Are Immigrants to Blame for Inappropriate Government Activities?

by Don Boudreaux on May 19, 2006

in Immigration

The strongest economic argument against immigration is the claim that immigrants free-ride on government-provided goods.  There’s a lot to say about this claim; here I limit myself to one point.

The goods and services that people complain immigrants cause to be overused are either government-supplied goods and services (for example, government schools) or goods and services that are heavily subsidized by government (for example, medical care).  No one complains that immigrants are over-using supermarkets, movie theaters, auto dealerships, or clothing stores.  That is, private enterprise seems quite able to ‘absorb’ immigrants and prevent overcrowding and free-riding.  Problems arise almost exclusively with goods and services supplied or subsidized by government.

I understand that on pure utilitarian grounds it’s too simplistic to say "Oh, the solution is for government to stop supplying these things."  Given that government is supplying or heavily subsidizing X, Y, and Z, and given that immigrants can use X, Y, and Z, problems are indeed created.

The narrow cost-benefit solution might well be further restrictions on immigration — I say "might," not "is" — even if, in my opinion, such restrictions are unethical because they violate the basic human rights of Americans and foreigners alike.

But even if we conclude that, on pure cost-benefit grounds, the best course of action is to restrict immigration further because immigrants overuse public-supplied and subsidized goods and services, why blame immigrants?  Why point accusing fingers at immigrants?  Why not blame government for supplying and subsidizing things that it ought not supply and subsidize?

The root problem is not immigration; it is government provision and subsidization of goods and services that should be supplied by the market.

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Morgan May 19, 2006 at 1:38 pm

"The root problem is not [illegal] immigration; it is government provision and subsidization of goods and services that should be supplied by the market."

Well, unless you view these examples of "government provision and subsidization of goods and services" as a form of insurance – where the class of beneficiaries/risk pool/payers into the system ought to be defined be some contract that specifies who is included and who is excluded.

In that case the problem is either the inability/unwillingness to distinguish those who are covered from those who ought not, or the inability to agree regarding membership in the pool.

We can't conclude that government provision is the problem just because provision by the market would solve it, just as you can't conclude that medical insurance is a bad thing simply because prices would effectively ration health care.

Tom Anger May 19, 2006 at 1:42 pm

At the margin, the problem is caused by immigrants.Government services (in general) aren't going away, but by making immigrants "go away" there will be fewer consumers of those services.

Robert Speirs May 19, 2006 at 2:13 pm

It's not a matter of "blaming" immigrants. The idea is to take appropriate action to stop the bleeding of the taxpayer by illegals, when the government not only provides benefits to them with money stolen from taxpayers but fails to enforce its own laws which would limit the number of leeches if properly enforced. The taxpayer is not to blame if the only tactic available to him to stop government stealing so much of his money is to oppose illegal immigration. Taxpayers have the right of self-defense against illegal immigrants who are incompetent to live without government help and against the governments who insist on helping them instead of deporting them as their own laws require.

Matt May 19, 2006 at 2:15 pm

What problem? What is the problem? Stop giving away free stuff. As soon as you understand that, the sooner economists will lose their jobs… Oh no! The immigrants are taking economists' jobs!!!

Robert Cote May 19, 2006 at 2:19 pm

Hey, this is so cool. Can I have everybody's address that thinks property rights are morally indefensible so I can come over and share "our" mutual possessions? What? Cannot societies have a commons? You know as in tragedy of the…? Hopefully I am making progress with the essence of my position. Now, what about granting special access to those commons? Like say letting some people use/abuse those commons by virtue of their stated and revealed disdain for the rule of law? That's what we do now. There are census blocks in Los Angeles were 90% of the vehicles are either uninsured, unregistered or operated by an unliscienced driver or some combination thereof. Think about the injustice of having to pay for uninsured motorist coverage next time you write that check. Illegal immigration is the broken window syndrome of crime prevention. Just as letting broken windows and grafitti go unanswered illegal immigration sufficiently erodes societal values to the point where the secondary impacts are unacceptable even if the original crime was "minor."

