After extensive debate, the United States Senate last week passed a comprehensive immigration bill. I believe the bill is a mixed bag of good and bad reforms that pleased none of the vocal interest groups.
As I have argued before (see my blog entry on October 16, 2005), the United States would benefit greatly from immigration of many engineers, computer experts, scientists, and other highly skilled men and women. The increased value of skilled workers in the economy is reflected in the growth in the earnings during the past 25 years of more educated and other skilled workers relative to earnings of the less educated and skilled. The higher value placed on skilled workers is due both to the development of computers, biotech, and other technologies that favor skilled workers over less skilled workers, and to the advantages in a global market of producing skilled goods.
Large-scale immigration of more educated and other skilled workers would help satisfy the economy's thirst for skilled workers. By increasing the supply of skilled workers, such immigration would also reduce the widened earnings gap between more and less skilled workers. Skilled immigrants have many other advantages: they have very low crime rates, they are young and employed, they do not draw unemployment compensation benefits or social security benefits, they contribute a disproportionate amount in taxes, and their children generally do well in school.
By "large-scale" I mean one million or more skilled immigrants per year. This may seem like a lot, but currently the United States takes about 1 million legal immigrants each year. With a total population of over 300 million, this country should not have difficulties in absorbing one million skilled immigrants annually. The Senate bill does provide for 200,000 temporary guest workers per year plus a much smaller number of employment-based visas each year for the next 10 years. These "temporary" workers would in fact have an easy road to citizenship. Even if all these slots were filled by skilled workers-and the bill gives little if any priority to skilled workers- the numbers admitted each year would be far below my goal of a million skilled workers per year. So the Senate bill is on much too small a scale, and gives insufficient emphasis to skilled workers, which is where immigration reform should be centered.
The hardest challenge to immigration reform is to decide what to do with the 8-12 million illegal immigrants already here. The bill proposes a three-tier policy. Illegal immigrants who have been in this country for 5 years or more (estimated at over 6 million persons) would be granted immediate amnesty. Illegal immigrants who have been here between two and five years (several million more illegals) could with somewhat greater difficulty arrange to receive amnesty and lawful work permits. The roughly two million illegal immigrants here less than two years would not get amnesty, and they would be deported if apprehended.
It will be a nightmare enforcing this provision since it will impossible to determine for many immigrants whether they have been here illegally two years or more. Those who have been here less than two years have a very strong incentive to claim that they have been here much longer. One can imagine the lawsuits and other enforcement problems in trying to determine the length of stay for person who crossed illegally, and have held jobs in the underground economy where they were paid in cash with little record keeping.
In addition to these practical difficulties, amnesty is a bad approach conceptually. Granting amnesty now attracts additional illegal workers in the future since they anticipate future amnesties that would legalize their being here. The previous major amnesty of illegal entrants in the 1980's was not forgotten in the immigrant communities. These communities are kept closely informed about all the details of new proposals on immigration.
As Posner indicates, amnesties are common in other areas, and are used, for example, to collect back taxes. The attractions of amnesties are due to what economists call "time inconsistency". Amnesties do encourage violation of tax and other laws, and ex ante are undesirable. However, after the fact, amnesties are useful in order to get more tax revenue, recognize the large numbers of illegal residents already in a country, etc. So this conflict between what is desirable when formulating policies, and what is desirable after policies have been in effect for a while, is what explains the popularity of amnesties. Despite the after the fact advantages of tax amnesties, immigration amnesties, etc., countries are likely to be better off if they could avoid having them at all.
An approach better than immigration amnesties is to adapt to the illegal immigrant case my suggestion to sell the right to immigrate (see the blog entry on February 21, 2005) . Under this plan illegal immigrants already here could legitimatize their status, but they would be subject to an additional penalty by being forced to pay a fee, or fine, to the federal government. The exact amount would have to be determined, but suppose it would be $10,000-$15,000. Any illegal immigrant who could pay that fee would be granted immediate legal status similar to that granted by the Senate bill to those here five or more years. If ten million illegal immigrants each paid $10,000, that would aggregate to $100 billion, or about 5 percent of the total federal government budget. Immigrants who did not buy their legitimacy would be subject to arrest and deportation, in the same way as the Senate bill would treat those immigrants who have been here less than two years.
