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“Democracy is the road to socialism.”     Karl Marx

February 22, 2008

Quote Of The Day: Robert Higgs On Immigration And Welfare

by Doug Mataconis

The Independent Institute’s Robert Higgs has a great essay out on the debate over illegal immigration as it applies to the welfare state:

Anti-immigrationists often say that the Mexicans come here only to go on welfare. Aside from this declaration’s manifest misrepresentation of the truth, one wonders why the obvious remedy for this alleged problem does not occur to them: get rid of welfare—after all, nobody, regardless of his place of birth, has a just right to live at other people’s coerced expense.

Others claim that the “illegals” crowd the public schools and hospitals, sucking resources away from the taxpayers. If so, then the answer is the same: get the government out of the business of schooling and healing; it ought never to have gone there in the first place.

Some Americans clothe their hatred with the charge that the foreigners who come here commit crimes, such as selling drugs and conducting businesses without a license. Of course, drug peddling and working without a government license ought never to have been criminalized in the first place, for anybody, because these acts violate no one’s just rights. If people are worried about real crimes, such as robbery and murder, they need to recall that laws against these crimes already exist, and no special “preemptive war” against potential immigrant offenders can be justified, any more than I can justify nuking Philadelphia today on the strength of my absolute conviction that some residents of that city will commit serious crimes tomorrow.

(…)

If we must choose—and indeed we must—between the world’s most powerful and aggressive state, on the one hand, and a man who wishes to move to Yakima to support his family by picking apples, on the other hand, which side does human decency dictate that we choose? Unfortunately, in this situation, it is all too plain that many Americans are choosing to worship the state and to make a fetish of the borders it has established by patently unjust means. As for this wandering Okie, I’d sooner prostrate myself before a golden calf.

What he said.

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18 Comments

  1. get the government out of the business of schooling and healing…

    Just for starters, got any ideas??? Getting Godzilla out of Toyko is easier.

    The real results of immigration are in who and what we are as a society and government. Given a large enough population moving into an area, whatever society and government are in that area are first morphed to provide for that incoming population and then subsumed by that population as it’s members become eligible to participate in the existing government. The incoming population will elect their own representatives who will give them priority in government and police: effectively relegating the pre-existing population to some form of secondary status.

    Change and evolution of a society are not bad. However, rapid revolution in the form of an overwhelming influx of people brings most if not all of the ills of war.

    Comment by Harry Rossman — February 22, 2008 @ 9:44 am
  2. Robert Higgs just became one of my favorite writers :)

    Comment by UCrawford — February 22, 2008 @ 10:19 am
  3. Robert Higgs just became one of my favorite writers :)

    It’s easy to like people that agree with you. =P

    As for me, I stopped reading when he opened with a blatant strawman.

    Anti-immigrationists often say that the Mexicans come here only to go on welfare.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — February 22, 2008 @ 10:25 am
  4. Jeff,

    He wasn’t claiming that everyone who’s for restricted immigration is saying that, only that it’s a common argument (which it is as I’ve heard it often and have seen it posted frequently on threads here where immigration comes up). It’s not a straw man if that’s what many anti-immigration activists are actually saying.

    You should read the rest of the article.

    Comment by UCrawford — February 22, 2008 @ 10:50 am
  5. I don’t know what other threads you hang out on, so feel free to cite examples, but that’s not what I usually hear. What I hear is basically what Paul has always said: “If you subsidize something, you get more of it.” Through our various forms of government intervention, we subsidize immigration, especially the undocumented variety.

    That’s much, much different than “Mexicans come here only to go on welfare.”

    Comment by Jeff Molby — February 22, 2008 @ 11:34 am
  6. You should read the rest of the article.

    Actually, I read it yesterday; i just didn’t recognize it because Doug chopped the first half. It’s a decent article, but I think it ignores the realities of where we are today and what we’d go through if we tried to change it abruptly. Same basic disagreement I have with you.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — February 22, 2008 @ 11:41 am
  7. Jeff,

    What I’ve never seen is any evidence that illegal immigrants make as much use of welfare as some people claim they do.

