Immigration Reform and Conservativism

Today’s NYT reports that the senate is about to pass a bill requiring any and all employers to get Federal approval before hiring someone–under the guise of immigration “reform.” My own Ohio Senator Rob Portman is trying to make the requirement even stronger. While Portman claims to be a “conservative,” his behavior illustrates the Orwellian sense that ‘conservative’ has come to have. Not only does he push violating two of America’s oldest values (isn’t protecting those values what conservativism is about?), freedom from government interference and openness to all people (not to mention privacy), his own “conservativism” about gay rights changed quickly when he found out about a member of his own family.

Maybe we need to redefine ‘conservative.’

“Conservativism: the philosophy that we will build a police state if necessary to protect powerful vested interests.”

My “political philosophy” is that the government should intervene in people’s lives–including economic regulation–when it’s necessary either to protect a human right or (harder to determine) to promote the general welfare (e.g., by making markets work better or replacing markets where appropriate).

I can’t think of a human rights argument that would support the existing or proposed U.S. immigration policies.

As an economist, but one who hasn’t directly studied immigration or labor econ, my sense is that immigration is a net boon to the economy. Particularly with an aging population, it would seem that an influx of younger workers would be a good thing. Furthermore, it would seem that a rule like this would impose very significant costs on American business and thus have an overall dampening effect on productivity and international competitiveness. It would also seem to disproportionately affect small business, which, conservatives keep telling us, is a major sector of new job creation.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

2 comments for “Immigration Reform and Conservativism

  1. Allan Stonehouse
    June 27, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    1. Liberalism, not conservatism. “That we will build a police state if necessary to protect powerful interests” AG Holter is doing his job.

    2. Origianally the Federal government was there to protect the people by raising an armed forces to fend off the enemy. Costs were paid by property taxes. The 1% income tax did not go into affect until what? about 1914? and went as high as 95%, until some rational set in.

    3. We had proper immigration laws on the books from the begining, Which were NOT enforced. The amnesty of the 80’s made it worse. Our grandparents came with a few bucks in their pockets and played by the rules. This is the only country in the world that has a stupid law that says “if you are born on a plane, boat or even a canoe on the Red River heading to the good old USA in N Dakota, you are considered a citizen of the USA, and entitled to all bennies. The Mexicans ready to deliver cross the border to have their kids. How many pregnant foreigners fly by plane to do the same? Not all these are the tired poor. Proper immigration by the old laws is a boon to the economy. The laws today are a farce and bleed the hard working citizen dry.

    4. If still in business, I would have one of [3] choices for health insurance. [a] continue paying $1000.00 a month per employee, [b] take the gov.route and pay $500 per, or [c] cancel all insurance per employee and take the 2% penalty on total payroll. In todays tough economy, which way do you think small business will go? Why are they not hiring new employees and cutting back hours to below 30.?? Obamacare with it’s 27,000 pages of law and still writing regs has already and will continue to increase the cost of insurance. Maybe we should go back to our grandparent days of no insurance. They survived.

    I could go on, as having 40 years owning and running a business, having seen local, state and the feds stomp on business with increase laws and fees, but this will only give me indigestion. My “political philosophy” is that the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT should get out of the way. For every law they make, it takes [2] to [3] new ones to correct the mess the [1st] one made.

    • Eric
      June 27, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      1. I don’t know what this means.

      2. Original purpose of Federal Government is stated in the preamble to the United States Constitution:

      We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

      This clearly involves much more than national defense.

      3. The first quantitative immigration laws, as distinct from laws which banned immigration by groups considered undesirable, was 1921 (http://www.fairus.org/facts/us_laws). What “old laws” led to proper immigration? This sounds like hearsay to me. When our grandparents immigrated, there were no immigration quotas.

      4. Health care reform is a separate can of worms. The main reason we have the type of health care reform we have is that too many vested interests blocked something more reasonable. Health care reform was necessary. A system that arbitrarily blocks some people from access to health insurance is the kind of violation of human rights I mentioned initially. There are no neat and clean solutions regarding health care–both because of the basic economics of health care and because of the vested interests. So my take is that we need to be patient and work with viable compromises rather than just being obstructionist.
      With proper health care provision, Judy’s and my grandfather might not have died suddenly in 1937.
      More generally, what is needed is serious, non-ideological discussion of when it’s appropriate for government interference in the market. Loose, broad generalizations about terrible government regulation do not solve real-world problems. This is not a matter of being “pro-business” or “anti-business.” Consider the case of the Bangladesh factory collapse that killed so many people. The only way to prevent such tragedies is government regulation. Even if a business wants to “do the right thing” in many cases, it cannot afford to do so unless the government creates a level playing field where everyone needs to do the right thing.

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