Selling the right to stay to illegal immigrants would be recognition of the reality that America is highly unlikely to deport more than a small fraction of the millions of illegal immigrants who are already here. Requiring illegal immigrants to pay a fine to buy the right to stay would not give them a free ride, but would impose a cost on their being here illegally. By contrast, the amnesty approach in effect tells illegal immigrants they can stay without cost even though they broke American laws that determine who has the right to come here. At the same time, many illegal immigrants would jump at the opportunity to pay to stay here if that would legitimatize their immigration
I find little to disagree with in Becker's post, except with regard to his disapproval of amnesty--but here our disagreement may be merely terminological, as I shall explain.
The path of reform, if one ignores the politics of immigration reform, seems obvious. If there are indeed 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, then since only a tiny fraction will ever be deported, the status of all of them ought to be regularized, which means put on the path to U.S. citizenship. That is amnesty, which for some reason horrifies a lot of people. Amnesties are a long-established device for dealing with social problems. Tax amnesties are especially common. An amnesty need not, and in the case of tax amnesties is not, a get-out-of-jail-free card. The taxpayer has to pay his back taxes in order to be spared criminal punishment. He benefits because paying taxes is a less severe penalty than being imprisoned for nonpayment of taxes, and the government benefits by obtaining additional tax revenues that it would not have obtained had it not offered the amnesty but instead had tried to catch the tax cheats, because it would often fail. Similarly, in the immigration case, the illegal immigrant is offered the chance to avoid deportation at the cost of having to pay a fine (or in Becker‚Äôs proposal, a fee for purchasing the right to remain in the United States as a lawful resident.). Hence the program currently before Congress is an amnesty program although the politicians carefully avoid the word. If the fine is too stiff, however, many illegal immigrants will prefer to remain in that status since the probability of being caught and deported is for most of them slight.
I would not, save in exceptional circumstances, approve of amnesty for people who commit serious crimes. However, an illegal immigrant whose only violation of U.S. law is entering the country without authorization or overstaying a tourist visa is, though of course subject to deportation ("removal," as it is now called), not treated as a criminal.
I agree with Becker that there is no sense in limiting amnesty to a subclass of illegal immigrants. That would just leave several million illegal immigrants in the country, their status unchanged. There is also the difficulty of determining how long an illegal immigrant has been in this country. In the context of legal proceedings potentially involving 12 million persons, anything that requires difficult evidentiary determinations in even a small percentage of those proceedings would place enormous strain on the adjudicative machinery of the federal government.
Becker is correct that the downside of an amnesty is that it reduces deterrence by creating an expectation of a future amnesty. But I do not consider that a substantial objection in the present instance. The reason is that there are two parts to sensible immigration reform. Amnesty is only one. The other is sealing our borders against future illegal immigration. If we do not seal our borders--which I do not mean literally, as that is impossible: I mean if we take effective measures to drastically reduce the flow of future illegal immigration--then in a few years we will be back where we are today, with once again millions of illegal immigrants. If we do succeed in drastically reducing the inflow of illegal immigrants, we won't have to worry a great deal about the effect of the prospect of a future amnesty on illegal immigration. For there are two methods of preventing illegal immigration. One is to deter it by threat of sanctions, such as deportation or criminal punishment. The other is physically to prevent the entry of an immigrant who is not authorized to enter the country. It is a substitute for deterrence as a mode of prevention, and if it is effective the need for deterrence is reduced.
It is possible too that the inflow of illegal Mexican immigrants will slow drastically. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts on immigration reform, when a nation's average GDP reaches one-third the U.S. level, illegal immigration to the United States drops to a very low level. Mexico is a potentially wealthy country, held back from realizing its potential by its political culture. If there is anything we can do to help Mexico prosper, it will reduce our problem of illegal immigration. But even without our help, Mexico may turn the corner to prosperity, as so many countries have done in recent years.
The problem with sealing the borders, apart from the cost of building, maintaining, and patrolling an immensely long fence on the Mexican border, as well as controlling our coastlines, is that virtually anyone can obtain a tourist visa to enter the United States, and once here can disappear. However, there are other measures for reducing illegal immigration, including requiring all persons in the United States to carry biometric identification, imposing stiffer penalties on employers of illegal immigrants, and criminalizing first-time illegal immigrants rather than just repeats. But what I think would be particularly promising would simply be to make legal immigration from Mexico and Central America much easier.
I am not enthusiastic about guest-worker programs. Guest workers may disappear into the illegal-immigrant pool, and if they have children in the United States the children will be U.S. citizens, so that sending the guest workers back to their country of origin may result in breaking up families.