    An example, I live in Prince William County, Virginia which adopted a wide-ranging ordinance last year aimed at denying some county services to illegal immigrants. After the ordinance was passed, a study was done showing that immigrants weren’t using these services in any significant number. Yes, the children of illegal immigrants are in public schools but, frankly, I’d rather see them there then out on the street.

    Most of the illegals around here came here for work. They work in the construction fields and other manual labor type position. A lot of them get paid in cash because they have neither bank accounts nor Social Security Numbers. They live outside the system, and they aren’t part of the welfare state.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — February 22, 2008 @ 11:43 am
  8. Jeff,

    I don’t know what other threads you hang out on, so feel free to cite examples, but that’s not what I usually hear.

    I’ve seen it posted on these threads…here, on this site, when immigration is brought up. It’s usually the argument tossed out right before the argument about how the Mexicans are “destroying our culture” (which is what those posters are actually bothered about).

    Through our various forms of government intervention, we subsidize immigration, especially the undocumented variety.

    Get rid of welfare for everyone and we’ll still have immigrants coming here because there’s work and opportunity available here that isn’t available where they live. And that’s a good thing, for both us and them.

    What I hear is basically what Paul has always said: “If you subsidize something, you get more of it.”

    If Ron Paul’s making the argument that illegal immigration is being caused by the existence of the welfare state (and I’ve never heard him make that argument) he’s wrong…flat wrong. And not only would he be wrong but he’d also be stupid for making that assertion unless he’s got actual concrete evidence to substantiate it.

    There are a lot of policy positions that I respect Ron Paul for holding…his position on immigration is not one of them.

    Comment by UCrawford — February 22, 2008 @ 12:14 pm
  9. After the ordinance was passed, a study was done showing that immigrants weren’t using these services in any significant number.

    I’d be interested in reading it if you have it handy.

    they aren’t part of the welfare state.

    You’re only looking at the obvious parts. They can and do receive free “emergency” medical care. They can and do add risks to the roadways without paying for their share (usually through state mandated no-fault insurance). Etc. There are many backdoors to the welfare state.

    I’ve seen it posted on these threads…here, on this site, when immigration is brought up. It’s usually the argument tossed out right before the argument about how the Mexicans are “destroying our culture” (which is what those posters are actually bothered about).

    Ok, but can we constrain ourselves to those that are thinking rationally? We can all agree that racists will use any possible excuse to advance their cause.

    Get rid of welfare for everyone and we’ll still have immigrants coming here because there’s work and opportunity available here that isn’t available where they live. And that’s a good thing, for both us and them.

    And I’ll be cool with it, 100%. We only disagree on the intermediate steps.

    If Ron Paul’s making the argument that illegal immigration is being caused by the existence of the welfare state

    You’re typing faster than you’re reading; that isn’t what I said. I said “more”. If, in a perfectly libertarian society, you have I immigrants per year and you then add various flavors of welfarism, you will then have I + W immigrants per year. The W is the part I take issue with.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — February 22, 2008 @ 12:26 pm
  10. Jeff,

    Ok, but can we constrain ourselves to those that are thinking rationally? We can all agree that racists will use any possible excuse to advance their cause.

    Rationality is often in the eye of the beholder…frankly, I consider the flaws in the anti-immigration argument to be clearly evident enough that I question the rationality of anyone who accepts it (or, with the more reasonable ones, I question how thoroughly they’ve actually thought it through). Some of these people I’m talking about were very rational in their arguments…right up until the point where they started going off on a xenophobic rant about the coming Hispanic invasion (which was the only aspect of the argument most of them actually cared about). They were also completely wrong.

    And I’ll be cool with it, 100%. We only disagree on the intermediate steps

    I believe you will because generally you are an objective person who’s willing to dig into an issue and analyze. I still think you’re wrong on it though, and our disagreement isn’t really about the intermediate steps, because I don’t really believe in any intermediate steps. :)

    If, in a perfectly libertarian society, you have I immigrants per year and you then add various flavors of welfarism, you will then have I + W immigrants per year. The W is the part I take issue with.

    The simple existence of a welfare state increases the number of people who take advantage of it, whether they’re immigrants or not because it creates an incentive for people to leech by giving them a paycheck for not having a job. The immigrants haven’t really got anything to do with the issue, and focusing on their rather nebulous participation in the problem tends to distract from the actual point…that we shouldn’t have a welfare state for anyone in the first place.