Robert Cote May 19, 2006 at 2:22 pm

Now that comments are open…
"The root problem is not immigration; it is government provision and subsidization of goods and services that should be supplied by the market."

Generally correct but this assumes the services are a pure pull phenomena and not some balance of push pull as is the true case.

Illegal immigration is itself a push product not a pull product. We should be harvesting Christmas trees and strawberries with robots run by technicians, designed by engineers, programmed by SW and GIS scientists from technology developed at UC Davis and Texas A&M and controlled by satellite. Why should farmers invest in technology like every other industry has when there's huge publically subsidized exploitable labor class available?

Supposedly this is going to mean our housekeepers and gardeners and even bookkeepers are going to be "lost" and we idle rich will be helpless. Quite the opposite. Instead we will buy Roombas, Rainbirds and Quicken thereby employing robotocists, Landscape Architects, electrical engineers and software programmers who can afford to live here. This IMHO is "A Good Thing."

Let's not mistake a push market where the jobs attract illegals for the actual case of a pull market where a pool of exploitable workers preserves an otherwise antiquated system. One need only ask why we still grow strawberries the same way we did 100 years ago but we wouldn't dream of making cars by hand as we did that same 100 years ago. The only reason there are still crummy jobs in the workplace is BECAUSE there are potential workers available for exploitation.

Please try to remain focused on the illegal part of illegal immigration. This is not an immigration issue any more than bank robbery is about financial regulation.

Matt May 19, 2006 at 2:27 pm

Fair enough with the bank robbery analogy. But would there be more bank robberies if the penalty for doing so was free health care, free education for your kids and employment?

Matt May 19, 2006 at 2:31 pm

And what's a better way to grow strawberries? I never thought that proving the "exploitation of workers" would involve the strawberry. Unless, of course, it's a magic strawberry. And why not? We have magic bullets and beanstalk beans…

Robert Cote May 19, 2006 at 2:34 pm

Matt, don't get me wrong I'm a hard over Libertarian when it comes to these needs based public service subsidies. We shouldn't be distorting the market to the point that people willing jump into the safety net. You are correct that we are currently rewarding bank robbery. The bank robbery rate in the the US would plummet if we merely instructed the police to treat the matter as an undocumented withdrawl and ignore the entire situation.

Illegal immigration fosters racism and disdain for the law. Ignoring illegal immigration fosters racism and disdain for the law. Anyone who disagrees is welcome to pay my uninsured motorist coverage in a state whey coverage is mandatory. Connect the dots. Anyone who thinks there's a net economic benefit is welcome to pay the salaries of the 24 bi-lingual social workers my county of Ventura has hired to provide greater access to public services. They are Mixteca to Spanish translatorsn not English as there are 10,000 Mixtecans who speak neither English nor Spanish most of whom neither read nor write any language.

There's also the moral issue of illegal immigration. It is profoundly immoral for the US to continue to tolerate the constant dimunition of the very best, brightest and most productive human capital our neighbors to the south can offer. By allowing these people to contribute their efforts to our quality of life we are condemning yet another generation in the lands they leave behind to lives of squallor and oppression. The only moral thing to do is to say no to these illegal activities and help prevent these people from making things worse in their homelands.

Allowing our neigbors to dump, excuse me, export, their social unrest institutionalizes their dysfunctional governance and economy. The only morally supportable course of action is stop out current exploitive worker policies and complicity in propping up corrupt international practices.

Our moral course is clear but there exist powerful undercurrents of racism that wish to allow the current situation to persist.

Got that? Not only is tacit support for the current illegal immigration situation a crime, it is immoral. Let the Cardinal excommunicate me.

Robert Cote May 19, 2006 at 2:43 pm

And what's a better way to mine coal? I never thought that proving the "exploitation of workers" would involve coal mining. Unless, of course, it's a magic coal mine. And why not? We have magic bullets and beanstalk beans…

I picked the nastiest job I could think of. An how much do they get paid and how many hundreds of times more productive is each worker with the investment in technology? The large pool of exploitable underclass labor inhibits the thing the US is best at; innovation. Now, why did coal innovate? Why hasn't agriculture innovated?

