Friday, September 30, 2011

Immigration, the Economy, and Globalization

I have been avoiding writing about the topic of immigration into the United States of America. I have found most political people, the kind who would be reading a relatively obscure blog like mine, have set views that they do not want challenged by the many facets of the issue. Left and right, people want a simple position they can get their emotions behind. To differ from your crowd risks social rejection. As we have seen in the recent federal funding debates, factions digging into their positions and not seeing an overview (which would give some validity to opposing views) leads to paralysis. Which is great if you want to be frozen into the dysfunctional status quo. I believe that truly understanding all aspects of an issue leads to the best possible (though not necessarily ideal) solutions. So here we go, starting with a legal dissection.

There are two types of immigrants into the United States: legal and illegal (allowing for a handful that occupy gray areas). While many anti-immigrant sentiments, and arguments, may apply to legal immigrants, most Americans seem to be okay with legal immigration, to the extent that it currently exists. Legal immigration can be addressed by Congress, and most people are willing to let the issue be fought out there. Illegal immigrants provoke different reactions. These two types of immigration get tied together when there are proposals to legalize illegal immigrants who have become long-term residents, something also in the power of Congress. I will start with an initial look at illegal immigration, since this is where greatest controversy has been.

One common attitude towards illegal immigrants, the welcoming one, is usually rationalized on a civil rights basis. If all people are created equal, as it says in the Declaration of Independence, then an illegal person is still a person, and standing on American soil should be treated as an equal person, with a path to official citizenship.

There are typically three main reasons many American citizens want illegal immigrants to be removed and to have no pathway to a legal status. One is economic: in effect such immigrants are scabs who lower wages and take jobs from citizens. The second is a dislike of the cultures (or ethnicity) of illegals. The third is based on the act of entering the country illegally: there are legal ways to enter, and illegal entry is a criminal act. This initial act of defiance of U.S. law puts them at odds with those who style themselves as law-abiding citizens.

For me only the racist or ethnic argument is easy to dismiss. I like for new spice to be added to the American melting pot. I don't like narrow-minded or racist culture. The other criticisms, however, are not so easy to dismiss.

There are two good, yet contradictory arguments about the economic effects of illegal immigrants. One is that they take jobs that no one wants, and like any other paid persons, spend their pay mostly on local goods and services and so help keep the wealth creation cycle intact. The others is that they lower wages and use taxpayer funded services to which they contribute nothing or little. I have seen that both of these phenomena exist (ideology bound thinkers refuse to notice one or the other), but the question is, to what extent? The reality is that no single snapshot gives the whole picture. The economic impact varies according to whether the U.S. is in a boom or a recession, and it varies by locality and economic sector. It can be subtle too: according to contractors, for the same rate of pay, many illegals will work harder, with fewer breaks. That benefits the construction corporations, but does it benefit the general economy is nearly-as-productive workers are idled?

To the extent that illegal immigrants do benefit the economy, the obvious solution would be to bring them in legally, either through temporary work programs or by expanding quotas. Then, to the extent that some people focus on the illegality of immigrants, that can be separated from economic impact arguments. The Republican Party has had quite a problem with this aspect of the immigration issue. Capitalists want cheap labor, and love the union-busting tendencies of illegal immigration. Rank and file conservative Republicans feel threatened economically and culturally, and so oppose increasing quotas and temporary work programs. Bachmann, Perry, Romney and crew have to balance the need for big campaign donations from their bosses against the need for the votes of the little people.

I am for maximizing economic benefits to the downtrodden American worker. That means I favor temporary work visas only when there really are no workers already present in this nation who want the jobs available. That means the law would have to be flexible, letting more workers in during booms, maybe excluding them during recessions. Also, such work should really be temporary. If a worker is needed most of the time for a period of say, over two years, they should be given the opportunity to choose to become first a permanent worker and then a citizen.

If this rational policy were followed, illegal immigrants would only be here for their own benefit. They have made a choice to not go through the quota system or temporary labor programs. They have, in effect, stolen someone else's place in line. I think the civil rights argument is inappropriate in this context. I don't believe scabs have a civil right to lower other people's wages or take their jobs. I want to emphasize that I admit to thinking narrowly here, within the context of a national economy box that I think is outmoded. My problem with applying the civil rights argument, in its present context, is that it provides a giant loophole for American capitalists to maximize their own profits while starving working people. We don't need that kind of help.

