Comment of the Day: “Ethics Quiz: Is This Question Easy?”

I intensely disagree with some of this comment regarding illegal immigration and the laws surrounding it, but it is still thoughtful and provocative. I’ll be back at the end.

Here is slickwilly’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Quiz: Is This Question Easy?”

“But sometimes the law itself is evil.

Agreed, and a good observation. Laws are made by men, many times men with hidden agendas who stand to profit from those laws. What I think Glenn is getting at is that ‘illegal’ is seen as equal to ‘immoral,’ which many equate with ‘bad.’ Is it immoral to disobey a law? In the strict sense, by the definitions involved, I think so. In practice, I am not so certain. What if the ‘law’ is written by an un-elected bureaucrat who has no effective over site from lawful entities? When petty rules have the enforcement power of law, democracy falls into tyranny.

Of course, immigration laws are a necessary evil. We have to have them. But we need to get more serious about whether the ones we have now are ethical, sensible, and productive.

Many of the laws we have now benefit those in power, or those who paid them to make the law a certain way. This is generally bad for everybody else, taken as a whole. Immigration laws do not punish those who create the situation for corporate (and private) greed, and even when they do provide punishment for such as these they are not enforced. The first thing that must change is that this class starts suffering for their crimes by lawful enforcement and new laws to address that situation.

I will agree that MOST immigration laws (including ‘how one becomes a legal resident’) are unethical, nonsensible, and unproductive. To those, I will add unfair to all involved but those that crafted them.

Unfair to the legitimate immigrants who try to follow the byzantine process;

Unfair to the illegal immigrants, who are encouraged to come here for jobs that greedy businesses dangle before them simply to take advantage of them;

Unfair to the American worker, whose wages are depressed and whose rights are infringed by the situation;

Unfair to the middle class, who live with the economic problems produced by the current situation (taxes, personal danger, and higher prices, to name a few of those problems)

Unfair to States who must support the illegals with unfunded mandates;

Unfair to the hospital system who cannot turn anyone away for non pay, but must swallow those costs or pass them along in reduced care and higher prices for American citizens;

Unfair to the education system that must accommodate the children with no resources provided by their parents, children who often do not speak a common language with their classmates and some of whom carry diseases we have not seen before in the USA (or had eradicated such that we no longer have immunity and/or recognition of the symptoms: research how tuberculosis is making a come back in the heartland and where it came from)

Unfair to the children being sent here (illegally) for a ‘better life,’ only to be dropped into the cesspools of life in the shadows, or the sex worker trade, or into a life of crime to survive.

We cannot take everyone in the world who has a hard or threatened life elsewhere. This is simple economics. However, we can do better than we have at what we can and should be doing.

We just have to agree on what those things are.

_________________________

I’m back.

1. The comment throws around “evil” far too loosely. We learn that many laws were wrong, unethical and unjust after long they have been passed; the sterilization of the mentally disabled, for example. “Evil” used in policy and legal debates is the equivalent of an ad hominem attack: it bypasses facts for characterizations. Unless laws are devised intentionally to pursue evil ends, like the Nuremberg Laws, using the description is facile and a cheap shot. Are laws permitting abortion on demand “evil”? Was the Dred Scot ruling “evil”? Was Korematsu an “evil” ruling? Is it eveil to take what one citizen has earned and give it to another citizen by edict? None of the lawmakers and officials involved in these and other laws believed they were facilitating evil, and as long as there can be an objective utilitarian debate, evil should not be invoked. Many laws turn out to be unethical.

2. Society’s survival  requires that laws be obeyed. In a democratic system, the public has the power to change laws. One can ethically defy laws that one personally opposes as immoral, unethical or “evil,” but only if one accepts the law’s punishments for that defiance.

3. Calling immigration laws a “necessary evil” is an oxymoron. Immigration laws are necessary, period. Nations have to control their borders, property, budgets and culture, or they cease to exist as nations. Utopian visions of a land where anyone can come to live and thrive at their whim are a waste of time and distort important policy considerations. If something is truly necessary, it is not “evil.”

