Author Archives: Brad Warbiany

Immigration & the American Dream

First, let me say that I don’t support what the current protestors are doing. The initial thought, of trying to flaunt their lawbreaking and demand forgiveness for it, doesn’t seem very smart. After all, when you want forgiveness, you typically need to show remorse. Even worse, it seems to be a major political backfire, giving all the anti-immigration folks out there the political cover they need to push Congress and the American people into actions they might regret later (i.e. the PATRIOT Act, anyone?).

The protestors might be wrong, but that doesn’t make our current immigration policy right.

Immigration is a bit of a thorny issue to a lot of people. To many American workers, immigrants represent a low-cost threat to their job. When any version of “someone else” wants to come in and take your job for 70% of your wage, you get angry. And when it’s the government who “let them in”, you direct your anger at the government. To people who value the security of our nation, our porous border is like a big target on our backs. To the Mexican government, sending their most productive citizens north, and having them sending back money every week, allows them to avoid fixing the corruption in their own system. And to business owners, the cheap labor allows them to offload much of the social cost of the people they hire (sometimes even paying cash under the table to avoid taxes), forcing the rest of us to pick up the slack with our tax burden.

So immigration isn’t really an easy issue. But simple answers, like “close the borders and deport them all” just don’t cut it. I think we can possibly secure the borders, but politically and ethically can’t just send 12 million people home (if we could even find them). Simple answers like “we have no problem with immigration, just illegal immigration” doesn’t work. I could easily say “driving 56 mph in a 55 zone is wrong because it’s illegal”, and that doesn’t answer the question of whether the policy is right, because the numbers of people who desperately want to come here are much, much higher than our immigration quotas. And simple answers like “give them all amnesty” doesn’t work, because it destroys the incentive for people trying to immigrate here to follow our laws. It rewards bad behavior.

We need to ask ourselves what is the right immigration policy for our nation, because only that will tell us how to handle the millions of illegals we currently have here. And when it comes to designing the policy, we need to ask ourselves what kind of a country we are, and what these immigrants truly represent.

You see, the vast majority of these immigrants are honestly coming here looking to better their lives. Back in the old days, we had a little think called The American Dream. I think of America more as an ideal than as a nation, an ideal sometimes lacking today. The American Dream is the idea that if you come here and work, you will succeed or fail not based on what some bureaucrat says, but on your merit. In poker jargon, it’s the equivalent of having a “chip and a chair”, meaning that as long as you’re still sitting at the table, you’ve got a chance. America is the place that anyone can pick themselves up from their bootstraps, work hard, and end up a winner. It’s not the place that rewards complaining to government when you don’t win, or getting a lawyer and suing the winner if you happen to be the loser. It is, by the Ideal, a land of opportunity. I should point out, unfortunately, that too often the nation of America doesn’t even approach the Ideal of America these days.

When you look at these immigrants, attempting to come here, lift themselves up by their bootstraps, and secure for themselves a better life is exactly what they’re doing. They’re risking life and limb, scraping together money just to get here, all for the opportunity to do backbreaking labor and scrape together more money to better themselves and their family. Sure, some come here to take advantage of our social services. But how many simply want to find a better life?

As classical liberals, we believe in the theory of natural rights. The American Dream is the logical outgrowth of natural rights theory. Here’s the thing, though: while America was designed as a nation based upon natural rights, that doesn’t mean that only native-born Americans have them!

Allow me to explain. When we say that we don’t want immigrants coming here to work, because they might depress wages a little bit, we are telling them that their natural rights shouldn’t be respected here. I understand the arguments. Sure, people coming from the corrupt, economically-repugnant nation of Mexico are willing to do things here for a lot cheaper than what the average American will accept. And many of them are willing to do it with a smile, because they know what their options are at home. But do we want to hang a big “No Vacancy” sign on the land of opportunity?! No. That stands in the way of everything purport to stand for. That stands in the way of freedom and of individual rights. I hesitate to throw out words like this, but that is blatantly anti-American.

As I said, I understand the arguments. Some say that our economy can’t handle that influx of immigrants. That’s ridiculous. Our economy, in just the past few years, has had to handle a recession, a major terrorist attack, a war, high energy prices, and the constant threat of domestic jobs going overseas. What’s happened? It’s grown and grown. The American system of free-market capitalism is the greatest engine for creating wealth the world has ever seen, and a few million immigrants is nothing more than a speedbump.

