Thursday, July 06, 2006

Earned Freedom?

People's memories are surprising short. On July 5th, I watch Hardball where Jim Gilmore, the RNC Chairman, spoke out against an "automatic path to citizenship." Forget that millions of Americans, including Gilmore, got an automatic path to citizenship by the simple act of being born here. He embraced an even more unreasonable argument.

The day before I engaged in my annual ritual and reread the Declaration of Independence along with its recognition of unalienable rights. The sad truth is for most of the world's people enjoying these rights means becoming an American citizen (or citizen of another freedom-loving country). To suggest this path shouldn't be automatic is inhumane, unpatriotic and antagonistic to the day the country just celebrated.


ryan said...

Doesn't such a statement become a lot more difficult when you take account of the fact that a country isn't simply lines on a map, a bunch of territory, or a place where rights happened to exist, but also a place where the rights are actually enforced, where defense is provided, and where a welfare state exists? Surely you're not saying that we should just pretend these things aren't the case? And surely you wouldn't say that we don't simply have the duty to respect the rights of others but also to protect them from infringement?

David said...

I'd like to avoid too much number crunching but just so we are clear illegals can't use government programs (as most of them require proof of citizenship), defense is a public good (on the margin one more person doesn't make it more expensive) and, on average, illegals contribute more to the economy than they take away.

However, I was more speaking about something deeper. It is so easy (and cheap) to make it simple to become a US citizen and thus actually enjoy basic rights (one cannot truly use freedom of speech if they are at risk of being deported). While protecting them in other countries is virtually impratical, to do it hear is the standard.

How can we claim these rights are unalienable to the human condition while still preventing people from oppressive countries to join this one and embrace their freedoms? If we truly believe they are unseperable from every living person, we recognize them on whoever crosses into our country.

ryan said...

I intend neither number crunching nor any comment on the relative economic value of immigration. (Besides, these things seem rather irrelevant if we're talking about a categorical imperative here.) I simply point out that if we mean by "inalienable" that a right cannot be taken away, or that the right is there without enforcement, or that it has some physical or factual specificity, then "inalienable rights" is a bit of nonsense. It is true enough to say that societies where the rights that we call "inalienable" are respected are better societies. But I'm just saying, let's not pretend like they can exist in the absence of enforcement.

That being the case, let's also not pretend that we have a duty to enforce them for all mankind. References to the supposed public good nature of defense and security don't seem to me to be very helpful. First, because when we're talking about a large scale we're not talking about the margin, but a very large infra-margin. It is not actually true that if the entire population of the world living without any meaningful rights were to move to all the free countries, that the previously free countries could protect them and maintain their freedoms. (And this leaving out the enormous considerations that cultural norms play in enforcing the law.) And second, because it is also not true that the marginal cost of defense is literally zero. As Professor Rowley will tell you, fighting a two front war is in fact more difficult than fighting one. It is true that there are enormous positive externalities to defense. But if it were actually true that defense had a constant level of zero marginal cost, then Iraq wouldn't be causing us any problems, nor would our presence there make, say, dealings with Iran more difficult (because our military is already committed elsewhere).

Which is not to say that immigration or Iraq is bad, or that either is good. I'm simply pointing out since protecting rights is expensive, it cannot be said that, in negative rights framework, everyone has an absolute right to have their rights enforced by any particular country, and so it seems weird to say that there is a categorical imperative to allow unlimited immigration, given the facts of the world. d

Anonymous said...

Part of the reason why illegals contribute more to the economy than they take (personally I doubt that claim) is because they ARE illegal. Making them citizens would mean you have to pay them minimum wage, social security, medicare, unemployment and all those other things employers avoid dealing with by hiring illegals in the first place. So you make these sub-minimum wage earners citizens and their employment potential goes out the window. Why hire them when you have your pick from the new illegals who just came across the border?

So what you propose will only make things worse. We'll have a surge of unemployable people and a new wave of illegals. These new illegals will work in poor conditions for little pay until they themselves become citizens. Then they get fired and replaced with those willing to work for less. The cycle continues...