4. Current laws could and should be improved, but “unfair” is a too-subjective verdict. In particular, I don’t buy  slick’s #1, “Unfair to the legitimate immigrants who try to follow the byzantine process.” as a fair characterization. This is like voting: coming here and becoming a citizen should not be so easy and effortless that it loses all significance and integrity. Becoming a US citizen should take dedication and effort, and those who desire it should be willing to make that effort.

5. #2 also annoys me. I don’t care what the “encouragement” is; illegal immigrants break the law, and know they are breaking the law. Nobody is forcing them. If a car dealer leaves his lot open and keys in all the car ignitions, and never reports when the cars are stolen, I still don’t steal his cars, and if I did, I could not say “he made me do it!”

6. Let’s see how the laws work when they are enforced. Until then, it is breaking the laws that requires attention, not the laws themselves.

24 Comments

Filed under Citizenship, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights

24 responses to “Comment of the Day: “Ethics Quiz: Is This Question Easy?”

  1. Wayne

    I think that slickwilly’s post tend to simplify the issues involved in immigration laws. There is no intrinsic reason why any immigration should be allowed into the U.S. with the possible exception of asylum seekers who are at risk of being murdered or suffering severe persecution. Even then are we responsible for the actions of horrible actions perpetrated against these refugees? There is no intrinsic right to immigrate to the U.S. even if you live in a poverty stricken country run by a corrupt government. Sovereignty overrides humanitarian considerations and the only immigration I favor is merit based based on our country’s needs.

    • Chris

      There is no intrinsic reason why any immigration should be allowed into the U.S.

      That’s an absurd statement. Nearly all economists recognize that immigration boosts our economy. In addition, freedom of movement matters, and anything the government does to inhibit freedom should have a strong justification.

      Even then are we responsible for the actions of horrible actions perpetrated against these refugees?

      I believe that when people can do something to stop someone from being hurt, and they choose to do nothing, they are ethically responsible.

      • Wayne

        Chris, have you ever heard of sovereignty? Just try to immigrated to New Zealand or Switzerland, both counties have very strict immigration laws for good reason. In this age of terrorism, drug trafficking, and other criminal behavior we cannot allow unrestricted freedom of movement. As far as economic benefits, this has to be weighed against the costs of increased immigration.

        • Chris

          Of course I’ve heard of sovereignty. I was saying that the United States has a good reason to allow immigration, not that we have to do it.

          In this age of terrorism, drug trafficking, and other criminal behavior we cannot allow unrestricted freedom of movement. As far as economic benefits, this has to be weighed against the costs of increased immigration.

          Agreed, but I think the benefits far outweigh the costs.

  2. James MacKenzie

    [b]This is like voting: coming here and becoming a citizen should not be so easy and effortless that it loses all significance and integrity. Becoming a US citizen should take dedication and effort, and those who desire it should be willing to make that effort.[/b]
    While I entirely agree with you that prospective immigrants should be required to prove their commitment and dedication, I also see some justice in the author’s criticism of the procedures for lawful immigration. Legal immigration is extremely time-consuming and complicated, especially when you consider that many of the people attempting to come here have limited funds, poor English skills, and lack familiarity with our systems.
    Streamlining and clarifying the United States’ immigration process would produce several benefits:
    – A simpler immigration process would increase the number of high-quality candidates attempting to come here.
    – Streamlined procedures would undermine support for those who break the law by eliminating their most common excuses. If the process were rapid and efficient, those learning of an illegal immigrant’s status would be naturally suspicious of them instead of accepting that they “couldn’t” enter legally.
    – It would facilitate prompt identification and removal of visitors who linger unlawfully in the U.S., since they couldn’t count on a lengthy review process to delay their departure.
    – By reducing the number of immigrants attempting illegal entry, it would free up resources for other priorities.

