Posts tagged ‘borders’

I Have Deleted My Twitter App. It's An Impossible Platform for Political Discourse (at Least For Me)

Those who have read this blog for a while know that I have an up and down history with Twitter.  I think it is a perfectly valid platform for sharing breaking news, following celebrities, posting cute animal pictures, and notifying folks that blog posts or longer articles are available.  I have always used Twitter for the latter function, and for those who follow me there, I will still use it to automatically publicize my blog posts.

From time to time, though, I have dived deeper into Twitter and tried to use it to actually have conversations and discussions about certain topics.  The first time I tried this I had to get off after a month.  I reported here that Twitter was making me both unhappy and a worse person, the latter because I fell quickly into the Twitter trap of going for zingers and gotchas rather than treating people's arguments civilly and with nuance.  A few days ago I gave it one more try, perhaps unfortunately the day after Trump's state of the union.  In the process I came to a final conclusion that Twitter is an impossible platform for political discourse, at least for me.  I am open to considering that the failure is in part my own, that I am simply incapable of making the kind of arguments I want to make within the Twitter character limit.   Never-the-less, I have deleted my twitter app from my phone so I will not be tempted to dive back in when I am stuck in the doctor's waiting room.  I will still scan it to see what is going on, but if I want to respond to something, I will do it here.

Just for fun, I thought I would dig through the detritus of my last 48 hours on Twitter and see if I could pull up a few examples of just what drove me crazy.  I want to make it clear that I am not leaving because people *gasp* disagreed with me, but because that disagreement was embodied in really poor discourse, the poverty of which I think is necesarily related to the nature of the platform.  After considering several, here is a good example of why I left.

It started with my seeing this post in my feed from a guy named Nick Searcy.  I don't really know who that is, but he is not just some rando with 8 followers, he has almost two orders of magnitude more followers than I.  He wrote:

While there are some solid arguments for why truly open borders might not work in today's USA, I have always considered this analogy of a country's borders to private property boundaries to be a really weak argument.  Not only weak, but one that dangerously undermines the meaning of private property and makes it harder to defend the property rights that Conservatives say they support.   I actually wrote hundreds of words on this argument here, so you can probably guess I struggled to respond to this in one tweet.  I tweeted:

(lol, the unmentioned problem I also have with Twitter is the inability to edit after the fact.  In a socialist ... what?  Dammit Coyote, learn to self-edit)

So I will confess the property rights argument is a subtle one for most people, and a difficult one to make in part because even strong defenders of property rights often don't have a very clear understanding of them.  The picture I think many property rights defenders have in their head is the old coot sitting on his front porch with a shotgun across his lap yelling "get off my land."  But for property rights to be meaningful, one needs to not only be able to protect the borders of that property but also hire whom they like to work on their property, sell to whom they like, rent to whom they like, entertain whom they like, etc.  Its not just about one's ability to exclude people, but also one's ability to associate with people of one's choice.

Now, I can imagine a number of reasonable rebuttals.  Someone might argue that this is all fine and good when 100 people want to come and seek a job from folks like me, but what if the number is a billion?   Anyway, we could have an interesting discussion along those lines.  But instead I got this:

Uh, what?  This makes about zero sense in context.  He was criticizing a open border policy, which would represent a change in current law.  I offered a partial defense of open borders and why I thought his property rights analogy for border restrictions was a bad analogy.  And so he answers "because laws".  Honestly, this may be my failing, but I really did not understand how laws were the reason we could not change immigration laws (he may have an implicit assumption that immigrants are dangerous and laws are thus necessary to protect us from them, but if this is his core assumption driving this comment it goes entirely unstated).   So I assumed I had not explained myself well, and made the mistake of trying to clarify my point (instead of just walking away as I should have).  I will confess that the 40+ likes he got for a tweet which was true on its face but made zero sense in context influenced my decisions to try again.  Perhaps if I clarified, so would he, so I tweeted:


And here you go, the payoff for reading so far into this post, the true WTF moment of the thread

and here, because repetition using slightly different insults just reinforces the point

I am not even sure how to parse this.  More than even the statement itself, the 60 likes and 4 retweets just sort of floored me.  "Yeah, Nick, you showed that guy!"  Anyway, I assume what is going on here is that rather than understand my actual argument, he assigned to me the same package of both real and straw man arguments Conservatives assign to all immigration supporters and then started arguing some of those, rather than the actual issue we were arguing.   Anyway, just to make sure I had the full Twitter experience in this thread we had an appearance by the super Internet sleuth who has figured it all out:

lol, nice job.  The few folks who were reading my blog at the beginning -- which had its first post in 2004 a full 18 months before the first tweet on Twitter -- will know the blog is named after the Warner Brothers animation character, who in my mind should be one of the patron saints of small business owners -- he works his *ss off to achieve a goal and something unexpected screws his quest up every time.

Anyway, I guess I should make clear that my position on Twitter is roughly the same as it is on incentives.  In the case of incentives, bad organizations don't have bad people, they have ordinary average people with bad incentives.   As far as Twitter goes, I am more than willing to believe that, despite what he thinks of me, that Nick Searcy is not a dolt or a loser.  He is likely a reasonably smart guy on a platform that turns everyone on it into morons and *ssholes.

So I will use twitter to publish so people can find my articles in their feed there, and I will look at it from time to time if I need a blogging topic, but otherwise I am going to limit my discourse to places I can write in long form.

Postscript: OK, I figured out who this guy is.  I have not seen him in a lot of things but he played Deke Slayton in the HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon and that entire series, including his contribution, was excellent.  I give him kudos as an (apparently) vocal Conservative in the entertainment world, as I think the constant drumbeat of unthinking Leftism in that industry tends to cause most of the Conservatives to just go into turtle mode to protect their careers and sanity.   Still don't agree with him on immigration.

Does It Seem To Anyone Else That China Thinks Its Playing Civ 5?

Thinking of the Gracchi Brothers Today

It is with mixed emotions that I greet this day.  Frequent readers will know that I long for a system of much more open immigration.  I don't think that the US Government should be limiting who can and cannot seek work or live within the US borders (setting rules for citizenship and receipt of benefits are different matters).  So I would like to see many long-time immigrants legalized today (and in fact I likely have friends and acquaintances who will benefit, though it's always been a bit awkward to ask them about immigration status).

However, I would MUCH rather see a rational process implemented than these once a decade amnesties we seem to go in for instead.

I also worry that Obama is taking these actions for all the wrong reasons, seeking to add 5 million Democratic voters rather than trying to help 5 million people who are seeking prosperity.  The reason I suspect this is that he is also seeking higher minimum wages that will likely make it harder for these folks to find work, likely something he has promised to his union allies so they won't freak out.  I have always said that Republicans want immigrants to work but not vote and Democrats want immigrants to vote but not work.

But I am much more worried about the un-Constitutional process that is going to be followed.  Of course, this is not the only Executive power grab over the last two presidencies, but it is a big one and one of the first where the President has admitted he doesn't have the power but is going to do it anyway.

Around 133BC, Tiberius Gracchus was ticked off that the Roman Republic would not consider necessary land reform.  I am going to oversimplify here, but in their conquests the Romans had grabbed a lot of new territory and by law that land was supposed to be parceled in small sections to lots of individual land holders.  Instead, powerful men (many of whom were in the Senate) grabbed the lion's share of this land for themselves in huge estates.   Gracchus rightly saw this as unfair and a violation of law, but it was also a threat to the security of the nation, as independent landowners who bought their own weapons were the backbone of the Roman army.  The shift of agriculture to huge estates staffed with slaves was not only forcing a shift in the makeup of the army (one which would by the way contribute to the rise of despotic generals like Sulla and Caeser), but also was creating social problems by throwing mobs of unlanded poor on the cities, particularly Rome.

Anyway, the short version is that Tiberius Gracchus had good reason to think these reforms were important.  But traditionally they would have to be considered by the Senate first, and he was too impatient to wait that process out, and besides (probably rightly) feared the Senate would find a way to kill them.   He was so passionate about them that he violated the (unwritten) Roman Constitution by ignoring the Senate and setting new precedents for using his position as Tribune to pass the new laws.  It was absolutely the prototype for a well-intentioned bypassing of the Constitution.  I won't go into detail, but Tiberius was killed at the behest of some Senators, but his brother picked up his mantle 10 years later and did some similar things.  Which is why we talk of the Gracchi brothers.

