Unzism, A Dangerous Doctrine

Ron Unz, the neoliberal publisher of The American Conservative since the departure of Patrick J. Buchanan and Taki Theodoracopulos, penned an article for the March 1 issue of TAC entitled, like Geraldo Rivera’s recent pro-immigration book, “His-Panic,” where he argues that the notion of widespread Hispanic crime is largely a myth.  He writes that conservatives have “accepted the myth that Hispanic immigrants and their children have high crime rates” and even goes so far as to put the word ‘gang’ in scare quotes when discussing Hispanic gangs.

Many on the right were rightly upset by Unz’s article for numerous reasons, not least of which was the fact that Unz cherry picked data to provide an intentionally limited picture of Hispanic crime.  One would expect this legerdemain at Carlos Slim’s New York Times, but at The American Conservative, the magazine founded by Patrick J. Buchanan, the man most publicly associated with immigration restriction?

I.  Hispanics and Crime

Any discussion of Hispanic crime must avoid this pitfall: the ambiguity of the word ‘Hispanic.’ While ‘Hispanic’ may denote Spaniards in Europe, in the United States it often acts as an euphemism for the mestizo and Amerindian populations of Mexico and Central and South America. It is in this latter, more limited sense that we use the word.

Throughout “His-Panic,” Unz employs dubious and/or unexplained methods to minimize the phenomenon of Hispanic crime.  He begins by arguing that the commonly observed difference is largely a product of demography: Hispanics are more likely to be young and male than whites, and crime is mostly the province of young males. So what would one expect? He writes:

While it is certainly true that Hispanic 23-year-olds have much greater criminal tendencies than white 45-year-olds, a more useful question is the relative criminality of Hispanics and whites of the same age. Also, many Hispanics are immigrants, and since immigrants are more likely to be male, there will be a gender skew in the general Hispanic population. Therefore, let us consider the Hispanic imprisonment rate relative to the number of males in the high-crime age range.

One is tempted to reply that the fact that the Hispanic population is so disproportionately young and male is, precisely, part of the problem—isn’t it? Surely the most “useful question” here is the relative criminality of the Hispanic and white populations as they are actually distributed by age and sex?

But let that be. No doubt Unz is entitled to ask whatever question he wants to—provided that he answers it honestly. So let’s follow along with him: what is the relative criminality of Hispanic males compared to white males of the same age?

In Unz’s chosen source, “Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005,” published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the answer to this question may be found in Table 13 on page 10. Overall, the Hispanic male incarceration rate is 2.62 times the white rate—or, as Unz prefers to say, 162% above the white rate. Here are the numbers for various age ranges:

18-19: 129% above
20-24: 138% above
25-29: 131% above
30-34: 115% above
35-39: 99% above
40-44: 104% above
45-54: 185% above
55 or older: 237% above

Now while most of these numbers are better than the overall 162%, they’re still pretty bad. Understandably, Unz is not satisfied. So he goes in search of other ways to adjust the data and hits on the idea of excluding immigration-related offenses. He writes:

Over half of all federal prosecutions these days are for immigration-related offenses, and since a huge fraction of illegal immigrants are from south of the border, the 10 percent or so of U.S. prison inmates who are in federal custody might significantly distort our ethnic imprisonment statistics. Anyway, offenses such as robbery, rape, murder, burglary, assault, and theft are almost always prosecuted in state courts, so it makes sense to separate these street crimes from cases of illegal nannies convicted of illegal nannying.

One notes with amusement Mr. Unz’s charming notion of what it generally takes to get oneself confined to a federal penitentiary for immigration-related offenses: “illegal nannying,” indeed! While some people do go to prison, officially speaking, just for being in the country illegally, this is often rather like Al Capone getting sentenced for tax evasion: there’s a lot more to the story, or they wouldn’t be here.

But let’s try to do our best for Unz. Let’s assume, for purposes of argument, that absolutely everybody in federal prison on immigration charges is an innocent meso-American Hispanic male victim of unjust Yanqui persecution. Let’s remove them from the equation.

Unfortunately, data on the number of federal inmates in prison on immigration charges from 2005 is hard to come by. But the Federal Bureau of Prisons does provide some useful current data. According to their “Quick Facts About the Bureau of Prisons,” at the end of 2009 this number was 21,857.   Since the rate of convictions for immigration violations more than doubled between 2005 and 2009, this is presumably higher than the real number for 2005. But we’re determined to be generous to Unz, so let’s work with it. Given the Census Bureau’s latest estimate of 24,254,397 Hispanic males in the U.S., that works out to a rate of imprisonment on immigration charges of 90 per 100,000 Hispanic males. If we subtract that entire number, than the overall Hispanic male imprisonment rate for 2005 falls from 1,856 to 1,766, which is 149% above the white male rate, instead of 162%. The comparative rates for the various different age ranges would fall by similar amounts.

