest? Hardline confrontations seem unlikely to dissuade any nation from a nuclear weapons program.
      I do agree that Jimmy Carter is a noted humanitarian.

    • Dale Lehman says:

      Jonathan – thank you for the pointer, it is useful to understand the legal reality and historical precedent. For some reason, I submitted this comment once but it did not appear, so this is a repeat (making me a bit paranoid).

      But, with a few more minutes of research, it is worth looking at the text of the Carter executive order ( with Trump’s ( Carter issued a follow-up executive order (12206) which led to further restrictions on Iranian immigrants (see for some description of how the two executive orders were implemented).

      So, while the legality and precedent seem clear, it is striking the difference in tone and substance of the orders. It is also notable that Carter’s actions were in response to an active taking of hostages by Iran. I find the differences between the 1979-80 actions and the current ones deeply disturbing.

    • Andrew says:


      The constitutional issue I was raising was regarding freedom of religion, as the recent executive order singles out members of just one religion. Of course, constitutional issues are just about always flexible, so we can’t say ahead of time how courts would rule on this one.

      • Andrew says:

        Just to clarify, here’s the relevant passage in the executive order:

        provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality

        Islam is the majority religion in all the countries affected by the executive order. Thus, Muslims are being uniquely singled out.

        • m says:

          So it’s the doctrine of “disparate impact”? Banning people from the countries with the highest incidence of suicide bombings would also single out Muslim-majority countries

          • Andrew says:


            1. No, they did not ban anyone from Saudi Arabia, which is the country with the highest number of suicide bombers on U.S. soil.

            2. What I wrote above was that this could be viewed as violating the First Amendment. There’s an obvious issue with an executive order that singles out members of just one religion in this way. But I am not a Constitutional scholar and my guess is that you aren’t either. Constitutionality is just about always open to interpretation and one can never be sure what the courts will say.

            • m says:

              The list of the countries was compiled by the Obama administration. It appears to include the countries where it’s impossible to verify person’s background, plus Iran (with Iran i think the idea is that you dont want to train people who go back and build weapons to attack America or Israel )

              • m says:

                “No, they did not ban anyone from Saudi Arabia, which is the country with the highest number of suicide bombers on U.S. soil.”

                Government does not have an obligation only to look at the evidence from the US. Islamic State terrorists didnt murder a lot people on US soil, yet it would be odd to declare them “less dangerous” because of that (I am presuming that Orlando gay club terrorist was not a “registered ISIS operative” in the same sense in which he was a “registered Democrat”).

              • Andrew says:


                There are legal questions and policy questions. The legal questions are definitely there, and it’s no surprise that there are disputes, given the inherent subjectivity of constitutional law.

                With regard to policy questions, I agree that there are many possible outcomes, including the possibility of training people who will build weapons to attack America, and for that matter the opposite risk of antagonizing people in other countries and motivating them to attack America.

                The point of my post was to emphasize the economic cost of this new policy. It’s not up to me to weigh the trade-offs and decide if it’s worth us paying this economic cost in order to get other benefits, and I see the argument that the benefits are worth the cost. I just wanted to point outa cost that the U.S. can incur from this policy.

              • Steve Sailer says:

                The Lautenberg Amendment imposed a religious test involving Soviet and post-Soviet refugees: Evangelical Christians and Jews were given special immigration privileges de jure while Muslims, atheists, Orthodox, Protestants, agnostics, Buddhists, Catholics, etc. were not privileged under this law.

                That’s why my father-in-law’s Russian girlfriend in the mid-1990s was trying to assemble (and/or forge, I was never sure which) enough genealogical documentation to convince the INS that she was Jewish enough to qualify for refugee status from Yeltsin’s Russia under the Lautenberg law.

        • Carlos Ungil says:

          As far as I can see, the 90-days ban makes no religious exception and applies to all the people related to the already existing list of “countries or areas of concern” (citizens of those countries or having visited them after 2011).

          There is a separate action suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days (except in a case-by-case basis) which applies to every country (only Syria is singled-out for an indefinite suspension).