NCA May 19, 2006 at 2:48 pm

"At the margin, the problem is caused by immigrants.Government services (in general) aren't going away, but by making immigrants 'go away' there will be fewer consumers of those services."

"But would there be more bank robberies if the penalty for doing so was free health care, free education for your kids and employment?"

I appreciate your points, but if a growing population is to blame, wouldn't a more prudent and efficient policy be to institute an immediate national ban on procreation? Surely the birth rate contributes more to overpopulation than immigrants.

Matt May 19, 2006 at 3:23 pm

Robert,

Fair enough on your ideas. I'm not sure we disagree that much. And thanks for the response to the bank robbery analogy… "undocumented withdrawal" is going to make for an excellent crude joke.

save_the_rustbelt May 19, 2006 at 3:49 pm

"they violate the basic human rights of Americans and foreigners alike."

Do I understand this correctly?

Every human being on the planet has a basic human right to live in the U.S.?

Wow.

Robert Cote May 19, 2006 at 3:56 pm

RE: "Undocumented Witdrawls"
From: My blog 2 months ago

"Freeze! Police! You're under arrest for bank robbery."
"But officer, I'm merely making and undocumented withdrawl."
[perplexed] "Well, um… you are under arrest for that weapon. Put down the knife and put up your hands."
"But officer, this folding letter opener is necessary for self defense because I come from a poor neighborhood."
"Okay, wiseass then you are under arrest for tresspassing."
"You know better than to ask about my immigration status officer."
"Damn, you are correct. Is that your car in the handicap spot then?"
"Technically it isn't -my- car as I just borrowed it for an undocumented test drive but yes, I parked there."
"Then I'm gonna write one huge ticket."
"Unfortunately officer I have an undocumented disability…"

Noah Yetter May 19, 2006 at 3:59 pm

"There's also the moral issue of illegal immigration. It is profoundly immoral for the US to continue to tolerate the constant dimunition of the very best, brightest and most productive human capital our neighbors to the south can offer. By allowing these people to contribute their efforts to our quality of life we are condemning yet another generation in the lands they leave behind to lives of squallor and oppression. The only moral thing to do is to say no to these illegal activities and help prevent these people from making things worse in their homelands."

I don't know what kind of moral compass you live by but I want no part of it. Absolutely disgusting.

Robert Cote May 19, 2006 at 4:17 pm

So luring people to a life of second class living through a system that winnows them to only the most fit and resourceful is a defensible model? I'm advocating policies that improve the plight of millions in the poorest regions of the continent and you are disgusted. I know illegal immigration provokes emotional responses but keep them out of these discussions. Oh and my comments were modeled after the anti-slavery arguments of the 1850s. My, someone has some 'splainin to do.

TGGP May 19, 2006 at 4:34 pm

I've been blaming government for years. Now can we move beyond blaming and rationally choose a policy based on its costs and benefits rather than accusing people of hating some group of people?

johngaltline May 19, 2006 at 5:28 pm

This is indeed a product of (and thus a hidden cost of) the welfare state. When you tally up all the costs and benefits of social programs, you simply have to factor this in.

If people really felt strongly about this, then they should rethink their position on social programs. It's cognitive dissonance to support social programs while simultaneously complaining about uncontrolled immigration.

I especially like the part about how nobody ever seems to think the illegals are using too much food/too much clothing/too many consumer goods. Really drives home the point that it's not the illegals, but rather the free services.

True_Liberal May 19, 2006 at 5:43 pm

I note when I shop for grapes and some other fruits they are marked "Product of Chile".

Should I buy them, picked by Chileans who doubtless are underpaid by our standards; or should I seek out California grapes, picked by Chileans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, and others who are perhaps paid a bit more?

Josh May 19, 2006 at 6:18 pm

Ok, I really don't get the analogies between illegal immigrants and bank robbers/other criminals.

Illegal immigrants don't violate anyone's rights like real criminals.

If someone can name one right of their rights that is violated by illegal immigrants (because of their illegal status) then I will take some of these arguments seriously.

Morgan May 19, 2006 at 7:19 pm

Josh:

I think there is a feeling that the social contract under which certain services are subsidized or provided by the government in return for paying into the system (taxation) is being subverted, because illegal immigrants are not, as a class, full participants in the taxation system.

