"One's first step in wisdom is to question everything--and one's last is to come to terms with everything." ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
King George vs. Immigration
Exclusive to STR
The Founding Fathers revolted against King George in part because he restricted immigration. Americans of the 1700s wanted more people to move here; more people to hire, more people to whom to sell goods and real estate. Those 18th-century farmers were smart enough to understand that you don't get rich by walling out your customers, employees, or co-workers. The Minutemen in 1776 fought for free immigration; they would find today's toadying, wannabe-Redcoat 'Minutemen' very peculiar.
Nineteenth and early 20th Century Americans would also find our fear of immigrants strange . . . especially since we have so few of them. There were twice as many Irish immigrants per native-born during the years after the Potato Famine, compared to today's Mexican influx. There were more Germans during the late 1800s. By 1910, 14.7% of Americans were foreign-born; the proportion now is only around 10%.
So how is it that suddenly we must pay Halliburton to build a Berlin Wall around the US, call out the National Guard, and implant a microchip ID into every citizen? Let's examine the anti-immigration case one point at a time.
'Immigrants Don't Pay Taxes'
Immigrants, tragically, do pay taxes. Everyone knows that immigrants pay sales and gasoline taxes. They also pay property taxes (passed on in their rents) and corporate income taxes (passed on in the products they buy).
Less well publicized is the fact that two-thirds of illegal immigrants pay Social Security, Medicare, and income taxes. Starting in 1996, the IRS began issuing tax numbers to about 8 million illegals. Of course, being illegal, they can never collect Social Security or Medicare; the taxes paid by poor illegals go to support the improvident American middle class in their old age. This robbing of the poor to support the mooching rich amounts to about $50 billion per year.
'Immigrants Come Here And Go On Welfare'
normaltext">In 1996, Clinton signed the welfare reform bill. The 1996 bill banned illegal immigrants from receiving food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid and Medicare-funded hospitalization. So welfare for the able-bodied poor is still a crisis . . . but primarily a crisis caused by native-born Americans who adapted to the ecological niche offered by AFDC and other family-replacement programs.
Illegals do still use government-provided emergency medical care and public schools. The obvious solution is to privatize emergency medical care and public schools. This has to be done anyway, unless we want to produce yet another generation of expensively uneducated Americans. After all, those Bangalore schools can only produce so many computer programmers.
'Immigrants Hurt The Economy'
In the time of Adam Smith, people were pretty clear about the good effects of trade and immigration. In war, you blockade the enemy to prevent trade and immigration. This is how you destroy an economy. Today economic literacy is less common . . . so our politicians try to convince us to blockade ourselves.
Adam Smith figured out this sort of thing in the 1700s. Trade is not war. You can't make yourself better off by hurting your trade partners; that just means they have less wealth to buy your products, and the prices of your goods suffer. Other people's work, in the long run, makes you richer. Everyone specializes, the overall economy becomes more efficient, and instead of a nation of 99% peasants we have a nation with thousands of occupations. Of course you can't just keep turning the same nut on the same bolt in the same factory your whole life . . . but that wasn't going to happen anyway.
Economists disagree on how much immigrants help the economy, but the effect is clearly positive. Of course it would be more positive if we made it legal for all of them to work!
'Immigrants Take Our Jobs'
Yes, all those tomato-picking jobs that Americans clamor for. (Not to mention all those postdoc jobs that would otherwise go to all the inner-city Americans with Ph.D.s . . . .)
This is just another failure to understand the law of comparative advantage. Thanks to the lack of economics education in American public schools, most Americans have no idea what 'comparative advantage' means. It doesn't mean that the hardest worker gets all the money (if it did, some guy in Shanghai or Bangalore would be a multi-trillionaire). It means that in a free economy, everyone does what they are relatively better at. Bill Gates might be a wonderful tomato-picker, but he's not going to spend his time that way.
