Tuesday, May 01, 2007

(hog)"wash"

Sebastian Mallaby and I share something: an unnaturally high forehead. Mine is perhaps not as tall and a bit wider, for me it brings to mind a drive-in theatre movie screen, broad and protruding, rounded and looming out over the brow, giving what I always thought an insect look, and made to look all the larger by an occasional ghostly pallor (once when visiting sunny California after a few years in grey Seattle an old friend simply stopped mid-conversation for a moment and took it in with what can only be described as awe; "you need to get some sun on that thing", he said); whereas in his picture Mallaby's resembles more an elongated, columnar edifice.
Combine this deformity, and let's face it, it is, with its common companion flaw, the receding hairline (who says God has no sense of humor?), and a longing for the pre-sexual revolution custom of men wearing hats (other than baseball caps) is induced. Of course, I don't have the face Sebastian is fated to wear in the vast shadow cast by that towering, totemic gourd (I kid, I kid!). Nonetheless, I feel a natural affinity for the man, suffering as we do from a common malady, suspecting that we've shouldered a similar weight (literally and figuratively). That however does not excuse his May Day pro-amnesty column:

People say, contrariwise, that immigrants steal jobs from native-born Americans. But economists have patiently explained for years that there is no finite "lump of labor" in an economy. The presence of migrants causes new jobs to be created: Factories that might have gone abroad spring up in Arizona or Texas. Hasn't anyone noticed that California, where fully one-third of the adult population is foreign born, has an unemployment rate of less than 5 percent? [bold added]

Stupid question, and not because the answer is obvious. Other questions come to mind, such as has anyone explained to Sebastian Mallaby that correlation does not equal causation? How about Post hoc fallacy? Has he weighed the difference between David Card's "mysterious alchemy" argument, and George Borjas' take on immigration's effect on labor? Does he have a position? Is he aware of them? "Hasn't anyone noticed" my a—er, big broad forehead.

As for “factories springing up”, the overwhelming percentage of illegals are employed in construction, agriculture, hospitality, housekeeping and food processing, jobs that cannot move offshore and don't make anything but the houses with increasingly inflated values we are continually borrowing against and trading to maintain the hectic momentum of our growth-based economy; therefore, they do not directly result in freeing up capital for "factories." Any benefit to unrelated industries is the result of labor cost savings through depressed wages in these land-bound illegal immigrant heavy industries; savings that Mallaby will later argue (see below) are neither a net benefit nor net loss to the economy as a whole.

Therefore, by his own argument, Mallaby's "factories", metaphoric creatures perhaps, are subsidized by and dependent upon a depression in wages concentrated in certain industries and far down the personal income scale. The question becomes: why are we continually importing cheaper labor and the poor people attached to it to depress wages at the low end merely to create more low-paying jobs? Is it because we are addicted to growth and no longer able to produce things of value? Are we now just squeezing what little value we can out of unskilled labor? And what does the end of this progression look like, say when we've equalized our wages with Mexico's, yet are still producing less things with fewer and fewer people?

The "immigrants create jobs" argument may have some merit but prompts the question: why is a new arrival worth the low wage job he has a hand in creating? Isn't the benefit of job creation that it improves the lot of those already in the labor market? If a new arrival both creates (and it's not a one-for-one proposal as I understand this argument, but a new arrival is worth a fraction of a job) a low wage job and takes it, where is the benefit to the economy, other than in marginally increased tax revenues that are quickly surrendered to costs? In fact, it's ironic to argue that illegal immigration spares us significant outsourcing, seeing as the creation of an illegal workforce is a type of outsourcing. It's the only means of outsourcing available to industries that are bound by geography. Mallaby continues:

People say that immigrants burden social services while not paying taxes. Actually, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for welfare, food stamps and Medicaid; and although they do use hospital emergency rooms and schools, they also pay sales taxes and payroll taxes, and one in three pays income tax. The net result is that immigrants cost the average native U.S. household an extra $200 in taxes each year, according to a study of 1996 data. Once you take into account the boost to pretax incomes caused by immigrants' contribution to growth, the total effect of undocumented workers on native-born Americans is roughly zero, according to Gordon Hanson of the University of California at San Diego.
Notice the confusion in terms in the opening sentence, beginning with a strawman about "immigrants burden(ing) social services" when the far more common, and relevant, charge is that illegal aliens burden social services, and finishing with his counter that illegals are largely ineligible for services.
This is the "economic wash” argument, a retreat from the net benefit through growth and lower prices assertion; what is obscured by Mallaby's hopping back and forth from illegal immigration to immigration in general is of course that his "wash" indicates a net loss from illegal immigration; but putting that aside, the "wash" argument itself prompts an obvious series of questions:

  • Why are we poaching the lowest incomes in the economy for no net benefit?
  • Why are we overcrowding our cities, for no net benefit?
  • Why are we increasing environmental degradation for no net benefit?
  • Why are we stressing our schools with children who can be expected to yield a 50% high school graduation rate, for no net benefit? .
And on. Of course this is being generous, because, if heeded, Mallaby's argument in favor of amnesty and against enforcement because illegal immigration has no economic benefit, yields this: a deferred cost paid after the granting of amnesty, and its subsequent increase in welfare recipients, warranted by the original contribution of no economic benefit. I don't know, am I the crazy one? This argument resembles a snake eating its tail.

