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We Want Workers, But We Must Form American Citizens

Gerald Russello, editor of the University Bookman, has put together a great symposium on immigration entitled Citizen, Community, and Welcoming the Stranger with pieces by Yuval Levin, Bruce Frohnen, Peter Lawler, David Azerrad, Brad Birzer, and Daniel McCarthy. Below is my contribution which is reposted with permission from the Bookman.

America’s more open approach to widespread immigration is faltering, the support for it eroded by our low-growth economy. For too many, the pie seems to be shrinking, with those at the Little Debbie level much more aware of this than those who can afford double-swirly cheesecakes. To be sure, some of the blame for the Obama era’s anemic growth can be put on aggressive regulatory policy. Obamacare increased, in effect, the tax on labor that employers must pay, with predictable responses on their part. The Federal Reserve became the largest financial intermediary in the country under the reign of quantitative easing, meaning that the central bank, and not an array of investors, has been the biggest allocator of capital. As Bastiat told us, we’re unable to see the value that wasn’t created as a result of centralized policies that squelched opportunities for growth.

Harvard economist George Borjas’s work points us to the distributional benefits and costs of unskilled immigration, which has been the powerful undertow of our politics since the early 1990s. The immigration debate was dominated by the position that immigration’s gains weren’t overwhelmed by real economic losses for certain workers. Dissenting from this line often led one to be the recipient of a raft of unsavory accusations. To summarize Borjas, while the overall economic pie has increased in America owing to the past two decades of immigration—nearly $50 billion annually—the income of native unskilled laborers has declined. These workers’ annual incomes dropped by $800 to $1,500 because the unskilled workforce increased 25 percent, lowering the price of labor for this group.

At the same time, immigration’s welfare burden has equaled about $50 billion annually, Borjas argues. In the long run, economists mostly contend that income losses equal out, but tell that to those laborers, largely unskilled, working more and receiving less than they did. Those who employ immigrant labor have benefited greatly, to the tune of $500 billion annually.

But something more than these statistics is responsible for our deeply fractured approach to immigration, with our meritocrats favoring a wide open system of immigration and many middle and working class Americans supporting a more restrictive policy. The visceral political responses of the working class shouldn’t be difficult to comprehend. It is rather the refusal to heed them that contributed to the most unpredictable political season in memory.

Before the election, Charles Murray apologized for overlooking how mass immigration has impacted the working class: “[I]t didn’t hit home to me the degree to which the immigration policy that I, as one of the elites, find good is good only because I don’t pay any of the price for it.” Murray added that “the ruling class in this country is governing in its own self-interest, and ignoring the legitimate complaints of the working class and, for that matter, of the middle class.” And this truth has been brought home to our elites in a striking way.

More dramatically, Murray now posits that the American idea of a middle class country that personified a shared claim of citizenship rooted in the rule of law, freedom, and individualism is moribund. This creed no longer garners the universal assent that it did only decades ago. We struggle now with what it even means to be an American, and as a result are unsure of what to offer those newly arrived to our country. Many question if they should show up in the first place. But this cannot stand.

Think of the bargain America once offered without apology to immigrants. Abraham Lincoln told the people of Illinois that even those who couldn’t trace their lineage back to the founding could be confident that “When they look through that old Declaration of Independence,” and read “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” they know that the “moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men … and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men wrote the Declaration, and so they are.”

We should recall the wisdom of John Quincy Adams who said in 1820 to recent immigrants that they “are not to expect favors from the governments. They are to expect, if they choose to become citizens, equal rights with those of the natives of the country.” Adams emphasized that the immigrants’ children must embrace this country wholeheartedly. This nation, he said, is different because you are equal with every citizen. You will work hard and should expect no special treatment. Your children must welcome their future as Americans without reservation for the past.

Our bargain on immigration hinges on this belief in the equality of citizens because we have all been created by God. Government is to offer equal protection of the laws to all citizens that they might pursue their different goods, but also that they offer full loyalty and devotion to the country that has nurtured them and given them so much. Added to these principles is the chain of memories we have formed in our common pursuits as Americans. We are joined as citizens, but in a country that also acknowledges the distinctive excellence of every human soul with purposes higher than government.