In the near term, the results were some partial successes with land reform.  However, in the long-term, their actions really got the ball rolling on what is called the Roman Revolution.  A hundred years later, the Republic would be gone, replaced with a dictatorship.  Step by step, the precedents often set initially with only the best intentions, were snatched up and used by demagogues to cement their own power.  In later years, what gave emperors their authority was a package of powers granted to them.  One of the most important was "tribunition" power.  In essence, the tribunition power included many of the powers first exercised aggresively by the Gracchi brothers.  More than just starting the ball rolling on the Revolution, they pioneered the use of powers that were to be the core of future emperors' authority.

Worst Law That I Can Remember

This is simply an awful law.  If you had asked me ten years ago if we would see the President (a Democrat yet) claiming the right to assasinate Americans and the Congress threatening to pass a bill requiring the indefinite detention, without trial, of people within our borders, I would never have believed it.  At first I was excited to see that Obama was threatening a veto, but then I read that he was not upset about indefinite detention, but only that Congress was threatening to tie his hands and proscribe certain options.  Obama wants to have the choice of whether to offer certain individuals due process or indefinite decision.

For more, see Rand Paul v. John McCain

Postscript:  As usual, I am left flat by the debate over whether certain injustices, like indefinite detention, apply to all humanity or just foreigners.  I have yet to parse anything in our founder's national rights arguments behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that justify why folks born outside our borders have fewer rights than those born inside them.

Update:  More here, including a lot from the ACLU.  We are supposed to feel better because John McCain says that this only applied to Al Qaeda.  But how in the hell do we know with any confidence that the folks the President locks up are Al Qaeda?  Its bad enough to declare a whole new crime, that of being a member of a certain organization.  The US, through its history, has been much better than most nations in avoiding banning certain parties and organizations.  But even if we accept this law, doesn't there need to be some due process?

I suppose I understand that if I captured a guy in an SS uniform in WWII who 10 seconds ago was shooting at me, locking him up as a POW might not require a ton of due process.  Last I checked, the AQ folks didn't have a uniform or anything.  And most of them are not routinely shooting at us.

We didn't even pass this kind of horrible law at the height of Cold War anti-communist hysteria.  Can you see Johnson or Nixon (or Hoover) being able to indefinitely detain anyone they thought was a member of the Communist Party?

I Was Wrong

I like to prominently highlight when I have been wrong.  In the past, I have said that the US follows a double standard on our Mexican and Canadian borders.  Where are the Canadian wall proposals?  Where are the Canadian workers getting handcuffed by Joe Arpaio.

But apparently I was wrong.  The US is working hard to apply an equal level of obnoxiousness to Canadians.

Absurd Argument of the Day

This comes from an email I got from some folks called the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

FAIR's new report, The Environmentalist Guide to a Sensible Immigration Policy examines the relationship between America's mass immigration policies and skyrocketing population growth.  It details how both are severely limiting America's ability to make meaningful progress toward important environmental goals.

"Some environmental groups like to pretend that this correlation does not exist," said Dan Stein, President of FAIR. "Because of pressures brought to bear by politically charged special interests demanding open borders, groups sincerely interested in advancing sensible environmental policies remain muzzled on the issue.  Overpopulation fueled by uncontrolled immigration - the root cause of most resource depletion - is unfortunately deemed too radioactive to discuss in some circles."

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, U.S. population has grown by 50 percent, or about 100 million people. U.S. population now stands at approximately 308 million and is currently growing by nearly three million a year "“ the equivalent of adding a new Chicago each year.  By 2050, an estimated 438 million people will live in this country with more than 80 percent of the increase coming from post-2005 immigrants and their children.

Uh, these people would exist whether they live on one side of the map or the other, its not clear how immigration contributes to over-population, unless they are taking some coldly Malthusian argument that more of them would die young in poverty than do once they improve their lives in the US.   Sure, they may be wealthier having come to the US and use more energy and consume more, but my strong sense is that as they come to the US and get wealthier, then their birthrates actually fall, even if they remain higher than the US average.

We Should Have Expected This

In Lucifer's Hammer, one Astronaut up in space observed that you couldn't see international borders up there.  The other astronaut told him to shut up -- if he kept making such a big deal about it, countries would all paint two mile wide stripes in flourescent orange around their countries.

I thought of that when I saw this - corporate branding meets Google Earth.  Hat tip Virtual Globetrotting

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When Politicians Say "Priviledge," That Means Kiss Your Rights Goodbye

A while back I wrote about how irritated I get when a state calls its sales tax a "transaction privilege" tax, and piously tells me that free interchange of goods and services is not a basic right but a privilege that can only be granted by an accommodating government.

Today, via Reason, we hear that "priviledge" word again, this time from Britain's Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, and again it is used in the context of "Kiss your rights goodbye"

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she decided to make public the names of 16 people banned since October so others could better understand what sort of behaviour Britain was not prepared to tolerate. [...]

"I think it's important that people understand the sorts of values and sorts of standards that we have here, the fact that it's a privilege to come and the sort of things that mean you won't be welcome in this country," Ms Smith told GMTV.

"Coming to this country is a privilege. If you can't live by the rules that we live by, the standards and the values that we live by, we should exclude you from this country and, what's more, now we will make public those people that we have excluded. [...]

Ironically enough, among the banned is American conservative radio host Michael Savage.  I don't enjoy Savage's schtick, but my sense is that he would very much share Ms. Smith's view on borders, that we need to filter those we allow in the country based on various ideological and cultural screens.  In fact, my sense is that Smith and Savage are very closely alligned on this, and differ only in how they would define the filters.

I must say that it is deeply depressing to see the UK implementing content-based speech screens on immigration and even visitation.

Aren't These the Same?

I saw these two posts one after the other on Q&O.  One is about Chavez's food regulations in Venezuela, the other is about a government health care plan in California.  One is about government takeover of a critical industry, price controls, supply rationing, and demonizing large private corporations, and the other is about the same thing, but in Venezuela.  Since Chavez is further along with his program, we might see how things are working out for him:

Venezuela's top food company has accused troops of illegally seizing
more than 500 tonnes of food from its trucks as part of President Hugo
Chavez's campaign to stem shortages.

The leftist Chavez this
week created a state food distributor and loosened some price controls,
seeking to end months of shortages for staples like milk and eggs that
have caused long lines and upset his supporters in the OPEC nation.

highly publicised campaign has also included government crackdowns on
accused smuggling, with the military seizing 1,600 tonnes of food and
sending 1,200 troops to the border with Colombia....

He also threatened to expropriate companies selling food above regulated prices.

who is distributing food ... and is speculating, we must intervene and
we must expropriate (the business) and put it in the hands of the state
and the communities," Chavez said during the inauguration of a new
state-run market in Caracas.

Yep, sounds about the same.  Fortunately, people in the West can still travel across borders to get health care when government rationed and price-controlled services are not available, as many Canadians and British do. So in the US, when we implement all these same steps, we'll be able to travel to..., travel to...  Where will we be able to go?

Immigration Thought of the Day

Frequent readers will know that I am a strong supporter of open immigration.  I don't disagree with McQ at Q&O when he writes "Open Borders or Welfare State: Pick One," but I don't think that this is the logic of most folks who are anti-immigration.  It may be their public stance, but if more folks really thought this way, there would be serious discussion of tiered citizenship or guest worker models similar to what I have proposed on several occasions.

However, I am tempted to become a close-the-border proponent if the left continue to use numbers skewed by immigration to justify expansions of taxation and the welfare state.  Whether they are illegal or not, whether they should be allowed to stay or not, the fact is that tens of millions of generally poor and unskilled immigrants have entered this country over the last several decades.  These folks dominate the lower quintile of wage earners in this country, and skew all of our traditional economic indicators downwards.  Median wages appear to be stagnating?  Of course the metric looks this way -- as wages have risen, 10 million new folks have been inserted at the bottom.  If you really want to know what the current median wage is on an apples to apples basis back to 1970, take the current reported median wage and count up about 10 million spots, and that should be the number -- and it will be much higher. 

