Archive for immigration
Cross-posted at the Values & Capitalism Project
A great many people believe that changing the law is the solution to social problems. This is a fiction.
If written law were some kind of unbreakable magic spell, the United States would not look as it now does. Nearly all of what the government does today is not by any stretch of the imagination “constitutional.” Written laws and documents do not hold the power to control individual behavior or government behavior.
It is true that when people believe the law to be important, they will obey it. But when they believe it to be unimportant they will just as easily disregard it. In the end it is people’s beliefs, not the law that determines behavior.
Perhaps we are seduced into the “Myth of the Rule of Law” because it is so hard to see what’s really regulating behavior and generating social order. The “Invisible Hand” that Adam Smith described as channeling self-interest in the marketplace to serve the diverse needs and wants of its participants is also at work in the marketplace of ideas, social norms and morality. The core beliefs we hold and the norms that emerge from centuries of social interaction are what restrain or fail to restrain behavior.
This is not merely academic. It is dangerous to persist in the belief that the law is the ultimate check on human behavior for two distinct reasons: First, law does not ultimately change the behavior of its intended targets; second, because it does change the behavior of others.
The first problem renders social reform efforts ineffective. The vast majority of attempts to restrain government, help the poor, make people healthier, more charitable, more equal, less intolerant, more responsible with natural resources, or better educated are really just attempts to change what’s written on pieces of government paper. A different combination of words in the Federal Register one day to the next cannot change human hearts one day to the next.
A powerful example is the brief experiment with alcohol prohibition in the United States. Many in the temperance movement genuinely wanted to prevent drunkenness, alcoholism and the irresponsible and even violent action that sometimes accompanies. They focused their attention mainly on what they incorrectly thought to be the source of power over human behavior—the law. They were successful in changing the law, but failed to sufficiently change hearts. A large number of people still wanted to consume alcohol because they did not believe it was immoral to do so. Because they believed in it, they did it despite the law. The main effect of making the activity illegal was to make the production and distribution of alcohol a violent business, where it had previously been much like any other beverage. There were not gang wars over the soda fountain.
Contrast the legal strategy with the strategy of an organization like Alcoholics Anonymous. AA aims for the heart. They work to change individual lives and behavior by developing a non-judgmental network of support and accountability. AA has been able to change countless lives and free people from the bondage of alcohol addiction. The law could never do that, and we should not ask it to.
I mentioned a second problem with believing the law to be the source of social order: It has a negative effect on unintended parties. This can also be illustrated by the prohibition example. Not only did the law fail to change the behavior of most drinkers, it succeeded in changing the behavior of criminals and government officials, leading to more corruption and violence. It also allowed those who wanted to lessen the damage done by alcohol addiction to feel like they’d “done something about it,” when in fact they’d not helped those that needed help at all.
The change in the average citizen’s moral sense is probably the gravest danger of belief in the power of law. It weakens our moral sense and lulls us into the belief that legality is a substitute for morality. We cease evaluating actions based on their merits as against the moral law and begin evaluating them against state-made law. We shirk responsibility to offer genuine aid because the law will do it, and at the same time we pronounce judgment on actions that are perfectly moral, just because they are illegal.
The issue of illegal immigration is illustrative. If we examine the idea without cloaking it in legal/illegal terms, we begin to see a different picture:
A friend of mine is desperately poor and wants to earn a better living for his family. He applies for a job with the local grocer. The grocer is impressed with his work ethic and is happy to offer him a job. This job means my friend can move his family out of their impoverished condition, afford a reasonable apartment and begin saving so his children and grandchildren can have a much better life. There is no trespass or harm committed in this story by any of the parties involved.
Would it be moral to hire armed men to stop my friend on the way to his first day on the job and physically remove his whole family and send them back to their old neighborhood and old life? Would you do this even if you knew it meant you were ensuring him a life of grinding poverty and very possibly death?
It is clearly immoral to interfere with another individual in this way, in particular when such interference condemns them to a much harsher life. But that is precisely what most Americans advocate when they cry for enforcement of immigration laws. The only thing that makes otherwise moral people advocate such immoral behavior is the word “illegal”—in other words a belief in the power of law.