          After 120 days, admissions will be resumed only for nationals of countries for which the “procedures are adequate” and refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution will be prioritized “to the extent permitted by law”. Given that in principle this includes Muslims in Myanmar as much as Jews in Iran or Christians in Yemen, I don’t understand the constitutional issue.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            The U.S. has actively been involved with various religious tests involving migrants over the decades. For example, beside the Lautenberg amendment, the Jackson-Vanik act of 1973 pressured the Soviet Union to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate. This doesn’t seem to have been well-remembered during the current debate, but I have a family anecdote involving that law as well.

            My wife’s Air Force colonel uncle used to spy in East Berlin, debriefing visiting Soviet Jewish defense scientists in parked cars at night. The Soviet Union put a five year cooling off period on emigrating Jewish military aerospace engineers who were privy to Soviet national security secrets. The U.S. Air Force of course very much wanted to talk to these individuals. So my wife’s uncle, who had a Ph.D. in metallurgy, would put on civilian clothes and go into East Berlin as a tourist. He’d have memorized the back street address where a car would be parked with a vacationing Soviet Jewish rocket scientist sitting in it. They’d sit there in the dark and talk shop for several hours. Then he’d go back to West Berlin and write down what they’d talked about.

            These kind of memorable family anecdotes help me remember the once well-known (but now apparently forgotten) U.S. laws regarding the migration of a religious group.

            • Steve Sailer says:

              And that remind’s me of a _third_ family anecdote explaining why I can remember the Save Soviet Jews era of Jackson-Vanik and Lautenberg legislation pretty clearly: my cousin was a staffer for Senator Henry Jackson (D-Boeing), the chief proponent of passing laws to benefit Jews from the Soviet Union.

              More famous people on Jackson’s staff than my cousin included the then young neoconservatives Richard Perle and Daniel Wattenberg.

              So I may have more anecdotal reasons than most people for being able to remember these once famous examples of when the might of the United States government was directed along religiously defined lines involving migration than other people do.

            • Curious says:

              It seems you are trying to draw a false parallel between an affirmative preference based on known persecution with a restrictive law based on assumed danger.

              • Steve Sailer says:

                So, the “no establishment” clause of the First Amendment doesn’t apply when it’s _helping_ a specific religious group get legal privileges that other religious groups don’t get?

                That’s probably closer to backward of the original intent, which was to block the federal government from establishing a privileged religion.

                Anyway, it’s interesting to note that the old Soviet government argued, in effect, that it wasn’t persecuting Jews, it was simply offering affirmative action preferences in hiring to under-represented groups such as Russians, which sounds a lot like your argument, just with what Lenin liked to call “Who? Whom?” reversed.

                Not surprisingly, this Soviet argument didn’t persuade Senators Lautenberg and Jackson in writing their laws.

              • Curious says:

                For the same reason that “reverse discrimination” is an absurd accusation in most cases, so to is the notion that it is inappropriate to fast track groups known to be currently be experiencing persecution.

              • Curious says:


                For the same reason that “reverse discrimination” is an absurd accusation in most cases, so too is the notion that it is inappropriate to fast track groups known to be currently experiencing persecution.

              • Curious says:

                If you are willing to accept Lenin’s disingenuous rationale for persecution of Jews, there is likely little I can say that would be persuasive to someone with such a bias.

              • Steve Sailer says:

                If you want to understand the essence of today’s conventional wisdom, don’t look to logic, look to Lenin’s “Who? Whom?”

                The pundit class is in an uproar over “religious tests” in immigration policy, such as favoring Syrian and Iraqi Christians over Syrian and Iraqi Sunnis, while completely forgetting the decades in which American immigration policy contained religious tests benefiting Soviet/Russian Evangelicals and Jews … even though some of the complaining pundits, such as Julia Ioffe, got into the country under a religious test!

                “If you are willing to accept Lenin’s disingenuous rationale for persecution of Jews”

                How am I accepting Lenin’s “disingenuous” rationale?