The right being violated, then, is the right to limit access to the services provided under that contract to those who pay in as part of the contract.

To those who pay in, or would have to pay in if they made more money, services provided to illegal immigrants look like theft. There's some sense to that – when I pay my medical premiums, I don't expect the insurance company to raise the premiums or limit my coverage because they want to arbitrarily provide coverage to some external group on my dime, nor do I want the administrators of the system to be so inept that they can't distinguish who is covered and who isn't; covering everyone as the easiest solution.

But even if you take the position that illegal immigrants pay into the system more or less fully through paycheck withholding, you might still object to including them in the payout because, being mostly poor and unskilled, they skew the in-out balance of the pool away from what it was when you agreed to pay in – the average payout rises, the average payin drops. In theory, this effect could bankrupt the system.

The latter position is, I think, equally applicable to large scale uncontrolled legal immigration.

Of course, there are also people who say that illegal immigrants are stealing American's jobs (or wages). That falls outside of the "insurance" explanation.

Hope that helps.

David May 19, 2006 at 7:28 pm

"Why should farmers invest in technology like every other industry has when there's huge publically subsidized exploitable labor class available?"

Primiarily because technology is terribly capital-intensive. It is easy to seasonally or annually lay off workers as conditions demand and permit, but once you've mortgaged the farm for the GPS-strawberry-picker, you better be goddamn certain that there will be no diminution in the demand for strawberries during the course of said pickers amortization.

liberty May 19, 2006 at 7:28 pm

>Every human being on the planet has a basic human right to live in the U.S.?

Every human being has a basic right to trade and make contracts as they see fit. The rights of life, liberty and property include the right to own, sell and buy freely with others who voluntarily choose to make the trade.

That said, we still live in a world of nations. I do not think that everyone has a right to work in any country – even though that limits the right to freely contract. There are concerns which may limit these rights due to security and other national issues. It is still a free market if the reason for the restriction was not economic (eg not based on limiting supply, demand, setting price, etc).

>Illegal immigrants don't violate anyone's rights like real criminals.

>If someone can name one right of their rights that is violated by illegal immigrants (because of their illegal status) then I will take some of these arguments seriously.

By entering the country illegally, working and 99% of them if they live as normal citizens, will:

1. Break the law by entering and remaining
2. Break the law by working – possibly using forged documents
3. Tend to drive uninsured, putting others at financial risk
4. Tend to use hospitals, schools, highways, other public services without paying in as much as the legal citizen
5. If they are otherwise criminals, tend to avoid prosecution

– just to name a few things that they do at least morally wrong. Free-riding on "insurance-like" public services could be seen as fraud and hence the violation of property rights.

If we as citizens "sign up" for public services by voting and paying taxes, we have property rights to those services. By free-riding, illegals through fraud are stealing from us, violating our right to the property which we own.

Scott May 19, 2006 at 8:07 pm

liberty,

1) An illegal immigrant who contracts for the use of private property (rents) or purchases their own property isn't violating anyone else's rights.

2) An illegal immigrant working isn't violating anyone else's rights, it's a private contract between two participants.

3) Why do they tend to drive without insurance because they won't pay or perhaps their "illegal" status prevents them from obtaining coverage.

4) Using this logic, can I apply it to legal citizens who aren't paying their fair share? Is anyone who receives a net benefit from government violating my rights?

5) Not all "illegals" are otherwise criminals, that's kinda like saying all Muslims are terrorists and other stereotypes. For someone who uses the name "liberty" one would think you believe in judging a person by their own actions, not those of their supposed peer group.

I as a citizen have never "signed up" for public services by voting or paying taxes. I pay taxes because if I don't, government can throw me in jail, that's hardly a free choice. Also, it doesn't matter how I vote, if my two neighbours decide to vote themself a share of my earnings, that's how democracy works sadly.

Robert Cote May 19, 2006 at 8:35 pm

Prof Boudreaux,

Would it be fair to say this discussion has gone in unexpected directions? Personally I am heartened by the general tone and professionalism of the arguments on all sides. Too often immigration exchanges devolve into accusations of racism, intolerance even base namecalling like "liberal."