Income distribution numbers are the same way.  I showed in a previous post how these numbers are deceptive, when we compare them to Europe, because though European poor have a higher percentage of the median wage in their country, it is a higher percentage of a lower number.  When you correct for that effect, the US poor look pretty equal.  But immigration exaggerates this effect even more.  Instead of having income distribution numbers comparing, say, a lawyer and a blue collar worker, they are now comparing a lawyer and a non-English-speaking recent unskilled immigrant.  Of course the disparity looks worse!

The folks using these numbers have to be smart enough to understand this issue, so it can only be hugely disingenuous that they simultaneously promote immigration (which I support) while at the same time using immigrant-skewed numbers to say that the average US worker is somehow worse off.  If they keep this tactic up, even I may be tempted to close the borders.

Isn't This A Measurement Problem?

I often see the stat that US manufacturing employment has shrunk substantially over the last 50 or so years, usually accompanied by much wailing from the left (yes, the same people who criticized manufacturing work as dehumanizing 40 years ago).

The WaPo, via Hit and Run, says that US manufacturing output is at an all time high, and that the only way to reconcile these two is with technology and productivity.  Which is certainly part of the story, and its refreshing to see someone telling this story and not trying to cast the manufacturing numbers as a reason to slam the borders closed against imports.

But isn't there also a measurement problem here?  Eighty years ago, if a Ford Motor factory needed the windows cleaned, a Ford employee did it.  If it needed the parking lot striped, Ford workers did it.  When it needed the bathrooms cleaned at night, Ford janitors did it.  Today, the same Ford factory needs its windows and bathrooms cleaned, but an outside service contractor likely does the work.  In the economic statistics, haven't these workers migrated from "manufacturing" to "service" without anything real on the ground changing?

Let's Not Start a Jihad against ISPs

McQ at QandO posts a number of examples of jihadi websites hosted on American ISPs, and goes on to urge:

If you're doing business with any of these ISPs, you may want to advise
them of your displeasure that your fees are helping support a company
that is hosting websites of avowed enemies of your nation and culture.
Granted, because these are in arabic, the ISPs may not even know what
the sites are, but now you do. Point the ISPs to the MEMRI post. Tell
them that websites which call for the killing of Americans, waging war
against us and teaching radicals how to make bombs are unacceptable.
This is not something which you must wait on government to do. These
sites need to come down and they need to come down because of
grassroots and market pressure to do so. Shut them down.

I have a number of problems with this.  Of course, in a free society, one can choose an ISP any way one likes.  However, given the nature of the Internet, this is one of those suggestions that may sort of feel good but have no chance of having any kind of impact.  Even if wildly successful, all you are going to do is drive these sites to offshore hosts, and I sure hope no one is talking about setting up Chinese-type filters and firewalls at our borders.

Further, there is nothing I like more than having my ISP blissfully ignorant of, and apathetic to, whatever it is they are hosting for me.  I DO NOT want to gear up ISP's to start reviewing and disallowing content.  That is a horribly slippery slope that will only end badly, as we have started to see with video banning at Google and YouTube.  In fact, given the precedents we have seen at YouTube, I would be willing to guess that if ISP's did start** putting a filter on sites and start** banning them based on public complaints, that McQ is not going to be happy be my sense is that their political filters are different than his.  Just look at campuses today -- many universities have defined a new right not to be offended that trumps free speech.  Do we really want to bring this horrible "innovation" to the Internet?

Finally, I think its awesome and what makes America great that we are so tolerant of speech from even the nuttiest of our worst enemies.  I had kind of hoped that GoDaddy would be on his list, just to experience the cultural irony of GoDaddy girl meets fundamentalist Islam.

** Actually, "start" is not the right word, since some undoubtedly kill certain sites when people complain.  Usually but not always today this is based more on irritating Internet behavior (e.g. spamming) rather than content of speech.  It would be more accurate to have said "substantially increase the banning of sites based on content."

Interesting Data on Immigration

Via Kevin Drum, the results from a couple of studies in California:

A study released Tuesday by the Public Policy Institute
of California found that immigrants who arrived in the state between
1990 and 2004 increased wages for native workers by an average 4%.

UC Davis economist Giovanni Peri, who conducted the study, said the
benefits were shared by all native-born workers, from high school
dropouts to college graduates....

Another study released Monday by the Washington-based Immigration
Policy Center showed that immigrant men ages 18 to 39 had an
incarceration rate five times lower than native-born citizens in every
ethnic group examined. Among men of Mexican descent, for instance, 0.7%
of those foreign-born were incarcerated compared to 5.9% of
native-born, according to the study, co-written by UC Irvine
sociologist Ruben G. Rumbaut.

This is great stuff, I hope we see more of it, because it takes on two of the more common arguments against immigration.  In particular, its good to see someone taking on the crime angle, an issue I have suspected all along of being more about racial prejudices than true statistics.  This is a particularly telling table:


I previously took on the the meme that immigration causes crime here.  My case for open immigration is here and here.  My proposed plan is here.  Note that I really try to stay away from arguing immigration within the "who is going to pick the lettuce" framework.  I think free movement across borders of people, goods, and services is a basic human right, irrespective of the effect it has on wages or lettuce.

Oddly enough, Drum didn't focus much on the positive results on wages, as he has way too much invested in the whole "erosion of the middle class" thing to acknowledge that immigration might not hurt wages (since if immigration does not hurt wages, neither does free trade or outsourcing).  Mr. Drum says he wants to think about the study.  My prediction is that he will decide the crime study is a good one but the wage study was flawed.

Are Immigrants Weeds in the Garden?

For some reason, probably because no one there has actually read my blog, the Minutemen Project has me on their email list for press releases.  This one caught my eye:

Judge John H. Wilson has stepped out of his judicial robes to write a children's book. Hot House Flowers is aimed at entertaining and educating children, but adults will find the story an informative and useful object lesson in politics and current events and a cautionary tale to share with family and friends.

Judge Wilson tackles the topic of illegal immigration in an imaginative manner, and the publisher adds a colorful assortment of illustrations to the Judge's metaphorical story of cartoon "hothouse flowers" which must resist the intrusion of weeds from outside the borders of the protected house.

On first reading this, I wanted to barf.  Comparing immigrants to weeds that attack us lovely (Caucasian) flowers is really insulting.  However, on second thought, I thought this analogy was somewhat apt. 

A hothouse flower is one that can't compete or survive outside of the limited confines of its greenhouse.  Rather than being able to survive on its own, a hothouse flower takes a ton of outside care and feeding.  The very term "hothouse flower" when applied to a person tends to mean someone who can't really function in the real world.  And in some sense this is what our citizens and businesses will become in a Lou-Dobbsian world of limited immigration and trade protectionism, each of us hot house flowers or Marie Antoinette's who have no ability to function in the larger world.  We all need healthy interchange and competition with the world at large to stay vital and growing as a country and as individuals.

By the way, a lot of those weeds turn into flowers:

"Over the past 15 years, immigrants have started 25 percent
of U.S. public companies that were venture-backed." These businesses
employ some 220,000 people in the U.S. and have a current market
capitalization that "exceeds $500 billion, adding significant value to
the American economy."


Libertarians are Screwed

There are those of a libertarian bent who want to believe that the current bitch-slapping that Congressional Republicans are being handed right at this moment portends well for libertarians:  I beg to differ.  Don't get me wrong, the Republicans deserve what they get.  But this election should not be taken as a sign that the electorate is going all libertarian.  Forget exit polls and what the news says about why people are voting the way they are -- that stuff is always garbage.  Look past the people races and look to the ballot initiatives.

All over America, I don't think voters are punishing Congress for wielding too much power over their lives.  Because when the voters themselves are being offered legislative power via propositions to use the full coercive power of government to compel their neighbors to do the majority's bidding, they are jumping on the statist bandwagon gleefully.  Minimum wage hikes, smoking bans, new regulations, bans on gay marriage, restrictions on immigrants; heck, we even have ballot initiatives with micro-regulations for animal cage sizes.   They are all passing in Arizona and across the country. 

Currently 77% of Arizonans have voted to make Arizona prisons mini-Gitmo's for illegal immigrants, denying them bail for any crime.  75% want to make sure no Spanish is spoken in the statehouse.  66% want to interfere in employer/employee wage negotiations.  55% want to give bar owners no choice in whether they allow smoking in their own private establishment.

Note that there is no consistent theme of conservatism or liberalism in these issues.   The first two might be seen as "conservative" issues and the second two as "liberal" issues.  But the same 2/3 are voting for each.  This is not a victory for the left or the right, but for big government populism.  The voters are getting a taste of bending their fellow citizens to their whims via the government, and they seem to like it.