People believe that breaking state-made law is in and of itself an immoral act that justifies the use of violence in retaliation. This absurd notion does not hold up under the slightest scrutiny, even for those who most strongly believe it. I have yet to find an American who says that those harboring Jews during the Holocaust were acting immorally and deserved punishment, or that the individuals who assisted escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad were deserving of incarceration for breaking the law.
Helping peaceful people who are destitute and persecuted is noble, and when done in defiance of the law can even be courageous. It is only a belief in the supremacy of man-made law over moral law that prevents most Americans from viewing as heroic those who assist immigrants hounded by armed border agents. I submit that looking out for the poor is better than locking them up when they have done nothing but seek a better life.
When we remove our awe for legislation we discover that genuine social change is hampered by a belief in the power of law. We also discover that good people will tolerate or even condone immoral acts when they believe that what is legal is more important than what is right. It is lazy to let the law be our agent of change and dangerous to let it be our moral compass.
Tags: immigration, law, morality
This was originally posted on the Shotgun Blog
The Economic Argument
Arguments against immigration on economic grounds basically boil down to “They took our jobs!”. Some feel that allowing people to freely cross borders will result in a flood of low-wage labor that will “steal” jobs from natural born citizens. Labor is a factor of production, just like raw materials or financial capital. Restricting the flow of capital and labor will always decrease economic prosperity. Access to more resources – human or otherwise – always increases wealth and opportunity. If this does not make sense to you, I recommend Frederic Bastiat’s “What is Seen and What is Unseen”, chapter 7, as well as his brilliantly satirical “Candle Maker’s Petition.”
The Culture Argument
Others argue that immigration must be restricted in order to protect the nation’s unique cultural heritage. I submit to you that any culture which must be maintained by force is not an authentic culture and is probably a bad one. Cultures freely arise because they provide benefits to those who participate in them. Cultures are always changing. Getting government in the business of protecting culture is dangerous and counter-productive. First, who gets to define what constitutes culture? Bureaucrats don’t have the best track record in such matters. Second, do we really want to live in a culture that is forced upon us by government prohibitions, restrictions and mandates?
The Welfare Argument
Advocates of limited government sometimes argue against immigration on the grounds that immigrants make use of the welfare state and increase the cost of government. State-sponsored welfare programs are a problem. Stopping immigration because immigrants might use welfare programs treats one tiny symptom, not the disease itself. If you routinely dumped garbage on your front lawn and found critters frequenting your property, would you try to ban critters or would you clean the up the garbage? Though I think the vast majority of immigrants immigrate for jobs, freedom and opportunity, I’m sure some come and make use of government handouts (though far less than U.S. Citizens, and on average less than they pay in taxes). The handouts are an attractive nuisance and should be addressed on their own merits, not by attempting to ban the free movement of people.
The Safety Argument
Some argue that allowing easy immigration will bring bands of criminals into their country and make them less safe. First, if something is a crime it is already, by definition, illegal. Threats to life and property are already protected against via the existing police/military operations. Putting up a wall and stopping anyone from crossing it on the grounds that some of them may be criminals is ludicrous. By this logic, governments should perpetually engage in random home searches because they might discover criminal activity. Closed borders probably don’t stop criminals, but let’s pretend that they could; if we could keep foreign criminals out by keeping out anyone foreign, what would we gain? We’d have spent tons of resources keeping out foreigners, most of whom aren’t criminals, and we’d have that much less to use fighting domestic crime. Banning people from movement because some of them may be criminals is even dumber than banning gun ownership because some people may use them for crime. I trust LCC readers to see the many problems with preemptive Minority Report style crime fighting.
The Right Argument
Freedom to immigrate can be defended from several angles, but I believe the most important argument is based on rights. Imagine you and I have pieces of property that share a border. You wish to traverse my property and I wish to let you, but lawmakers prohibit it. What business do they have dictating whether we can make decisions about our own property? Sure, they were democratically elected, but what business do others have of voting to determine how you and I peacefully use our property?
What if government issued a decree that business owners were prohibited from hiring anyone born on a Tuesday? It’s no different when they prohibit hiring anyone born in another country. Shouldn’t the business owner be free to hire whom he wishes? If an individual wishes to travel, work, buy, or sell peacefully and all other parties involved agree, why should government prohibit it?
