Friday, May 05, 2006

Stepping Back from Immigration

It's difficult to know what Monday's "Day without Immigrants" demonstrators hoped to demonstrate. The awkwardness of their situation is that their putative indispensibility comes precisely from the low wages made possible by their illegal status. To normalize their situation would oblige their employers to pay them regular wages (as they justly should) and nullify their economic value as wage slaves.

It is a difficult issue. Strict enforcement of border security is a no-brainer (even Howard Dean and Senator Clinton have endorsed it), but only a beginning. An amnesty program would only make the situation worse in the long run by encouraging others to enter illegally in hope of gaining similar advantage. (This is certainly what happened when Reagan granted amnesty.) So no one has proposed a comprehensive solution.

As ever, it helps to step back from the narrow issues to examine the wider context.1

The issue is not simply the millions of people living here illegally and the millions more entering illegally through our poorly protected borders. The broader issue is what is attracting these people, namely, the vast economic disparity between their countries and our own.

One stereotypical solution would be to throw money at these countries; another would be to sprinkle "democracy and capitalism" like pixie dust and hope it clones American prosperity.

Neither of these fixes takes note of the fact that giving someone all the material wealth in the world (or the best political institutions in the world) doesn't automatically mean that they will know how to make use of it. You could drop helicopter loads of cash on developing countries and it will actually deepen their poverty. You can give scientific calculators away in the inner city, but it won't make poor children scientists and doctors. The fundamental issue is that material wealth is founded on personal formation. As the saying goes, "Give a man a fish...".

Certainly "rule of law"2 is indispensible. But there cannot be dependable laws without dependable people.

The challenge is how to form people in other countries so they can enrich themselves by making their own wealth at home. That way their economic situation won't compel them to this violate our borders and compromise our national unity. As I mentioned before, "spiritual" goods like education and good habits are necessary to gain and maintain material goods like economic wealth.

Given the reality of the origin of most of the immigrants (legal and illegal), let's look at Mexico. Despite the institution of truly democratic elections there some time ago, that country still suffers from grinding poverty thanks to widespread and apparently intractible corruption. The police are still largely crooks with badges, and it is little better with higher officials. "Democracy" hasn't been the promised panacea.

I propose that we look to Hong Kong for a model of how to remedy the immigration problem. The nucleus of Chinese economic prosperity is that small port tutored under British rule for nearly a century. I propose a similar arrangement between the Mexico and the U.S. If we could forge an agreement with Mexico for an extended lease of land (say, 99 years) along the U.S. border, we could create a place where Mexicans benefit from American law and order and thereby acquire the formation in American ways they need to take "back" to their own country.

Obstacles to this Plan

Realistically speaking, my plan has little or no chance of being enacted. Why? First I'm guessing Mexico would be resistant to such an agreement. It's simply much easier and much less damaging to national "pride" to set up government bureaus to encourage your people to flee to "El Norte."

Secondly and perhaps more fundamentally, because our leaders (in both parties) have shown themselves rather averse to any plan difficult for the long-term benefit of the country (witness the ballooning Federal budget and trade deficits, and the non-action on Social Security's coming collapse). They are simply too focussed on stemming the tide of political capital to see that by investing a little now, they could reap bountiful dividends in future.3 And this is doubly so in an election year.

Perhaps I'm too cynical. Perhaps I'm wrong about the fecklessness of our leaders (and I hope to be proven wrong). But I know I'm not wrong about human formation being the key to the immigration issue.


1. Here, my political naivete helps me to "see the forest for the trees," but it also prevents me from being aware of many salient issues, which is why I appreciate (constructive) comments here.

2. Without "rule of law" there can be no economic wealth. For example, why would a family build on its land if there were no assurance it wouldn't be taken from them. The foundation of English prosperity began with the Doomsday Book, William the Conquerer's catalog of all the land holdings of the realm. Once the English could point to their official deed, their real estate was secure enough to be developed. It is like that for other forms of wealth as well.

3. Of course the reason politicians are so worried about the political costs is that the electorate (that's you and I) are so geared to economic prosperity that it appears we stomach real leadership only with difficulty. The ruling political paradigm is "It's the Economy, Stupid."


Doctor Logic said...

Why the concern with material wealth?