In the same way, even if you are a tomato-picker, if there is an influx of immigrant tomato-pickers, that doesn't mean that you will be forever unemployed. You will just move on and get a better job, as did the 96% of Americans who no longer work on small homesteads raising chickens. Perhaps as a tomato-picker supervisor, or perhaps as a Wal-Mart manager who sells things to tomato-pickers. Somewhere, the new wealth created by the tomato-pickers is making new jobs for you.
normaltext">'Immigrants Cause Crime'
We, the descendants of the drunken, violent Irishmen, Jewish gangsters, Italians (!), etc., accuse Mexicans of 'causing crime.' Well, when you make it illegal for people to work, then by definition they cause crime by supporting themselves with honest labor. Amazingly, the vast majority of them manage to do so in spite of every obstacle that government puts in their way.
Of course people living with insecure property rights cannot be as stable as those whose natural rights are (somewhat) respected by the laws. Making immigration legal would instantly raise the stability, incentives, and productivity of all the currently illegal workers. Legal status would make it more profitable for the workers to invest in their own homes, education, retirement funds, etc.
normaltext">The high crime rate in the US comes from two things that are not part of our traditional Irish-German-Italian-African-Japanese-etc. culture (and therefore did not exist during the previous immigration waves): a permanent welfare class, and Drug Prohibition. Illegal immigrants did not cause either of these problems.
normaltext">'Immigrants Threaten Homeland Security'
'We have to control our borders to keep out terrorists.' This certainly sounds nice; everyone would like to keep out terrorists. It would be even better if we could deport the CIA officials who have funded terrorist groups in many countries. But the fact that all the 9-11 terrorists were here legally (while millions of honest workers were here illegally) might make us reexamine the concept more skeptically.
The little practical difficulties of screening millions of tourists and foreign businessmen make the whole idea ridiculous. There is no way of keeping out terrorists by using government ID systems; at a last resort, real terrorists will just kill American travelers and impersonate them.
So, all the conventional arguments against immigration are a crock. The fear of 'foreigners' seems downright bizarre in a world less than a tenth of a light-second across. Hollywood programs stream into eyes in Guatemala , India and China via fiber optics faster than the news in 1776 made it across a large meeting hall. In a lot of ways, the whole world is already America . No one comes here not knowing who Bart Simpson is. Unlike most of the ancestors of we native-born Americans, fresh immigrants today speak at least some English.
America is a nation of immigrants and their descendants. What would American science have been without Tesla, Einstein, Hans Bethe, Fermi, Von Braun, Luis Alvarez, etc.? Many of our job-creating entrepreneurs were and are first-generation immigrants as well; the founder of Intel and the co-founder of Yahoo! come to mind. An America that consisted only of the descendants of the 1776 residents would be small and poor indeed.
Immigrants as Scapegoats
Congressmen and Administration spokesmen could talk to us about:
Etc., etc., etc. For some reason, they prefer to attempt to blame our policy troubles on . . . immigrant workers.
Really Want to Reduce Immigration?
The truth is that most people don't come here because they are desperate to leave their family to live in the land of Eminem and Britney Spears. They come because the American taxpayer funds an oligarchy or dictatorship that makes it very difficult for them to make a living in their home country.
Governments everywhere in the world are dependent on US taxpayer money. This money is what allows them to exist independent of economic reality. The 'Mexican' government is purely a creation of the US taxpayer, funded by periodic $50 billion bailouts. If you want Mexicans to be able to stay in Mexico , quit letting your politicians spend your money to support the parasitic Mexican political kleptocracy.
In 1910, when immigration was at its height, US citizens kept most of their own money. According to the Tax Foundation, in 1910 Tax Freedom Day arrived January 20, for an effective average total tax rate of 5.0 percent of the nation's income. Tax Freedom Day for 2006 was April 26, for a total average effective tax rate of 31.6 percent of the nation's income . . . not counting the raging Republican Inflation, which is a tax that keeps draining our wallets all year long.
Immigrants aren't taking away our freedoms. King George is. The Founding Fathers were brave enough to face up to the real adversary. Are we?