    Comment by UCrawford — February 22, 2008 @ 12:39 pm
  11. Rationality is often in the eye of the beholder

    I disagree. If two rational people are willing to discuss an issue thoroughly, they should be able to boil the entire discussion down to unknown variables.

    Then both people should be willing acknowledge and accept the other person’s assumptions about those unknowns. As long as each person’s position flows logically from their assumptions, they’re being rational.

    our disagreement isn’t really about the intermediate steps, because I don’t really believe in any intermediate steps. :)

    I see you decided to be difficult today. =P I’ll rephrase. We only disagree on what intermediate steps, if any, are necessary.

    The immigrants haven’t really got anything to do with the issue

    Nonsense. They exacerbate the issue. They’re not the cause of the problem. I’ll readily acknowledge that as often as necessary. But they do exacerbate it.

    You happen to be ok with that because your plan revolves around waiting for the system to self-destruct. (I still intend to reply to your last post in the other thread, btw.) That’s fine. I understand your perspective and accept it.

    Now, you need to set aside your own assumptions and try to understand mine. I think self-destruction of our welfare state would be a very bad thing. I don’t want to live through it and I damn sure don’t want to put my son through it. Therefore, I’m trying to avoid it. Therefore, anything that exacerbates the problem, decreases my chance of achieving my goal.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — February 22, 2008 @ 1:05 pm
  12. Jeff,

    Nonsense. They exacerbate the issue. They’re not the cause of the problem. I’ll readily acknowledge that as often as necessary. But they do exacerbate it.

    They are, at worst, a symptom of the problem. Saying that we need to restrict immigration because we find it wrong that immigrants might be using welfare is kind of like saying that we think a woman who gets beaten by her husband ought to wear more make-up because we’re tired of looking at her black eyes. It doesn’t address the core issue, it just helps to hide the consequences of that issue. By that token I don’t see restricted immigration as an intermediate step to reforming welfare, I see it as a tactic that will get us to stop discussing welfare reform altogether…because cutting off the welfare checks (which is eventually going to happen) is a much uglier conversation than a lot of people are willing to have.

    And I don’t do denial.

    Comment by UCrawford — February 22, 2008 @ 1:17 pm
  13. Jeff,

    I think self-destruction of our welfare state would be a very bad thing. I don’t want to live through it and I damn sure don’t want to put my son through it.

    I think that the destruction of our welfare state would be a very bad thing…for the people who have made their living off of it. By the same token, I think that abolishing the Department of Homeland Security would be a bad thing…for the people who’ve decided to build careers in the DHS. That doesn’t mean that I think we should keep the DHS around just so the DHS employees don’t have to go looking for another job. Nor do I think that the welfare state should be continued just because people have decided to build their lives around living off of government handouts. The unhappiness of the beneficiaries of a corrupt system is not a sufficient justification to continue that corrupt system.

    Comment by UCrawford — February 22, 2008 @ 1:24 pm
  14. They are, at worst, a symptom of the problem.

    Yes, and antibiotics are regularly prescribed to elderly people with viral infections because the last thing they need is to get a bacterial infection in their already weakened state.

    When you’re done pondering that analogy, remind yourself that we’re not going to agree on the final solution, because we hold different assumptions which aren’t disprovable; remind yourself that, at this point, we’re only trying to understand each other better.

    Then, re-write your 1:17 post using my assumptions instead of yours.

    I think that the destruction of our welfare state would be a very bad thing…for the people who have made their living off of it.

    And I think it will hit those people so hard that it will spill over to the rest of us.

    It’s unknowable, so let’s respect each other’s assumptions.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — February 22, 2008 @ 1:35 pm
  15. Jeff,

    And I think it will hit those people so hard that it will spill over to the rest of us.

    How, specifically? State your case.

    Comment by UCrawford — February 22, 2008 @ 1:38 pm
  16. I gotta wrap up a few things before the end of the day, but I’ll elaborate more later, if necessary.

    Basically, “they” are a very large portion of society. You’re talking about the bottom 20% of society that’s used to receiving goods and services for free plus the oldest 40% that spent their lives paying for their predecessors on the assumption that we’d do the same for them.

