Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Illegal Immigration?

With all the recent hand wringing over the U.S. being over-run with illegal immigrants, it is useful to review the facts. Several million illegal immigrants are living in the country at present. Why have they come? It is obvious that their desire for a better life is a motivating factor. Those willing to work can find willing employers for their limited skills for wages which, although low by U.S. standards are considerably higher than in their home countries. Those unwilling or unable to work can often find alternatives available from government programs. They routinely work for wages that most native residents will not accept therefore the jobs go begging. Why? The illegal immigrants are competing with unskilled native American workers in a market that is not free. Legal U.S. residents are eligible for a plethora of government programs that make low wage employment an undesirable option. These programs are: welfare, unemployment insurance, minimum wage laws and medicaid to name but a few.

The cost to employers of raising wages to attract those who are eligible for the government programs would force them to raise the prices they must charge for their goods and services and thus make them less competitive. Employers will always attempt to keep their costs as low as possible in order to compete. In this case the employers are competing with the government i.e. the taxpayers. This competition is unlikely to end as there is no political will to reform the welfare state. Indeed, the welfare state appears to be expanding at the behest of the majority in both of the major political parties.

One of the alternatives propounded by many of those on the right and left of the political spectrum is to divert more resources to “security” measures such as a militarized border and increased enforcement of the immigration laws. All of these options were tried by the Roman empire unsuccessfuly and led eventually its descent into chaos. The Roman system of welfare (bread and circuses), once the provinces had been bled of tribute, led to the need to allow more barbarians into the empire to settle the land and produce the food as well as fill the ranks of the legions. The barbarians eventually assumed control of the military and dictated the succession to the imperial throne. This signaled the end of the empire.

A study of history reveals the life cycle of societies based on liberty and self government to average about 200 years. Our “constitutional” government is now 214 years old and showing signs of what Alexis DeToqueville described as “the citizens voting themselves largess from the public treasury”. Can the process be turned around or even arrested? Stay tuned.

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