Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The cost of immigration

I'm sure this piece will get picked apart, but the fundamental point strikes me as pretty unassailable.

It refreshed my memory about a point I have raised here before: If buying cheap consumer goods made by foreign workers is good for the American economy, why isn't it good to import foreign workers and have them make the goods here?

When I raised that question at the Aging Writers Kaffee Klatsch a couple of weeks ago, someone who shall remain nameless (because it was Jim Larson) said that the reason is that when aliens are here, we have to provide them with certain benefits, such as access to schools and emergency medical care. When they stay in their own countries, that's not our problem.

Is the calculation really that cold? Is the real reason we are worried about illegal immigrants that we can't exploit them sufficiently? Come on, Wal-Mart shoppers, straighten me out.


Montucky Liberal said...

When you crunch all the numbers, it gets really tough to justify. The reality is that few social services are available or taken advantage of by undocumented workers, yet many of them still pay taxes. It's tough to count all this stuff up, but the reality is that immigrants aren't bad from a fiscal perspective.

The reverse of your question could also be asked. Why do the same progressives who rail against trade agreements argue for protections for undocumented workers? In that case, I can provide an answer -- it's because by protecting the workers, we can actually fight the domestic underground economy that is bad both for the foreign workers and for the native-born who have to compete with it.

There's little reason for the die-hard nativist sentiment. That doesn't mean it isn't deeply held in some quarters.

But it's not a majority position, either. Most Americans are smarter -- and kinder -- than that.

David said...

Montucky, Another reason may be that progressives just don't care as much about economic benefits as conservatives do. And some conservatives may not care as much as they pretend to.

Anonymous said...

James Larson is correct. And not only do the social costs stay in the foreign country, but our country escapes the cultural pollution that comes with alien workers. All things considered, it is far better to import goods than it is to import people, as the European nations have recently but belatedly discovered.

If you wish to make a moral argument against Wal-Mart, go for it. However, if you are trying to assail Wal-Mart on economic grounds, you should reconsider.

Chuck Rightmire said...

Let's not get too cute with the comparison between our dislike of trade agreements and our liking for enabling immigrants to come freely across the border. The big issue with the trade agreements is the same one involve in the movement of people into the U.S. That is the fact that the trade agreements do not take into any consideration the demands that we have in our country that make goods produced here cost more than those produced in Mexico or Vietnam. We do not demand that the free trade include such regulations as common worker benefits and environmental considerations which impose a greater benefit on our workers. Instead, we send the jobs south or east or west or even north and the benefits in this country decrease because our workers lose their jobs. If we demanded the same worker-oriented responsibility from countries with which we have trade agreements, there would not be a demand for workers to cross into the U.S. Despite declining benefits we still offer better deals than our trading "partners."

David said...

Cultural pollution? Pollution of what? When I was growing up in South Texas, I was shocked to learn that you couldn't get good tamales north of about Waco (no longer true, fortunately). The place where I lived had been owned by Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas and the United States, not to mention a complex array of Indian tribes. How do you pollute the culture of a place like that?

Vince said...

Thank you for jumping on the "cultural pollution" comment, David, and the reference to food is an excellent point. One the the things I gave up when moving here 16 years ago was access to decent ethnic food. Billings, with very minor exception, is devoid of any. Heck, tell where to get a dent Indian (like Asian Indian) food anywhere in this state? Luckily, I cook, but exploring other cultures through their food is one of the greatest joys in life.

Anonymous said...

I don’t what to say about someone who would trade his history, language, religion, or even his race for a tamale or a bowl of fried rice.

Anonymous said...

“Come on, Wal-Mart shoppers, straighten me out.”

Sorry, but Hilary Clinton has left the store. She’s across the street filling up with Exxon.

David said...

Anonymous 730, You really don't get it, do you? I didn't trade anything for tamales. They are as much a part of my heritage as hominy grits and biscuits and gravy. I grew up surrounded by English, Spanish, Indian, Czech, French and German place names. I'm part of all that.