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.

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