Sunday, June 27, 2010

Immigration: A Problem in Need of Principle Application

Some issues currently before the American people as "problems" befuddle me. Abortion, gay marriage, drugs. How and why people get exorcized over these issues is sometimes frustratingly unfathomable to me. I remind myself that people who see these as issues of high priority--as issues at all of any priority--are operating under a completely different set of premises and values than I, but this is often an unsatisfactory anodyne to what ails me.

Immigration is just such an issue. So much vitriol, so much bluster, so much money! And for what precisely? What are the principles motivating those so upset over immigration? That immigrants use things once they get here? That some immigrants commit crimes? That the immigrants capable of getting around the obtuse and illogical legal immigration system do so? These aren't principles so much as gripes.

Every country has a right and duty to defend its geographical political integrity--from external political threats. But from private immigrants? This is issue number one. So there are no invading armies crowding the borders of the republic, but what about criminals? The government must honor all extradition treaty obligations with legitimate governments. If fugitives from other countries seek safety in our bosom they ought to be expelled back the justice awaiting them. What about those who committed crimes but served their sentences? This is a matter where I think there is some legitimate issue for debate. Other countries around the world have bizarre and unjust criminal codes that condemn people for non-crimes while other countries let murderers out of jail after absurdly short periods of time (i.e. at all). I think a case by case approach should be applied for tough questionable cases. I do not think it unreasonable to bar those previously convicted of murder, rape, and larceny past some set value of stolen property. Those who commit crimes here before attaining citizenship ought either to be dealt with under our justice system, sentenced, then deported (if their crime is not serious enough to warrant a life sentence or the death penalty), or, if a minor felony, simply deported back to their country of origin providing that that is not a death sentence.

What about employment “theft” and the use of hospital emergency rooms and state welfare aid? These are "issues" only insofar as someone cares about maintaining state economic interventions and welfare programs. There is no way to avoid paying some form of tax in almost every state in the Union, so the idea that even the most illegal of immigrants is paying no taxes is a canard. Now, they might not be paying as much as a native citizen of the republic in the same position, but it seems to me that if one has a problem with that state of affairs then the immigrant is not the direction in which to direct one's ire, but the laws that make such a situation possible.

Jobs, outside of the government, are the creation of employers. They are not public goods or commodities, but are privately held and offered. The labor market in this country is, in principle, a free one. That being said, it is heavily regulated. There is a well known price floor in place in the market for labor, more commonly referred to as the minimum wage. Like every other market with price floors and ceilings set to levels above or below the market equilibrium of supply and demand, buyers and sellers will sometimes ignore the rules to conduct business that is mutually beneficial and not harmful, yet illegal. Immigrants, often reared in societies far less abundant than ours, are often capable of living far more economically than native Americans and are willing and able to offer their labor at rates below those of many other people. Like most competitors today who find themselves in a position demanding a choice--change or fail--many Americans competing with immigrants, particularly illegal ones, strike out for a third option. Simply, proscribe the competition.

Think of the labor market in the same way you would about any other market, except in this market, the collusion which is squashed by anti-trust laws in nearly all other markets is encouraged in the form of Union protections. Direct price controls are frowned upon in nearly all markets except for labor where price floors exist nearly everywhere (and price ceilings are sometimes discussed and proposed quite seriously). The American Republic has often been committed to protectionism of its domestic markets in a wide variety of manufactured items. And so it has been of its labor. It's not the result of a host of seedy behind-closed-doors lobbying activity, but the dangerous democratic rumblings of the vox populi.

But for those who claim to only care about security, how do we secure ourselves from criminals and terrorists from abroad or at our borders? Criminals and terrorists are always going to try to do things either patently illegally or attempt to pretend lawful behavior to avoid suspicion. This is always the case and it is not what characterizes the vast majority of immigrants historically or currently. We spend vast sums of money to set up systems and employ our fellow citizens to prevent these two small classes of people from entering the country and wrecking havoc. But those systems and fellow citizens not only having to hunt down the criminals and terrorists over a vast border, they have to do it amidst a much larger population of people technically breaking the law to immigrate to the United States for just and upright reasons. Why? Because of the current harebrained scheme of national quotas and visas that penalizes everyone. Does it even have the redeeming feature of keeping criminals and terrorists out? No. The quotas and visas are irrelevant to criminals and terrorists who simply ignore these laws along with every other law that gets in their way. Or they will comply to a point to avoid harassment ala the 9/11 hijackers.