Of course, that doesn’t answer the question of whether or not American jobs will suffer. One would think that zero-sum economics wouldn’t rear its ugly head here, but perhaps that’s expecting too much from American politicians and the American public. When America has a 4.7% unemployment rate, the argument that our jobs will suffer becomes a tough sell. Again, the American economy is an engine, and human ingenuity is its fuel.

Some of that human ingenuity is freed up when immigrants come to the US. And some immigrants bring it with them. Look at 19-year-old Francisco Patino, a contestant on the TV show American Inventor. It’s unclear whether Francisco immigrated legally, but I would think the show would have check up on this. Either way, it’s immaterial. Francisco came here at 12 years old, unable to speak English. He learned English, worked to put himself into college, and in his eyes, you see the American Dream. There is no future for him in Colombia. But he can bring a richer existence to America, bettering himself and our society at the same time. Francisco is taking away from us to be here, he is bringing himself to us.

It’s not just zero sum economics, though. Part of it is plain, old-fashioned xenophobia. I hesitate the use the word racism, but that’s certainly a component, I’m sure. But we’ve seen this before. Back after the Civil War, blacks were the scapegoat, trying to “take” jobs from whites. The whole Davis-Bacon Act was mainly instituted as a protectionist measure to keep low-wage blacks out of the workforce on federal projects. It’s not purely racism, of course, as back during the same time period, employers were seen with N.I.N.A. signs hanging in their windows: No Irish Need Apply.

In all situations, the rationale is the same. We got ours, and now we’ll stop you from getting yours. I can’t live with that. By most accounts, I’m pretty privileged. I’m not the son of rich parents by American standards, but by world standards, I grew up in luxury. I was lucky enough to be born in America, and even luckier to be born to educated parents and live in a highly-regarded school district. But does that give me any more right to the American Dream than Francisco Patino? Does it give a Warbiany any more right to the American Dream than a Hernandez? Of course not.

Last, we do still have the security issue. But liberal immigration policies and secure borders are not mutually exclusive. We can secure the borders and still find to keep tabs on who is coming into this country and how. Perhaps that’s a guest worker program, perhaps that’s a new take on our INS and its goals. That may include a combination of things, with a guest worker program combined with restricted social services for a worker’s family. Either way, the nuts and bolts aren’t insurmountable. If we focused half the energy we spend screwing around with the tax code for special interests on developing coherent immigration and security policies, we could get it done and still have secure borders.

Immigration is a thorny issue. But when we stand around and say “we don’t want you here”, I have to break ranks. When they say “these immigrants are damaging our economy”, I have to break ranks. I don’t have all the answers as to how to fix the problem, but I know that I refuse to close our country to people who want to live the American Dream. We have to enforce our laws, but when our laws are contrary to the very fabric of America, those laws need to change.

Why Did I Vote For You?

I just finished reading Impostor, Bruce Bartlett’s book slamming President Bush for failing to live up to anything resembling conservatism. When I first heard about the book, I worried a bit whether Bartlett was just breaking ranks to sell books. If you’re worried about the same, don’t be. Bartlett’s ire for Bush comes through loud and clear, and it is certainly heartfelt.

The book, coupled with Bush’s speech yesterday on “price gouging”, followed by yet another toothless veto threat, made me ask why I bothered to vote for him in the first place. I once had an answer for that. I began blogging days after the 2004 election, and when Britian’s Daily Mirror asked “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?”, I answered:

Why doesn’t the rest of the world understand that we have weighed the evidence, considered our options, and perhaps 59,054,087 intelligent, rational adults decided that reelecting George W. Bush was the best option we had?

In this election, we were faced with one very serious question. All others fell by the wayside. The question: Should we stand up and fight for what we thought was right in this world, or sit back with our “allies” and watch the threat grow?

I still believe today that given our external threats, Bush was the best candidate for dealing with those threats. I don’t believe that John Kerry would have been able to stand firm in the face of the world, to do what I believe is the right thing in the war on terror. Bush can do that. But he sure has bungled up everything else.

Actually, I shouldn’t completely say that. Bush did cut taxes, and I love tax cuts. But he missed the boat. Tax cuts, coupled with huge entitlement spending increases, is economic insanity. I’ve said before that I’m a supply-sider. I know that lower taxes spur economic growth, which will eventually raise more revenue for government. But at what point do huge deficits and skyrocketing entitlement spending turn into huge debt, requiring either inflation or a major tax increase to pay off?