    Toss in miscellaneous people throughout the rest of the spectrum and we’re talking about a huge percentage of society that would be significantly affected by the wholesale collapse of the nanny-state. Many of them would be able to cope, of course, and I’m not going to shed any tears over the bottom 20%, but the totality of it all happening in a relatively short period of time would have a colossal dampening effect on the entire economy.

    Everyone’s earning power would drop at that exact same time that most people’s responsibilities are increase. There’s no way that can happen without a serious and abrupt drop in the standard of living.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — February 22, 2008 @ 1:49 pm
  17. Jeff,

    There’s no way that can happen without a serious and abrupt drop in the standard of living.

    Only if the government starts a bunch of new welfare programs to compensate (which I suspect they wouldn’t if they were desperate enough to get rid of welfare in the first place) and raise taxes through the roof, which would supress private charitable donation. Keep in mind that I believe this sudden cutoff is going to happen eventually even if we don’t choose to do it because politicians don’t like to incrementally take anything but individual freedoms away from their constituents (so I don’t think they’ll take the opportunity you’d provide them). Basically I just see this as an argument for delaying the inevitable and that the consequences (both long and short term) will get worse and worse the longer we wait.

    plus the oldest 40% that spent their lives paying for their predecessors on the assumption that we’d do the same for them.

    I think you know me well enough to realize that guilt-based arguments to uphold unfair agreements don’t work on me when I had no say in creating those agreements. :) If there are retirees out there who feel they’re entitled to my money because they were stupid enough to give their money to someone else, all I’ve got to say is a) tough, and b) it’s a damn shame they weren’t born at an earlier date so they could have gotten in on the Social Security pyramid scheme before it ran out of marks.

    As for the hardship it causes, many of those retirees are not completely dependent on Social Security income (so they’ll survive, if a little less prosperously) and for those that are dependent there’s always private charity…especially since I’d be arguing vehemently against any accompanying tax increases or inflation of the currency.

    but the totality of it all happening in a relatively short period of time would have a colossal dampening effect on the entire economy.

    The sooner we cut it off, the less of a dampening effect those consequences are going to have…that’s all I’m saying, and open immigration is the best way to accomplish that. Simply put, I just don’t trust politicians to follow fiscally sound policy over an extended period of time to make gradual improvements, mainly because it’s something that they almost never do and it’s wishful thinking to assume that’s going to change.

    Comment by UCrawford — February 22, 2008 @ 2:38 pm
  18. Only if the government starts a bunch of new welfare programs to compensate

    No, even if we rely exclusively on private charity, we’ll still end up paying for the retirement of two generations. I’m certainly not going to let my parents live out their senior years beneath an overpass.

    While we’re on that subject, my parents are probably the perfect example of the demographic you’re overly optimistic about. They’re living a comfortable life with above average earning power. They’re carrying a fair amount of debt, but their house is paid for. The problem? They’re within 10 years of retirement and over 80% of their net worth is tied up in their real estate. Most of the value of their real estate is purely artificial. If the economy got really bad, their net worth would disappear in a hurry. There’s not a family alive that actually needs a 2000+ sq ft house.

    Their net worth is tied up in the single most fragile asset class. If the house of cards collapses, they’ll be among those looking for a handout, despite the fact that they’ll be self-sufficient as long as the house of cards stands.

    I think you know me well enough to realize that guilt-based arguments to uphold unfair agreements don’t work on me when I had no say in creating those agreements. :)

    It’s not about the guilt; it’s about the cold, hard facts. The portion of their earning power that should have paid for their retirement is gone. They were conned out of it and that’s their fault, but it doesn’t change the fact that most of them are ill-prepared to pay for their retirement.

    No matter how you slice it, our generation has two choices: pay for the misdeeds of our parents or pass the buck to our children. Regardless of the vehicle through which we pay (and I would agree the private charity is ideal), we will still have to pay so much to support them that it will spill over and impact our quality of life too.

    The sooner we cut it off, the less of a dampening effect those consequences are going to have…

    At face value, I agree with that statement, but not when you couple it to open immigration. Your open immigration approach simply speeds up the arrival of the consequences. I don’t see how it would reduce the magnitude of them by a meaningful amount.

    Comment by Jeff Molby — February 22, 2008 @ 4:36 pm

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