I agree completely with Becker that we should allow a million highly skilled workers a year into the United States. Everyone will benefit because workers are usually unable to capture in their wages their entire social product. Even the highly skilled workers already in this country are likely to benefit in the long run, even if their wages are temporarily depressed by the surge in competition from the new immigrants. The reason is that the increased number of highly skilled workers will increase the rate of technological progress in U.S. industry, which in turn will increase the demand for highly skilled workers.
The recent attempt by Rupert Murdoch to buy Dow Jones, the owner of the Wall Street Journal, and the vocal dissatisfaction of shareholders of the New York Times Company with the company's management, are reminders of the curious ownership structure of these and other media enterprises. (The Washington Post is another example.) They are companies in which a family that has owned the newspaper or other media outlet for a long time continues to own a majority of the voting common stock of the company but has sold a majority of the common stock as a whole to outside investors. In other words, the owners of the company do not control it.
There are two interrelated oddities to be explained and evaluated: why family ownership is so common in the media world (it is common elsewhere as well--in fact about a third of all Fortune 500 companies are family-owned--but seems to be more common among newspapers and magazines--think of the Chandlers, the Hearsts, the Sulzbergers, the Grahams, the Pulitzers, the Irvings, the Bancrofts, the Bradleys, the Peretzes), and why the family owners divide control from ownership, retaining the first. A third question is why this model is under increasing pressure.
The reason the families give for the first two phenomena is that the ownership of a newspaper or other media organ (but for simplicity I confine my discussion to newspapers) is a "public trust" because of the role of the press in a democracy. The idea is that if people unrelated to the founder (or some long-ago acquirer, as in the case of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times controlled the newspaper, they would manage it with the aim of maximizing profits and thus would give the consumer what he wanted rather than what he needed in order to be an informed citizen. This is not a ridiculous argument, because most people read newspapers in order to be entertained, to read classified advertisements, and to have their opinions, prejudices, and so forth reinforced, rather than to be challenged. People don't like to be challenged and are uncomfortable when they find themselves in a state of doubt. So one can imagine a public-spirited (or simply an opinionated) newspaper owner deciding to reduce the price or increase the quality of his newspaper in order to lure people to read it and be challenged. You might subscribe to the New York Times because it was cheap and had a lot of ads and had useful advice on health in "Science Times," but your eye would stray from time to time to the news articles and editorials and op-eds, and so you would become a better-informed citizen.
The effectiveness of this strategy depends, however, on the aggregative character of a newspaper--on the fact that it contains a hodge-podge of interleaved material, so that you get the editorials even if you just want the classified ads. The rise of the Internet media has resulted in the disaggregation of media components. You can get pretty much any media component (classified ads, health advice, celebrity gossip, sports, food tips, etc.) separately, without having to peruse the news or editorial pages. Newspapers are no longer an effective medium for educating or edifying an uninterested public.
Furthermore, the fact that some ancestral figure, and one of his descendants (such as Mr. Sulzberger), want to answer what they consider the high public calling of controlling a newspaper doesn‚Äôt mean that the other descendants--the rest of the family, who have nothing to do with the newspaper's editorial policy--derive satisfaction from trading their profits for the publisher's continued influence over the product. Why should they? It is not their opinions that are being pushed on the public, but some distant cousin's. With each new generation, the number of slices into which the profit pie is cut grows larger, and each slice thinner, and with the newspapers under tremendous financial pressure from the Internet, family members grow ever more restive.
The separation of ownership and control in large companies is an old story. But it was a story about hired managers' being the imperfect agents of the shareholders (the owners) because the shareholders were too numerous, and their individual stakes in the company too small, to make them effective monitors of the managers, who would therefore have opportunities to pursue their private ends at the expense of the nominal owners. Amputating common stockholders' voting rights is something else. While it is true that the individual shareholder is unlikely to have any effective control over the enterprise, the shareholders as a whole, represented by the board of directors, have a degree of control--less than they are supposed to have, because boards of directors are rarely completely independent of the hired management, but still some. If you take away the right of the majority of the shareholders to control the board of directors, you take away all their control, though they may still have influence, especially if they have some voting rights and can ally with dissident members of the control group (the family, in the case of the family-controlled corporation).
This stripping of control from the majority of the shareholders is awkward because owners of a corporation‚Äôs common stock are the residual risk bearers. They do not have a fixed return, like bondholders. Their fortunes rise and fall with the corporation's profits, and so one might wonder why anyone would own stock in a corporation controlled by a group that justified its control as necessary to avoid maximizing the company's profits! The answer has to be that the company must offer its shares to the public at a discount to compensate them for their lack of control and diminished profit expectations.
