Immigration and the Economy
February , 2010
by William P. Meyers

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A few personal notes before getting onto the topic of the day:

I am now getting abusive email from a neo-Nazi who objects to my America: Republic or Democracy? essay. He favors republics over democracies. And presumably dictatorships over republics. I am sure conservatives who prefer a republic with minority rule by the rich are really glad to have neo-Nazi protection of their flanks on this issue.

Volunteers collected enough signatures to put me on the ballot for the state assembly race as the Green Party candidate (1st Assembly District, California), but not enough that I could be on without paying a filing fee, and not as many as I said I would require to show that it was worth running. The incumbent Democratic Party guy raises hundreds of thousands of dollars every cycle. If I had governed California as bad as he had I would fall on my sword, but this guy just has staff members collect his signatures and pay his filing fee. Even if I coughed up the filing fee, the expense (time and energy as well as money) of running a campaign is not the best use of me this year. On the other hand I have until March 12 to make a final decision.

My spring garden is well underway. Fava bean plants are about 4 inches high, radish sprouts are visible, and the earliest apple and plum trees have already started blooming. My tea plants were devastated by a rabbit or other rodent a few weeks ago, so I put wire cages around them and am hoping for a recovery.

I did a lot of good thinking about an Assembly campaign. How would I answer a question on immigration? Immigration is a great example of bundling issues, and the problems that causes.

The left, including the centrists who call themselves liberals, like to be pro-immigrant. The right is mainly anti-immigrant.

But the left also tends to be environmentalist, and most environmentalists will admit that we have an unsustainable global population. The population of the U.S. is too large too. My district is traditionally forested, so we could probably convert more forests to food production and sustain a larger local population, but lefty environmentalists are against that. You would think environmentalists would be against immigration, even legal immigration. It not only raises the population (and stress on the environment) in the short run, but immigrants tend to have a lot of children, so it leads to even more stress in the long run.

For many conservatives the bottom line is not "unborn babies," but the economy. That is why taxes are so important to them. They want economic expansion, the environment be damned. Low taxes are a priority. So you would think they would favor unlimited immigration, at least for middle-class to rich immigrants. Think how fast housing stock would be dried up if anyone who would buy a house would be allowed to immigrate legally and immediately.

So why is pro-immigration sentiment bundled with contradictory leftist views, and anti-immigrant sentiment bundled with contradictory rightist views?

Emotionally leftists can identify with immigrants; conservatives see immigrants are foreign in a scary way. Other issues feed into these basic emotions. Liberals and conservatives both say they care about human rights, but the rights they care about differ in subtle ways. I think the liberal-left feeling is that you really need to treat all individuals equally, so if someone is physically present in the U.S., even after illegal entry, they should be treated like citizens, who are citizens precisely because they are phyiscally present.

Conservatives feel no similar obligation. Human rights are largely property rights, and property rights have a history for each individual. To the extent citizenship is a property right, you can't just get it by standing on American soil. You need to establish title.

Would it be possible to change the bundling? I have seen it tried several times. I have seen environmentalists argue against illegal immigration (trying to get large organization like the Siera Club to take a sensible position). They get screamed at as being racist neo-nazis for even trying to discuss the subject. On the other hand I have seen many attempts by Republican business men to try to get fellow Republicans to show some sense about the business benefits of immigration. Even former President George W. Bush tried to make this argument. The only result was that Republican politicians learned to keep any pro-business, pro-immigration ideas out of their campaign rhetoric. The rank-and-file will not stand for it.

Locally (Humboldt County and Mendocino County, California) the talk is usually in terms of development. Liberals and environmentalists are usually anti-development but pro-immigrant, which is contradictory. Conservative are pro-development and anti-immigrant. Also contradictory.

I would like to see the immigration issue unbundled from the liberal v. conservative fight so that we can talk about it rationally. There are economic benefits to high level of immigration, and there are environmental consequences to immigration. There are also legitimate human rights issues involved.

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