The national quota and worker/student visa system should be abolished. It serves no legitimate end. Immigrants coming from afar will have to enter through sea ports or air ports and are subject to old-fashioned methods of making sure they are who they claim to be and/or not infected with horrible contagions. Without a quota and visa system, the current mess on the Mexican border should almost entirely evaporate as far as concerns people interested in making an honest living go. It’s far safer, cheaper, and easier to enter a known border crossing to undergo an identification confirmation and medical examination than to hike through the desert with hardcore criminals. As for the criminals, they will suddenly find themselves as isolated figures in the desert easy to handle for the resources already appropriated for the purpose. No more endless sea of humanity to hide in. The key is to not drive honest decent people into the arms of rapacious unsavory criminals in order to achieve non-objectionable ends. No citizen of the United States has any right to interpose themselves between prospective employers and employees except in a case where someone's legitimate individual rights are violated.

If U.S. citizens wish to complain that their welfare systems cost too much money because people use them (shocking that free money offered to people sometimes gets grabbed) then they should reconsider why they have such programs in place to begin with. They are objecting to behavior. There can only be two reasons: 1) They don't like the idea of people getting handouts, in which case, they should work on getting rid of the government handout system; or 2) They don't like the particular person getting the handout. The first complaint is based on a principle, the second is not.

So it's clear that I think the hullabaloo surrounding immigration is a lot of confused, prejudicial, muddled nonsense. But naturalization of immigrants is a legitimate province of the government. The government and the republic broadly ought not to encourage or foster a dangerous pluralism. What do I mean by that? The republic always has and should continue to encourage the immigration of those who want to make a new start; those who want asylum from tyranny; those who want to take the opportunities and responsibilities of freedom by the horns and succeed. It has never been the policy of the republic to encourage the immigration of monarchists, aristocrats, criminals, communists, or anyone else not supportive of human liberty and dedicated to the principles of individual liberty from which the republic was born. It is a very mild restriction, but one the republic should hold to very firmly.

E pluribus unum is our motto for a reason. American pluralism is a wondrous achievement and we bask rightly in our incredible variety as a people, but when it comes to the truly important fundamentals of our political creed and our unity as a people, we have been and must be together. Not as a collective mass without thought--never that. But we can be united in our devotion to the liberty and freedom the revolution was fought for and which has been reaffirmed in blood numerous times ever since. United around our constitution, that stolid, rarely changing yet alive and breathing and real document. United around each other because now, as always, Franklin's injunction that we must all hang together or assuredly hang separately is absolutely true. And united around our ability to absorb--happily absorb--those who see our society, our example, and want in. Those around the world staring at the United States of America on small television screens, or hearing about it on crackling radios, or being told about it around a campfire under starry skies. To all those aspiring people wishing to escape poverty, wishing to help family and friends, wishing to achieve that which would be impossible anyplace else--anytime else--it is to this republic they have always flocked and continue to flock to even in this troubled age. A goal, a dream, a vision--by the millions, people bring them to our shores. Few lands in history could ever claim to be a land of immigrants. It's not an accident. Immigration requires a maximum effort. There has to be a reason to leave and there has to be a reason to go to a particular place. It's always easier to stay put. And yet to us they come, from all over. We must open ourselves to them while maintaining our republican way of life. Becoming a walled camp, worrying about which particular people are getting handouts, and blaming our employment woes on others is not us. That sort of thinking is not America at its best. When an immigrant risks everything to come here, it is not a small, insulated, petty country he holds before him. Nor should it ever be.