                First of all, Lenin didn’t persecute the Jews (such as Trotsky). The Bolsheviks enforced the world’s first anti-anti-Semitism law.

                Second, Lenin’s “Kto-Kgo” rationale was hardly disingenous. He was being brutally honest about his motivations and lack of objective principle.

                Third, I’m not accepting Lenin’s lack of objectivity, I’m amusingly pointing out that much of today’s conventional wisdom boils down to Who? Whom?

                Granted, today’s partisan thinking is often rationalized in terms like “Punching Down vs. Punching Up,” but it’s the same kind of thinking that appealed to Lenin and Stalin: there are good guys and there are bad guys and government policy should do good things for good guys and not do bad things for bad guys and vice-versa.

                Of course, who exactly the good guys and bad guys is up for debate under the heading of “Intersectionality.” For example, actress Salma Hayek and a young black starlet got into an argument at Sundance over who deserves more Intersectional Victimism points, with Salma, a billionaire’s wife, pointing out that she’s an Arab Mexican immigrant.

                So I look forward to many such amusing Who? Whom? arguments in the future.

              • Curious says:

                And I am arguing that justifying current prejudice based on historical prejudice is logically absurd, but not as absurd as justifying current prejudice based on historical attempts to prioritize groups known to be under current and severe persecution. While there may be good reason to examine and make adjustments to immigration policies, it is not justified by historical acts of prejudice and discrimination, it is justified by the identification of specific problems in the current system. No such detailed rationale was or has been provided.

                Your attempt to make this a disagreement about which group is good and which is bad is also absurd. There is no logical parallel between an attempt to prioritize the immigration of severely persecuted groups and the current decision to attempt to minimize risk with a ham handed implementation of a poorly conceptualized order to ban the immigration of people from 7 predominately Muslim countries rather than a less incendiary approach.

              • Steve Sailer says:

                You seem to have strong feelings about why Senator Lautenberg’s prioritizing Soviet Jews over Soviet Orthodox was good while President Trump’s prioritizing Syrian Christians over Syrian Muslims is bad.

                I’d be fascinated to see if you could put your intuitions into logical format.

              • Steve Sailer says:

                “Prejudice” is just a pejorative for Bayesianism.

              • Curious says:

                Not true. I have strong feelings about an Executive Branch that approaches the complexities of immigration and national security with simple minded buffoonery.

    • Ben Hanowell says:

      Also completely wrongheaded, dangerous, and immoral.

  7. Martha (Smith) says:

    “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States” – so vague as to allow lots of interpretations, unfortunately.

  8. Dale Lehman says:

    Does anybody have any idea why my comments are not appearing (no snarky comments, please, as I am becoming paranoid enough already). I submitted one and it did not appear, I resubmitted and just then the first comment appeared as well. The “recent comments” shows that I have made a comment, but it does not appear – and if I click on that, nothing happens. Any ideas?

  9. John Thomas says:

    Perhaps the real reason for some of the more extreme orders (and statements) is to draw fire, so that the slightly less controversial ones will pass without notice or opposition.

    I call it the Calvin & Hobbes approach – when Calvin wants a water pistol, he asks for a bazooka, so that asking for a water pistol seems tame in comparison.

    • Andrew says:


      Yes, I was including this sort of possibility when speaking of “12-dimensional chess.” The sad thing is that, even if this is just a clever political ploy, it’s still screwing with people’s lives, and it still could be bad for the U.S. economy to the extent that it discourages talented people from coming to or staying here to work.

    • Ben Hanowell says:

      That’s one helluva gambit, because very soon the overriding position of half the country will be to impeach Trump or force him to resign.

  10. Peter says:

    This “Academics against immigration executive order” petition may be worth the 25 seconds required to sign:

    Petitions tend to be a waste of time. However, petitions like this one which focus on specific social categories (e.g., intelligence professionals, academics, judges, etc) seem to get much more press. In fact, the above petition already is!:

  11. Martha (Smith) says:

    At least there is now a stay (by a NY judge) from detaining people who arrived Sunday/Monday with valid visas, and pro bono immigration attorneys meeting planes at various airports, and the ACLU has filed a legal case against Trump’s order.

