Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006
By the way, I haven't commented on the President's immigration speech because I didn't listen to it or read it. The universal after-the-fact consensus is that he said what everybody expected him to say. So what's to say?

I don't think President Bush's position on immigration, by the way, is at all surprising. Here are the propositions that, I believe, the President holds to be true. They are all disputable, but I think you'll agree that if true they add up to a case for the President's position on this matter.
  • Mexico is undergoing a transition to being a pretty-much developed economy. Per capita GDP has grown; trade with the United States has grown (as has direct investment in Mexico); Mexico now has a multiparty system that is reasonably democratic; etc.
  • Birth rates in Mexico are dropping rapidly; the total fertility rate in Mexico is currently estimated at 2.4 children/woman, and still dropping; they should be below replacement in 20 years.
  • The current high levels of illegal immigration are a temporary phenomenon, driven by two factors: the transition in the Mexican economy (which is dislocating rural populations) and the growth in the working-age population (because there's a time-lag between dropping fertility and the end of the growth of the labor force). Mexico is currently producing more workers than their economy can employ, but if the economy continues to grow and the fertility rate continues to drop, this will cease to be the case, again within about 20 years.
  • The United States has a profound interest in Mexico making its economic and political transition successfully. This means two things: not making the transition more difficult and not undermining Vicente Fox's PAN, which is the most pro-American and pro-market of the three major Mexican political parties.
  • If we were to seriously impede the surplus Mexican labor force from finding work in the United States, this would imperial that transition and turn Mexico in an anti-American direction, both because of the loss of remittances (which are crucial to the Mexican economy) and because Mexico would now have a big under-employment problem on its hands.
  • The United States is a huge and rich country. We can afford to absorb another 20 million immigrants from Mexico if we want and/or need to. Indeed, immigrants are a net addition to the United States because they tend to be hard-working self-starters. Mexican immigrants are, when one controls for economic status, disproportionately small-business owners. They are also disproportionately represented in the American armed forces. Mexican immigrants benefit because the opportunities in America are greater than they are in Mexico, and all Americans benefit because Mexicans willing to work hard for low pay keep prices down. It's a win-win situation.
  • We shouldn't worry about any possible difficulties assimilating Mexican immigrants because they are Christians just like us. We pray together, so we'll stay together. Immigrant parents overwhelmingly want their children to learn English to participate fully in American life, so we don't have to worry about Spanish linguistic ghettos persisting over the long term.
  • Immigration is a much bigger strain on a state with a big welfare state like California than on a stingy state like Texas. But since we're Republicans, we don't want to encourage a big welfare state, so this is not a reason to worry about high levels of immigration.
  • Right now, with such a huge influx of illegal immigrants, it's very difficult for the Feds to do the most important job with respect to protecting the border: keeping out criminals and terrorists. If we legalized every migrant who only wanted a job, we'd be able to devote more resources to keeping out the bad actors who we really don't want coming here.
  • A lot of the anxiety over immigration is just fear of change or a reaction to the suffering felt by specific communities near the border. A guestworker program would eliminate many of the stresses associated with illegal immigration, and if we can do some cosmetic things to reassure people that we care then the inchoate anxiety will abate.
  • Some people just don't like Mexicans. Screw them. But more important, make it clear that it is the head of the GOP saying: screw them. The GOP cannot afford to be seen as the white male party if it is to be successful over the long term.
  • More broadly, the GOP must be the party of optimism, of opportunity, of openness, and of other good things that begin with "o". There is no way to make opposition to immigration look like anything but pessimism and a bunker mentality. So even if shutting the border would win a close election here or there, it's a long-term loser because it defines the GOP as the party of fear rather than the party of hope.

Maybe I'm crazy, but this is basically what I think the President believes, and, if he believes all of the above, then there's no mystery why he favors a big guestworker program and an amnesty for those illegals already here.

Like I said, every one of these points can be debated. If you read Steve Sailer's blog, I'm sure you know the whole laundry list of arguments on the other side. Immigration is really not my issue, but I've tried to get up to speed on it because it seems to be pretty darned important to a whole lot of people. Mostly I wish that supporters of high immigration levels would stop condescending to opponents, and just make their case in a rational manner, and, as well, that immigration restrictionists would drop the conspiratorial talk, the talk of "treason" and the like that really is beyond the pale. Nobody is a traitor here. I don't see any treason in the argument I laid out above any more than I see inherent racism on the part of those who favor immigration restriction. In both cases, I see rational arguments that may well be wrong on multiple levels. If we can't have a rational argument with each other, then the only people who lose is us.

I want to make one other point, and I'm afraid I'm going to offend some people by doing so, so before I do, just remember how incredibly reasonable I am and how attentive I've been to the arguments of immigration restrictionists. I think I'm fairly rare in that regard; by and large, the only people I read who give restrictionist arguments credence are people who have already bought those arguments. That mostly speaks poorly of those who are in the pro-immigration camp than it does speak well for me, but I'm looking for credit anyhow.

Here it is. A very high percentage of articulate opponents of an amnesty for illegal aliens are themselves immigrants who came here legally. They know just how hard we make it for people who are law-abiding and would make excellent citizens to become such. It's quite clear that some of the emotion in their opposition to any kind of amnesty derives from their sense of having been played for chumps: they jumped through all the hoops to do things on the up-and-up, and here eleven million people who broke the rules are getting rewarded. They don't think that's fair, and it burns them up.

It's not fair. I don't have any good argument for why it is fair, because it isn't. And I agree absolutely that if you reward bad behavior, you get more of it. That is one of the many holes in the syllogism I presented above on behalf of the President.

But I want to point out something else. Life isn't fair. All sorts of people who don't play by the rules get rewarded. The fact is that the people who are being rewarded are not that similar to you. You came here with skills, an education, and a middle-class background. Illegal immigrants overwhelmingly come here with nothing. If this is the first time you've noticed that people with little or nothing bend or break the rules that the middle class is forced to play by, then you have not lived much. And if you haven't noticed that there are plenty of instances that go the other way - enforcement of the laws against drug possession, for example - then once again, you haven't lived much.

I really don't want to sound harsh here. But speaking for myself I am much more likely to listen to the policy implications of amnesty - that it will encourage more illegal immigration, for example - than I am to listen to the argument that amnesty is an insult to those who came here legally. On one level, of course it is. But I just don't think that's a good enough basis for a political upheaval such as is being called for in some quarters.