To that end I propose the following amendment to our constitution.

PROPOSED IMMIGRATION AMENDMENT to the Constitution of the United States

Section One. All foreign aliens, unless convicted of crimes to be defined by the Congress of the United States, or infected by such illnesses as shall be defined by the Congress of the United States, shall not be prohibited from entering the United States or its territories and remaining indefinitely unless said foreign alien commits a felony against a Federal law or a law of the several States;

Section Two. All foreign aliens not otherwise excluded by prior criminal activity in the United States or its territories, or by prior criminal activity in their countries of origin, the extent of which shall be defined by the Congress of the United States, shall be naturalized citizens of the United States in pursuance of the following;

Section Three. All foreign aliens wishing to become citizens of the United States shall, continuously, reside in the United States or its territories for a period not less than ten years;

Section Four. All foreign aliens wishing to become citizens of the United States shall declare their intention of becoming a citizen by swearing to and signing an oath, publicly witnessed by at least two officers of government, State or Federal. No foreign alien shall become a citizen until this oath is sworn and signed. The oath shall be: "I swear that I shall always uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States and its republican form of government. I swear I shall always affirm and protect the individual rights of all citizens of this republic. I swear by my life and all that I hold dear, that I shall never levy war against this republic. Never will I swear allegiance to any foreign prince, potentate, or people against this republic. I swear that so long as I am a citizen of this republic I will maintain, with my life if necessary, its laws and its liberties;"

Section Five. Any foreign alien wishing to become a citizen of the United States cannot do so by contracting a state of marriage with a citizen of the United States;

Section Six. Foreign aliens, whether seeking citizenship or not, who have children in the United States, shall not become citizens. All children of foreign aliens born in the United States or its territories will be citizens of the United States and enjoy all the rights and privileges guaranteed to the same;

Section Seven. Congress shall make no law restricting foreign aliens of any nation from immigrating to the United States or its territories, nor shall it harass foreign aliens from any nation, seeking citizenship or not, unless the United States are at war with said nation, and only so long as a state of war exists shall this prohibition be ignored;

Section Eight. All Federal laws concerning naturalization and immigration passed prior to the adoption of this amendment shall be void. All foreign aliens in the United States or its territories at the time this amendment is adopted shall be eligible for citizenship under the provisions of this amendment retroactively regardless of their prior compliance with the previous, now void, naturalization and immigration laws;

Section Nine. Congress shall make all laws necessary and proper for carrying the foregoing powers, provisions, and proscriptions into effect immediately.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blog of the Early Republic Redux!

I have redesigned and recommenced operating my other blog, The Blog of the Early Republic, a link to which you can find on the right as well as in the link provided in this message. I will be updating both blogs on a weekly to bi-weekly basis from now on, so stay tuned for what I hope is some interesting content. That is all.
Harry Reid's Political Fate

Having returned to Nevada semi-permanently after a five year self-imposed exile in New England (pursuing that Ph.D dream of mine) I find a community quite unfamiliar in many respects to the one I left behind in August 2005. For one thing, there are fewer people here. I don't just mean all of my friends moved away, though that is certainly true in some regards, but there are just fewer people about. This is anecdotal, obviously, but I'm sure it can be verified by the agencies in charge of keeping track of such things, and the 2010 Census will undoubtedly bear out this observation.

Finding work is infinitely more difficult than it was when I left. I'm still looking. But any sort of position from measly laborer, to adjunct professor, from security screener to substitute teacher and anything else you can imagine seems to be scarce. Scarce is perhaps too timid a word. One almost senses that given the current prices of gold it might make more sense to imitate our ancestors of '49 (that's 1849) and go prospecting for a claim somewhere. But unlike in those days, most of the good prospecting land seems to be owned already, usually by the Federal Government.

It's still very hot. I'm not sure if I expected that to change, but it did not (unfortunately). And there are a bunch of new buildings everywhere. People actually use the beltway! No one did in 2005. It was an unused expensive boondoggle back then.