Update: I am trying not to get mad, but 75% - 3/4 of the people in this state - are voting to not allow illegal immigrants to collect punitive damage awards.  I'm sorry, I understand that people are frustrated with the immigration topic, but there are certain things that strike me as basic under any notion of equal protection, that should apply irregardless of citizenship status.  Protections we should offer to any human being that happens to be in our borders.  And the ability to seek redress for damages in court should be one of them.

In addition, 57% are currently supporting the initiative to ban probation for meth users, so that even minor meth possession charges will lead to a jail term.  This means that the hugely enlightened and highly successful policy of filling up jails with marijuana users is going to be emulated and applied to meth use.

On the positive side, so far the gay marriage amendment is not passing, and the proposition to put limits on Kelo-type eminent domain takings looks like it will pass.

There just seems to be a huge philosophical muddle behind the voting here.  The electorate votes to limit kelo-type government takings and to require compensation in zoning cases where private land values are reduced, but at the same time votes strongly to ban smoking in bars and to raise the minimum wage, both of which are effectively government actions that takes value away arbitrarily from certain private individuals and businesses.

For years I have lamented tthat the average American has no philosophy -- he or she only has a hodge-podge of inconsistent political views stitched together from his/her parents, from peer pressure of their social group, and from random encounters with the media.  Never have I felt this as strongly as I do tonight.

More Anti-Immigration Scare Stats

A while back, I pointed out that immigration opponents seemed to be depending on American's having poor match skills and a pathetic knowledge of history.  Today in this post from Captain's Quarters we find more statistical funny business.  Captain Ed, like many conservatives, have been stumping for the US to build a big honking fence at the border, nominally as part of the war on terrorism.

Of course according to supporters it is only about security, not xenophobia, which explains why the fence proposal in Congress covers both our northern and southern borders since both are equally porous to terrorists.  Oh, wait, the law only covers the southern border?  Oh.  Well, I hope terrorists can't read a map and don't notice that the northern border is three times as long and in many cases more unpopulated and unguarded than the southern border.

Anyway, another "security" argument by immigration foes is that hordes of criminals are apparently pouring across the border, and walls are proposed as a way to stop them.  The Captain quotes Bill Frist:

One of the most important and most effective ways that we can stop
illegal immigration is through the construction and proper maintenance
of physical fences along the highest trafficked, most commonly violated
sections of our border with Mexico.

Take the case of San Diego. According to the FBI Crime Index, crime
in San Diego County dropped 56.3% between 1989 and 2000, after a fence
stretching from the Ocean to the mountains near San Diego was
substantially completed. And, according to numbers provided by the San
Diego Sector Border Patrol in February 2004, apprehensions decreased
from 531,689 in 1993 to 111,515 in 2003.

Whoa. That sounds impressive.  But, remember what I often say on this site -- correlation is not causation.  Indeed, it is not just random chance that he picked the years 1989 - 2000.  Those were the years that nearly every part of the US saw a huge drop in its crime rate.  Using this data for these years, and presuming Frist is using the crime rate index per 100,000 people, which is the stat that makes the most sense, here are some figures for 1989 - 2000:

Crime Rate Change, 1989-2000:
US :  - 28%
Arizona:  -28%
California: - 45%
New York: -51%

Wow!  The border fence in San Diego even had a similarly large effect on crime in New York State!  That thing is amazing.  Oh, and note these are state figures.  My understanding is that the figures for large metropolitan areas is even more dramatic.  So what happened in 1989 to 2000 is every state and in particular every large metropolitan area in the country saw huge double digit drops in crime, and San Diego was no exception.   But Frist tries to give credit to the border fence.

In case you want to believe that Frist does not know what he is doing with these stats (ie that he wasn't intentionally trying to give credit for a national demographic trend to a border fence in San Diego) notice that 1989 was the US crime rate peak and 2000 was the US crime rate low point.  So with data for the years up to 2005 available, he just happens to end his period at 2000.  Oh, and the new style fences he wants to emulate were actually only started in 1996 (and here, search for "triple fence"), AFTER most of these crime gains had been made.  Correlation definitely does not equal causation when the proposed cause occurred after the effect.

For all of you who always wanted to live in Soviet East Berlin, you may soon get a good taste of that experience:

The first fence, 10 feet high, is made of welded metal panels. The
second fence, 15 feet high, consists of steel mesh, and the top is
angled inward to make it harder to climb over. Finally, in high-traffic
areas, there's also a smaller chain-link fence. In between the two main
fences is 150 feet of "no man's land," an area that the Border Patrol
sweeps with flood lights and trucks, and soon, surveillance cameras.

Below are views of Nogales, AZ and Berlin.  Nothing alike.  Nope.  Totally different.

Nogaleswall_1 Berlinwall

Finally, I will give the last word to Frist, bold added.

That's why I strongly support the Secure Fence Act of 2006 "¦ and that's
why I'm bringing this crucial legislation to the floor of the Senate
this week for an up-or-down vote. By authorizing the construction of
over 700 miles of two-layered reinforced fencing along our southwest
border and by mandating the use of cameras, ground sensors, UAVs and
other forms of hi-tech surveillance, this legislation would help us
gain control over every inch of our borders "“ once and for all.

"gain control over every inch of our borders," except, or course, for those 3000 5525 miles (350 million inches) to the north where the people on the other side have the courtesy not to speak a foreign language.  But its hard to demagogue well about a threat from Canadians, since they are mostly WASPs like we mostly are, or at least it has been for the last 100 years or so.  54-40 or fight!

Update: Here is that terrifying Canadian border barrier (from this site).  This demonstrates why our terrorist security dollars need to all be invested on the southern border, since this one is already locked down tight.  Heck, there is one of these babies (below) every mile!  Beware terrorists!


And don't forget these terrorist-proof border checkpoints along our northern frontier:


But it's not about race.

Update 2:  Yes, my emailers are correct.  I did not actually give Frist the last word like I said I would.  Gosh, I feel so bad about that.

Update 3:  Welcome to readers of my favorite site, Reason's Hit and Run.  It looks like Texas may soon consider a border fence, though with Louisiana instead of Mexico.

Wanted: Honesty of Purpose

Apparently, conservative Republicans are gearing up for a big Congressional push on "border security", hoping to decouple it from any discussion of immigration liberalization.

I know from my email and comments that many of my readers disagree with my stand for open immigration.  Reasonable people can disagree, but the hypocrisy of the "border security" and its linking to the war on terror really set me on edge.

If you are a "border security" supporter, then say what you mean -- that you want to string a lot of razor wire and enlist the US Army to secure the border from ... poor people looking for a job.  I get email every other day from the "minutemen" who triumph their brave defense of the border.  I will virtually guarantee that they have not found a single terrorist and probably have not found a single person coming over the border solely for criminal intent, and that 100% of their impact has been to set the authorities on people who are looking for work.  Yes I know that foreign born people looking for work in the US without the proper paperwork is currently illegal, but so is speeding and making a rolling stop at a stop sign  (which are, by the way, a lot more dangerous).  The question is, who is being harmed?  To be precise, the government's job is not to "secure the borders" but to "secure its citizens".  Doing so presupposes we can clearly state, "against what?"

Yeah, but what about the terrorists?  Don't make me laugh.  There are so many other, easier ways for a terrorist to get into the US that every terrorist act to date has been committed by people who came through normal border checkpoints and not across the Sonoran desert.  And I have written several times about open immigration would actually make it harder on known terrorists entering illegally, by eliminating the camouflage of other people crossing the desert for them to hide in.  And besides, every plan I have ever seen of late involves a wall along the Mexican border, but nothing along the Canadian border.  A terrorist can sneak over either just as easily, so a plan that was really aimed at terrorism would be putting walls on both borders.

I am sympathetic to the argument that you can't provide full government handouts, err, benefits to everyone who shows up at the border.  So fix the eligibility rules on government benefits, as I suggested in my plan here.

So lets be honest.  If you want border security, lets not pretend that a wall along the Mexican border  is about terrorism or security.  Its about stopping people who were not born in this country from working here.  Though I am opposed to the efforts, it is actually kind of refreshing to see nativist groups going after day labor centers.  This at least represents an honest and open statement of their intentions, that they want to prevent a certain class of people from getting work.

