On the Other Hand...

Liberal Immigration

by Jim Davies

Not long ago in this column I suggested that while it's true that free immigration is incompatible with the Welfare State, it's the latter and not the former that ought to be terminated so as to break the logjam.

That ruffled a few feathers.

So I though to revisit the subject, a bit more fully. I notice that the idea of less restricted immigration is not something Rush Limbaugh can buy - he brings the full force of his amusing sarcasm against it - and that even Gene Burns, who is generally so principled on his talk show, has this one wrong.

As usual, let's start by examining the problem. Why, exactly, is it that Americans don't like immigration much?

I have noticed three key reasons, and that while only the first two are admitted, the third is at least as strong as the other two. They are: (1) our welfare system would be swamped by the world's indigent, (2) they would "compete unfairly" for low-paying jobs and throw millions of good Americans out of work and (3) we just don't like foreigners, who bring here their foreign ways and their foreign languages and their foreign children.

Let's take a look at each of these three.

Welfare

It's perfectly true that taxpayer-funded welfare (from "education" to Minimum Wage, food stamps and medical care) is incompatible with open borders; of course it would be swamped. Immigration and socialism do not mix; a nasty dilemma for the socialists, who want both to continue the welfare system and to be generous (with other peoples' money, of course) to the world's poor.

I don't; I think tax-funded welfare a scab on the face of a free society and think it ought to be terminated altogether for a whole variety of good reasons. Its incompatibility with liberal immigration is just one of them.

On the wall of my office hangs Emma Lazarus' poem, containing the magnificent words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free..." That open invitation never once says or implies that, having arrived, the world's "wretched refuse" will find a single government handout waiting; just a free opportunity to build a life and make whatever fortune they want to earn. THAT is what America is about, not welfare; and since the two don't mix, it's welfare that should be scrapped. And the freer the immigration, the sooner it will go. So let's throw the doors wide open!

Work

The threat of lost jobs is a powerful motivator for those who would shut the immigration doors. Is it valid?

Not very. At first sight, incoming Mexicans used to earning $1 an hour are going to disrupt the lives of those here earning $5 for doing the same work... but the things to watch are, firstly, that it's the "same work" and secondly that the COST of living here is also much higher than in the Third World.

Unless the immigrant already has a good command of English, for example, he or she is simply going to be unable to compete in the "same work" as those born here. Very possibly, their other skills will be less developed. Since the employer wants to pay only for completed work, he isn't going to pay $5 an hour (assuming abolition of Minimum Wage) for work that produces only half as much.

And then when that wage is earned, how exactly will our much-feared immigrant live, on $2.50 an hour? - that wage may be fine for an unskilled teen just starting out and living with Dad, but hardly for a breadwinner with four kids to feed. Very quickly, the immigrant may find that even $5 an hour here buys him less than $1 at home, and he'll turn around and go back South.

So while (if the doors were opened wide) there would be an initial rush of newcomers, I rather doubt it would last very long. Remember, when immigrants last rushed here relatively freely - during the second half of the last Century - a very substantial minority found their hopes disappointed and went back home after a year or so. I do believe in a free market in labor, and even if the price of labor does decrease initially, that decrease will provide a powerful automatic dissuader for the next expected wave of immigration.

In short, those who object for this reason have failed to think through the economics of a free labor market and are just dead wrong.

Xenophobia

Here's the root of the matter, and it's a very sad one: an awful lot of people simply don't like strangers; they are prejudiced. They make all kinds of other ludicrous rationalizations (like "There isn't room!"!!) as well as the two above, but that's what it's really all about. Conservative or Liberal, the true reason is plain old-fashioned bigotry.

Nor, alas, is it new. All through the period of large scale immigration to America, the same prejudice was highly visible; not just in the form of "ethnic jokes" but in real, vicious hatred: "No Irish Need Apply" was a sign hung often outside Boston employment offices. Dislike of Jews is well-known. Germans, Poles, Italians - each, in their turn, had to suffer persecution great and small, as they came to America to build a new life. The first anti-drug laws were written to target and harrass the Chinese, waves of whom came to work on the West Coast but who chose to relax with heroin, as was their long-time and harmless custom. This is our recent heritage.

It's a tale unworthy of America. And it's time to write its final chapter.

© Copyright Jim Davies 1999

Jim Davies lives in New Hampshire,
and enjoys contemplating which way is up.

The above is Edition # 100

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