  12. Dale Lehman says:

    I guess the links I had used got caught in the spam filter, so here goes without any links. I found the reference to Carter’s executive order illuminating and I had completely forgotten that happened. But if you read the text of Carter’s order and Trump’s, it is striking how different the tones are. And Carter’s order was released in the face of active taking of hostages by Iran. I have nothing new to add to the discussion, but I am deeply troubled by the difference – and the fact that so many people seem to view Trump’s order and Carter’s as essentially the same thing (not so much on this blog, but take a look at Marginal Revolution where there are already 335 comments from (mostly) economists defending Trump’s action). So deeply troubled I’m not sure what to do. I’ll probably sign the petition, but it is not crafted ideally. Regardless of whether it hurts the US or academia, this executive order does not represent me and should not be tolerated. If anybody thinks it does represent their views, then they should have the courage to say so and explain why.

    • Andrew says:


      I don’t know that the commenters on Marginal Revolution are mostly economists. For some reason that blog seems to have attracted a community of politically extreme commenters with a mix of anger and cynicism. I’ve often noticed a disconnect between the audience that Cowen and Tabarrok seem to be writing to, and the attitudes expressed by their commenters. I can only suppose that those commenters are much different than the general readership of that blog.

  13. martinE says:


    ” I’ve often noticed a disconnect between the audience that Cowen and Tabarrok seem to be writing to, and the attitudes expressed by their commenters. I can only suppose that those commenters are much different than the general readership of that blog.” AG

    Yes, Cowen is nominally libertarian but takes generally centrist Republican viewpoints. His commenters are an unusual mix of broad spectrum views with many non-economists, apparently. Cowen is quite tolerant of minority viewpoints in comments, which may account for their diversity.
    But the core purpose and intended audience of MarginalRevolutionBlog remains a mystery.

    Blog commenters are generally a small minority of any blog’s total viewers — and unlikely to be a representative sample of blog readership.

    Commenters at the AG blog here seem overwhelmingly left-progressive on political/economic issues, though more neutral topics of statistics are the prime focus. The AG designation of “politically extreme commenters” for Cowen’s blog… is a very subjective evaluation.

  14. Jonathan says:

    I was talking to some Trump voting friends yesterday and not one thinks this is more than a stunt. But it spurred me to think about the numbers, so I spent 20 minutes looking some up. I found that according to Customs and Border Protection, we turn away roughly 2% of those arriving at US airports. For context, in 2012, according to the government – and during Obama’s so much more humane Administration – we detained, arrested, refused entry and/or “deported” about 724,000 people who arrived at our airports. I also decided to check if any groups were targeted and found, as just one example, that we started to turn away students from India. Not visa denial but refusing entry to students with valid visas. The number in December 2015 was 398 and then 322 in January. Why? According to one story, a news report suggested that some schools attended by students from India weren’t particularly academic so it appears the government simply decided without investigation to deport hundreds of kids. Reports in various media say kids were taken to jails and interrogated and then sent back even if they were going to known good schools. Anyone care? No way. It’s not an issue unless Trump is involved, just as it hasn’t been an issue that the humane Obama Administration deported millions.

    I’m not defending deportation, just noting a) the “attack on human rights” and “damage to the economy” is, IMO, hyperbole unless you care about the vastly larger numbers turned away by Democrats or if you place tremendous value on some specific person entering the US and b) outrage makes people think weird.

    • Andrew says:


      I don’t think it’s hyperbole at all, and I don’t know why you’re bringing up people being turned away at airports. My correspondent was not turned away at any airport. He’s working in the United States and all of a sudden he’s being jerked around by what you’re calling a political “stunt.” Would you enjoy having your future turned upside down by a stunt?

      This guy does excellent work, and I think it’s bad for the economy to discourage talented scientists from coming to and staying in this country. And, as I wrote in my post above, even if it’s just a stunt, it can still have this negative economic effect.