Let’s run down the laundry list of what Bush has done to screw up so far:

  • Signed a blatantly unconstitutional campaign finance bill
  • Increased federal government intrusion into education— without corresponding improvements like vouchers
  • Created a bloated new medicare drug entitlement— all the while hiding its true estimated costs
  • Threatened veto after veto, without following through on a single one
  • Comported his entire administration as if it were a monarchy
  • Supported the Patriot Act & domestic wiretapping— dramatically increasing the police power of the state
  • Failed to respond to Katrina, one of the greatest natural disasters in recent history
  • Imprisoned Americans without trial, counsel, judicial oversight, or even a hearing

That’s not even addressing Iraq, which is a whole different debate.

As Bartlett points out, Bush is the “conservative” president who said “We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move.”

Contrast that with Ronald Reagan: “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

George W. Bush has been described as a “big-government conservative”. Bush’s idea of government is that it doesn’t work, except when he’s holding the reins. His presidency, however, is better described by PJ O’Rourke: “The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”

Bush could have been defeated in 2004. In many ways, I wish he would have. Not by Kerry, of course. I don’t see how the Democrats could have their fingers so far from the pulse that they nominated so uncharismatic and vacillating that he couldn’t beat a weak Bush. If the Democrats had nominated someone who had come out with an understanding of at least finishing the job in Iraq, I would have voted for him.

With a pro-war Democrat in office, we might have had a chance at Bush’s only redeeming quality, coupled with the best feature of Clinton’s final 6 years: gridlock. We might have seen the Republican Congress start acting like Republicans, fighting spending. Instead, we’ve been stuck with a Congress who wants to send pork back home, coupled with a president too scared to rebuke members of his own party. Republicans have all three branches of government locked up, and they spend their time trying to act like Democrats. What’s worse? They have such little experience administering and creating welfare programs, that they’ve screwed up every attempt at doing so (i.e. Medicare Part D). It’s gotten so bad, that I DON’T EVEN WANT Social Security privatization if it comes from this batch of Republicans, because I know they’ll be serving the needs of investment bankers, not me.

The last several years have seen complete mismanagement of government. Just as PJ O’Rourke predicted. 2006 and 2008 are going to be a big wake-up call for the Republican party, and I, for one, think it’s about damn time.

Only Because it’s Government

Man Wins Case After Firing Over Confederate Flag

When I saw the headline, I was expecting my diatribe to take a different route. I thought he was fired from a private employer for the issue, and expected to launch into a private-property, I-can-hire-and-fire-who-I-want-because-that’s-freedom rant. But it appears all is well.

A man who was fired by the city of Tampa for refusing to remove his Confederate flag license plate has settled a lawsuit against the city.

Larry Carpenter will receive $4,500. But Carpenter, an employee in good standing for six years, won’t get his job back as a traffic maintenance specialist.

The paper reported that Carpenter’s case began in January 2002, when his boss told him to remove the tag because someone had complained. Carpenter would not follow the order to remove the tag, so he was repeatedly disciplined. His discipline included negative comments on his annual evaluation, suspension without pay on three occasions and then firing in September 2002, The Tampa Tribune reported.

Now, I’m no fan of the “South will rise again” types. But I don’t think that’s what this is about. It’s about an employer’s right to hire and fire based on some simple ideological standards, and whether or not something that one employee might find “offensive” is grounds for a firing. In private business, it’s up to the employer to choose. But when it comes to the government, I think there is a higher standard.

The government is to hold people equal before the law. Absent written regulations regarding this behavior (which did not harass, only offended), to take one person’s feeling of being offended over another person’s right to free speech is unacceptable.

Where Markets Beat Government — and Vice Versa

I checked out Perry’s site the other day, and ran across this post on Wal-Mart. It looks like Wal-Mart is opening its doors again in New Orleans, while Congress is still pointing fingers. It got me thinking: why is it that we see for-profit businesses flocking to the area, while FEMA is still trying to figure out where to park their beautiful trailers?

I originally wanted to issue a snark-filled rant on why government is inefficient, bloated, and ineffectual. But this, combined with Massachusetts’ insanity, calls for something a little better. I’m not an anarcho-capitalist. I realize that there are places where government can get necessary things done that the market cannot. It is only when we ask it to do things it is not suited for that we run into problems.

Bear in mind, this is an off-the-cuff treatise, so I welcome comments pointing out all the places I am wrong.