Admittedly, that’s a significant difference. But the basic picture remains the same: Hispanic male imprisonment rates still range from close to double to more than triple white male rates, depending on age. So even adjusting for age and sex and adopting the most generous possible interpretation of federal inmates in prison on immigration charges, Unz just doesn’t have much of a case.

Unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Unz doesn’t consider this relatively simple and obvious way of solving the supposed problem of immigration-related offenses skewing the numbers. Instead, he decides to throw out the federal prison statistics altogether, and goes in search of figures for local jails plus state prisons alone. Trouble is, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ annual series on “Prison and Jail Inmates” has reported such figures only twice: in Table 16 of their 2001 Bulletin and Table 14 of their 2005 Bulletin: never before nor since. And the 2001 Bulletin shows the usual greater-than-two-to-one ratio of Hispanic to White imprisonment. So Unz ignores it in favor of the 2005 report, which, uniquely, shows a less-than-two-to-one ratio. It reports an overall state and local Hispanic incarceration rate that is a mere 80% above the white rate.

Unz is triumphant. He announces that “we can now use census data to estimate the number of prime-crime-age young males in the two groups,” and then produces a chart that supposedly represents “the overall age-adjusted national imprisonment rates” for whites, blacks and Hispanics in the age ranges 18-29, 15-34 and 15-44.5. “Hispanic incarceration rates,” he claims, “are now between 13 and 31 percent above the white average, depending upon which age range we choose for normalization purposes.”

Alas, he does not explain his methodology. As we have shown above, adjusting for age only reduces the excess of Hispanic male vs. white male incarceration rates by, at most, about a fifth, among 18-29-year-olds—so how does Unz figure that adjusting for age reduces the gap from 80 percent to between 13 and 31 percent? And where is he getting his statistics for the 15-17 age range—never mentioned in any of his cited sources?  He leaves these questions in complete darkness. And it gets worse.

According to his “Chart 1,” the incarceration rate for white males between the ages of 18 and 29 in state prisons and local jails in 2005 was more than 5,000 per 100,000—which is about three times the highest rate for white males including federal inmates in that age range reported in said cited sources. Impossible. Absurd.

And it only goes downhill from there. According to his “Chart 3,” the incarceration rate for white males between the ages of 18 and 29 in Florida and Texas closely approached an astounding 10,000 per 100,000—i.e., one in ten. Which, according to his own sources, is off by at least a multiple of five. So from what darksome nether-region did Unz pluck these numbers? Inquiring minds want to know!

As if that were not bad enough, Table 14 in the 2005 bulletin, on which Unz hangs so much of his case, is deeply inconsistent with other information in the very same document—so deeply inconsistent that one can only question whether it deserves any credence whatsoever. To wit: according to table 14, the number of white inmates in state prisons and local jails per 100,000 residents as of June 30, 2005, was 412. But this is more than the combined number of white inmates in state prisons and local jails plus federal prisons indicated in the immediately preceding Table 13. The discrepancy is not immediately obvious, since Table 13 disaggregates white male and white female inmates, while Table 14 does not. But the math is simple: according to table 13, there were 709 white male and 88 white female inmates per 100,000 residents as of June 30, 2005. According to the Census Bureau, the white population in America is about 49% male and 51% female. So the overall rate of white imprisonment in state prisons and local jails plus federal prisons would be about (.49 x 709) + (.51 x 88) = 392. Which is less than 412.

Obviously, something has gone terribly wrong here, somewhere. And since Table 13 is entirely consistent with similar tables in earlier and later bulletins, while Table 14 is not, I’m betting that the problem is with Table 14—the conveniently anomalous basket in which Unz places his eggs.

In the second half of his article, Unz takes us on a whirlwind tour of various American cities, in search of cherries to pick—i.e., selected heavily Hispanic urban areas with crime rates comparable to or lower than selected heavily white urban areas. But the whole discussion is useless, because he makes no serious attempt to adjust for potentially confounding local factors—like, for example, the size of the local black population.

For example: he notes that violent crime rates in heavily Hispanic Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and El Paso, Texas, and Santa Ana, California, aren’t much higher than in heavily white Colorado Springs, Colorado, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Portland, Oregon, Lexington, Kentucky, and Lincoln, Nebraska. But, according to the Census Bureau, the percentage of the black population in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, El Paso and Santa Ana averages 4%, while in Colorado Springs, Fort Wayne, Portland, Lexington and Lincoln it averages 12%.  Conscious as he is of the need to adjust for age disparities when comparing white and Hispanic crime rates, one might have hoped that Unz would be equally circumspect when it came to racial disparities. But one would have hoped in vain.