The family corporation is a viable enterprise form for the same reason that families are viable social groupings: relations of trust based on intimate knowledge, altruism, reciprocity, and threat of ostracism can be good substitutes for relations based on contract and reputation. The advantages of the family form have to be traded off, however, against the disadvantage, which it shares with hereditary monarchy, that a genetic connection is no guarantor of equality of aptitude or motivation. As a family expands over generations and the founder's genetic endowment becomes increasingly diluted and bonds of altruism fray, the disadvantages of the family enterprise grow relative to the advantages. And when on top of that the family-controlled enterprise is faced with sharp new challenges, as is happening today in the newspaper industry because of the rise of the Internet, the disadvantages of family control become disabling. Probably, therefore, the days of the family-owned newspaper are numbered.
The market for corporate control is sometimes claimed to be more effective at replacing inefficient management when a relatively small number of shareholders-members of particular families in the cases of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times ‚Äì cannot maintain control over management because their shares have much greater voting rights than shares owned by others. Perhaps in situations where voting rights differ, stockholders who own a small minority of all shares could repel would-be corporate raiders who might improve the operations of a company. I do not believe these fears are justified, I first discuss whether government regulators should permit different voting classes of common stock, and then consider these issues in the context of family-controlled newspapers.
Obstacles to the market for corporate control may exist due to different classes of voting shares, but these obstacles are not important in reasonably well-functioning markets for corporate control, like the American one. To be sure, corporations should be required to disclose many aspects of their governance, including whether some classes of shares have greater voting rights than others, in order to give greater information to potential investors in these shares. Once that is done, however, the case for outlawing classes of shares with different voting rights is weak.
With information readily available about voting rights, investors could assess the potential effects on corporate performance of control over management by a minority of shareholders who own high-powered voting shares. Those investors who believed that such control might lead to lower profits and entrenchment of inefficient management would only buy low-powered shares if their prices were sufficiently reduced to compensate for such negative effects on profitability. Prices of shares with lower voting rights would then be reduced until investors expect to get the same market risk-adjusted return on these investments as on shares with greater voting rights.
In countries, such as Italy, where non-voting stock are common and protection of stockholder interests are weak, voting shares sell for a sizable premium over non-voting shares. In the United States, however, the premium on voting shares is only a few percent. This premium is small presumably because the American market for corporate control operates quite well, even when there are different voting rights.
While there is no good case for using government regulation to prevent different classes of shares from having different voting rights, private stock exchanges could have their own rules about voting. The New York Stock Exchange at one time did not allow companies to be listed if some of their shares had no voting rights. In the 1980's after General Motors purchased Hughes aircraft, it issued shares with limited voting rights. GM threatened to leave the NYSE and go to the Nasdaq market if that rule was not changed .The NYSE gave in to GM, and changed its rule about non-voting shares.
As Posner indicates, several generations of the same families have controlled major newspapers in the United States, such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. To protect their control, some of these families, such as the Bancrofts who control the Wall Street Journal, issued shares with different voting rights, with the family retaining ownership of the high-powered shares that had much greater voting rights. This system often worked well for several generations; for example, the WSJ was highly profitable and expanded rapidly during the period from 1940 to the 1980's with the Bancroft family in control. But the management of Dow Jones, the owner of the WSJ, made bad investments during the 1990's that led to discontent among family members.
The financial problems for all newspapers, not only family-controlled ones, were multiplied many fold by the rapid development of the internet that offers news, weather reports, sports, and information in ways that are much more flexible than the printed media, and is updated over the whole day, and every day. Competition from the Internet has made the newspaper industry a declining industry that has not yet bottomed out. Perhaps most of the major papers will survive, but they will have to place more emphasis on their online versions.
Newspapers that have been controlled for several generations by a single family will be more likely to change ownership under this pressure from the Internet because their many descendants would be unable to agree on how to adjust to the new competition. But the generous offer by Rupert Murdoch for the high-powered shares of the Bancroft family that controls the WSJ indicates that shares with different voting rights will not be a major obstacle to a shift of control out of these families. That is a good thing because outsiders will often have much better ideas about how to adjust to the revolutionary effects on the media of the rise of the Internet.
Even though official crime statistics are often suspect, there is no doubt that crime rates vary enormously from country to country. What is more interesting is that poorer and more slowly developing countries generally have higher incidences of crime, often much higher. There are several reasons why poorer countries and those that are growing slower would have more crime, but do higher rates of crime also contribute to poverty and weaker growth? I believe the answer is yes.
