Monday, May 21, 2007

The Immigration Bill

It seems that the Bush-Kennedy-McCain immigration bill is provoking some harsh reactions. Even Hugh Hewitt is skeptical about the bill, and when Hewitt is skeptical of something George W. Bush is doing, well, it suggests that that Bush is in it deep.

I think that Jonah Goldberg has the politics of it about right when he says that there is zero trust for President Bush on this, right now. That is, even if the bill has some elements that immigration reformers might support, like an ending of chain migration and an English requirement, promises of future enforcement don't work, because such promises are not believed. We'll get the amnesty, but the tougher enforcement and English requirements will be vaporware.

The point is that several million illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Latin America, will get legalized nearly immediately if this bill passes. It is easy to make fun of those who have qualms about massive Latin American immigration as a bunch of racist bigots or know-nothings. At the same time, however, it's worth noting one raw fact: The United States has a per capita GDP of $43,500 per year. Mexico's per capita GDP is $10,600 per year.

Many take this is a fact of life -- we're a rich country and they're a poor country, and that's just the way things are. They don't ask why the United States is more than four times richer than Mexico, on a per capita basis.

It seems fairly clear that our culture is, in terms of creating the sort of society which produces material wealth, superior to theirs. Now, it may be that Mexicans are happier than Americans, or more spiritually-enlightened, or better in other respects. But, in terms of the ability to produce huge piles of wealth, we've got it. I don't pretend to know everything that goes into this. Maybe it's about corruption and the rule of law, or the value of education, or the nuclear versus extended family, or the role of the Catholic Church and religion. Whatever causes the differences, it's clear that, over the long run, American political culture has been more successful than Mexico's, and that the Mexicans who come to the United States will bring much of that culture with them.

As an American, much as I enjoy Tex-Mex cuisine, I do not want the United States becoming socially or economically more like Latin America and Mexico. If we legalize ten or twelve million immigrants now, it seems likely that we will move further in that direction. Particularly since it is is predictable that we will have another amnesty in 2026, just as we had one before in 1986.

I understand why George W. Bush is quite happy with the notion of the United States becoming a country where patrons live happily in big houses on the hill while peons gather below in their squalid huts. George W. Bush is constitutionally incapable of imagining himself or any member of his family ending up in one of the huts below. Same with Teddy Kennedy and quite a few of his buddies in the Senate. I understand why rich people want more immigration -- it means cheaper servants and cheaper meals at fancy restaurants. I even understand why Democratic politicians want it -- they believe, probably correctly, that the Democrats will end up the political winners.

What I don't understand is why ordinary liberals support this. Liberals claim to be worried about wealth distribution, about the gap between rich and poor. Well, surely adding tens of millions of poor people from Mexico and Latin America over the next decade or so will add to that gap. They claim to want to help the little guy, less skilled workers who have been left behind over the last couple of decades. My liberal friends, those less skilled workers whom you claim to be worried about are competing with illegal immigrants for entry-level and low-skill jobs. They want a generous welfare state, with lots of social services. Surely you know that a generous welfare state is less feasible when you have twenty million more relatively poor people in the United States. It's crazy -- this amnesty will won't help the cause of genuine liberalism, or the constituencies liberals purport to want to help.


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