So far I have kept the argument in a national context, and I think that is part of the problem. We live in a regionalized economy where capitalists think nothing of packing up a plant in Rhode Island and reassembling it for production in Wuchou. NAFTA unites the economies of Canada, the United States, and Mexico, but our freedom to work where we choose in these three nations is excluded from the deal.

Mexico is the Godzilla of the immigration debate. Often illegal immigrant is synonymous with illegal Mexican immigrant. Anti-immigrant sentiment sees Mexico as a horde of people seething to inundate the U.S., held back only by immigration and anti-immigration laws.

This is absurd. Open the borders and there would be some brief acceleration of immigration from Mexico, but it has never been all that hard to get into the U.S., despite tragic deaths in the deserts near the border. There just are not that many people in Mexico. The population of Mexico is about 112,000,000. The U.S. population is about 312,000,000.

If anything, open borders would be a problem for Mexico. Remember, the Mexico used to include Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. American birth rates and illegal immigration into those states in the 1840s were a precursor of their theft by the U.S. government. I believe that given the lower cost of living in Mexico today, a lot more Americans would move there if they were free to come and go, buy housing, and work there. 10% of the American population moving to Mexico would have a far greater impact there than 10% of the Mexican population moving to the U.S. The failure of Canada and the U.S. to arrange for mutual citizenship is even more absurd.

What is true regionally is true globally. While I believe there would be enormous cultural and economic benefits to having global citizenship, to everyone being able to live and work where they choose, in the short run I would want the transition to be well-managed. The gates should come down slowly. If someone is coming to America, they should have a plan, basically a job lined up, and the same for Americans emigrating to greener pastures.

Another big context is overpopulation. I believe it is a fact that the world is overpopulated with humans. I believe the global number of humans needs to be substantially reduced over time if the environment that supports us all remains healthy. Therefore I support a two-child maximum policy in the U.S., and think that is appropriate in much of the rest of the world as well.

I don't think my immigration ideas are likely to be implemented by the U.S. anytime soon (even though they have been implemented within the European Union). To allow for mutual immigration between the U.S. and any other country, notably Mexico, I would like to require that the partner country recognize women's rights to birth control and abortions, and implement a two-child maximum policy. Of course if every nation did that, less people would feel compelled to emigrate from their native lands.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Recognize Palestine

The United Nations (U.N.) is a funny place. And I don't mean ha-ha funny.

On the one hand it is as close as one can get to a recognizable global government. Therefore it makes sense for the Palestinians to ask the U.N. to recognize their existence as a nation.

On the other hand, it has most of the attributes of a bad government, and few attributes of a good government. Given its history, that should not be a surprise. The UN was, and remains, a profoundly racist institution, dedicated to maintaining the system of imperialist domination of the industrial, mainly "white race" nations over all others.

The UN had as its predecessor the League of Nations. In American history books Woodrow Wilson is almost always portrayed as the progressive peace-lover who worked to create the League of Nations, to promote world peace, only to see the U.S. Senate reject American membership in the body. That is not untrue. But Woodrow Wilson was one of the intellectual architects of racism in the United States, and the leader of the overtly racist Democratic Party. His Fourteen Points for world peace and international relations basically amounted to democracy for white people.

President Wilson effectively called for new nations based on ethnic majorities when those new nations had been part of rivals to the American, British, and French empires. For instance Poland, which did not exist as a state before World War I, was to be created out of parts of Russian and Germany. But he did not call for independent states to be carved out of any part of the American or British empire. Neither the Philippines nor Puerto Rico, both U.S. colonies, were considered nations capable of self-determination.

Japan was one of the few nations that had, at that time, escaped colonization by one of the imperialist nations (often referred to then as the Great Powers: the United States, Russia, Germany, France, the British Empire, and perhaps Italy). During negotiations Japan raised the idea that Asian peoples had a right to self-determination. That would mean the U.S., Britain, France and Holland giving up their colonies (Germany's were taken from it for losing the war). Woodrow Wilson, chairing the committee that considered that proposal, killed it. He really truly thought that only people of European descent were capable of self-government. Instead of a peaceful withdrawal of imperialists from Asia in 1920, the issue led to the Asian Anti-colonial War (always lumped by U.S. historians into World War II, to confuse the issue) and then to a series of national liberation struggles lasting into the 1970s, including the Vietnam War. [See also: The U.S. War Against Asia]

Palestine, after World War I, was not allowed national self-determination. It was removed from the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire and places in the British Empire. The British, in order to receive Jewish financial backing during World War I, had promised to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine (the Balfour Declaration). While there were (fluctuating degrees) of Jewish immigration into Palestine before World War II, the British never official created a Jewish state or region in Palestine.