The only point unaddressed so far seems to be that of private transactions. It is asserted that employer/employee or consumer/producer transactions are immigration status independent. As you put it; " No one complains that immigrants are over-using supermarkets, movie theaters, auto dealerships, or clothing stores." I'm here to complain. All transactions are permeated by the problem. My restaurant food gets prepared in substandard conditions that only illegal employees would fail to report. The aisle signs at the store are three times as expensive being in two languages, showing up in my reciept. Then there's "shrinkage." The Camarillo and Oxnard Home Depots are 6 miles apart but security at one is many hundreds of dollars per day more costly. Prices are the same so are there grounds for complaint? And auto dealerships? I'm waiting for my Civic, they -strongly- -suggest- that I -invest- $255 in acid etching my windows with the VIN. Now why is that? Come on, I'm 5 hours from the border, does that help?

I am serious. You really have to be on the front line to appreciate the truth of the situation.

Scott May 19, 2006 at 8:47 pm

Robert Cote,

I've never heard the argument that eliminating illegal immigrants will also stop shoplifting, auto theft and other crime. I may have to rethink my beliefs, here I was thinking that legal citizens were capable of committing crimes when all along it's just an illegal immigrant problem.

Robert Cote May 19, 2006 at 9:03 pm

Scott,
I am sorely disappointed. Here we were discussing the issues and you decide you don't like where it is going so you throw a stink bomb into the thread. For shame. No one said anything of what you mischaracterize and it is a sad attempt at denigration. Get back on the higher plane where we've managed to keep this until now.

Scott May 19, 2006 at 9:42 pm

Robert,

I threw a stink bomb into the conversation?

Maybe I'm wrong, if I'm the only one here who interpreted your post (May 19, 2006 8:35:32 PM) as an allusion to criminal activity being largely a result of illegal immigrants I'll stand corrected.

If you weren't try to insinuate that illegal immigrants aren't responsible for the $255 that is being strongly suggested for your new Civic, please explain why you brought that up in a posting related to illegal immigrants?

Scott May 19, 2006 at 9:43 pm

correction:

If you weren't try to insinuate that illegal immigrants ARE responsible for the $255 that is being strongly suggested for your new Civic, please explain why you brought that up in a posting related to illegal immigrants?

Robert Cote May 19, 2006 at 10:01 pm

More than 20% of the inmates in the Califonia State penal system are undocumenteds. 17% in the Federal system. I need insinuate nothing. I strongly object to the sophomoric reducto absurdum that when I say illegal immigrants contribute to crime you lamely try to claim I said ALL (your word) crime was due to illegals. That's the kind of low brow gutter fighting we are avoiding. Well all except one. You had your chance. Keep throwing dirt, I shall not reply.

donny May 19, 2006 at 10:12 pm

The aisle signs at the store wouldn't be in two languages if the management didn't think it would improve sales. Improved sales might increase prices in certain items in short supply, or it might lower prices if resources such as labour and store space are used more efficiently with the higher turnover. Can an illegal immigrant really be responsible for every possible ripple? (I think that the government can be, as it has led people to believe in it's ability to control and adjust for every possible ripple. Not responsible to produce what it cannot produce, but responsible to stop claiming that it can.)
Here's a "service" I "signed up" for here in Ontario; if I don't fill out and submit the 2006 census, I can be tossed in prison, or charged a fine. The rationale for the penalty is all the good the government can do for me and people like me if they just know where we are and what our needs are.
Mr Cote; the best and brightest and most productive people Mexico has to offer, cross the border and become thieves? What's become of America? Didn't it used to be the other way around? Didn't the poor, and even the criminals, of Europe come to America and become productive, eventually even prosperous?

Josh May 19, 2006 at 10:13 pm

Robert,

Scott isn't the only one that is getting the vibe that you are insinuating a correlation between immigrants and crime. I'm not going to yell "racist" because of it (I, for one, realize that there is a difference between race and culture, and you may be arguing that there is a cultural factor), but if you think there's a correlation then just say so.