Update: Kerry Howley at Reason has some similar thoughts

My Immigration Reform Plan

More than any subject on Coyote Blog, my immigration posts have engendered more disapproving comments than anything else I have written.  I won't repeat my position except to say that I don't care if immigration is currently illegal, because my point is that it should be legal.  In short, my stance has been that our rights do not flow from the government but from our basic humanity, and therefore activities like association, employment decision-making, and property purchase should not be contingent on citizenship.  Its one of those arguments where I wish many on my side of the argument would shut up -- If the best argument you can muster for immigration is 'who will pick the lettuce', you are not helping very much. 

For the first 150 years of this country's history, our country was basically wide-open to immigration.  Sure, there were those opposed (the riots in NYC in the 19th century come to mind) but the opposition was confined mainly to xenophobes and those whose job skills were so minimal that unskilled immigrants who could not speak English were perceived as a threat.   It was only the redistributionist socialism-lite of the New Deal and later the Great Society that began to make unfettered immigration unpopular with a majority of Americans, who rightly did not wish to see the world's poor migrate to the US seeking an indolent life of living off of government handouts.

But, as Congress debates a series of immigration plans that make not sense and don't seem internally consistent, I will propose my own.  I hope that this plan will appeal to those who to date have opposed immigration because of the government handout problem.  I am sure it will continue to be unappealing to those who fear competition in the job market or who don't like to be near people who don't speak English very well.  This is an elaboration of the plan from this post:

  1. Anyone may enter or reside in the US. The government may prevent entry of a very short list of terrorists and criminals at the border, but everyone else is welcome to come and stay as long as they want for whatever reason.  Anyone may buy property in the US, regardless or citizenship or residency.  Anyone in the US may trade with anyone in the world on the same terms they trade with their next door neighbor.
  2. The US government is obligated to protect the individual rights, particularly those in the Bill of Rights, of all people physically present in our borders, citizen or not.  Anyone, regardless of citizenship status, may buy property, own a business, or seek employment in the United States without any legal distinction vs. US "citizens"
  3. Certain government functions, including voting and holding office, may require formal "citizenship".  Citizenship should be easier to achieve, based mainly on some minimum residency period, and can be denied after this residency only for a few limited reasons (e.g. convicted of a felony).  The government may set no quotas or numerical limits on new citizenships.
  4. All people present in the US pay the same taxes in the same way.  A non-citizen or even a short term visitor pays sales taxes on purchases and income taxes on income earned while present in the US just like anyone else.  Immigrants will pay property taxes just like long-term residents, either directly or via their rent payments.
  5. Pure government handouts, like Welfare, food stamps, the EITC, farm subsidies, and public housing, will only be available to those with full US citizenship.  Vagrancy and squatting on public or private lands without permission will not be tolerated.
  6. Most government services and fee-based activities, including emergency services, public education, transportation, access to public recreation, etc. will be open to all people within the US borders, regardless of citizenship status, assuming relevant fees are paid.
  7. Social Security is a tough beast to classify - I would put it in the "Citizen" category as currently structured (but would gladly put it in the "available to everyone" category if SS could be restructured to better match contributions with benefits, as in a private account system).  But, as currently configured, I would propose that only citizens can accrue and receive SS benefits.  To equalize the system, the nearly 8% employee and 8% employer social security contributions will still be paid by non-citizens working in the US, but these funds can be distributed differently.  I would suggest the funds be split 50/50 between state and local governments to offset any disproportionate use of services by new immigrants.  The federal portion could go towards social security solvency, while the state and local portion to things like schools and medical programs.

With this plan, we return to the America of our founding fathers, welcoming all immigrants who are willing to take the risk of coming here.  We would end the failed experiment of turning citizenship from a voting right into a comprehensive license that is required to work, own property, or even associate and be present within the US border.  Since immigrants today who are "illegal" pay no income or social security taxes into the system today (they do pay sales and, via rent, property tax), this plan would increase tax revenues while reducing some welfare state burdens.

I think if you asked many prospective immigrants, they would agree to this deal - no handouts, just a fair chance to make a living and a life.  However, immigrant advocacy organizations are hugely unlikely to accept this plan, as most seem today to have been co-opted by various Marxist organizations who are opposed to anyone opting out of the welfare state (it is no coincidence that the recent immigration policy protests all occurred on May Day, the traditional Soviet-Marxist holiday).

Finally, I would like to offer one thought to all those who worry about "absorbing" ten or fifteen million new immigrants.  First, I would argue that we have adopted many more immigrants than this successfully in this country's history, including my grandparents and probably yours.  Second, I would observe that as recently as the last several decades, we managed to absorb 40 million new workers quite successfully, as I wrote here:

Check this data out, from the BLS:

  • In 1968, the unemployment rate was 3.8%.  22.9 million women were employed in non-farm jobs, accounting for 34% of the work force.
  • In 2000, the unemployment rate was 4.0%.  62.7 million women were employed in the work force, accounting for 48% of the total
  • In these years, the number of women employed increased every single year.  Even in the recession years of 1981-1983 when employment of men dropped by 2.5 million, women gained 400,000 jobs

This is phenomenal.  After years of being stay-at-home moms or whatever, women in America decided it was time to go to work.  This was roughly the equivalent of having 40,000,000 immigrants show up on our shores one day looking for work.  And you know what? The American economy found jobs for all of them, despite oil embargos and stagflation and wars and "outsourcing".

Immigration and the "Legality" Issue

I know some may be bored with my immigration posts, so if you are, that's cool, you can ignore the rest.  I have done something of late I normally don't do:  I have tuned into conservative talk radio for bits and pieces of time over the last several days to get the gist of their arguments to limit immigration.  The main arguments I have heard are:

  1. Illegal immigrants are breaking the law
  2. We should not reward law-breaking with amnesty.  We need to round these folks up that are breaking the law and teach them a lesson.  Or put them in concentration camps if that were logistically feasible
  3. We don't like first generation Mexican immigrants carrying the Mexican flag in parades. (though we love it when 4th generation Irish carry Irish flags in parades)

A recent commenter on my post defending open immigration, which is superseded by this pro-immigration post I like better, had this related insight:

6-10000000 YOU ARE ILLEGAL



It sure is comforting that us "leagal migrants" have to pass a basic English test, or we might come off as idiots when we post comments online.  But you get the gist.  My first thought is that this is certainly a circular argument.  To answer my premise that "immigration should be legal for everyone" with the statement that "it is illegal" certainly seems to miss the point (it kind of reminds me of the king of swamp castle giving instructions to his guards in Monty Python and the Holy Grail) The marginally more sophisticated statement that "it is illegal and making it legal would only reward lawbreakers" would seem to preclude any future relaxation of any government regulation.

Many people writing on this topic today lapse into pragmatic arguments ala "well, how would we pick the lettuce without them?"  Frequent readers of this site will notice I seldom if ever resort to this type argument (except perhaps when I argued that immigration might be a solution to the demographic bomb in medicare and social security).  My argument is simpler but I hear it discussed much less frequently:  By what right are these folks "illegal"?

What does it mean to be living in this country?  Well, immigrants have to live somewhere, which presupposes they rent or buy living space from me or one of my neighbors.  Does the government have the right to tell me who I can and can't transact with?  Most conservatives would (rightly) say "no,"  except what they really seem to mean is "no, as long as that person you are leasing a room to was born within some arbitrary lines on the map.  The same argument goes for immigrants contracting their labor (ie getting a job).  Normally, most conservatives would (rightly again) say that the government can't tell you who you can and can't hire.   And by the way, note exactly what is being criminalized here - the illegal activity these folks are guilty of is making a life for their family and looking for work.  Do you really want to go down the path of making these activities illegal?  Or check out the comment again above.  She/he implies that immigrants without the proper government papers don't even have speech rights, rights that even convicted felons have in this country. 

By the way, I understand that voting and welfare type handouts complicate this and can't be given day 1 to everyone who crosses the border -- I dealt in particular with the issue of New Deal social services killing immigration here.

Our rights to association and commerce and free movement and speech flow from our humanity, not from the government.  As I wrote before:

Like the founders of this country, I believe that our individual
rights exist by the very fact of our existance as thinking human
beings, and that these rights are not the gift of kings or
congressmen.  Rights do not flow to us from government, but in fact
governments are formed by men as an artificial construct to help us
protect those rights, and well-constructed governments, like ours, are
carefully limited in their powers to avoid stifling the rights we have
inherently as human beings.