The United Nations was a reboot of the old League of Nations, with most of its flaws. It did not call for the abolition of colonialism. It was designed expressly to give the appearance of global backing to the new British-American alliance. It was not democratic in any reasonable sense of the term, as the one-person one-vote guideline was subverted by the colonial system and other un-democratic structures. Where independent nations had been established in Asia, the UN allowed them to be re-colonized. In particular when Korea tried to become an independent nation (the Korean War) the UN voted to attack Korea. Similarly, in almost every case where it has been involved, the UN has helped strong nations attack weaker nations.

Meanwhile, back in Palestine, the Jewish section of the population threw out the British and established a state by force of arms in 1946 through 1948. Unfortunately, this was not simply a matter of making reality out of the Wilsonian rhetoric of national self-determination. It was largely a land grab and instance of ethnic cleansing, for the native Palestinians were largely thrown out with the British, by the mostly European jewish invaders. The new state of Israel made further conquests in a series of wars, leaving the Palestinians with no territory of their own. Although at first reluctant to back the tiny new state and anger the Arab states in the region, in the U.S. Jewish votes in the key states of Florida and New York, along with a vast corruption of government through election campaign donations eventually made the U.S. government the primary military and economic backer of the state of Israel.

Despite their troubles, the Palestinians have retained their national identity and have created a culture of resistance to Israeli tyranny. This week the Palestinian National Authority petitioned the United Nations to recognize the Nation of Palestine.

President Obama is too worried about getting himself re-elected with American Jewish money and votes to support Palestinian statehood. Given the anti-democratic structure of the U.N., that means the Palestinian request will be blocked by its Security Council. Based solely on a military alliance that existed during World War II, five security council seats have permanent members (the U.S., Great Britain, Russia, France, and China) with permanent veto powers. Basically, the form of the United Nations is an oligarchy bordering on dictatorship.

However, a vote in the General Assembly is likely to show that the majority of the nations of the world want to recognize Palestine as a nation, and that implies they want to see justice done for the Palestinian people.

Americans should support democracy and national self-determination, including for the nation of Palestine. The United States government should voluntarily relinquish its veto power in the U.N., along with the other permanent Security Council members.
Further, the United States of America should recognize the Palestinian state, regardless of the outcome in the United Nations. President Obama should be ashamed of his self-serving following in the footsteps of that architect of racism, Woodrow Wilson.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

States Rights and the Federal Reserve

"Such is the character of human language, that no word conveys to the mind, in all situations, one single definite idea; and nothing is more common that to use words in a figurative sense."

—John Marshall in McCulloch vs. Maryland, 1819

If your knowledge of American history is shallow enough, you might think that the question of states' rights was answered by the Civil War. The Republican Party opined that for a state to secede from the Union was an act of treason. A lot of people died to make the point. Yet states did not become mere administrators of Federal law. They retained important rights and duties.

Before considering how the Federal Reserve fits into our system of governance, it is worth a bit of review about the Bank of the United States. America had no banks at all in 1776, which at least proves it is possible to get along without them. Great Britain had a number of banks, including the Bank of England, which had been created by the British government, but which had not branches in the American colonies.

The first Bank of the United States was chartered by the first Congress under the new Constitution in 1791 for twenty years, based on a proposal from Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington. Like the Bank of England, it was set up as a private company that would hold federal funds, but act as a bank to commercial enterprises. From the beginning some political figures (anti-federalists) opposed it and believed that its creation was not a power granted to Congress by the Constitution. In 1811 Congress refused to recharter the bank (by a vote of 64 to 65). The War of 1812 created such financial chaos in the United States that the bank was issue a new charter in 1816.