I see there being a few major types of services provided by the government and markets:

1. Distributed provider, distributed user: This would fit the mold of most day-to-day interactions. When you go to buy lunch, you have a wide range of choices. Purveyors of those products can sell to anybody; there are few long-term interactions.

2. Single-provider, distributed user: This would fit things such as roads, sewers, police, military, courts, etc. In these types of interactions, there action between the provider and the user is often severed. In the case of roads/sewers/etc, it is common that an individual homeowner or driver could not contract with a provider to build a new sewer system or road to service them. Often, maintenance of these services are paid for by some sort of taxation, and only occasionally by a true “user fee” arrangement. Courts, police, and military are even more so, because there is not often a true link between what police or courts do for those who aren’t currently the victim or perpetrators of crimes, but they offer a sort of “blanket of protection” for everyone. Again, the link is fairly severed between provider and user.

3. Specialty provider, specific user: This is a tough category. In this, I place things such as medical care, which often is difficult to procure in a true competitive environment (outside of general-practitioner care), and is highly tailored to the specific user. There may be 3 hospitals in a close area, but only one specialist in the field you need. This may also include education and other services, where the relationship between a specific provider and user is difficult to break. For example, when you put your child into a school, you don’t want to have to change that school without good reason, because of the relationships your child generates with classmates/teachers/etc. Last, it includes such things as insurance, where acute costs are very high and risk may need to be pooled.

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The first case is a place where markets always beat government, hands down. Government action, nearly by definition, is one of monopoly, and monopolies are known for poor efficiency. They don’t innovate to serve their customers, they don’t bring costs down through competition, and they have no reason to do either. This one is so obvious that it needs no further discussion.

The second case is the poster child for government action. This is the one agreed upon by everyone except the anarcho-capitalists. There is a little point of distinction on things like roads (the “pure” libertarian will ask for them to be privatized), but I’m going to gloss over that. I chose sewers but left out other utilities for a reason, as well. Without getting too heavily into it, there are certain “common carrier” services that form a bit of a gray area. Electrical or gas service doesn’t lend itself quite to competition very well, due to the extremely high infrastructure costs in service. Georgia’s take on natural gas, however, is one where the actual distribution of gas is centralized, but you have your choice of “service company” to sell you that gas. It blends some of the benefits of competition without the drawback of requiring multiple companies to lay redundant infrastructure. But in most “common carrier” utilities, some sort of government action is required, as local government is typically granting monopolistic licenses to providers. The cases of courts, police, and military, however, are specialized enough where we leave government to provide these directly. This is the one case where we grant a monopoly on initiating force, and choose to keep that power in the hands of government we control with our vote.

So I think we can all agree that communist Russia showed us how dangerous it is to let the first case be provided solely by government. And I think we can look post-communist Russia to see how lack of infrastructure and legitimate courts/police/military to protect the rule of law will lead to anarchy and rule by the strong.

But the third case is problematic. This is a case where it is easy for politicians to advocate government action, and easy to dupe unsuspecting voters into agreeing to it. Usually, they play to emotions. It is always hard to watch people go without adequate medical care or education. It is far too easy to go from watching this to thinking that it simply shouldn’t happen, and therefore the government should take over and provide the service. But while this is different than the first case, it is still not a place where government monopoly works. Our current educational system is evidence of that. In the case of medical care, nobody wants to see people lose their entire livelihood due to high medical costs. But the proper way to pool risk is with insurance. Just as we would not ask the government to provide flood insurance, car insurance, or homeowners insurance, medical insurance is not for the government to pay. It would help, of course, for the government to end its policies which make it nearly impossible for individuals to provide their own coverage reasonably cheaply, but that’s a whole different debate. Again, look at education. Education would be much better provided in this country if we returned to a competitive market, with parents paying for school directly, and (at best) a safety-net program to help the poor. When even the NYT is realizing that vouchers work, it is obvious that we need to change our strategies.

As I said, there are times when government action is the best way to get something done. Those cases are few and far between, and in all of them I suggest making the services controlled as locally as possible, to allow a “market in governments” to form. Just as people choose which business to patronize, and should be able to choose which school to patronize, the experience of federalism and local control allow people to choose which local government to patronize. This will allow people to choose local government based upon the ability of government to provide necessary services, and allow competing localities to learn through competition how to be more efficient. You can ask states like Massachusetts (the only state in the union to lose gross population year-to-year) just how important this is.

But where government action is not efficient (almost everywhere), we need to make sure our policies are designed to facilitate the working of a market, not impede it.