When you think up other arguments against immigration, ask yourself why they should not also be applied in state to state immigration? City to city? Home to home?
At bottom I think much anti-immigration sentiment comes from a fear of people unlike us. I support anyone’s right to be prejudiced, or to associate only with those of like culture. But putting that attitude into public policy not only hampers wealth and progress, it violates my right to associate peacefully with whom I choose.
Tags: culture, economics, freedom, immigration, language, security
Christians are called to aid those less fortunate. I think that we often mistakenly take this calling as merely material. Rather than thinking about helping those who are “poor in spirit,” we limit our focus to those who are poor in a pecuniary sense. Rather than offering hope and comfort and forgiveness and love for the deepest needs, we think only of offering alms.
Despite this criticism, I think there is value in helping others in a material way. The question is how? Read More→
Tags: charity, immigration, policy, poor, poverty, wealth
This classic essay was originally written by Oscar Cooley and Paul Poirot, and is excerpted from a pamphlet originally published by FEE in 1951.
Can we hope to explain the blessings of freedom to foreign people while we deny them the freedom to cross our boundaries?
Freedom of movement underlies the concept of private property rights. A person has the right to exclusive possession and use of that which he has assembled and improved without trespass against others—the right to the product of his own labor. Any move of a man might be deemed proper and beneficial when he acts to assemble, transport, or otherwise convert the free gifts of Nature so that they may satisfy human needs more readily. This involves no infringement on the equal right of others. It would seem to be the kind of movement that should not be discouraged by man or by government.
On the other hand, freedom of movement may lead to trespass. A person may move or act in such a way as to threaten the life, or to seize or damage the property, of someone else. His apparent personal gain would be at the direct expense of another person. Surely, government should lend no encouragement to such harmful actions or threats of harm by individuals.
The problem of society, then, is to permit and encourage individuals to move and act in a productive and beneficial manner, and to avoid harmful intervention or trespass. The founding fathers wisely depended upon voluntary exchange—freedom of trade in the competitive market place—as the automatic, non-governmental guide to productivity and progress among men. They delegated to government the power to restrict only those actions of individuals designed to circumvent the free market through fraud, deceit, or coercion. The penalty for violation was restitution for damages, or imprisonment, or some other restraint upon that person’s freedom to act or move.
The freedom of the individual to move toward greener pastures, wherever they may seem to be, has been a vital part of the freedom of commerce—the freedom of choice that has constituted the truly distinctive characteristic of “the American way.”
In view of our long experience of near-perfect freedom to move about as each might choose, some of us may not realize the limitations that confront people in many other parts of the world who might like to move toward something better. Many who might choose to enter the United States, peacefully observing our laws and paying their own way, are denied entry. Our community slogans now seem to read: “Welcome to all peaceful and productive newcomers—except foreigners.” And a foreigner here is an individual who has crossed a special political line, supposedly which bounds “the land of the free”!
If it is sound to erect a barrier along our national boundary lines, against those who see greater opportunities here than in their native lands, why should we not erect similar barriers between states and localities within our nation? Why should a low-paid worker—“obviously ignorant, and probably a Socialist”—be allowed to migrate from a failing buggy shop in Massachusetts to the expanding automobile shops of Detroit? According to the common attitude toward immigrants, he would compete with native Detroiters for food and clothing and housing. He might be willing to work for less than the prevailing wage rate in Detroit, “upsetting the labor market” there. His wife and children might “contaminate” the local sewing circles and playgrounds with foreign ways and ideas. Anyhow, he was a native of Massachusetts, and therefore that state should bear the full “responsibility for his welfare.”
Those are matters we might ponder, but our honest answer to all of them is reflected in our actions—we’d rather ride in automobiles than in buggies. It would be foolish to try to buy an automobile or anything else in the free market, and at the same time deny any individual an opportunity to help produce those things we want.
Our domestic relationships would be harmed seriously by restraints upon man’s freedom to migrate. But why shouldn’t the same reasoning hold for our foreign relationships?