Politically things are peculiar. Jim Gibbons was a very popular man when I left. A veteran of the Gulf War and repeated congressman for the rest of the state (there were two congressional districts before the 2000 Census; one for Las Vegas, one for the rest of the State). As far as Republicans in the State went, he seemed the most respected. John Ensign was nipping at his heals. I return to find Gibbons's career in tatters and Ensign a laughingstock. The former was just rejected in his party's primary and the latter is hoping people stop laughing by 2012 when he's up for re-election. I have met with and spoken to Senator Ensign several times, once at some length. He seemed like an intelligent decent guy. His failure to resign his seat baffles and appalls me.

That brings me to the current Senate race that has gained national attention. Harry Reid, the Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate finds himself trailing his challenger, Tea Party darling Sharron Angle. Having been in New England for the last five years, the last year and a half most notably, I must say I have no personal experience with these Tea Parties. I enjoyed Rick Santelli's extemporaneous condemnation of the endless effusion of Federal money at the end of the Bush Administration and the opening of Obama's on CNBC. I was quite shocked that it inspired a nation-wide effort to lodge vocal and strident opposition against those measures and has now taken on an active role in selecting, endorsing, and supporting candidates for higher office, from Rand Paul in Kentucky to Angle here in Nevada. I'm appalled that a neophyte clown like Sarah Palin has ingratiated herself into some sort of informal leadership position among at least some portion of these people. It calls into question their judgment at the very least. There are few Republicans more ridiculed than she, and it's ironic that a movement inspired by righteous fury at expanding government should elevate a meddling mommy-state Republican like Sarah Palin to a leadership position. But this is a digression to be pursued elsewhere.

Senator Reid, from my personal experiences with the man (I have met all of Nevada's Senators for the past 14-15 years through the Sun Youth Forum, a meeting of the minds of select High School Students moderated by local notables including, during the two years I attended, Senators Reid and Bryan and then Congressman Ensign), is unpleasant and unapproachable. But he's neither foolish nor timid. He's an experienced and able politician in the sense that he knows how to win elections and wield political power. Defeating him in an election is not an easy proposition. It was very nearly pulled off by a then very popular and appealing Congressman John Ensign in 1998. He came up several hundred votes short. But Reid's arguments for his own retention then are the same as now, except now he's been in the Senate an additional 12 years and he now holds the highest position of actual political power in that body. He can credibly argue that in terms of that ugly "pork" spending everyone seems to hate except when it's spent on them, he's the man. In tough economic times a man waving money in your face can be an irresistible force.

His opponent has never won state-wide office. Why is this important? Because neutralizing Las Vegas, for a Republican, is critical to winning such elections. By this I mean, a Republican must make sure that Las Vegas is not so lop-sided in favor of the Democrat that it blots out the Republican sweep of much of the rest of the State. Reid counts on Las Vegas and its various powerful Unions (Teachers, Nurses, Culinary, etc.) to carry elections over the remainder of the State. In a midterm election, turnout is always critical and Unions are great organizing devices for turning out the vote.

His other ace in the hole in the past is that he has been able to mollify Nevada's tilt towards social conservatism (there are still a ton of Mormons living here). The Democrat from Nevada is "Pro-Life" in the sense that he opposes the right of the living to decide their own fates and to use their own bodies as they see fit. His opposition to abortion has served in the past as a way to hold onto Mormon voting affinity as well as mute the potential issue on the part of his Republican challengers.

However, this year poses certain problems for all of Senator Reid's former strategies. Waving federal money around in an election year where (at least in Nevada) many people are extremely angry over the unaccountable spending going on at the Federal level, only seems to highlight what's wrong in Government and with Senator Reid in particular. As for abortion, it has been thankfully absent from much, if not all, of the electioneering so far. I do not anticipate, barring some unforeseeable turn of events, that it will factor in anyone's vote this November. As for the Senator's elevated position in the majority party. I see that as being just as likely to be a liability if many of his constituents see his record of "accomplishment" there over the past two years to be one of irresponsible and reckless spending and legislating. The overhaul of healthcare regulations, in response to the market distortions created by the previous 40-50 years of healthcare regulations hardly struck many Nevadans as a necessary or desirable legislative goal. Nor do they view creating a fake market in carbon emissions as a pretext for inventing a host of new and onerous taxes as a wise or desirable end. And yet, if Senator Reid pursues using his powerful position as the casus prima for his re-election, he merely highlights a host of very unpopular and controversial "achievements" which threatens to motivate everyone in the state who either does not like him anyway or finds those legislative acts/goals to be antithetical to their way of thinking.