In 1818, to prevent the Bank of the United States from competing with local banks, the State of Maryland passed a tax on all banks not chartered by the State. The Bank cashier, McCulloch, refused to pay the tax. The Bank lost in the Maryland courts, but appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. By a vote of 8 to 1 the Supreme Court found the Maryland law to be unconstitutional. [See McCulloch vs. Maryland, 17 US 316 (1819)]

In the ruling John Marshall discusses the nature of the federal system at some length. He discusses how sovereignty can be shared or split by states and the federal government. He discusses the phrase "necessary and proper" at some length. He also splits the hair of the 10th Amendment by noting that it differs by one important word from the wording of its predecessor in the Articles of Confederation.

Even Marshall, the federalist, noted that the Constitution gives the Congress some responsibilities, and prohibits certain types of legislation, while reserving others to the states. Two basic problems remain, even if you are convinced by Marshall's reading of the Constitution. You may not agree with how the Constitution divides up responsibilities between the states and federal government. That could be fixed by amendments, although amending the Constitution is difficult, and what is already in place is favored.

The more difficult question arises when specific situations cross multiple issues, or when there are shades of gray within a single issue. The Supreme Court itself has often made differing rulings on the same subject during different periods of American history.

President Andrew Jackson did not like the Bank of the United States; he thought its powers exceeded those grantable under the Constitution. Jackson, like most Americans, wanted states' rights when he agreed with the states, and was against states' rights when he wanted to impose his ideas on the entire nation. When the people of South Carolina nullified an oppressive tariff (import customers duty), Jackson threatened to use military force. But when George asserted states' rights to evict the Cherokee nation, and the Supreme Court backed the Cherokee in Worcester v. Georgia (31 US 515), Jackson (and later President Van Buren) refused to use federal troops to enforce the Supreme Court's decision. In 1833 President Jackson took federal money out of the Bank of the United States, and its charter was allowed to expire in 1836.

The Federal Reserve was controversial when it was created in 1913 it was no less controversial than the Bank of the United States. However, it did not compete directly with private commercial banks, instead using its function as a reserve bank to maintain a money supply consistent with economic health. Recently the Tea Party and Republican presidential candidates have been attacking the Federal Reserve. Partly the attacks are pragmatic, partly they raise yet again the ancient question of what are the powers of the federal government under the Constitution.

Anyone can criticize the Fed on pragmatic grounds. Take your choice: the Fed created too much money, or the Fed created too little money. Heck, the Fed insiders debate that question among themselves.

Questioning the Federal Reserve's constitutionality is wacky, except perhaps as an academic exercise. The Tea Party has no good answers for the reasoning in McCulloch vs. Maryland. Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce and to establish a system of currency, both of which it chooses to do through the Federal Reserve. Congress has the power to change the Federal Reserve, to replace it with something different, or to abolish it outright.

Many in the Tea Party now hold there is an Original Constitution, written by God himself, and easily interpreted by anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of English and the Ten Commandments, the amount you would get from their home schooling program. For them it is simple: the Constitution does not mention the Federal Reserve, so having one cannot be constitutional.

The first Congress (admittedly a rogue's gallery of corrupt men) chartered the Bank of the United States, and it was signed into law by George Washington. Who do you think is in a better position to opine on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, the village idiots of the Tea Party, or the first Congress? The men who knew the men, sometimes even were the men, who wrote the Constitution, or Michele Bachmann?

We do not need to return to some mythic original Constitution. We need to amend the Constitution to bring it into line with what we, the people, have learned in the past 200 years. The problem with Congress is not that it has exceeded the power granted to it, though it probably has at times. The problem with Congress is that it has not done everything necessary and proper to "promote the general Welfare." Neither, for that matter, have the various state legislatures.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tea Party Ovens

A tea party sounds so nice, so elegant. Savor the pagan flavors of India sipped from pretty matching porcelain tea sets. Or perhaps you might like the romantic American patriot version: dress up like American Indians and dump British, privately owned tea from India as a protest against a tax that explicitly was to pay to defend American colonists from American Indians.

Yesterday the world, or at least the few people who were not already sick of watching Republican presidential candidates debate, got to see a darker sort of tea party. The kind where you are sipping your tea, hoping to get to know your host and suddenly your host sprouts fangs and tears at your throat. Fade to black.

I did not listen to the debate. My wife heard about the incident on NPR and, as she related it, which may not exactly correspond to NPR's report, the entire Tea Party audience (about 1000 people) at the Tea Party sponsored debate demanded the death of a hypothetical working guy, following a question about medical insurance put to Ron Paul, to be known henceforth as Uncle Death.