Blue Laws and Anti-Smoking Laws

Over at The Unrepentant Individual, I’ve long pilloried blue laws. As a Beer Advocate, the fact that I’ve moved to a state where it is illegal to purchase alcohol on Sundays irks me. Granted, I think far enough ahead that it doesn’t worry me, but the idea that the state determines what days alcohol should and should not be sold seems like an affront to freedom.

At the same time, I’ve long asked here about how much I disagree with anti-smoking laws. Granted, I’m not a smoker (although I used to be), but again, I feel like it is an affront to freedom to decree that smoking should not be allowed upon private property.

I’ve asked with both situations that we choose freedom over regulation. If you’re a liquor store owner and you choose to close on Sundays, in observance of your religion? You’re free to make that choice. If you’re a religious person who thinks it is wrong to purchase alcohol on Sundays, don’t do it. Likewise, if you’re a restaurant owner and you want to serve patrons who don’t want to be around smoke, choose to be a non-smoking restaurant. If you dislike smoke to the extent that you don’t want to be near it in a restaurant, go to non-smoking restaurants. It is freedom. It may not always end up with the “desired” results, but in my mind, it’s the best policy.

At the same time, I am faced with a difficult argument from the blue law and anti-smoking advocates. When I suggest that a business choose to go no-smoking, or that a business choose not to sell alcohol on Sunday (or on the other end, choose as a pharmacist whether or not to dispense birth control), the argument is that a business can’t survive if it makes that choice.

One popular establishment, though, is bucking that trend, and showing that choosing to restrict your own business doesn’t necessarily mean your demise. The policy of Chick-Fil-A is to be voluntarily closed on Sunday. If the anti-freedom forces were correct, Chick-Fil-A would be going out of business. Instead, it recently expanded into California, keeping it’s closed-on-Sunday policies, and has been growing all the same. Rather than failing, Christians who agree with that policy tend to give Chick-Fil-A more business because they feel like it’s a “moral” company. And Chick-Fil-A is no startup. They’ve been around and growing for sixty years.

How is it that a company who chooses to voluntarily restrict their operations in this manner succeed? Because the market allows a wide range of diversity. Some people prefer Chick-Fil-A (or a California operation, In&Out Burger) for their Christian roots. Others like these restaurants for the food, and care little about the religious aspect of the business. Either way, Chick-Fil-A is simple proof that businesses choosing to buck the trend can survive.

Georgia’s anti-smoking legislation went into effect in July 2005. Before the ever happened, I visited quite a few restaurants in the Atlanta area who were non-smoking. Some of them had enclosed bar areas where smoking was allowed, several were completely non-smoking. They were succeeding and following the “desired” results with no help from government decree to shackle their competitors.

I’ve said before that legislators only do what is safe. Smokers have become so ostracized that it is now politically safe for legislators to enforce discrimination against them. But what most people don’t understand is that there is an underlying trend against smoking in our entire culture, and the politicians are just catching onto the coattails of that trend. At the same time, the politicians are claiming credit for that trend. Smokers are losing their havens naturally, but when a politician can claim credit for enforcing that natural phenomenon, it makes voters feel like those politicians are needed. Anti-smoking sentiment is growing, and anti-blue-law sentiment is growing. When those trends grow large enough, politicians jump on. But we shouldn’t allow them to take credit for destroying freedom by pandering to the majority.

The experience of California years ago may be necessary, as it showed the world that restaurants and bars could survive smoke-free. But instead of learning the lesson, other states mimicked the legislative option. Likewise, the argument against ending blue laws is that liquor stores who voluntarily choose not to sell on Sunday will be put into difficult business positions. But the experience of Chick-Fil-A shows that a business in a competitive market can choose to close on Sunday and survive. My local liquor store has a good enough beer and wine selection that I’d rather shop there on any day but Sunday than shop for beer at the supermarket. If a liquor store chooses to close on Sunday, they might have to raise their game in other areas, but that’s not a bad thing.

Those who think we need to restrict smoking don’t trust the market to supply a product that they feel they’re entitled to. But anti-smoking laws wouldn’t be passed if there wasn’t a demand, and the freedom of a market will satisfy a demand. The blue law folks are a tougher nut, because they’re simply trying to legislate their own morality, not their own preferences. They think it’s immoral that someone should buy liquor or beer on Sundays, and think it’s their duty to stop us. But their power is waning in this country, it’s only a matter of time. Both groups are repugnant to me, but it’s the former that worry me the most.

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