Do we still speak this way about our country? Do we invoke the virtue of free and responsible persons who carve out an independent life for themselves and their families? Or do group identities, etched into our laws and the fabric of our thinking and practices, now determine the contents of American citizenship? We have become clients of the government, slotted by various memberships, administered to and serviced in various ways, with some made higher than, not equal to, other citizens. The bargain is undone. At worst, we repudiate Lincoln’s address. To desire to be “flesh of the flesh” with the Fathers is something of an affront. At best, we hear Lincoln’s words, but can no longer receive them and make them our own.

It is on these twinned dangers that we must focus our efforts to rehabilitate American citizenship. When strongly believed and practiced, such citizenship is welcoming of an immense number of human souls. We have to go back, and with creativity and daring, make the arguments again that Lincoln and Adams made. We should steel ourselves for this work, which does not end.

Reader Discussion

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on February 07, 2017 at 10:13:50 am

"We have to go back, and with creativity and daring, make the arguments again that Lincoln and Adams made."

But we will not! Were we to do so, one of the underpinnings of a major political party (with some carryover into the other party) would be suddenly eliminated. How would this particular Party be able to present itself as the defender of the weak, of the neglected, abused and oppressed?

Reviewing history, both legislatively and personally, one may remark upon how easy we have made it to come to our shores and how little we ask (expect?) of new arrivals. It was not that long ago (in my own sister-in-law's case, just a mere 30 years ago) when an immigrant had to be vouched for by an American citizen who, in so doing, agreed to assume financial responsibility for the immigrant. (BTW; My sister in law was ALREADY married to my brother in law, a US Citizen, at the time of her arrival). Not so now. One is even provided by both the immigrants home government AND the US Government with instructions on how to receive welfare, medical and other benefits from the US government.

Are we insane?

Or does this indicate that perhaps we will once again suffer from the effects of the bigotry of low expectations?
Are we not saying that these new arrivals are simply not robust enough to fend for themselves; not creative and ambitious enough to craft means and methods (government largesse, excluded) to sustain themselves?; are they not intelligent enough to learn our language but instead must be provided instruction in their own language?
Gee, how easy it would have been for my dear departed grandfather to have been able to navigate his way around early 20th century New York City were he to have been provided with an interpreter fluent in his peculiar Sicilian dialect? Fortunately, both for him and his descendants, he was not. As a consequence, Italian was forbidden to be spoken in his home. Oh and BTW: He was exceedingly proud to declare to all his compatriots, I "I am now an American."

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gabe
on February 07, 2017 at 10:20:50 am

Gabe, will you be my spiritual mentor?

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Richard M. Reinsch II
on February 07, 2017 at 11:34:29 am

Ha!

But I must decline as I am already under contract with Tom Cruise and it should be also noted that my peculiar brand of spiritual quackery commands a very high price.

take care

gabe

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gabe
on February 07, 2017 at 12:03:20 pm

oops, I am a horrid writer:
The use of the term "quackery" is SOLELY intended as a piece of self-deprecating humor and is not to be considered a critique of any religious sensibilities / belief systems.

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gabe
on February 07, 2017 at 12:55:11 pm

For too many, the pie seems to be shrinking, with those at the Little Debbie level much more aware of this than those who can afford double-swirly cheesecakes….
[W]hile the overall economic pie has increased in America owing to the past two decades of immigration—nearly $50 billion annually—the income of native unskilled laborers has declined. These workers’ annual incomes dropped by $800 to $1,500 because the unskilled workforce increased 25 percent, lowering the price of labor for this group.

At the same time, immigration’s welfare burden has equaled about $50 billion annually, Borjas argues. In the long run, economists mostly contend that income losses equal out, but tell that to those laborers, largely unskilled, working more and receiving less than they did. Those who employ immigrant labor have benefited greatly, to the tune of $500 billion annually.

But something more than these statistics is responsible for our deeply fractured approach to immigration, with our meritocrats favoring a wide open system of immigration and many middle and working class Americans supporting a more restrictive policy. The visceral political responses of the working class shouldn’t be difficult to comprehend. It is rather the refusal to heed them that contributed to the most unpredictable political season in memory.