I found a replay on the internet easily enough. As far as I could tell from the audio portion, only three or four audience members were screaming "let him die" or "death". Ron Paul had a weasel answer. If a working guy has no private medical insurance and needs prolonged hospitalization, Ron Paul strongly recommended that he retroactively buy medical insurance. Pressed, he talked about the freedom to take on risk. Asked if the man should just be turned away to die, after the four idiots in the audience did their death chant, he talked about religious charities dealing with such cases instead of the government. He never really answered the question.

I agree with Ron Paul on a thing or two, like bringing U.S. troops home from our imperialist adventures. His attachment to the Gold Standard, however, distinguishes him as a nutter who has been unable to adopt to industrial, much less post-industrial, reality. But I never knew he was as dead, as cold at heart as old General Franco himself.

As Adolf Hitler showed, it is not much of a leap from allowing people to die from lack of medical care to putting people in ovens and gas chambers to save on the cost of bullets.

What was scary about the moment was not that four extreme libertarians expressed such an extreme every-man-for-himself philosophy at a public, televised debate sponsored by the Tea Party.

What was scary is that no candidate took the opportunity to distinguish himself or herself by scolding the deathers. Not one. They are cowards individually, and cowards collectively. Let me name them, in no particular order:

Jon Huntsman, coward
Herman Cain, coward
Michele Bachmann, coward
Mitt Romney, coward
Rick Perry, coward
Newt Gingrich, coward
Rick Santorum, coward

In particular, if Mitt Romney had jumped in and scolded the deathers, I think that might have put a damper on dominance of the political debate by Tea Party extremism. Moderate Republicans don't want obvious nutters like Bachman, Perry or Paul to lose an election against a vulnerable Barack Obama. But when they see even Mitt molded like plastic by a few Tea Party thugs, moderates get intimidated.

Clearly the tail is wagging the dog now. The thugs are in charge of the Republican Party nomination process.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Where Have All the Capitalists Gone?

Gone to socialists, every one.

In our media saturated society anyone might think we are going through a major revival of free market capitalism. It is the Tea Party and Republican Party verbal remedy for all that ails American society.

Socialism and even just ordinary good government are anathema. You would think the government owns Walmart or General Electric, or the entire S&P 500, given the way the political candidates carry on. Even government regulations, like not selling poisoned food, are decried as socialistic.

The entire business community of America, and the workers who follow their leadership, claims to be against socialism. The capitalist spirit remains unbroken and ready to rumble despite decades of New Deal stimulus, Great Society redistributions and even ObamaCare.

Then there is reality. You remember reality. It is what videos are sometimes made from. It is what you have to drive through to get to work in the morning, if you have a job.

There is a litmus test. There is a way to see whether people with money, which is too say capitalists large and capitalists small, stand by their rhetoric.

Real capitalists put capital to work in business. On a large scale this is easy to quantify: most of America's capital at work in business can be measured in the stock market. Every public stock has a value called its market capitalization, and you can add all that capital up to see what the free market capitalists are doing business with.

Phony capitalists put their capital in government bonds. There really is nothing in our society more socialistic that a Treasury bill or bond. To buy a bond is to turn ones back on capitalism and free markets. To buy a bond is to believe that the federal government's ability to tax is sounder economics than a bet on a business making profits.

In case you have not been following the stock and bond markets, let me catch you up to date.

The stock market has been largely abandoned by investors. That happened in late 2008. There are still a few brave capitalists out there, and even some individual investors, but the market has been kept afloat, to the extent that it is afloat, by stock buy backs. That is, the companies are, by and large, quite profitable, and they use much of the cash they generate to buy their own stock, allowing the socialists to get out of their investment in capitalism.

The bond market, on the other hand, is stuffed to the gills with the money accumulated by socialist investors, mainly from selling stocks. These former capitalists love the taxing power of the government, which guarantees the safety of their "investment." They are happy to lend money to a money-losing government rather than risk it on money-making public companies.

It is time for capitalists to put a stop to this hypocritical behavior.

It is time for all Republican candidates to take a new pledge:

"I pledge all of my capital is invested in the stock market or private investments, and I have no capital invested in the socialist government bond market, and never will."

In fact, all Republicans should make that pledge and take action that aligns their investments with their capitalist rhetoric.

When will they ever learn?

Disclaimer: William P. Meyers has a retirement fund that is 100% in stocks and owns no government bonds.