Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Thomas Sowell: Vigilantes on the Border?
As usual, great, great column from Thomas Sowell on the economics and politics of illegal immigration.
Social Security used to be called the third rail of politics but illegal immigration is the real third rail that both political parties are afraid to touch.
Cops who find illegal aliens are under orders not to turn them in to the feds. And the federal government's own border guards have their hands tied by the higher-ups as well.
Now that Hispanics are the largest minority in the country, and with the country closely divided politically, neither party wants to risk alienating the Hispanic vote by enforcing immigration laws.
Many other Americans may be outraged at the way illegal aliens are handled with kid gloves - and, in some places, even given rights normally reserved for citizens - but so long as this outrage is directed at both parties, neither party wants to be the one to risk losing the Hispanic vote.
Interesting observation here. Hispanics, unlike blacks have made themselves players politically. That the vast majority of blacks vote Democrat without asking too many questions has the effect of giving neither party a real incentive to reach out to them. Hence, strategically, Republicans view campaigning to blacks as an exercise in futility and waste of resources, while Democrats know they already have their vote locked up so they spend their time on more contentious voting blocs.
America's weakness in controlling its borders has only promoted contempt for the United States on the part of the Mexican government, which publishes instructions to help people illegally get into this country and offers helpful hints on how to take advantage of American welfare state benefits.
When some Americans living near the border in Arizona organized themselves to watch that border and report on people crossing it illegally, the media immediately demonized them as "vigilantes," even though these observers used no violence and inflicted no punishment.
When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said that he would welcome such observers on California's borders, there was another media outcry against him. There is a reason why illegal immigration is the third rail of politics. Not only is there a fear of losing the Hispanic vote, there is a fear of being demonized in the media and therefore losing other votes as well.
Among the intelligentsia, there have long been those who think of themselves as citizens of the world, and who think of national borders as just arbitrary lines drawn on a map. In addition to those with these liberal attitudes, there are some conservatives who think that we need workers from Mexico to do work that Americans will not do.
Virtually every job in the country is work that Americans will not do, if the pay is below a certain level. And the pay will not rise to that level so long as illegal immigrants - "undocumented workers" - are available to work for less.
Even those who write editorials about how we need Mexicans to do work that Americans will not do would not be willing to write editorials for a fraction of what they are being paid. If Mexican editorial writers were coming across the border illegally and taking their jobs, maybe the issue would become clearer.
You cannot discuss jobs without discussing pay, if you are serious. And, if you are really serious, you need to discuss all the welfare state benefits available to Americans who won't work.
This is a pretty basic lesson in what economists call 'opportunity cost,' which is generally, the value of all goods or services that must be given up in order to produce some other good or service. If you want to produce more butter for example, then you need to allocate resources (capital and labor) that were previously producing guns. Thus the 'opportunity cost' of producing more butter, is the necessary decrease in production of guns. In this case, for the unemployed illegal immigrant worker, the opportunity cost of working for 12 hours a day at $2 hour is only the decrease in hours available for sitting around doing nothing, or working for even less. Compare that to an American citizen whose opportunity costs are much higher. Working at such a low wage would mean forgoing either a better paying job, or possibly more lucrative welfare/unemployment benefits. It is no wonder these are jobs that American workers won't do. Removing these low opportunity cost illegal immigrants from the supply of labor would certainly cause wages to go up, but as long as there are workers willing to work at a low price, they will be hired at that price, and businesses can continue to afford to offer their $0.99 value menus.
You might also want to consider the attitudes being promoted by the intelligentsia and the activists that people should do only "meaningful work" and not accept "chump change" but should insist on some arbitrarily defined "living wage," even if that is more than their labor is worth.
When you say that Americans have a "right" to have their "basic needs" met, you are saying that when some people refuse to supply themselves with food and shelter, other Americans should be forced to supply it for them.
If you subsidize workers when they won't work and subsidize employers by making illegal aliens available to them, then under those particular conditions it may well be true that illegal immigrants are taking jobs that Americans won't do. But such statements conceal more than they reveal.
Hard-working immigrants may indeed be a godsend, not only to farmers and other employers, but also to families looking for someone to take care of children or an aged or ill member of the family. But Americans worked as farm laborers and as maids before there were "undocumented workers" to turn these chores over to.
If it has been done before, it can be done again. All that prevents it is the welfare state and the attitudes it spawns.
This is anecdotal in my part, but it seems to me that our immigration policy, when implemented, has the effect of making it difficult for immigrants who just want an opportunity to come and work to gain entry, but easy for those who want to sneak in and even worse, those that would like to kill us. I'm sympathetic to immigrants who want to come to this country and work an honest job, I pretty much think we should let them all in. But it cannot be disputed economically that the flood of illegals working here keep wages down and propagate the self-fulfilling prophecy that they are only filling jobs that Americans refuse to do.