I don't recall wealth being a high priority with Jesus. He seemed to be more concerned with giving the poor the shirt off his back. Perhaps his dedication to the poor was not meant as an example for us ordinary mortals. Indeed, we can likely cherry-pick what we need from the Gospels to justify accumulating wealth of mass dimensions. Then, our wealth will shine as an unmistakable sign of our piety.

Holopupenko said...

Hi LG:

Good post.

I'm a bit lost regarding DL's whining about moral issues given that he categorically promotes moral relativism ( and at other posts), while decrying moral absolutism (

Can you provide some insight?

Papa Gator said...

If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?

James 2:15-16

Lawrence Gage said...


Thanks for your comments and compliment.

Mr. "Sunshine and Light" is a queer case, isn't he?

I liken him to the King of Pointland in section 20 of Edwin Abbott's Flatland: he has no (real) conception of anyone or anything beyond himself. It's really no use talking to him, because if you say anything unexpected, not found in his own narrow conceptions, he discounts it as meaningless and unreal.

It's clear that the Logician is not unintelligent, but too egotistical to read what someone else has actually written without imposing his own agenda. So much wasted potential is tragic.

He could be a great thinker if his intellect weren't so warped in on itself. Actually, he's more like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings than the King of Pointland: the Point was trapped in solipsism by nature, but Gollum is trapped in himself by a perversion of nature.

The sadest thing is that he clings to him isolation as if it were power and reason itself, when instead it robs him of any ability to interact as an integral human person and take part in human community. His profile doesn't even list a geographic location: he is an anyone existing anywhere, a disembodied wraith, instead of a someone living somewhere. It's clear his loneliness galls him (which is why he troubles himself to project these weird missives to the outside), and yet he clings to his empty philosophy like Gollum clung to the Ring that had enslaved him even as it consummated its theft of his life.

There was no hope for the King of Pointland, but there was some very slight hope for Gollum. It remains to be seen on which side the Logician's case will fall. Sad. Very sad.


Doctor Logic said...

Wicked, tricksy, false!

...except Papa Gator, who gives good quoteses to help Smeagol.

Holopupenko said...

     Sorry: per your own moral relativism, you have no basis upon which to apply moral lables against the previous comments—or against any human action... unless, of course, you’re exactly what LG describes: a cowardly, closed-in, self-loathing, censoring hypocrite. Ad hominem? Sorry: no such thing per your rules. What to you is ad hominem, to Howard Stern is fun. Deal with it.
     Is it beginning to sink in how truly dreadful and disordered the world you’ve created is? Nothing but sheer will against sheer will, power against power. This is the fifth (by my count) blog in which you’ve lost the respect of your interlocutors. What’s wrong with that picture? Do you think tilting at windmills lends you some aura of respectablity just because you do it? Do you think your hatred of faith and people of faith isn’t destroying you?
     It looks like you need to remove that ring... but your finger will have to come with it... or the little red dragon whispering into your ear will have to have its back broken.

Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

05 10 06

Hey LG:
I am going to do a follow up post on this topic but wanted to point you to Capitalism Magazine's take on immigration; they want a completely open border policy unless one is a criminal or carries infectious diseases. Can they say carrying capacity???

Certainly this is where there is a major division between libertarian free traders and statist protectionist isolationists. I am certainly closer to the latter category!! Great post you have here; it is one of the most reasonable posts on the topic I have yet seen! I just came back from Mexico a coupla weeks ago and it is quite apparent why they flock over here!


Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

05 10 06

Ooops, here is the RIGHT link!

Anonymous Avila said...

Here's a pointed passage that the Papa Gator missed (Mt XXV, 31-46):

"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.

Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'

Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'

Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?'

Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."


One Man's Struggle To Take It Easy said...

Great Post, a couple of things being someone that has worked in the restaurant industry for 16 years most of the illegals are working for same wages in this industry using fake identification. The sad thing is the government knows they are fake and does nothing about it. I talk to employees who are legal and they have told me for $50 you go to the flea market or one of the local Unions (Yes, they are unionized) and they will get you documenation to get a job. The second largest GDP to Mexico is cash from the US. To stop it know would crush Mexico financially, our Govt knows it and does not want to deal with the reality of it! The most interesting thing is I spoke to about a dozen of the Mexicans that work for me and not one of them could tell me why they were marching. Amazing!
Bless ya Jest!