That crime is negatively related to a country's income and its development is seen strongly in the data. For example, in the period 1998-2000, countries with the highest murder and kidnapping rates included Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, South Africa, Russia, Zimbabwe, and others that were not then doing well economically. An economy that is doing poorly has more crime because crime flourishes when wages are low and unemployment is high. That is, crime is encouraged when legal alternatives to using time at crime do not pay well. The returns to education and other human capital usually are low in stagnant economies, so that young persons are then more inclined to drop out of school. Dropouts have the free time to engage in theft, the sale of illegal drugs, and other criminal activities.
My remaining discussion concentrates on why high crime rates also slow economic growth and progress. One reason was made clear to me when speaking to a leading businessman in Mexico City, a city with extremely high rates of kidnapping, robbery, and theft. He said in many countries wives who are with their husbands in the United States encourage their husbands to give up their jobs and return home because the wives miss their families and friends. Due to the high crime rates in Mexico City, however, Mexican wives often do not want to return to that city because they feel it is not safe to raise their children there. Of course, for the same reason, foreigners with families are often reluctant to work in countries with much crime.
High crime rates directly raise the cost of doing business. For one thing, foreign and domestic businesses, and wealthy individuals, need to spend considerable resources on providing security for valuable machinery and inventories, and for their employees. For example, wealthy Mexicans, Brazilians, and South Africans employ hundreds of security personnel simply to protect their families and high- level employees. Partly because more people drive to work and to shop because of the fear of crime if they walked or took public transportation, and because good highways and roads in poorer nations are scarce relative to this augmented traffic, the time cost of commuting to work and to go shopping is sizable. People who do walk in cities like Rio de Janeiro or Mexico City often remove their watches and jewelry, and make sure they are carrying a little but not too much money.
High rates of crime are often the result of corrupt police and the judiciary who make little effort to catch criminals or prevent crimes. Acceptable standards of behavior by officials and others also tend to decline when crime is common. In addition, dishonest individuals are willing to work in law enforcement for low salaries when many crimes are committed because they can expect to supplement their income generously through bribes from criminals. It is then no surprise that police in high crime countries like Brazil and Mexico are paid very badly since there is no problem attracting enough (corrupt) candidates to work at low pay.
Corruption in law enforcement encourages corruption in the enforcement of contracts and regulations. International evidence on corruption of officials in different countries indicates that high crime and high corruption levels tend to go together. To be sure, corruption of officials and judges sometimes help a country with bad laws do better by inducing weak enforcement of these laws (see the posts on corruption on August 28, 2005). Moreover, corruption may not be much of a problem when bribing officials to enforce contracts and reasonable laws is cheap. Still, studies of economic growth suggest that on the whole corruption retards economic growth by discouraging investments in physical capital, and perhaps also in human capital, because corrupt officials do not enforce contracts and regulations honestly, and the returns to hard work and investments generally are lower. The foreign investment capital that is crucial to economic development is particularly discouraged because foreigners often perceive-usually accurately- that contracts and regulations tend to be interpreted in favor of domestic businesses and against foreign ones.
Production and distribution of drugs also flourish in environments with corrupt police and judges. What is worse, drug activities tend to corrupt officials and police, and hence weaken enforcement of other laws as well. Such an environment is hardly conducive to the creation of legitimate business and investments. The potential profits from the drug trade is sometimes so large-especially when trans shipment of drugs to the United States and other major markets is feasible- that even the top leaders of some countries have been heavily involved in the distribution of drugs.
For all these reasons and others, countries with much crime have trouble achieving economic development.
The basic economic objection to crime is that a crime is a costly but sterile transaction. It redistributes wealth, which doesn't increase the size of the social pie; and therefore the costs involved in crime‚Äîthe time and other inputs of the criminal, and the defensive measures taken by potential victims‚Äîare a deadweight loss to society.
But notice that the economic definition of crime as a sterile transaction (or coerced transfer payment) does not correspond to the legal definition of crime; in law, a crime is anything that the government forbids on pain of criminal penalties. Victimless crimes tend to be productive transactions, which make the parties better off (at least by their own lights). Attempting to deter or prevent such transactions are likely therefore to reduce the overall social welfare, like other interferences with the operation of free markets. Of course there may be external costs, costs external to the parties to the drug transaction or other victimless crime, that in some cases justify punishment, but this is probably not true in general.
