THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 119, April 30, 2001
Wal-Mart, Immigrants and Thomas Jefferson
by Eric Miller
Special to TLE
I have a friend who came to the United States from a South American country as a guest of Wal-Mart. It seems Sam Walton, in an effort to promote Capitalism in Central American countries, set up scholarships so students could come to Arkansas, become schooled in business, and return to Central America ready to make the poor agricultural nations more receptive to large-scale, super-discount retailing.
Today, my friend, who shall remain unnamed (I probably don't know his real name anyway), is one of the many people in the United States illegally. He has skills, an advanced degree and a willingness to work that could be used to produce in the United States, yet is confined to working at tasks far below his skill level in order to stay here.
My friend is not alone. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and New York are filled with people who are contributing in some way to the local and national economy, but not recognized as legitimate members of our society. While it would seem there would be enough incentives in place to keep immigrants from coming to the United States, in reality they provide little deterrent. Those unable to get a job either pay for fake IDs and social security numbers that match a life-convict, missing child or deceased baby. The less savvy simply make them up.
Eventually they are caught, but that only means looking for a new job. Others work under-the-table independent of the workers' compensation, social security and income tax systems.
Many Americans see the situation as a problem of law enforcement and conclude stricter border control is the solution. They conclude that these immigrants take legitimate jobs from Americans, crowd the cities and overburden social systems.
There is both a moral and economic argument to be made for legitimizing the status of anyone who reaches American soil and opening the borders to all who wish to enter.
First, consider that in every census from 1880 to 1990, immigrants have been more likely to be self-employed than natives. Most jobs in the United States are created by small business. Rather than taking jobs from native Americans, immigrants are likely creating jobs for native Americans. Still don't buy the argument? Consider that the cities that immigrants go to -- San Francisco, New York -- have lower unemployment and higher job creation rates than the ones they avoid -- Detroit, Pittsburgh. Also consider that across the United States, regardless of population gains or losses, the unemployment rate stays basically the same. The conclusion -- in a free economy, people create jobs, not the other way around.
Over-population is another concern of those who oppose immigration. While San Francisco may be more crowded because of immigrant arrivals, many cities in the United States have lost as much as half of their population in the last 50 years. These are places where the infrastructure and housing stock exists ready to accommodate new arrivals ready to pump new entrepreneurial economic energy into the local economies. Even in San Francisco, locals benefit from the rise in property values caused by in-migration and an artificially static housing supply.
If you take the population of the United States as a whole, compared to Western European countries, our prosperity is directly tied to two things: immigrants and youth. Without immigration, the median age in the United States would be much older, and while older may be wiser, it's also cautious and cautiousness does not lend itself to starting businesses and taking risks.
If you take the world as a whole, it's the industrialized nations that have lower birth rates, and it will be further "industrialization" or move towards a technological and "knowledge-based" economies that will eventually bring the world population numbers into check.
Still, recognizing the economic benefits of immigrants, it's the moral arguments for immigration that are the strongest. We are after-all dealing with people. We are debating from above. Our arguments and decisions determine people's lives and livelihoods. On what basis can we argue anyone should have that power over our fellow man?
The laws that work best are the ones that reflect the social contracts already established by people. Laws that seem to defy these contracts and be in defiance of reason, will not be obeyed and will not serve any constructive purpose. Laws that prevent people from pursuing basic life-sustaining goals will not be obeyed at the borders or within the country.
Thomas Jefferson wrote that "All Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Unless you believe by "all men," Jefferson only meant those with legal residency in the United States, today's immigration laws do not reflect this principal. Do we not all have the same "creator" regardless of borders?
The Declaration of Independence refers to "The laws of nature and of nature's God." But what does this mean? According to the Clairmont Institute, a California-based political philosophy think tank, it means that nature encompasses laws -- certain obligations are prescribed for all human beings by nature -- or more specifically, by the fact that all humans share a common nature. Law is based on rights. The reason I cannot kill you is not the law that says I can't, it's because you have a right to life and that right is granted by nature.
Clairmont also explains that "laws of nature" are laws that can be grasped by human reason. The "laws of nature," the founders referred to are accessible in principle to any person anywhere in the world who thinks about the nature of human beings. Clairmont explains that "the American founding is not based on ideas specifically tied to one people, such as 'the rights of Englishmen,' but on ideas that are true for all people everywhere."
If we agree these rights are granted by a creator, then how can we, as men, justify taking them away? And by telling anyone they have no right to live and work in the United States, we are in effect saying to them "you have not been granted the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by your creator."
Jefferson did not intend for the light of liberty to dim at the nation's shores. But as long as it does, we, as Americans must be there to defend individual rights. It should not matter the benefits immigrants bring to the economy, though the economy will reap the benefits. It should only matter that we recognize the inalienable rights of all people -- if we don't what case can be made in defense of our own rights?