Even more egregious is the fuss that Unz makes over the fact that supposedly lily-white Seattle, Washington, has a higher crime rate than heavily Hispanic San Jose, California. He writes:

Both are located on the West Coast, are overwhelmingly suburban and generally affluent, earn their living from the technology industry, are politically liberal, and have small black populations. Seattle is one of the whitest cities in America at 70 percent, with Asians being the largest minority; Hispanics number only 5 percent. By contrast, San Jose . . . although mostly white and Asian, is one-third Hispanic, with a large number of impoverished illegal immigrants. Seattle’s crime rate is indeed low, but the crime rate in San Jose is actually much lower . . .

Well. Would anybody guess, from this description, the actual comparative demographics of Seattle and San Jose?

Seattle: 8.4% black, 13.1% Asian, etc.

San Jose: 3.5% black, 26.9% Asian, etc.

In sum: Unz heaps a Pelion of cherry-picking atop an Ossa of statistical chicanery to come up with . . . forgive the metaphorical mess . . . a swamp of disinformation.

II.  Unzism

Why would Unz deliberately distort data to minimize the phenomenon of Hispanic crime?  Ideology remains a powerful force, and Unz’s “His-Panic” fits into his overall vision of “Unzism,” a term coined by Steve Sailer in 2000.  Unzism, broadly speaking, is:  Ron Unz’s doctrine in support of (1) mass, unfettered immigration into the United States and (2) English-only and other policies promoting “assimilation.”  Unz’s career reflects this bifurcated approach.  In 1994, Unz vehemently opposed California Proposition 187, which would have denied public services to illegal aliens, writing that “no decent Californian should support it” because it would have lead to “ethnic witch-hunts.” In 1998, Unz sponsored California Proposition 227, which effectively ended bilingual education in California and replaced it with English-only immersion models.

The problems with the first prong of Unzism, support of mass immigration into the United States, are obvious and have been well documented by numerous writers.  Thousands of problems resulting from mass immigration could be cited, but we’ll limit it to a handful.  Regarding the economics of mass immigration, Harvard economist George Borjas, in Immigration and the American Future, notes that the “immigration surplus,” the net gain to people already living in the U.S., is quite small, one-tenth of one percent of GDP, while the public cost of immigrants is around $10-$20 billion a year.  Whatever economic benefits immigration brings are “eaten away by the cost of providing services to the immigrants.”  On the state level, David Hartman, in the same book, estimates that “Texas is spending a net $3.5 billion per year on immigrants ($4.5 billion per year minus $1 billion in estimated taxes collected).”  But taxpayer expenses are a small part of the overall picture.  Mass immigration into the United States has resulted in reduced wages for Americans, increased crime, social disunity, and the growing power of the state to manage the very crisis it could have prevented.  Regarding the social discord brought by immigration, Unz seems to be well aware of its consequences, especially regarding Israel, which in recent years has witnessed its own immigration crisis.  In a 2002 letter to Commentary, Unz subtly admits that ethnic diversity has proven detrimental to Israel’s well-being (although he thinks nothing can be done about it).  Why is he unconcerned about the same potential strife in the United States?

Regarding the second prong of Unzism, state-mandated English-only programs for immigrants, the problems are not as obvious to many of those concerned with unfettered immigration.  While any healthy nation can absorb small numbers of outsiders and teach them a new language, it seems unlikely that the same can be achieved with massive waves of mostly uneducated newcomers.  As Thomas Fleming has pointed out, when one tries to “assimilate” large groups of people, the assimilator often becomes as assimilated as those he hopes to assimilate.  This holds true for language.  The populations of Mexico, Central and South America have already simplified the language of Spain.  It seems probable that they will also irrevocably alter English. For the last 900 years, English has remained a Germanic language heavily influenced by Latin and French. Spanish has not been a part of the equation.  Yet, in certain areas of the United States, the language of Thomas Jefferson and T.S. Eliot is fast becoming a pidgin Spanglish—not unlike what happened with French in Haiti, resulting in Haitian Creole.

Furthermore, the costs of English as a Second Language (ESL) programs are immense.  For example, Galveston’s Daily News (Feb. 20, 2007) reported that the added costs of ESL programs in Texas are more than $1 billion per year!  One could argue that bilingual English-Spanish programs cost more, but this line of thought misses the larger issue that both bilingual and ESL programs are instances of taxpayers incurring enormous costs for a problem that would not exist if the immigrants were not here in the first place.  And to top it off, when frustrated taxpayers try to eliminate costs pertaining to immigration, as Californians did with Proposition 187, they are opposed by the enablers of this very problem—people like Ron Unz, who seems to be indifferent to wanton spending.  He admits he drafted the “English for the Children” measure “to save no money but rather to appropriate an additional, if rather modest, $50 million a year for English-literacy programs aimed at adult immigrants.”