So the first question to consider in assessing the effects of crime on economic welfare is how much of what is criminalized should be. Bribery of officials is, as Becker points out, an interesting mixed case. It is a voluntary transaction with external costs, but sometimes the social benefits exceed those costs, as where the bribe results in circumvention of an inefficient restriction on commercial activity.
Robberies, kidnappings, and other coerced transfers involve a reallocation of resources from productive commercial activities to a zero-sum game of attack and defend. But I am not sure that we should expect this type of criminality to be a simple function of poor prospects for legal employment. If everyone has poor prospects, and is therefore poor, the gains from crime will be meager; both the benefits of crime and the opportunity costs of the criminal (mainly what he could earn in legal employment) will be depressed. Steeply unequal incomes would seem a better explanation for a high crime rate in a poor country, since despite the overall poverty there would be attractive targets for criminals. The high rate of kidnapping in Mexico City seems related to the fact that the city has many wealthy residents as well as many poor ones.
Another factor in high crime rates in poor countries is that it is difficult to finance an effective apparatus for fighting crime. It requires police and judges who are paid enough not to be readily bribable by criminal gangs; in addition, the police must be sufficiently numerous and well-armed to be capable of protecting judges, witnesses, and criminal investigators. So there is a chicken and egg problem: a poor country has difficulty affording the means of preventing crimes rates from skyrocketing, and the high crime rates help to keep the country poor.
It is true that the aggregate expense of even well-paid police and judges is likely to be only a small percentage of GDP even in a poor country. But it is difficult to set a wage scale for a class of workers that is grossly in excess of prevailing wages for work involving similar skills and education.
A possible response to resource limitations on crime fighting is very severe punishment of convicted criminals. The threat of punishment has a deterrent effect, provided the probability of punishment is not negligible; and as Becker long ago pointed out in his famous 1968 article on crime and punishment, making the threat is a lot cheaper than hiring a huge police force. In other words, resources on maintaining a high probability of apprehending and punishing criminals can be economized on, without lose of deterrence, by jacking up the punishment of those who are apprehended; the expected cost of punishment need be no higher. Moreover, the probability of apprehension and conviction can be cheaply enhanced, too, by reducing the procedural rights of criminal defendants. In addition, purging the statute books of victimless crimes, and eliminating foolish regulations that invite bribery to circumvent them, can reduce demands on the criminal justice system and permit refocusing it on the crimes that impose the greatest costs on the society.
There were many very interesting comments. Let me begin my response with a correction. I should not have described the Vietnam War protests as "violent." There was some violence, but my subject was not protests that were violent, but rather protests that took the form of street demonstrations,picketing, and marches (sit-ins, disruptive though rarely violent, would be intermediate between violent and completely peaceful protests), for my analysis shows why we have not seen many such protests against the Iraq War. I thank Lawrence Caroline for catching my mistake.
One comment raises the interesting question of the motivation to engage in a protest, given that the costs are borne by the individual protester, yet the benefits are diffuse. But that is true of much expressive activity, as when a person applauds at a concert, though realizing that the musicians can't hear his applause. Hence the more costly the expressive activity, the more effectively it communicates the depth of the protester's feeling. That is why street demonstrations are more likely to influence public opinion than comments on a blog; it is so cheap (in time, etc.) to post such a comment that the decision to do so conveys no information about the intensity of the belief that motivated the protest.
Another comment points out quite plausibly that one reason for the lower temperature of the current protests is that there is no sympathy for the enemy. In the Vietnam era a small but highly vocal number of Americans were sympathetic to communism, and a greater number mistakenly believed that Ho Chi Minh was not a real communist but rather was an agrarian reforrmer. Some Americans oppose the Iraq War because they consider preventive wars immoral, but most oppose it because they think it unwinnable--a waste of lives and money. Also, one plank in the opposition platform is that the Administration went to war not realizing how difficult it would be to end it. Well, it is very difficult to end it, so even opponents hesitate to press for an immediate withdrawal, as they would have done with respect to the Vietnam War.
I think too that there is some sense among opponents that President Bush will not withdraw from Iraq no matter what and that his successor will withdraw posthaste, so that the die is cast and protests will have no efficacy. But I do not agree with the commenter who suggested that opponents are pulling their punches because they want the U.S. to remain in Iraq in order to increase the punishment of Bush and the military!
I was very interested in the comments that suggest that the Soviet Union fomented many of the Vietnam War protests both here and abroad. That is a factor fortunately missing from the present situation.