Sunday, August 1, 2010

Immigration, Political Coalitions, Romantic Coalitions

If even my mother calls to say that the editor in chief of Wikileaks looks like me, there must be some truth to it (and since that organization once used a double to help a member elude the authorities, perhaps they’ll call upon me one day).

I hope he’s popular with the ladies, too, since I am told that I am single again, after what was basically a roughly one-year relationship followed by a roughly one-year breakup. My apologies to everyone peripherally affected, most of whom know I generally try to avoid “drama.” Perhaps I can address romantic conquest as a subsidiary theme during this blog’s “Month of Imperialism” entries. In any case, for all the ladies out there who might get me mixed up with the Wikileaks editor, just remember this rule of thumb: I am not the one with the Australian accent.


Before turning our attention to imperialism, though: the sometimes-related topic of immigration, on the august occasion of the launch of Gerard Perry’s anti-illegal-immigration site American-Rattlesnake. I see that my own webmaster/debate-moderator pal, Michel Evanchik, is contributing to the site as well, perhaps concerned that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from hard-working Americans. But I will have to read in the days ahead to find out.

Surveying the topic in a broader — and more imperial — context, it’s interesting to me that there are two constellations of views, neither bound together by logical necessity, that seem to be catching on in recent years, one looking something like:

•more-or-less open borders + free trade + military interventionism

and the other looking something like:

•rigid borders + less trade + opposition to military intervention

By now, neither set of views is that surprising, but it’s not a dichotomy I would have predicted, say, fifteen years ago from the textbook “right” and “left” definitions of thirty years ago, but rather is a dichotomy that now describes both a split within the right and a split within libertarianism, due to the advent of all the Ron Paul types within libertarianism (except that libertarians wouldn’t sign off on the “less trade” part of the second constellation of views, sometimes seeming to substitute an animus against international trade agreements, rightly or wrongly).

Both of those splits are in turn replicated within the Tea Party movement, and indeed I’ve complained to Gerard that he and his allies should not seek to turn the Tea Party rallies into immigration debates, since they’ve been so admirably focused on resisting government spending (and in a way that still manages to partially transcend party affiliation — indeed, if the Tea Party helps the GOP regain power and, in all likelihood, the GOP screws us over again, it may be time at long last to try to steer all the Tea Party-admirers into an enlarged Libertarian Party and hope that someone at least as smart as Bob Barr is minding the store over there when it happens).

Adding to the weirdness of the times, if your views fell somewhere in between the two constellations described above — say, you want heavily regulated but not greatly diminished immigration and trade, with occasional military intervention — you’d arguably be more like a Democrat than like an idealized version of a moderate Republican, meaning that by some measures the right contains wings that are farther apart than either is from the Dems.


People have a hard time accepting “maybe” and “I don’t know” as answers — especially from people who are emphatic on other issues — but I think immigration and military matters both fall into grey areas, so I would just as soon not use them as wedge issues, coalition-splitters, or political tribe-definers, though times change and it may be that these issues loom too large now (compared to, say, the 90s) to avoid taking a stand on them.

Still one of those tolerant, high-minded, and mostly non-combative New Englanders at heart, I have to admit that despite my conservative tendencies I grew up mostly assuming that only troglodytes were anti-immigration, in much the same way I didn’t expect to meet intelligent people who espoused strong religious convictions or who were anti-gay (and for the most part, I still don’t). So I’ve sort of gone from being (1) an open-borders guy, comfortable telling people as much, to (2) semi-agnostic on the topic as it became more contentious in recent years and as the libertarian argument (right or wrong) that illegal immigration is an undue burden on the welfare state became more popular (again, it’s not that I’m completely craven or opportunistic when coalitional opportunities arise but rather that some potentially coalition-splitting issues, like foreign policy during the neocon heyday of the Bush administration, already fall into what I think are grey areas anyway — and, again, the philosophy student in me is comfortable “bracketing” issues for later resolution while the clear-cut ones are addressed first), to (3) now being concerned that the animus against illegals is so illogical — and distracting — that it may be necessary to espouse a radical no borders position just to clear the air.