      • Jonathan says:

        I brought up people at airports because there are demonstrations going on at airports about people being detained. And because so far today about 40 people have shared with me the court rulings that stayed any “deportations” – which I think makes a mockery of the idea of “deportation” that happens hundreds of thousands of times a year without anyone giving a hoot. My comment about “stunt” was that even a small set of Trump voters that I know think this is silly, not about anything you write or think. Your anecdote is of course that, an anecdote. It’s valuable to you. I have no idea how many people we turn away each year who would be valuable to the US (though I came back to this thread not to argue with you but because I realized I typed an absurd percentage in my comment and I wanted to see if I actually did that – and I did). I also don’t know how many turned away people would be “costs” in some form and thus I have no way of analyzing the economics in any aggregate sense, though I would note that the emphasis of such an analysis would depend, I believe, entirely on one’s politics, meaning that when our politics say “care” then aggregate effects are diminished (oh, look at the humanity) and then magically the aggregate effect, which always comes out to be tiny compared to the vast US, becomes the emphasis when that fits one’s politics (oh, look it’s just this many).

        My attitude, to try to be honest – and I’m not sure I’m capable of that – is this kind of thing says more about what angers people, about how people can be manipulated (and how they respond to manipulation), about how people seek to identify with or dissociate from other groups. I’m intrigued more than I’m moved because there are so many awful things in the world that the plight of a few hundreds or thousands who may be detained for some hours or even days isn’t even a ripple in the misery. One thing that fascinates me is my own recognition of a bubble effect on me and in me: that when Obama was elected and while he was in power even though I know a wide range of people I clearly now see that I took for granted the absurdity of the reactions against him. I see that because the reactions against Trump are essentially the same thing except I hear them because I’m actually surrounded by them, because my group of friends and relatives, etc. are voicing them and that enables me to see that the times I spent surrounded by the “other side” did not so completely surround me as I then believed. I mean I thought at the time that I was judging dispassionately but now I see I was merely looking at “their” perspective from this perspective – a problem that often arises, that you think you’re seeing data accurately and don’t recognize the perspective, the orientation of the axis directionally in the shared space, etc. Now I’m immersed in this perspective and I see that it’s as full of absurdity as what I used to think was “other”. I have to say it kind of reminds me of “power pose”: demonstrations are power poses. The people flexing their muscles, taking a stance, etc. You can take your pose and maybe that ony stirs the opposite effect or maybe it only makes you feel better and the others think you’re actually just proving you’re an idiot – like the muscle flexer at the gym who thinks that makes him appear manly while everyone thinks it makes him look like a dork or the guy with hair dyed black because it makes him “look young”, which is a pose that, in 70’s lingo, makes him a poseur. And that gets at the “value” in that silly pose research, at least as they see it: they’re looking for stuff that’s like Just For Men which makes your beard less weird and turns you into that young stud at work and for women. You know, as Mel Brooks would say, bullshit. People study lots of bullshit because we keep needing bullshit. We need outrage. We need identification – see Super Bowl – and we need to identify as “not those guys”.

        • Andrew says:


          I wrote my post because I thought the humanitarian cost was obvious but that the economic cost to the U.S. was not so obvious. It comes in pretty directly to me because this sort of thing gets in the way of my work, and I think work such as mine is beneficial to the U.S. economy.

          I agree with you completely that other people will see things differently. Those of us who work in technical fields are aware of the contributions that talented technical people can make. On the other side, I could see a policy argument that says that “the economy” is not everything, and that maybe it’s good for the U.S. to deter talented foreigners from coming here. It’s true that if foreigners won’t come to work on technical projects, that employers such as myself will then have to search harder for U.S. employees, we’ll have to offer U.S. job candidates higher salaries, we’ll have to put more effort into training Americans to do technical work, etc. It’s a tradeoff, and there’s a legitimate argument to be made that it’s in the long-term best interest of the U.S. to close us off from talented immigrants. I don’t buy that argument—and I brought up Stanislaw Ulam as an example of an immigrant from a war-threatened country who made important contributions to the U.S. economy—but it’s a position that someone could take. And I recognize that my own views are colored by my self-interest, in that my own field of research in computational statistics has benefited crucially from the contributions of such immigrants.