Do you see where this is going?  The individual rights we hold dear
are our rights as human beings, NOT as citizens.  They flow from our
very existence, not from our government. As human beings, we have the
right to assemble with whomever we want and to speak our minds.  We
have the right to live free of force or physical coercion from other
men.  We have the right to make mutually beneficial arrangements with
other men, arrangements that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing
shelter, or paying another man an agreed upon rate for his work.  We
have these rights and more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form
governments not to be the source of these rights (for they already
existed in advance of governments) but to provide protection of these
rights against other men who might try to violate these rights through
force or fraud.

rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property shouldn't,
therefore, be contingent on "citizenship".  I should be able, equally,
to contract for service from David in New Jersey or Lars in Sweden.
David or Lars, who are equally human beings,  have the equal right to
buy my property, if we can agree to terms.  If he wants to get away
from cold winters in Sweden, Lars can contract with a private airline
to fly here, contract with another person to rent an apartment or buy
housing, contract with a third person to provide his services in
exchange for wages.  But Lars can't do all these things today, and is
excluded from these transactions just because he was born over some
geographic line?  To say that Lars or any other "foreign" resident has
less of a right to engage in these decisions, behaviors, and
transactions than a person born in the US is to imply that the US
government is somehow the source of the right to pursue these
activities, WHICH IT IS NOT.

Disclosure:  A number of my great-grandparents were immigrants from Germany.  When they came over, most were poor, uneducated, unskilled and could not speak English.  Several never learned to speak English.  Many came over and initially took agricultural jobs and other low-skilled work.  Because the new country was intimidating to them, they tended to gather together in heavily German neighborhoods and small towns.  Now, of course, this description makes them totally different from most immigrants today that we want to shut the door on, because, uh... Help me out, because why?

PS - And please don't give me the "government's job is defend the borders" argument.  Government's job is to defend its people, which only occasionally in cases of direct attack involves defending the borders.  I am sick of the rhetorical trick of taking people like the "minutemen" and describing them as patriots defending the border, when this nomenclature just serves to hide the fact that these folks are bravely stopping unarmed human beings from seeking employment or reuniting with their families.  And I will absolutely guarantee that the borders will be easier to patrol against real criminals and terrorists sneaking in when the background noise of millions of peaceful and non-threatening people are removed from the picture and routed through legal border crossings.

Rising Tide of Protectionism

As a followup to this post on security as a Trojan horse for protectionism, I wanted to link this article in the WSJ($) called The Perils of Protectionism:

Fifty-six percent of the economists polled in the latest
forecasting survey -- conducted in the aftermath of a flap over foreign
management of U.S. ports -- say protectionism will lead to some
slowdown in U.S. growth over the next several years, and 8% predict
that the slowdown will be significant....

The ports controversy came at a time of growing concern about
protectionism around the world. It followed the blocked bid by China's
Cnooc Ltd. to acquire Unocal Corp. last year and emerged as European
governments angle to prevent high-profile utility deals within their
borders. The fear is that if governments take steps to shield their
countries' businesses, international trade and investment flows could
be reduced. Corporations will find it more difficult to reach new

Protectionism is unambiguously bad," said David Berson, chief economist
at Fannie Mae. Indeed, the free flow of capital across national borders
is conventionally looked upon by economists as a long-term good, and
69% of those surveyed say foreign ownership of U.S. assets is positive
for the economy in the long run.

One example of why the protectionist arguments are short-sighted is demonstrated by this passage from the same WSJ article:

While the ports row has receded, the U.S.'s large bilateral trade
deficit with China, which was $17.91 billion in January, remains a
flashpoint. Some lawmakers complain the imbalance has been inflamed by
an artifically low exchange rate for China's yuan against the dollar.
Though Beijing modestly revalued the yuan last summer, allowing it to
float in a narrow range against a basket of foreign currencies, critics
have continued to lash China's currency policy and call for further

So the Chinese government is artificially subsidizing the US economy through reduced prices of Chinese goods via a low valuation for the yuan vs. the dollar.  And that's a bad thing?  If the Chinese government is holding down the exchange rate, then they are in fact taking their money and the money of their citizens and pumping it into lower prices for US consumers and lower interest rates on US government debt.  Ooooh, color me really concerned.

As far as the "well, we're going into debt to pay for our consumerism" argument, I and others have tried and tried to educate the world that the trade deficit is not a debt, and running a trade deficit is not bad.

Getting the Government's Permission to do Business

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we recently won the concession for Elk Creek Marina on Blue Mesa Lake, Colorado.  For the last week, I have been scrambling to take the steps necessary to take over this business without disrupting service to customers. There are a lot of things to do from a customer service standpoint to get the business up and running, but there is a staggering list of permissions and licenses we need from the state of Colorado and other government bodies to be able to conduct this business, particularly since this is our first entry into Colorado.  Here is what we know we need so far, though I caution that this list continues to grow at the rate of 2-3 more items a day as we learn more:

  • Our corporation must register with the Colorado Secretary of State as a "foreign" corporation, foreign in this case meaning that we are registered in another state.
  • To register as a foreign corporation, we need to hire a person to be a "registered agent" to be a contact with the state.  The only real purpose of this person I have ever found is to provide an avenue for mail to get lost
  • We have to register to pay Colorado unemployment insurance tax
  • We have to register to withhold Colorado income taxes from our employees
  • We have to register to pay state corporate income taxes and franchise taxes
  • We have to register to collect sales taxes
  • I think we have to get a special license for collecting electricity taxes, since we sell power to boats at some of the docks
  • We need to go through an extensive application process to transfer three current liquor licenses into our name.  I wrote about liquor license hassles here.
  • The person on the phone today told me a corporation in Colorado cannot own more than two liquor licenses.  If this is true, we will have to form a second company in Colorado, repeating all the tasks above plus the initial work just to form the company
  • I need to fly to Colorado to get fingerprinted for my FBI background check that is needed for the license.  This despite the fact that I have been fingerprinted and background-checked for liquor licenses in several other states.
  • Since the company will hire out fishing guides from the marina, the company has to have a Colorado outfitter license, which includes a 13 page application and very detailed regulations and required contract terms I must use to provide the life-and-death service of helping people find fish.
  • The outfitter license requires that I post a bond, which in turn requires I submit detailed financial and background information to get the bond approved
  • Our managers need to attend food handlers training in Colorado.  Of course, they have attended the exact same course in California, but Colorado wants them to sit through it again within their state's borders
  • We need to fill out a pretty elaborate application to sell Colorado fishing licenses, and may need to post another bond to do so. (Update: Confirmed, we need a $4000 bond).
  • We will likely need an occupancy license from the county
  • We will need a health department inspection and license for the two retail stores, since they sell packaged foods, and a more detailed inspection for the restaurant
  • We will need a fire inspection of the restaurant
  • We will need Coast Guard inspection and certificate for the docks
  • We will need to change the registration of all 45 boats that are kept at the marina for boat rentals  (imagine standing at the DMV to register 45 cars).
  • We will need Coast Guard inspection of all the boats

75 days until we open.  Eeek.

Another Defense of Immigration

I won't repeat all that I wrote in my defense of open immigration, but I will summarize by saying that the right to associate with whom you want, to own and live on the property you choose, to negotiate with whomever you please to sell your labor, are all rights that we have as humans, not via the state.  These rights in effect pre-date, rather than flow from, the state, and as such should not be subject to citizenship test.

Anyway, Prawflawblog has a nice defense of immigration up as well:

Apparently both parties, with Republicans in the
lead, have embarked on an anti-immigrant frenzy. The hysteria has been
fueled for some time now by daily broadcasts in all major networks and
gravely sounding members of Congress discussing the "crisis on our
borders", "our bankrupt immigration system", etc. The virulence of this
sentiment makes Le Pen in France seem like a cosmopolitan liberal.

