Topics: Welfare, Rights
18 Oct 1994

From: "DG (Ervan Darnell)"

Last week a task force on immigration, headed by Barbara
Jordan, issued its report. Its conclusion was that we need a
national database of *every* legal resident. And, employers
would be obligated to check this database before they hire

Ms. Jordan of course assured us that this database would be
strictly confidential. This is laughable on the face of it but
painfully ironic as well because the key for the new system
will be your social security number. When congress passed
social security the original law promised that it would never
be a national ID system. This promise is worth just as much,
absolutely nothing. She also promised that there would be no ID
cards involved. Don't hold your breath. But even if there are
no cards, it doesn't matter. You will have to provide your ID
number on demand which can be verified instantly and better
match the description of you. You are just as surely tagged as
if you had an ID card.

The government will now know everywhere you work a priori and
have a chance to pass judgement on it before you even start.
The other side is that you will be breaking the law if you hire
anyone without the government's permission. "Mr. J.'s
application is refused because he was busted for possession in
1985.", "Mr. Green's application is refused because our
records indicate you have not hired enough blacks this year."
"Mr. Moreno's records are temporarily unavailable for six
months while we process his application." That's the least of
it. I'll leave the darker scenarios to your imagination.

But is this any worse than it is now? The answer is 'yes', it
is worse. The presumptions just flipped around. As for
employment, instead of having the goverment investigate you for
breaking the law after the fact, you will now have to get
permission ahead of time to do anything. As for personal
privacy, even though most people have ID, you are not required
to have ID and the presumption is that you don't (unless
driving of course). The new presumption would be that you if you
cannot instantly produce correct ID you are busted.

Charlene Hunter-Galt while interviewing Ms. Jordan asked her
how she reconciled this proposal with her long support of "civil
rights". The reply was that the circumstances justified it (the
confusion of civil rights and civil liberties is telling in its
own right). In other words, the liberals don't give a damn
about civil liberties. They argued for them only so long as it
helped their underdog causes. Now that we have enlightened
liberal bureaucracy there is no need for such niceties (the
silence of the anti-war liberals on Haiti speaks to this as


Ms. Jordan complained that current illegal immigrants do want
to become legal citizens (which she was willing to tolerate
some more of). Well, what a surprise. Most of them would be
worse off if they became legal citizens. The jobs they hold
would become instantly illegal because they are often paid less
than minimum wage. Since hiring them is already illegal, there
is no need to pay taxes. Converting an illegal employee to a
legal employee would lower their income 20% just because of
taxes (FICA alone is 14%, with essentially no deductible). In
many cases they work in places where zoning or union rules make
what they are doing illegal. There is not much incentive here
(of course, deportation risk is the big disincentive). The
liberal spin is obvious: you cannot tax and regulate people who
refuse to become legal citizens.

This brings us to the real question: why do liberals hate
immigration so much? We are told that if we opened the gates
to immigration, it would destroy the welfare system. The
curious thing is that this is seen as a reason *against*
immigration. Go figure.

Conservatives make the same mistake with respect to culture.
As liberals are afraid of changing the economic order,
conservatives are afraid of change in the language or 'social
norms' that might come with immigration.

The liberal morality argument is a curious one. It says that
it is okay to take money by force from someone in New York for
the purpose of charity in the (Rio Grande) Valley, but not for
the purpose of charity in Matamoros. It says that it is okay
to spend $600/month on 10M needy persons instead of spending
$300/month on 20M even more needy persons (the assumed new
immigrants who would be even poorer). In so far as the moral
argument of 'we must help the poor' goes, this doesn't make any
sense. The conservative 'moral' argument is hardly more than
xenophobia (especially in the hands of such as Pat Buchanan).

A liberal hypocrisy is that the money we spend on the poor is
supposed to be an investment, not merely charity, but an
investment (particularly when it goes to public schools). If
it is an investment, why is it restricted just to current
citizens? It seems like investing in all of those new
immigrants, who are more willing to learn and work than the
current American poor, would make even more sense. The liberal
horror at the thought of immigration lays lie to the investment
argument. Nobody really believes that. (*)

There is a curious argument about the rights of immigrants
too. It is that immigrants do not have a 'right' to American
welfare. Of course, that begs the question of why Americans
have a 'right' to American welfare. Deeper is the notion that
the economic pie is fixed and immigrants deserve no part of it
(welfare or no). The fixed pie assumption is false, but even
it were true, it confuses whose property is being dispensed
with. Trade protectionists would protect the markets of
American producers, as if their market were their property. It
is not. Tariffs only violate the rights of the consumer to
trade with whomever. Similarly, immigration is not a question
of the rights of the immigrant, but a question of the rights of
citizens. If someone wishes to trade their money for new
immigrant labor, or trade part of their land (for money or
labor or whatever) to house new immigrants, it is the right of
the owner that allows it. Liberals want to protect the market
of labor unions and conservatives want to protect the markets
for 'products' (in the usual sense).