Fear No. 1: The “melting pot” might fail to assimilate newcomers. This notion has as little merit as the idea that a third-generation Yankee’s digestive tract isn’t capable of assimilating a bunch of carrots grown by a foreign-born Japanese or Italian vegetable gardener. The assimilation of a foreign-born person is accomplished when the immigrant willingly comes to America, paying his own way not only to get here but also after he arrives, and peacefully submitting to the laws and customs of his newly adopted country. Freedom to exchange goods and services voluntarily in the market place is the economic catalyst of the American “melting pot.” Christian-like morality is the social catalyst—and if it has come to be in short supply among native Americans, the blame for that shortage should not be laid upon our immigrants.
Fear No. 2: The “wrong kind” of people might come to America. The danger that “a poorer class” might come from Asia or Africa or Southern and Eastern Europe and contaminate our society, undoubtedly seems real to any person who thinks of himself as a member of a superior class or race. Such a person, like any good disciple of Marx, is assuming the existence of classes and is convinced that he is qualified to judge others and to sort them into these classes.
Perhaps what is feared is the importation of a new idea of the relationship between the individual and his government. If that has been our fear, it very well might have been justified. For America has been rapidly substituting a socialistic State control for the traditional system of private enterprise. But let us not mistake persons for ideas; the ideas are the root of the problem. Migration of persons is not a reliable measure of the flow of ideas.
Fear No. 3: Immigrants might deprive our own workers of jobs and depress the wage scale. The fear that immigrants might take the jobs of American workers is based on the fantasy that the number of jobs to be filled within our economy is strictly limited. Individuals still do—and undoubtedly always will—entertain unsatisfied desires for more and more goods and services, which industrious and ingenious individuals constantly are producing in response to opportunities. If there is freedom to think, to trade, and to move, then opportunities for new, creative jobs are not limited to the wilderness or a spot of idle land.
The fear that heavy immigration of workers would depress the wages of native workers is an outgrowth of socialist doctrine. Socialism is so concerned with consumption and “equitable distribution” that it neglects the source of production. It fails to recognize that there can be more and more to consume only if capital and tools are first produced to give leverage to the productive power of man.
Can we hope to explain the blessings of freedom to foreign people while we deny them the freedom to cross our boundaries? To advertise America as the “land of the free,” and to pose as the world champion of freedom in the contest with communism, is hypocritical, if at the same time we deny the freedom of immigration as well as the freedom of trade. And we may be sure that our neighbors overseas are not blind to this hypocrisy.
A community operating on the competitive basis of the free market will welcome any willing newcomer for his potential productivity, whether he brings capital goods or merely a willingness to work. Capital and labor then attract each other, in a kind of growth that spells healthy progress and prosperity in that community. That principle seems to be well recognized and accepted by those who support the activities of a local chamber of commerce. Why do we not dare risk the same attitude as applied to national immigration policy?
Our collective abandonment of the economic system of the free market leaves for us the controlled communal life, where everyone wants to be a consumer without producing anything.
The Basic Problem
Our immigration policy merely reflects the existence of this serious internal problem in America. Our present policy toward immigrants is consistent with the rest of the controls
over persons which inevitably go with national socialism. But the controlled human relationships within the “welfare state” are not consistent with freedom. Great Britain once thought she could deny freedom to American colonists. And now, her own people have traded their freedom for nationalized austerity. Even a “prosperous” modern America can ill afford traveling that same course. If we do, our community, too, will lose its capacity to attract newcomers. Then we wouldn’t need an immigration policy. But who among us would want to remain in a community where opportunities no longer exist?
Tags: economics, ethics, freedom, immigration
This article is #12 of a weekly series highlighting the former memes of Bureaucrash, an organization once headed by my friends Pete Eyre and Jason Talley of the Motorhome Diaries. The memes were originally authored by Pete Eyre and Anja Hartleb-Parson, and were intended as means of communicating ideas about liberty in catchy and succinct ways.
Thanks in large part to misinformation, protectionist legislation passed with the support of Big Labor and other rent-seeking groups, and rhetoric accompanying these actions, immigration has become a divisive topic. As was seen between East and West Berlin decades ago and between the United States and Mexico today, this controversy sometimes results in the construction of physical barriers to prevent the free movement of individuals. Yet, fortunately there are some reasonable voices in this discussion, helping to point out how immigration restrictions further entrench governments and negate individual rights, in addition to severely hampering the economy.
Tags: economics, immigration, liberty, memes