The question needs to be put back to the Mallabys of the world: why aren't we then pursuing an immigration policy geared toward skill, education, and IQ that has a net economic benefit? Is it because this policy would entail importing human capital that will compete with Mallaby and his progeny, rather than continually shorting the bottom rungs of the income ladder to provide him with slightly cheaper produce and services, essentially transferring lost wages to him?

It doesn't end with the huge increase in welfare costs that amnesty promises to unleash; now the vast majority of our newly minted disadvantaged and their offspring will enjoy privileged status as economically underachieving minorities. Ironically, people who have engaged in what is essentially rent-seeking behavior, moving here to take advantage not only of higher wages but of the general public subsidy and a superior (at least for the moment) system of legal rights, are immediately considered "victims" of this same remarkable society and its "legacy" of racism. Only in America.

Thus we come to the second glaring problem with open borders enthusiasm: proponents consistently exhibit an inability, or unwillingness, to hold constant other factors impacted by too-high unskilled immigration. When confronted with mass amnesty's potential for vastly increasing dependence on the government and demand for, for instance, affirmative action, libertarians will say simply that they are against big government, as if it is merely a question of assigning blame for holding the wrong opinions ahead of assured adverse consequences, or as if the mere expression of opinion alters the reality of big government that is not only certain to remain for generations as things currently stand but just as certain to grow as a result of unchecked immigration, as the growth of government necessarily tracks the growth of poverty.
This is partly why so many liberals abandon their commitment to working class wages and working conditions to embrace immigration policy written by and for business. They have their own industry to protect, after all. The poor are the clientele those working in the business of wealth redistribution require to maintain the health and viability of their industry.

Liberals, if and when they acknowledge disturbing trends in non-white Hispanic education, similarly evince a belief in the magic of incantation, dismissing concerns with assertions such as, "then we'll simply have to do something about education." Likewise, trends in education that are routinely misidentified as correctable crises, and thus the source of perennial waste and futility resulting from misguided federal attempts to "reform" the reality of uneven outcomes, are deemed sufficiently addressed by the repitition of a moldering cliche that no one any longer takes seriously. The hollow promises to "do something about education", like the poor, will always be with us.

The "economic wash" argument is first cousin to the argument that undocumented workers paying into social security but not drawing on it are thereby subsidizing it. But just as in the first case, this merely means that we have been borrowing against future social security revenues, only to repay later at what is effectively an inflated rate of interest--if and when we amnesty these folk who we have been up until now, contrary the false moral posturing of Mallaby et al, happily fleecing.

This is the dirty little secret of the pro-amnesty, anti-enforcement side. They effectively argue for the creation of a second-class citizenry, constrained by an illegal status making them more tolerant of lower wages and adverse labor practices, and more vulnerable to crime that its members are less willing to report (and providing the pro-amnesty side with artificially deflated numbers regarding criminality in illegal alien communities).

So, say some, amnesty them. And their argument has a perverse validity: we should not, cannot in clear conscience, maintain what is effectively a second-tier citizenry. But, unless our goal is to maintain a permanent underclass of illegals such as that produced by our current system of derelict enforcement relieved by periodic mass amnesties, the question of amnesty cannot be addressed without first addressing not legal status, but enforcement. This would be true "comprehensive" immigration reform.

This second class citizenry created by the current cycle of abnegation/amnesty will eventually draw much more from the public purse than they can possibly put in; not only as a result of their much lower incomes, but as a result of what will be higher health care requirements due to having wrecked their bodies providing Sebastian, and I'm sure a lovely (hopefully not genetically endowed with Dad's Metalunin forehead) brood of little Mallabys, with cheap household help, lettuce, and a poorly built McMansion that, before too long, will be straining along with the social safety net Dad and his elitist pals have stretched to pay for it all. Now add in family chain migration, bringing in more elderly, more young, more non-working dependents of those amnestied. Our wash is beginning to resemble a hosing.

The question is never illegal immigration alone, but always immigration policy, and how much of it we want to be determined by illegal immigration--in other words, how much control of it we will cede to the the world outside of the United States, how much will be determined by the whim and geographical proximity of citizens of other nations.
Aside from what many of us believe are specious claims, and some that aren't even that, of economic benefit, the pro-amnesty argument is simply this: that we have a limited (at best) say in our own immigration policy, as it will largely be determined by migrations we have no moral right to oppose or regulate. Hogwash.

1 comment:

Mangan said...

Excellent.