Scott May 19, 2006 at 10:28 pm

Robert,

I'll grant you that some illegals commit crimes and I'll even grant you that illegals may commit proportionately more crime (though I without seeing the stats myself I cannot say for certainty). In my opinion, that does not justify banning the (probably) overwhelming majority of illegals that don't commit crimes. Criminals, be they legal citizens or illegal immigrants should be addressed accordingly, but to ban a large group of people for the actions of a few seems unjust to me.

So, if you wish to avoid reductio ad absurdums then perhaps you shouldn't introduce the criminal activity of a few as justification for treatment of a larger group.

Scott May 19, 2006 at 10:50 pm

Thank god for Google.

According to http://www.calborderpolice.com/ who's own web site lists their purpose as "The Cal Border Police is an Initiative that would establish a State Police Force whose sole mission is the comprehensive enforcement of federal immigration law and whose purpose is the reduction of illegal immigration into California, diminishing the threat of terrorism and improving our economy." So, one can assume they don't sugar coat the stats.

–"Taxpayers pay $750 million annually to house the 18,000 illegal aliens in California prisons."

–"California's nearly 3 million illegal immigrants cost taxpayers nearly $9 billion each year."

That means 0.6% of illegals in California are incarcerated. Hardly an overwhelming indictment about illegal immigrants as a whole even if we allow for criminal that have not yet been caught.

According to the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (http://www.igs.berkeley.edu/library/htCaliforniaPrisonUnion.htm) again another group that probably won't sugar coat the stats.

–"The California Prison system is the third largest penal system in the country, costing $5.7 billion dollars a year and housing over 161,000 inmates."

18,000 illegal aliens in California prisons divided by 161,000 total inmates = 11.18%. Not quite the "more than 20%" quoted above.

Helen's_kid May 20, 2006 at 12:53 am

Statehood for Mexico.

That's the answer. Now, what was the question? This entire illegal immigration debate is a distraction. The "War on Terror" group, which consists wholly of American Blue-Bloods is plundering the American treasury to an extent never imagined and here we are decrying the meager benefits provided to the poorest among us. Wake up! The distinction between private sector and public sector is so obscured as to be invisible.
Suppose I have a husband working for a software firm writing code for a government weapon system. Is my husband on welfare? I think so…and so am I. It is in my interest to direct public ire away from my lucrative welfare activity toward some Latin-American peon, who cannot speak enough English to defend himself. Ask yourself, why aren't a measurable percentage of defense contractors in the prison system?
President Bush proposed a sensible plan for dealing with the current illegal immigration crisis. Too bad, uncontrolled government spending isn't also a crisis.

Luke May 20, 2006 at 9:43 am

As has been discussed here before, the most common argument is that illegal immigration is bad because it is illegal. To me, at least, I have never understood this argument. There are a lot of things that are illegal, but that doesn’t mean make breaking them is “bad.” If you were raised to think illegal immigration is bad because it’s against the law, then I respect that opinion. (I was raised to respect the law, but not that all laws are good laws) But I don’t see how that line of reasoning is useful in framing current immigration policy. I mean, shouldn’t the people who want to curtail immigration more provide some sort of cost-benefit analysis? And since most economists say that they are net benefit to our society, why do people continue to use the reasoning that they are drain on our societal structure in that they use up our governmental resources. If this is this case, then cite some sources.

Next, shouldn’t the effectiveness of the policy be addressed? That is, let’s just say, for the sake argument, that illegal immigration is a net drain on society, and we pass laws to curtail it even more; shouldn’t we also account for how well it can be enforced? I am from San Diego, CA, my mom is a Christian fundamentalist who happens to be a nurse and does many mission trips to Mexico. I have gone with here on these trips. Every time we came back there were long queues at the border. And when we finally got to the border, the agent he asked if we were U.S. citizens and when we are on are way. We would always comment on how easily it would to bring in undocumented.