By “illogical,” I mean primarily that most anti-illegal-immigration activists seem to have convinced themselves that they are not motivated by opposition to, say, Mexican culture but by the very fact that people come here by flouting our laws. Doesn’t this strike anyone as circular? I mean, I realize I’m technically an anarchist and all, but I have rarely heard conservatives take the view that Socrates did when he passed up an opportunity to escape from death row, that is, the view that the law must be obeyed simply because one owes deference to the code that has sheltered one throughout one’s life, even when it errs. Do conservatives feel that way about tax policy? Environmental regulations? Shouldn’t there at least be a very detailed public discussion going on about whether immigration laws are so stupid and Byzantine that they deserve to be flouted? I seem to remember applauding people who defied communist laws and made it over the Berlin Wall. Why am I to treat U.S. immigration law with substantially greater respect? How about simplifying (or eliminating) the laws so there’s no need to break them? Shouldn’t that at least be a bigger part of the discussion?

And by “distracting,” I mean that if, as claimed, the overburdening of the welfare state is the real concern, why on Earth are we passing up an opportunity (if it really exists) to turn all this populist rage against the real enemy, the U.S. welfare state, instead of poor Mexicans? The ready answer always seems to be that there’s little hope of shrinking the welfare state, so stopping newcomers is the second-best but more easily-achieved option. Really? Could we at least try focusing all that rage on what is purportedly the real target? In retrospect, I think California had (roughly) the right idea in the 90s, attempting to limit immigrants’ government benefits. If that’s the real concern, do something about it. Likewise, if someone claims he wants less government, I’d be suspicious if he said that as an imperfect first step we need to set up a massive, expensive new government agency for tracking the number of socialist organizations in the U.S. Cut to the chase.


All this has been complicated by 9/11, history is sure to record. (It arguably shouldn’t be, but one rarely gets to tease out issues for careful rational analysis in real-world politics, as becomes increasingly painfully obvious to one as one ages.) It became a great deal easier after 9/11 to paint border-crossers of any sort, on a vague subconscious level, as an imminent threat to national sovereignty, whereas I suspect people were traipsing across both the northern and southern U.S. borders unremarked all the time throughout much of the twentieth century, with aims no more nefarious than bringing back some primo weed from Vancouver.

In the end, the true libertarian position, which we may as well pursue now instead of waiting for some perfect day a century hence, should be that just as governments have no right to tell us how to live, they have no right to tell us where to live. Humans should wander the globe at will. Mass emigration brought down the Soviet Union at the end, and it might just be the fastest way to unravel all the other states as well. If welfare states collapse like ice cubes in boiling water under conditions of unrestricted emigration, so much the better. States are largely geographically-rooted. Humanity’s shifting desires, economic patterns, and cultural interests need not be (less so now than ever before in history, in fact). If governments can’t handle a human race that moves about freely, government should go away. But we knew that already.


Political Fund Consultant » Blog Archive » » Blog Archive » Immigration, Political Coalitions … said...

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Gerard said...

By “illogical,” I mean primarily that most anti-illegal-immigration activists seem to have convinced themselves that they are not motivated by opposition to, say, Mexican culture but by the very fact that people come here by flouting our laws.

I beg to differ. First, I’d like to politely dispute your statement, insofar as I don’t think most activists have a problem with Mexican culture per se. They have a problem with Mexican culture being substituted for American culture, and I don’t think that the majority of them have trouble articulating this preference in a thoughtful, cogent manner.

Whatever the value of Mexican society-and I’m not going to pass judgment on its inherent worth-you can not argue that it’s identical to American society. The extremely stratified nature of that society-with wealth concentrated in the hands of a very few, well-connected, politically influential businessmen, and a very small, entrepreneurial middle-class-is but one difference.