Do you think not getting a license will keep them from driving? No license, no insurance. So guess who pays when they get in an accident? There are maximum occupancy rules and ordinances in housing areas like my apartment building and in my friend's neighborhood. Yet these rules aren't enforced effectively. There were 7 people in a 2 bedroom (max of 4 people) apartment across the street. All were illegals. Each had an underpaid job so combined they paid the rent. They each had a car and took up other people's parking places. Their version of cleaning involved tossing the garbage out the window. As long as they paid the rent, the slumlords didn't care what they did. That damaged the neighborhood as a whole (property values, roaches, rats, other people started doing it too). So what is your solution?

If they want to be US citizens, they should start following the laws. Better yet, how about improving their own nations before invading ours? Freedom is not granted, it is earned so why don't they earn it there?


ryan said...


I think the Coase theorem seems to take care of a lot of the things you're talking about. When you get right down to it, most sorts of harm are mutual. Sure, your neighbor harms you when he makes his house and eyesore; on the other hand, you hurt him when you make him get off his ass and clean. If one of you can pay the other to do what you want, then why shouldn't things work out well? Obviously, it works out best for you if the "property right" starts with you, so that the other guy has to pay you to do what he wants -- that's called (appropriately enough in this case) "rent seeking". Which probably explains why there are zoning laws -- transfer all the rents to the middle class and you'll find yourself getting reelected.

I agree with you about the minimum wage. But that's what confuses me about people like Lou Dobbs and O'Reilly -- they complain about jobs being outsourced abroad, and then they turn around and want to cut off the flow of illegals. If we can't get the cheap labor locally anymore, where exactly are those jobs going to go? (Yes, it is hard to figure out which side I'm on from the above. I like to think of my refusal/inability to stick to a position as evidence of solid economics training ...)

Anonymous said...

How is someone hurt by cleaning their property? Sure there is effort and cleaning supplies. But that comes with owning a house or even renting. It's hard to say that having someone bone up to their responsibilities does them harm. If it does, why did they accept these responsibilites in the first place?

If you take a martial arts class, you will be hurt (unless you take something like tai chi, but I digress). Should we try to eliminate all the pain or just the unnecessary part? You own a car, you have to get emission testing, buy insurance, put gas in it, etc. Is that considred harm?

If a business needs cheap local labor to survive, then maybe it shouldn't survive. Why is it wrong to get a business to follow the law and why should we let them break it?

ryan said...

Jason (? Anonymous?)

Who said anything about banning or eliminating anything? I was making a very simple, almost simplistic point: if you make people do things they don't want to do, well, they, er, don't want to do them. It's a bit odd to say that they should want to do it and that therefore they aren't unhappy when we make them do it. Yes, of course making someone do something they don't want is a cost. Yes, of course emissions testing and putting gas in a car is a harm. Yes of course pain is a harm. It should be (though unfortunately isn't) obvious that because I say something is a cost doesn't mean the whole activity is bad, and certainly doesn't mean we should ban it. It's just that if you don't count these things as costs, it's just bad accounting. That's not moral fiber or good governance -- it's working for Arthur Andersen.

Here's another way of putting it -- if martial arts classes consisted solely of pain, would you take them? If having a car just means emissions testing and gas consumption, would you own it? Of course not. But in real life they also have benefits and if those benefits are bigger, you do it. That doesn't mean that they don't have costs or that anything with a benefit should be done. I'd probably be benefited if I made dinner every day instead of getting fast food on the way home, but that wouldn't necessarily make me better off. There's a cost -- my girlfriend wants to stop for Chicken McNuggets (and believe-you-me my life wouldn't be happier if that didn't happen).

As to whether a cheap-labor dependent industry should be shut down on general principle, I can't really say. I've never known what that sentence means. I'm fairly certain that the sentence makes more sense than "If a computer needs silicon to operate, maybe it shouldn't operate" or "if an insect needs to bury itself in the ground for 7 years to reproduce, maybe it shouldn't," by I'm not clear on why it makes more sense. Does the "if" lead inexorably to the "then"? Apparently I miss it.

I'm unclear why, if a bunch of people cross a desert to get a job paying X dollars, that we can know that X dollars is too little. Does it helps the job seeker out to not get that job? Minimum wage laws are a luxury one buys when one becomes a developed country (at quite a price). How is it going to make a poor person or poor country better off to get rid of them? It's through those jobs that they develop infrastructure and capital -- how are they going to get them if we get rid of all the businesses that hire them?