Before the election, Charles Murray apologized for overlooking how mass immigration has impacted the working class: “[I]t didn’t hit home to me the degree to which the immigration policy that I, as one of the elites, find good is good only because I don’t pay any of the price for it.” Murray added that “the ruling class in this country is governing in its own self-interest, and ignoring the legitimate complaints of the working class and, for that matter, of the middle class.” And this truth has been brought home to our elites in a striking way.
* * *
[D]o group identities, etched into our laws and the fabric of our thinking and practices, now determine the contents of American citizenship?

Thus does Reinsch introduce his essay, with an extended acknowledgement that Americans fall into different social groups, and that members of certain social groups have benefitted at the expense of others. Then he concludes with an ominous warning about the dangers of group identities.

So which is it? Should we expect every citizen to identify as nothing more than an American—and if the average American benefits from open immigration, all other Americans should suppress any objection in the interest of national solidarity? Or should we, like Borjas and Murray, candidly acknowledge that different Americans live in different circumstances and have different interests, and that it makes perfectly good sense for they, and we, to say so and act accordingly—even at the expense of some national solidarity?

Or is the lesson that we need to exhibit solidarity by emphasizing all citizens’ mutual interest in our national project? Because we can best promote this outcome by encouraging all citizens to support policies that promote the national interest, even when those policies harm the interests of some individuals--provided that we also compensate the harmed individuals via wealth transfers a/k/a welfare.

(Fair enough, if Obamacare increased the tax on labor that employers must pay, then we should find different mechanisms to pay for Obamacare. I prefer a single payer system financed by progressive income taxes. But the suggestion that we should have public policies that promote the national interest at the expense of individual interests, and then provide no mechanism to compensate those individuals who are harmed, is not a formula for national solidarity; that’s a formula for insurrection.)

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nobody.really
on February 07, 2017 at 12:56:25 pm

[I]mmigration’s welfare burden has equaled about $50 billion annually….

Abraham Lincoln told the people of Illinois that even those who couldn’t trace their lineage back to the founding could be confident that “When they look through that old Declaration of Independence,” and read “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” they know that the “moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men … and that they have a right to claim it [the equal status recognized by of the Declaration of Independence] as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men wrote the Declaration, and so they are.”

John Quincy Adams … said in 1820 to recent immigrants that they …”are to expect, if they choose to become citizens, equal rights with those of the natives of the country.” ….This nation, he said, is different because you are equal with every citizen. You will work hard and should expect no special treatment….
Government is to offer equal protection of the laws to all citizens that they might pursue their different goods, but also that they offer full loyalty and devotion to the country that has nurtured them and given them so much.

* * *

We have become clients of the government, slotted by various memberships, administered to and serviced in various ways, with some made higher than, not equal to, other citizens. The bargain is undone….

….When strongly believed and practiced, such citizenship is welcoming of an immense number of human souls. We have to go back, and with creativity and daring, make the arguments again that Lincoln and Adams made. We should steel ourselves for this work, which does not end.

Agreed: Equality for all. No one should be granted a higher status than anyone else without cause. Clearly, government may, should, and must discriminate on the basis of criteria relevant to bona fide governmental purposes. But not otherwise.

In particular, immigrants should not be given welfare based on criteria that we do not extend to all similarly situated people. But to the extent that we extend welfare on the basis of some specified criteria, we should extended it to all similarly-situated people—including immigrants.

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nobody.really
on February 07, 2017 at 15:34:47 pm

" that’s a formula for insurrection"

- As is a policy that highlights, indeed codifies, our differences and breaks us down into various races, ethnicities, and a host of other sub-categories.

As for your assertion that welfare (benefits, in general) ought to be open to all on an equal basis, one might first inquire as to whether the intended recipient OUGHT to be here in the first place and whether that newly minted welfare recipient arrived here in accordance with our laws.

Then again, I suppose that you believe that a corporation paying a dividend to its shareholders ought to be required to also pay a dividend to a fellow who just happens to stumble into corporate headquarters and announces both his presence and his right to share in the corporate bounty.

nobody.really believes that this is just and proper.

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gabe
on February 07, 2017 at 16:19:31 pm

” that’s a formula for insurrection”

– As is a policy that highlights, indeed codifies, our differences and breaks us down into various races, ethnicities, and a host of other sub-categories.