Another difference is the institutional racism and discrimination against Amerindians and those with black, or very brown, skin by the white elite that rule Mexico. This is a problem that the United States has struggled with for centuries, and we’ve made enormous strides that could theoretically be eroded if we import wholesale the culture of another nation that is not as racially progressive or politically liberal as the United States.

We also have to look at the relative lack of education that we are asking millions of Americans to accept in this post-1965 wave of immigration. We live in a post-industrial, high-tech society that needs engineers, computer technicians, and doctors in order to flourish in the future. Yet many of the immigrants coming to our country are not only illiterate but innumerate.

This is a fact pointed out by Heather MacDonald during her debate with Jason Riley on Stossel-the video of which you can find on my new website. Plus, they are not only illiterate in English, but in many cases illiterate in their purported native language of Spanish-something that Herman Badillo pointed out during his tenure on the CUNY Board of Trustees, an observation for which he was crucified by the usual suspects.

Contrary to popular belief, the previous large wave of immigration that took place in the mid-to late 19th century did not consist chiefly of unskilled, uneducated peasants. Granted, many of those immigrants were not formally educated, but on average they had a higher level of education and were more proficient in their chosen vocations than the native-born Americans they were competing against for jobs. This is in stark contrast to the waves of immigration that followed the 1965 Immigration Reform Act, or the Simpson-Mazoli ICRA of the 1980s.

Even seemingly trivial matters, such as the lax attitude that many Mexican nationals have towards driving while under intoxication, or the machismo culture that tacitly condones physical attacks against homosexuals-or, as was the case in the spate of violence directed against Emos living in Mexico City, those perceived to be homosexual-can have sweeping consequences when these cultural attitudes are imported into the United States.

All that aside, my beef is not chiefly with Mexicans seeking to immigrate to the United States-if I was a Mexican who did not belong to the wealthy, well-guarded, politically connected elite, I would probably want to emigrate as well-but with the political culture that enables such a disastrous system to exist in the first place. The fact is that there are many, many illegal aliens living in this country who are not Mexican-or even Latin American-and the reason that they are not being deported has a lot to do with the influence Mexico exercises over our domestic policy, which is under our purview as Americans.

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Christopher said...

“but in many cases illiterate in their purported native language of Spanish”

What do you mean by this? Is your point that if they are illiterate in Spanish then it must not be their “real” native language? “Native language” refers to the language that one speaks, it has nothing to do with the ability to read and write.

Todd Seavey said...

Clearly sarcasm.

Christopher said...

How so? I’m not sure I get the way the the sarcasm works here.

Todd Seavey said...

He means that they haven’t even really mastered that language, let alone English.

Gerard said...

My point is that school districts in this country, including ones located in New York City, have to spend money on remedial education for children of immigrants who come to this country with no formal education or ability to read and write.

Christopher said...

Todd- That’s what I assumed Gerard meant. My point is just that illiteracy has nothing to do with mastering a “native language.” One can be perfectly fluent with a massive vocabulary and still be illiterate. Anyway, not an important point.

Gerard– This is true, but of course one would want to see fuller statistics on all of this. What are the ages of the children who come in illegally and what is their level of education? I had no formal education or the ability to read and write up until I was in 1st grade.

Many Chinese immigrants in the past 40 years have come in with very limited English skills and kept very limited English skills. Their children (even those who came to the US at at age 8-12 or so, unable to speak or read English), on the other hand, have often excelled academically and economically.

Jacob T. Levy said...

Todd, haven’t been so pleased by one of your political posts in a while!

But you missed an opportunity to stand up for property rights– which you think is the easy, unifying, defining issue of the conservatarian fusionism to which you’re sympathetic– by mentioning the attempt to use the historical preservation commission to deprive the owners of 45-47 Park of the right to develop their property as they see fit… even if Islam is involved.

Assuredly, since property rights are easy, all the Tea-Partying foes of Big Government have been outraged at the threat of such a regulatory taking, and are now celebrating freedom’s victory… right?

Todd Seavey said...