Finally, I don’t know how anyone could ever feel threatened by illegal immigrants. Maybe my dad and I are just tough guys, but we would go to National City to the junk yards and buy car parts, and we never felt threatened. Moreover, I have never heard of anyone or any business taking specific measures to enhance their security against illegal immigrants.

liberty May 20, 2006 at 10:41 am

scott,

1) Agreed

2) Agreed

3) True

4) Yes! Absolutely.

5) Never said they were

I was outlining those things to set the stage for discussing when illegals could violate rights, by first pointing out when it is that they break the law. In the end, only number 3 qualifies, and it is true that US citizens do it too. US citizens do have the advantage of the excuse that we all "voted" to make it that way, while illegals are free riding completely – we didn't "vote" to let them; wait, or maybe we did.

The senate certainly seems to think we did.

liberty May 20, 2006 at 10:54 am

>Suppose I have a husband working for a software firm writing code for a government weapon system. Is my husband on welfare? I think so…and so am I. It is in my interest to direct public ire away from my lucrative welfare activity toward some Latin-American peon, who cannot speak enough English to defend himself.

That is the most ridiculous nonsense I have ever heard.

Working for the government – particularly for a purpose that government actually should be doing (defense) – and getting paid for doing a good joib, is not welfare!

"make work" or a national jobs program, then you would have a point. The point being: we should end it and get Americans off welfare.

But we don't have an ELR and most Americans are working for the proivate sector.

Even our military is a tiny portion of our budget. The vast portion of our budget (which is still small compared to Europe) is medicaid and social security. But you weren't arguing about those.

jp May 20, 2006 at 8:54 pm

Luke said: "As has been discussed here before, the most common argument is that illegal immigration is bad because it is illegal. To me, at least, I have never understood this argument."

I've never understood the appeal of this argument, either. Talk-radio conservatives trot it out as if it's an obvious debate-stopper.

Half Sigma May 21, 2006 at 11:29 am

Immigrants vote for Democrats, so the more immigrants the more votes in favor of socialist government.

quadrupole May 21, 2006 at 1:02 pm

Josh,

You said:

"I think there is a feeling that the social contract under which certain services are subsidized or provided by the government in return for paying into the system (taxation) is being subverted, because illegal immigrants are not, as a class, full participants in the taxation system."

Popicock. Those who benefit from most of the services subsidized or provided by the government for the most part pay little to no taxes. By way of contrast I receive almost no services for the money I pay in taxes, and likely never will.

I honestly don't see how illegal immigrants have any less right to claim most government services and subsidies than most of the people doing so today. I honestly don't understand how by accident of location of birth one man has the right to steal from me, but it's wrong for another to do so. In both cases it's theft.

If I seek insurance against hazard, misfortune, or mishap, I go to an insurance company, an entity that specializes in the responsible management of risk. Governments do not manage risk responsibly at all. They simply steal from one group to buy the votes of another.

TGGP May 21, 2006 at 2:27 pm

An insurance company is going to charge higher premiums to those it considers a larger risk, so that they are not subsidized by people who pay into the system but use it less. The rational thing for the government to do is seek immigrants that will pay more in taxes than they receive in services and keep out those that are not likely to. Of course, this is leaving out the political impact immigration has.

JohnDewey May 21, 2006 at 7:11 pm

Robert Cote,

Do you object to only illegal immigration? Would you also object to large-scale legal immigration of Mexicans and other Latin Americans? Your arguments seem to suggest you would equally oppose allowing 8 million workers to enter the U.S. from Mexico. Consider the issues you raise:

- "the constant dimunition of the very best, brightest and most productive human capital our neighbors to the south";

- the substitution of labor for capital in agriculture and housecleaning;

- uninsured motorists;

- bi-lingual social workers hired by your county.

Would any of these issues go away if the Mexican workers had somehow been allowed to legally enter the U.S.? I don't think so, but you please correct me if I'm wrong.

JohnDewey May 21, 2006 at 7:23 pm

Robert Speirs:
"Taxpayers have the right of self-defense against illegal immigrants who are incompetent to live without government help"

How do you know that illegal immigrants are incompetent to live without government help? Based on my exposure to Mexican immigrants in Texas, I suspect nearly all first generation Mexican immigrants are survivors. They will do whatever is required to make a living in this world.