Glad to see that you’re joining me in rejecting Trump’s proposal to arbitrarily discriminate on the basis of religion. Why break us down into these sub-categories?

As for your assertion that welfare (benefits, in general) ought to be open to all on an equal basis, one might first inquire as to whether the intended recipient OUGHT to be here in the first place and whether that newly minted welfare recipient arrived here in accordance with our laws.

Then again, I suppose that you believe that a corporation paying a dividend to its shareholders ought to be required to also pay a dividend to a fellow who just happens to stumble into corporate headquarters and announces both his presence and his right to share in the corporate bounty.

1. The merits of equal protection of the laws is unrelated to the merits of any given immigration policy. It’s entirely possible to embrace equal protection of the laws while supporting an expansive immigration policy, or while embracing a restrictive immigration policy. There’s no relationship here that I can see.

2. It’s often illuminating to hear people compare the rights to receive dividends to the rights to receive citizenship benefits. The principle point of analogy is that the right to receive a benefit is unrelated to merit. Yup, the undeserving, lazy, shiftless immigrant is just as entitled to receive benefits as the undeserving, lazy, shiftless native-born citizen.

And that because US law generally does not create a multi-layered hierarchy of citizenship. Generally you have the status of citizen, or you don’t. We don’t recognize some people as members of the nobility or the gentry, with a legal status that enables them to look down on all the swarthy, undeserving peasants. Oh, the US kind of had such a system back in the days of slavery and Jim Crow South. But as Reinsch concedes, people such as Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, and Lincoln promoted a notion that all citizens should be equal before the law (and maybe even before God!)—and once that kind of thing caught on, it ruined everything. So those of us who expected to enjoy superior status to immigrants have instead had to endure the indignity of sharing their company on sidewalks, restaurants, and voting stations for decades now.

There’s really no hope for it, gabe; we’ll just have to persevere. White man’s burden and all that, you know. So Stiff upper lip. Tut tut. Cheerio….

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nobody.really
on February 07, 2017 at 16:35:10 pm

Yeah, but we are talking *CITIZENS* - not folks who are here illegally and that is where your argument breaks down. We are talking about *illegal* immigrants not illegal citizens..

Presto, and emerging out of nobody's hat we now have a citizen, full blown, having entered the hat as an illegal alien. Goodness gracious, the wonders to be had simply by watching the Master Magician at work or is simply the linguistic equivalent of The Artful Dodger?

And I will have a bowl of CHEERIOS!!!!!

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gabe
on February 07, 2017 at 16:43:57 pm

"..instead had to endure the indignity of sharing their company on sidewalks, restaurants, and voting stations for decades now."

Oh! and I would be remiss to not express dissatisfaction with your (never-ending) tactic of attributing to others those unhealthy characteristics and attitudes that are no more than the product of your own fetid imagination. Is this what your peculiar brand of "liberalism" has devolved to? Let's see: "Hmmm! I (meaning you) dream up some possible nasty motives for these miscreants to do not agree with me, and by virtue of my having imagined them, they become real and a *hallmark* of the opposition's aruments / perspective."

Once again, The Artful Dodger plies his trade and polishes his "arguments, such as they are, with a turn of phrase, an insertion here and there, in an effort to cast aspersions on the character of the opponents argument.

Ah what a polemicist.

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gabe
on February 07, 2017 at 17:58:43 pm

Ah. I see.

I understand Reinsch to discuss how the choices to admit more immigrants affect certain segments of society--and may reflect a kind of indifference on the part of other segments of society. The fact that illegal immigration imposes harm on certain segments of society does not necessarily reflect indifference on the part of other segments of society, because no segment of society expressly agreed to admit them; that's the whole idea of "illegal immigration."

Thus, I did not credit the idea that your response to this post was addressing solely the issue of illegal immigration.

But if that really is the perspective from which you were speaking, then arguably you have articulated a basis for distinguishing between the citizenship status of different people. And in that context, my remarks were uncalled-for.

So: Very sorry. Enjoy your Cheerios. And if you have a King Tut doll, enjoy it twice. Tut tut and all....

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nobody.really

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