          I don’t really see power pose or the Super Bowl as having anything to do with it. Sure, people have disagreements are on different “teams” or political parties, but these are real policy issues at stakes. The decision of whether to kick someone out of the U.S. or not is a real decision that directly affects these people and indirectly affects the U.S. economy and U.S. security.

    • Curious says:


      A stunt to what end? What is the goal of disrupting the lives of thousands and stoking fear in tens of thousands and in disrupting travel in and out of major airports for similarly many? What is the overarching strategy at play?

    • SB says:

      Since no one has responded to this data about deportation of Indian students I will do so.
      –The reason for denying entry to Indian students you mentioned was that most of those schools turned out to be frauds on American laws and rules concerned with something being an educational institution. They were little more than visa scams.
      –As for students being taken to jail, being mistreated and having wear electronic monitors – there was a huge protest from the government of India and it DID get the attention of the US Ambassador. State department actually did explain why the action was necessary to the satisfaction of the Indian government.
      –State department also continued to investigate the fraud which resulted in closures of some ‘establishments’ pretending to be education institutes along with some arrests.
      –Indian government and US embassy did publicize the fraud to prospective students in India prominently. Indian flag carrier Air India, and other companies also stopped issuing tickets to such students. They also provided assistance to those who already had the tickets or were in the airports (Indian as well as US airports).
      –Bulk of these students were coming from one particular state in India which made it easy for the Indian government and US embassy to target the outreach more effectively.
      –I believe it was a rare display of a *coordinated* effort from the two countries with not much acrimony raised or, more importantly, lingering.
      –In case any one is wondering, I am not affiliated with either of the governments; I am just a biologist trying to analyze bloody data *properly* which lead me to this blog a while ago

      My apologies in advance for not providing links but a google search about the matter should get it. I am writing from memory. I thought Jonathan’s example was not the right one in the current context.

  15. Paul Alper says:

    I suspect the uproar and pushback is due to the precipitous nature of the xenophobic executive order which, so to speak, caught people in mid flight. If instead, the order had listed a well-planned future date, the public would take it in stride as reasonable and after all, Trump did win the election, fair and square. Besides, his inauguration had the highest attendance in the history of the republic. Just ask Alex Jones.

  16. Dale Lehman says:

    The numbers of people deported or held up and the economic impact can be debated – and probably should. But, for me, the issue is much much simpler. Reading Trump’s executive order makes me feel sick. It is a detestable appeal to hate and discrimination. If you feel the necessity to defend it as a stunt, Jonathan, then it makes me even sadder. The decline in civility and human compassion is deeply troubling and I, for one, do not intend to turn the other cheek because it is a “stunt” and because “Trump is just being Trump.” What the order says and represents simply should not be tolerated.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      I think that in many ordinary instances it is reasonable to tolerate things that might be considered “a detestable appeal to hate and discrimination” as “just a stunt” or “that’s just the way he is” (e.g., “Trump is just being Trump”). But when the person in question is in a position of great power* (and POTUS certainly qualifies!), then tolerating such behavior is not reasonable.

      *Remember Uncle Ben’s advice to the young Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

  17. TBW says:

    To me the key distinction is that this EO applied to Green Card holders(which I think is a first), and as a result also impacted US Citizens. There were children who are US Citizens who were detained at airports with their Green Card holding parents. Any policy which results in the illegal detention of US Citizens has got be unconstitutional. Legally, the President may have the power to do something like this, but this was bungled and the implementation is incompetent at best. Most troubling to me are the reports that Customs officials at Dulles refused to follow the court order, and then refused to talk to elected officials, who was giving them those orders ? That’s a constitutional crisis and if the orders were coming from the Executive Branch grounds for impeachment.

Leave a Reply