Thus, in terms of both fiscal sanity and maintaining the integrity of the English language, a more prudent approach than ESL programs would be attrition through enforcement when dealing with illegal immigrants; and, where attrition is unworkable, perhaps we should just allow the newcomers to continue using their ancestral languages.

But Unz ultimately is a dogmatic assimilationist.  He also opposes affirmative action on the grounds that it is ethnically divisive, which admittedly in itself is justifiable.  Still, Unz’s alleged desire to end race-based affirmative action seems to stem from ulterior motives (see below), and remains inconsistent with his support for mass immigration, which increases the demand for affirmative action.  While race-based affirmative action might have originally been envisioned for American descendants of slaves or Amerindians, it is now basically open to anyone, including those who have just recently arrived in the United States (even illegally). And while laws ending state-enforced affirmative action would be welcome, much of the growth in the reverse-discrimination industry has been in the private sector.  For instance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation scholarships allow the following people to apply: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indian/Alaska Natives, and Asian Pacific Islander Americans (which includes persons originating from Asia and/or the Pacific Islands; peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent; peoples of Hawai’i, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands; and citizens of the republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau). Who is missing from the above list, and why are so many recent arrivals to the U.S. on it?  The more diverse the U.S. becomes, the greater will be the demand for affirmative action, as the racial spoils from affirmative action are too great for newcomers to ignore—a problem continuously exacerbated by more immigration into the United States. By opposing race-based affirmative action, Unzism merely addresses the symptom of a growing problem due in part to mass immigration, which Unz openly supports.

Such inconsistencies, however, do not deter Unz, since his real reason for opposing affirmative action, as well as bilingual education, seems to be so that “opposition to immigration among Republicans dwindles to insignificance.”  In other words, Unz is a mass-immigration addict, and he sees bilingual education and affirmative action as obstacles to even more immigration.

Unzism, in short, is a collection of assimilationist ideas all concocted for the continuance of mass immigration, which upon final analysis is Unz’s summum bonum.  If mass immigration were Godzilla, then reading through Unz’s various articles is like reading Godzilla cookbooks—all full of recipes of what will help Godzilla grow with tips on what to avoid.  Of course, such an endeavor overlooks the glaring problem that Godzilla’s presence may not be in the best interest of the country, and forcing Godzilla upon the unwilling constitutes a maddening sort of arrogance.

Such arrogance cannot be overstated, as it assumes that the United States is an exceptional nation, one unbeholden to history or tradition.  This vision is not unlike positions held by neoconservatives and neoliberals.  In Immigration and the American Future, Thomas Fleming writes:

This abstract approach to assimilation derives, ultimately, from the conviction—as naive as it is chauvinistic—that America is an exceptional country, one not rooted in blood, soil, and kinship, but a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Proponents of this are quick to label the more old-fashioned view, that the nation is a metaphorical extended family, as bigotry, but no amount of repetition or rhetorical extravagance can disguise the dangerous logic that is at work. If I love my country because it is mine, I must be loyal to it, even when I disagree with its policies, but I do not necessarily regard it as superior to everyone else’s country, and I may have no inclination to say that all other countries, to the extent that they are legitimate and worthy of respect, must approximate my own.

He then continues:

But that this is exactly what the advocates of the “propositional nation” do insist upon. The United States is not only the best nation in the history of the world, but also it is the beacon to all mankind, the natural home of all the good and decent people in the world and the enemy to all regimes that deny their subjects equal rights. Thus, by the same argument, a propositional nation is obliged to open its borders to strangers “yearning to breathe free,” but it is also justified in engaging in endless crusades to impose its propositions on the rest of the world.

While Unz allegedly disavows the first half of the “Invade the World-Invite the World” globalist mantra, he champions the second half.  His vision shares with neoconservatives and neoliberals the naive view that the U.S. can and should absorb unending numbers of immigrants, and that we should use taxpayer money to “assimilate” them.  One is left with the questions, why?  Cui bono?  On whose side is Ron Unz?

Both Ron Unz’s “His-Panic” and Unzism in general are disingenuous but, even more so, dangerous.  If Unzism were preached at the Weekly Standard, it would be expected. But it is now peddled at The American Conservative, a magazine founded by Pat Buchanan and considered by many to be a flagship in opposition to such ideology, and it is in this ideological co-opting that the real danger lies.  Has Unz chartered such a course for The American Conservative?  Let us hope not, but if so, as the Romans would say, di istaec prohibeant!

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