That government aid of some form is available seems is a problem of government. Immigrants, legal or illegal, would be foolish not to take advantage of that aid.

Robert Speirs May 21, 2006 at 8:35 pm

John Dewey: The argument is that taxpayers have the right of self-defense against any illegal immigrants who are incompetent to live without government help. That's what I said and that's what I meant, not the obvious overstatement that all illegal immigrants are unable to live without government help. But the statistics are overwhelmingly clear that a much larger proportion of illegals leech off the taxpayer than legal immigrants or native Americans. That said, the taxpayer has the right of self-defense against ANYONE who takes his money by force to support someone else. Of course they'd be foolish not to take the aid. That's why it's such a problem. And governments would be foolish not to institute theft on a grand scale if people let them get away with it, as they do. That doesn't make it right and supportable and doesn't invalidate the right to defend oneself against such theft.

Henri Hein May 21, 2006 at 11:26 pm

"But the statistics are overwhelmingly clear that a much larger proportion of illegals leech off the taxpayer than legal immigrants or native Americans"

I don't believe that's true. I've seen evidence that supports your statement, and I've seen evidence that refutes it. In other words, the statistics are inconclusive. "Overwhelming" only in showing that we don't really know.

Henri Hein May 21, 2006 at 11:41 pm

Like Luke and JP, I don't understand why illegal immigration is a special case of immigration. Illegals compete for different jobs than legals, so the whole 'jumping in line' analogy, which was thin to begin with, doesn't hold up.

I'm a legal immigrant working as a software engineer. The illegal immigrants that pick my fruit and work in my yard provide me with a service, not competition for jobs or services.

We hear that illegals cause crime, but we see no evidence of it. We hear that illegals bring in diseases, but we see no evidence of it. We hear that illegals over-consume public services, but we see no objective cost-benefit analysis of their activities.

So far, Robert Cote has made a pretty convincing case that Oxnard is a terrible place to live, but whether Oxnard is a peculiar place where immigration only has a downside, or whether the situation there can be generalized to the nation as a whole, are still questions he hasn't even begun to answer.

Personally, I'm still convinced that illegal immigrants make me better off on balance.

JohnDewey May 22, 2006 at 5:10 am

Robert Speirs: "the taxpayer has the right of self-defense against ANYONE who takes his money by force to support someone else."

I agree, but I consider public education to be a special exception. It would be unwise to deny education to children because their parents cannot afford it. It would also be unwise to pretend the millions of children of illegal immigrants are not here. Denying these children a public education would just create a generation of unemployables who would be less able to contribute in the future.

"Of course they'd be foolish not to take the aid. That's why it's such a problem. And governments would be foolish not to institute theft on a grand scale if people let them get away with it, as they do."

Can I assume that you agree with Professor Boudreaux's concluding statement?

John P. May 22, 2006 at 9:42 am

Quadrupole said, "Those who benefit from most of the services subsidized or provided by the government for the most part pay little to no taxes. By way of contrast I receive almost no services for the money I pay in taxes, and likely never will.

"I honestly don't see how illegal immigrants have any less right to claim most government services and subsidies than most of the people doing so today. I honestly don't understand how by accident of location of birth one man has the right to steal from me, but it's wrong for another to do so. In both cases it's theft."

Agreed. I'm fortunate enough to be in the top 3% that pays nearly as much in income taxes as the other 97% combined (according to the Wall Street Journal on May 12). It's funny to hear Joe Sixpack complaining that illegal immigrants aren't paying income taxes for the services they get, because Joe Sixpack isn't paying enough to cover all the services he gets (or will get once he's 65) either.

Patrick R. Sullivan May 22, 2006 at 10:17 am

' I am heartened by the general tone and professionalism of the arguments on all sides.'

Well, I'm firmly in the 'appalled by the ignorance of elementary economics' column. Stealing others' money is the same thing as mowing others' lawns or cleaning others' houses for a mutually agreeable price? Sheesh.

Btw, there are solutions to the free rider problem of immigrant use of government supplied goods. Such as sending the bills for them to the Mexican government. The people may be poor, but the government isn't (not with the price of a barrel of crude oil over $70)

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