Immigration is supposed to destroy jobs. It does produce
dislocation, but it doesn't destroy jobs. If we really believe
that more people means less work, then let's get rid of half
the country and be rich. This is just like the anti-NAFTA
idiocy that trade is bad because there are some losers. We
could dynamite every bridge on the Mississippi and be better
off in that case.

Even if it doesn't destroy jobs, it is supposed to lower
wages. This is wrong too. Taking Hazlitt's example, consider
countries as persons. If a rich person trades with a poor
person, is the rich person the worse for it? No, of course
not. Yes, the rich person goes back to making $100/hour
instead of weeding the rose garden and is thus denied the work
of weeding which the poor person gets. But, both parties are
better off in the balance. That the gardener lives in a garage
apartment instead of across the street does not make any
difference (once the rent is implicitly deducted from wages).
So it is with countries. Trade with a poor country makes us
(and them) richer. Bringing the laborers here makes us even
richer still (since the (for example) Mexican government does
not get to squander the income).

Sometimes a statistical sleight of hand is used to make this
argument. It says the average wage after open immigration of
*all* citizens would be less than the average wage of *all*
citizens without open immigration. That may be true (I doubt
it though), but it is true only by changing who 'all' refers
to. The current citizens of the U.S. would be better off after
open immigration and the new immigrant citizens would be better
off than they were before. However, by lumping both together
after but not before total wages appear to have fallen. This
error crops up particularly often in comparing the U.S. to
European countries (in all kinds of stats besides income, e.g.
health care).

Regardless of the analysis, the empirical evidence speaks
volumes. For instance, 125,000 Cubans came to South Florida at
once in the Mariel boat lift, including a larger than usual
percentage of 'undesirables'. What happened to the welfare
system? nothing. To wages, did they fall? No. They stayed
the same. To unemployment, did it rise more than temporarily?
No. (data from Postrel's editorial in this month's Reason).
That Asian-Americans (recent and n'th generation) have higher
incomes than white Americans and that Asian-Americans, even
first generation, do phenomenally better school screams volumes
about the myopia of our immigration policy too. Interestingly,
liberals see high productivity immigration as being as much of
a threat as low productivity immigration (for my money,
discouraging the former is slow suicide for the U.S.).

Okay, so what is the real reason that liberals hate
immigration? Part of it is just plain economic ignorance. The
deeper reason is that welfare and union protectionism are used
by Democrats to buy votes from those constituencies (at an
unfair and ultimately greater cost to everyone else). Open
immigration threatens union monopolies for obvious reasons.
The mistaken concern that there would not be enough welfare
money to go around would mean those votes could no longer be
bought with the new lower subsidy. As for conservatives, it is
a similar analysis, but instead they suffer from cultural
paranoia and votes are bought from particular industries.

Libertarians do not fear change, either economic or social, but
welcome both (so long as it comes about because of freely
cooperating persons). As David Friedman said "If we want to be
honest, we can ship the Statue of Liberty back to France or
replace the outdated verse with new lines, 'America the closed
preserve/That dirty foreigners don't deserve.' Or we can open
the gates again." Libertarianism offers an answer that is
economically rational, humane for people suffering in other
countries, and fully consistent with preserving our own civil
liberties. We can help the poor huddling masses and help
ourselves at the same time.


(*) In fairness, there is another argument which is that
welfare discourages criminal behavior and is therefore an
investment versus the option of buying prisons. Foreigners are
not, by and large, a criminal problem in the U.S., thus the
distinction of where investment stops (i.e. investment in this
sense really means avoidance more than investment). The
problem is simply that the facts are wrong. Welfare does not
prevent later criminal behavior. If anything, it exacerbates
it. But, that's another post.
Ervan Darnell |"A man is none the less a slave because |he is allowed to choose a new master |once in a term of years." --Lysander Spooner