Of course, the other strategy Senator Reid has at his disposal and is currently pursuing is that of simply making the alternative unacceptable. Nevada is a closely divided state as far as party registration goes, and independents hold the real power in state-wide races. The current TV ads Senator Reid is running play up Angle's alleged dislike and opposition to the grand old entitlement programs the government currently runs, Social Security and Medicare. It is a predictable and classic move. Whether Angle holds such views is irrelevant really as no one thinks altering those programs, let alone doing away with them, is politically possible in the near future. But a seemingly large swathe of those currently receiving benefits from those programs like them, and they vote. Like the retired armies of ancient Rome, old Americans are that politically volatile group that any politician messes with at their own risk. [In the later 19th and early 20th centuries, the group playing that role in the United States was actually and litally a retired army. The Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans of the Union armies that won the Civil War, were a political force to be reconed with. Politicians meddled with their pensions at their own peril. But at least in those days it was a finite and delimited group of people that eventually died off.] Just as the former had to be given lands and generous pensions to ward off the precipitous (and all too common) march on Rome, the latter has to be assuaged that their "entitlements" are not only not going to be done away with, but that they will not be cut or even prevented from increasing (for very long anyway). If Senator Reid can convince his fellow aged citizens that his opponent is a threat to a cherished part of their existence, he might very well cobble together a strong enough coalition of voters to survive the current threat to his senate seat.

Of course, candidate Angle has lots of financial support from a national network of people who dislike Senator Reid. She's also benefiting from the outraged and excited echoes of Rick Santelli's outburst on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Whether that's enough to take down the state's most powerful, crafty, and durable politician (no one, not even his fiercest partisans, would dare claim that he's the most beloved) when he currently ranks as one of the most powerful (for good or ill) men in the country is not a matter I care to predict at the moment. If he loses it will be a poor sign for President Obama's goals over the next two years and a very obvious repudiation from a state that gave it's five electoral votes to him in 2008.

As to whether that event, should it occur, will have any immediate impact on the economic situation in the state the answer is obvious--NO. The private sector of the economy nationally is not going to be able to proceed robustly in rebuilding and expanding until it has some idea of what it's operating constraints and costs are going to be in the future. While the debt increases without an end in sight, while the congress continues passing regulatory expansions over and reorganizations of huge swathes of the economy (healthcare, finance, potentially energy), and while the President continues to prod, move, and ask for more and more, most employers will prudently hold onto their money until they can figure out how much they'll need to cover new expenses. Previous temporary tax cuts are going to expire at the end of the year on top of everything else. The economy is likely to remain stagnant and uninspiring until this situation reverses or, at the very least, stabilizes. Nevada's economy relies on the prosperity of the rest of the economy to prosper. It needs tourists and people travel less these days.

Senator Reid's ultimate fate will have some, probably not insignificant, impact on stabilization and/or reversal being possible, to say nothing of their actually occurring. Republicans have been no more credible in the realm of actually paring down the cost of government and undoing regulations. In fact, they've been less credible for promising those things and then not delivering them. It is time to test, for perhaps the final time, whether the American people, specifically the portion of them (still) living in Nevada, can vote on principles the majority of them profess to hold and then keep their elected champion committed to those principles. Or whether they've irreversibly gone down the road of being a clamoring mob, that will bow at the alter of the highest bidder and the most unscrupulous demagogue. I cannot say what the result will be, but I'm mildly pleased that it remains an open question.