Yet liberal principles require a drastic reduction
of immigration controls. Foreigners flock to our shores because there
is demand for their labor. The same principle that supports free trade
of goods and services -- the law of comparative advantages -- applies
with equal force to freedom of movement. Freer immigration would
alleviate world poverty and allow people in our country to redirect
resources toward more efficient activities. Every single argument for
strict immigration controls is flawed

By the way, I know that "Social Security Reform" has been dropped from the media radar screen, even if the demographic problem hasn't gone away.  If one is not willing to privatize it (as it should be) the next best alternative to the Social Security's demographic bomb is... allow free immigration.  Nothing would do more to help the long-term Social Security picture like a few million new young immigrants hungry to work and perhaps to share in the American entrepreneurial spirit, paying their taxes to support the rest of us in our old age.

Immigration, Individual Rights, and the New Deal

Until recently, I have never really been a passionate participant in the immigration debate;  however, living here in Arizona, it is virtually impossible to avoid this discussion.  One observation I can make with some confidence is that, like most political debates, few of the participants seem to have opinions that are grounded in a consistent philosophy (rather than just a pragmatic collection of political points of view, as discussed here).  As a result, rather than quoting stats on illegal border crossings or the number of Al Qaeda operatives supposedly running around the Arizona desert, I thought I would try to lay out the philosophical argument for immigration.

Individual Rights Don't Come From the Government
Like the founders of this country, I believe that our individual rights exist by the very fact of our existance as thinking human beings, and that these rights are not the gift of kings or congressmen.  Rights do not flow to us from government, but in fact governments are formed by men as an artificial construct to help us protect those rights, and well-constructed governments, like ours, are carefully limited in their powers to avoid stifling the rights we have inherently as human beings.

Do you see where this is going?  The individual rights we hold dear are our rights as human beings, NOT as citizens.  They flow from our very existence, not from our government. As human beings, we have the right to assemble with whomever we want and to speak our minds.  We have the right to live free of force or physical coercion from other men.  We have the right to make mutually beneficial arrangements with other men, arrangements that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing shelter, or paying another man an agreed upon rate for his work.  We have these rights and more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form governments not to be the source of these rights (for they already existed in advance of governments) but to provide protection of these rights against other men who might try to violate these rights through force or fraud.

So Citizenship Shouldn't Determine What Rights You Have
These rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property shouldn't, therefore, be contingent on "citizenship".  I should be able, equally, to contract for service from David in New Jersey or Lars in Sweden.  David or Lars, who are equally human beings,  have the equal right to buy my property, if we can agree to terms.  If he wants to get away from cold winters in Sweden, Lars can contract with a private airline to fly here, contract with another person to rent an apartment or buy housing, contract with a third person to provide his services in exchange for wages.  But Lars can't do all these things today, and is excluded from these transactions just because he was born over some geographic line?  To say that Lars or any other "foreign" resident has less of a right to engage in these decisions, behaviors, and transactions than a person born in the US is to imply that the US government is somehow the source of the right to pursue these activities, WHICH IT IS NOT.

In fact, when the US government was first formed, there was no differentiation between a "citizen" and "someone who dwells within our borders" - they were basically one in the same.  It is only since then that we have made a distinction.  I can accept that there can be some minimum residence requirements to vote in elections and perform certain government duties, but again these are functions associated with this artificial construct called "government".  There should not be, nor is there any particular philosophical basis for, limiting the rights of association, speech, or commerce based on residency or citizenship, since these rights pre-date the government and the formation of border.

New "Non-Right Rights" Are Killing Immigration
In fact, until the 1930's, the US was generally (though not perfectly) open to immigration, because we accepted the premise that someone who was born beyond our borders had no less right to find their fortune in this country than someone born in Boston or New York.  I won't rehash the history of immigration nor its importance to the building of this country, because I don't want to slip from the philosophical to the pragmatic in my arguments for immigration.

In the 1930's, and continuing to this day, something changed radically in the theory of government in this country that would cause immigration to be severely limited and that would lead to much of the current immigration debate.  With the New Deal, and later with the Great Society and many other intervening pieces of legislation, we began creating what I call non-right rights.  These newly described "rights" were different from the ones I enumerated above.  Rather than existing prior to government, and requiring at most the protection of government, these new rights sprang forth from the government itself and could only exist in the context of having a government.  These non-right rights have multiplied throughout the years, and include things like the "right" to a minimum wage, to health care, to a pension, to education, to leisure time, to paid family leave, to affordable housing, to public transportation, to cheap gasoline, etc. etc. ad infinitum.

Here is a great test to see if something is really a right, vs. one of these fake rights.  Ask yourself, "can I have this right on a desert island".  Speech?  Have at it.  Assembly?  Sure, if there is anyone or things to assemble with?  Property?  Absolutely -- if you convert some palm trees with your mind and labor into a shelter, that's your home.  Health care?  Uh, how?  Who is going to provide it?  And if someone could provide it, who is going to force them to provide it if they don't want to.  Ditto education.  Ditto a pension.

These non-right rights all share one thing in common:  They require the coercive power of the government to work.  They require that the government take the product of one person's labor and give it to someone else.  They require that the government force individuals to make decisions in certain ways that they might not have of their own free will. 

And since these non-right rights spring form and depend on government, suddenly citizenship matters in the provision of these rights.  The government already bankrupts itself trying to provide all these non-right rights to its citizens  -- just as a practical matter, it can't afford to provide them to an unlimited number of new entrants.  It was as if for 150 years we had been running a very successful party, attracting more and more guests each year.  The party had a cash bar, so everyone had to pay their own way, and some people had to go home thirsty but most had a good time.  Then, suddenly, for whatever reasons, the long-time party guests decided they didn't like the cash bar and banned it, making all drinks free.  But they quickly learned that they had to lock the front doors, because they couldn't afford to give free drinks to everyone who showed up.  After a while, with the door locked and all the same people at the party, the whole thing suddenly got kind of dull.

Today, we find ourselves in political gridlock over immigration.  The left, which generally supports immigration, has a lot at stake in not admitting that the new non-right rights are somehow subordinate to fundamental individual rights, and so insist new immigrants receive the full range of government services, thus making immigration prohibitively expensive.  The right, whether through xenophobia or just poor civics, tends to assume that non-citizens have no rights whatsoever, whether it be the "right" to health care or the more fundamental right, say, to habeas corpus.

A Not-so-Modest Proposal
So what would I do?  Well, this is blogging, so I am not really obligated to come up with a plan, I can just complain.  After all, Howard Dean said "Right now it's not our job to give out specifics", so why should I have to?  But, I will take a shot at it anyway:

  1. Anyone may enter or reside in the US. The government may prevent entry of a very short list of terrorists and criminals at the border, but everyone else is welcome to come and stay as long as they want for whatever reason.  Anyone may buy property in the US, regardless or citizenship or residency.  Anyone in the US may trade with anyone in the world on the same terms they trade with their next door neighbor.
  2. The US government is obligated to protect the individual rights, particularly those in the Bill of Rights, of all people physically present in our borders, citizen or not.  The government may also define a certain number of core emergency services (e.g. fire, police, trauma care) to which all residents, citizens or not, have equal access.
  3. Certain government functions, including voting and holding office, may require formal "citizenship".  Citizenship should be easier to achieve, based mainly on some minimum residency period, and can be denied after this residency only for a few limited reasons (e.g. convicted of a felony).  The government may set no quotas or numerical limits on new citizenships.
  4. All people present in the US pay the same taxes in the same way.  A non-citizen or even a short term visitor pays sales taxes on purchases and income taxes on income earned while present in the US just like anyone else.  Note that this is not radical - I am a citizen and resident of Arizona but other states like California tax me on income earned in that state and purchases made in that state.
  5. While I would like to eliminate much of the welfare state altogether, I won't address that today (Don't underestimate, though, how damaging the welfare state and the
    highly regulated economy can be to immigrants, and the problem that can
    cause, as demonstrated today in France)  For purposes of this plan I will merely state that the non-right right type government services should be divided into two pools:  Services only available to citizens and services available to those who are paying into the system. 

    • The first category might include pure handouts, like Welfare, farm subsidies, and public housing.  This category can even include public policy decision like "allowing squatters or vagrancy on public lands", since this is an effective subsidy as well in the form of public housing. 
    • The second include services like public transportation or unemployment insurance -- if the individual is paying the fair (for example, the employer is paying her unemployment premiums) then they should have access to the service.  Social Security is a tough beast to classify - I would put it in the "Citizen" category as currently structured, but would gladly put it in the "available to everyone" category if SS could be restructured to better match contributions with benefits, as in a private account system.

That's enough for now.  I wrote more on immigration here.

Postscript-  And please don't tell me that a government's job is to "defend its borders".  Its not.  A government's job is to defend its citizens and residents.  There are times that this job may literally require defending the borders (e.g. France in 1940) but that clever misrepresentation of the role of government is the linguistic trick immigration opponents use to justify all sorts of semi-fascist actions, like building this happy little wall in Nogales:


Which seems awfully reminiscent of this wall in Berlin:


Compare Berlin and Nogales.  What is the fundamental principle that makes preventing the movement of people one-way across a border one of the worst human rights violations in the last century, but preventing them from moving the other way across a border is a fine policy with bi-partisan support here in Arizona?

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So Much for Federalism and the Commerce Clause

I tend to be a pragmatic, rather than a dogmatic, federalist.  What I mean by that is that I support federalism for the pragmatic reason that it tends to slow statism, rather than a dogmatic belief that federalism is somehow morally superior.  Generally, federalism has been good for this country, as it has provided a check to states that go nuts on taxation and over-regulation.  The exodus of businesses from the Northeast in the 60's and 70's and from California more recently are examples of this effect at work, as citizens vote with their feet for the regulatory regime they prefer.

The recent decision on medial marijuana, where the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that federal marijuana laws trump state medical-marijuana statutes seems to be another nail in the federalism coffin.  One can tell immediately that the ruling is all about federalism (rather than drugs) when you have the spectacle of the three most conservative judges supporting state legalization laws and the most liberal judges ruling for continued marijuana illegality under federal law.  Again reading my handy pocket Constitution (courtesy of Cato), it is hard for me to find where the feds have purview over regulating California home-grown pot smoked in California.  By accepting the argument below, the Supreme Court has basically ruled that the feds can pretty much regulate intra-state commerce, since you can probably make a similar argument in any case:

lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department argued to the Supreme Court
that homegrown marijuana represented interstate commerce, because the
garden patch weed would affect "overall production" of the weed, much
of it imported across American borders by well-financed, often violent
drug gangs

By the way, think about that for a minute.  They are arguing that home-grown weed would "affect" the inter-state commerce of "violent drug gangs".  How would it affect it?  It would reduce their commerce!  So the feds are claiming purview over home-grown pot because it would, what?  Unfairly reduce the inter-state trade of violent drug gangs?

Clarence Thomas makes the point succinctly that accepting this argument is the end of the distinction between inter- and intra-state commerce:

Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never
been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has
had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If
Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can
regulate virtually anything and the Federal Government is no longer
one of limited and enumerated powers.

Is it just me, or does this Supreme Court seem all over the place in its rulings?  Maybe you constitutional scholars out there can figure it out.

Update:  More from Reason

More thoughts:  The left complains that the right is trying to create a theocracy via the Supreme Court.  The right argues that it just wants to protect constitutional limits on government, which the left wants to exceed.  I have been and still am suspicious of some conservative judges on the court, but I must say that the way the votes fell in this case certainly hurts the "theocracy" argument.  I would start to believe if it wasn't for the fact that in the next case, if recent history is any guide, everyone will likely reverse their positions again.

Viva Immigration

Sticking with the Cinco de Mayo theme, immigration has been a big issue of late down here in the Southwest.  Last election cycle Arizona passed a law limiting benefits to illegal immigrants.  This last few months have seen the "minuteman project", ostensibly to have private citizens help "defend the borders" and which got surprising support from America's most famous immigrant Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I have a number of friends who passionately support these efforts.  I am forced to say that not only do I disagree with them, I am actually embarrassed by the Minuteman project.  Michelle Malkin makes the argument that these are good people and not crazed racist KKK crazies.  OK, I am willing to accept this (for most of them) but this just makes it worse, wasting the patriotism and labor and time of people to such a wrong-headed end. (Matt Welch is less willing to believe they are just happy misguided soles).

At the end of the day, the vast, vast majority of people crossing the border are looking for a job.  That's it.  They are not terrorists or foreign spies or criminals -- they are ordinary people looking for a job, often to support their family.  This is why I find it an incredible waste that we have Arizona's private citizens, many of whom probably lament the slacker mentality of recent American generations of kids, standing around along the border making sure that people who are looking for a job in this country don't find one.

Of course, these Minuteman folks won't say that is what they are doing.  They are saying that they are:

  • Defending the borders.   A Government's job is NOT (repeat NOT) "defending its border".  A government's job is to defend its citizens.
    In 1939, if a country was next door to Nazi Germany, defending its
    citizens probably meant defending the borders.  Today, though, next to
    Canada and the Mexico with whom we have been at peace for 150 years and
    with whom we share a common market, its harder to argue that defending
    our citizens requires having a Maginot Line at the border.

I am sure that our southern border is vulnerable to terrorists crossing, but I am equally sure that the minutemen did not find a single one.  Here is the real problem:  Because we force Mexican immigration to cross illegally across the open borders, terrorists trying to use the same approach are masked by thousands of others crossing the border.  By making free passage of Mexicans across the border illegal, we shift them out of monitored border crossings and onto the frontier, where they mask true criminals and terrorists.  Think of it this way - would you rather try to find a single terrorist who is alone in an empty stadium or one of 60,000 people at a football game?

  • Enforcing the rule of law.  Maybe, but why not start with sitting beside the highway and writing down license plates of speeders too?  At the end of the day, enforcing current immigration law is as hopeless as was prohibition, the war on drugs, and enforcing the 55 mile-an-hour speed limit.
  • Protecting American jobs.  I would not be at all surprised to find a high degree of overlap between the Minuteman supporters and the anti-NAFTA crowd.  The fear that "immigrants might be willing to do your job for less than you are willing to do your job for" has always been a strong part of anti-immigration movements.  The fact of the matter, though, is that this takes a very static view of the world.  The economy is not a zero sum game with competition for a fixed number of jobs.  New sources of labor can spur economic growth that creates new jobs.  The best example of this was in the last three decades, where a totally new, sometimes unskilled, work force of 40 million people showed up at industry's door suddenly looking for work:  women.  I told the story here (towards the bottom of the post), but the bottom line is that these new workers made the economy stronger, and now, with a generation or two behind them in the work force, women are really the backbone of entrepreneurship today in this country.  Besides, if we don't allow companies to legally hire immigrant workers, businesses in this global economy will just pick up and move to Mexico.
  • Reducing cost of government services.  As a libertarian, I am very sympathetic to the argument that you don't want immigrants coming in and being able to immediately live off our safety net at taxpayers expense.  In my mind, though, this has historically been a problem of poorly crafted law rather than immigration per se.  It certainly would be possible to craft an intelligent immigration policy that allowed access to social services in steps.  By the way, shifting illegals into legal guest worker programs would likely increase tax revenues by bringing these folks into the system.
  • Preventing Hispanics from becoming the dominant ethnic group in the Southwest.  Yes, I am positive this is a concern of many of these folks, just as the Italians in Boston at one time were worried about being overrun by the Irish.  It barely dignifies a response, except to say that if you are really concerned with the number of permanent Hispanic residents, then a guest worker program might actually reduce the number.  The reason is that many Mexicans still love their country but want work.  If they were allowed to freely move back and forth, they would do so.  But, since the border is the riskiest point for them, once they get in the US, they are reluctant to ever leave again.

We have got to have an intelligent immigration policy that

  • Allows for free movement of guest workers across the border, with few limits on total numbers allowed. 
  • A clear and fair system for guest workers to move up over time towards full citizenship
  • A clear and fair system of tiered access to social services as immigrants progress from worker to citizen (e.g. emergency services access to all, but welfare/social security require full citizenship).
  • Includes a taxation system on guest worker labor that causes these workers to help pay for the services they use.

Kudos to Professor Bainbridge for breaking with the conservative ranks to support an intelligent guest worker program.  More here from Steven Taylor.

Postscript:  I want to propose a thought experiment.  Most everyone considered the Berlin Wall a travesty.  Now, keeping all the facts about East and West the same, make one change:  suppose the wall was built instead by the West to stem the flood of immigrants from the oppressive east.  Would the wall suddenly become OK?  Even if the reality on the ground for an East Berliner (ie they can't escape) remained unchanged?

Border walls in Nogales, AZ and Berlin, Germany:

Nogaleswall_1   Berlinwall

Oh, and from this site, here is the Montana-Canada border "wall" and a "checkpoint"

Canada  Canada2
But its not about race.