    • Wayne

      Yes but do we do we need any more people who are poverty stricken, functionally illiterate, and coming here mainly because of economic reasons. I fear the increasing Balkanization of this country where people live in their separate enclaves like in much of Europe. This leads to no end of problems as seen in Germany and France due to the vastly different cultures of immigrants. If someone is a doctor or technologist from India and we need their skills sure, streamline the procedures for them.

    • Streamlining and clarifying the United States’ immigration process would produce several benefits:

      – A simpler immigration process would increase the number of high-quality candidates attempting to come here.
      Speculative.

      – Streamlined procedures would undermine support for those who break the law by eliminating their most common excuses. If the process were rapid and efficient, those learning of an illegal immigrant’s status would be naturally suspicious of them instead of accepting that they “couldn’t” enter legally.

      There ARE no valid excuses for breaking the immigration laws.

      – It would facilitate prompt identification and removal of visitors who linger unlawfully in the U.S., since they couldn’t count on a lengthy review process to delay their departure.

      Wanna bet?

      – By reducing the number of immigrants attempting illegal entry, it would free up resources for other priorities.

      Eliminating any crime can be “justified” by the same logic.

      • James MacKenzie

        I did not mean to imply that the “it’s too hard to comply” excuse was valid, only that is popular among those who undermine our laws. The validity of such excuses (or their lack of validity) is a separate issue from the government’s obligation to make its procedures efficient, effective, and responsive to the needs of its citizens.

      • Chris

        Eliminating any crime can be “justified” by the same logic.

        Sure, but a cost-benefit analysis is appropriate. Is it really worth it to spend time, money and manpower on deporting thousands of non-threats per year? We can say that eliminating murder as a crime would free up resources too, but we have a much more clearly defined interest in reducing murder and imprisoning murderers than we do in reducing immigration and imprisoning immigrants.*

        *No, the use of the term “immigrants” is not misleading here–we are talking about what would happen if the conduct in question were not illegal.

        • So any crime that is expensive to battle and hard to eliminate should be a candidate for legality? I know that’s the pro-drug argument. I also know it places money and pragmatics over values.

          • Chris

            So any crime that is expensive to battle and hard to eliminate should be a candidate for legality?

            No. Any crime which costs society more to battle and eliminate than it woukd cost for society to simply allow should be a candidate for legality. That’s what a cost/benefit analysis looks like. I know from personal experience it’s hard to do a cost/benefit analysis when one is biased in favor of looking only at either the costs or the benefits, but it really is a necessary component to analyzing any policy.

            • Chris

              Pressed submit too soon–sorry.

              I also know it places money and pragmatics over values.

              In the case of both immigration and drug policy, it places some values over other values. A primary value that comes from decriminilizing both is personal freedom. That is a value, as is keeping people from harming themselves and other–a cost/benefit analysis of decades of failed drug policies indicate that the former value should win out in this case.

              Immigration is an even easier cost/benefit analysis, since immigration is generally less harmful to a society than rampant drug use. There are cases, of course, where immigrants do harm, which is why we still need some immigration laws. We have to balance the value of safety with the value of personal freedom in this case. But again, I think a rational cost/benefit analysis would indicate that we have put so much emphasis on the former value and neglected the latter, and that thr costs of our immigration policies have outweighed the benefits.

            • “Any crime which costs society more to battle and eliminate than it would cost for society to simply allow should be a candidate for legality.”

              But that’s facile, because the “costs” in one part of the equation are always different currency that the “costs” on the other, and the new “costs” of legalization are always outrageously minimized by those favoring legalization. Ethics simply is not just a balance sheet exercise. Ethical values cannot be blythly traded off for dollars and cents. What’s the proper “cost” of a human life, to make the most obvious point. The reason the equation works for abortion advocates, for example, is they put no value on the life of the fetus at all.

              • Chris

                Do gun rights advocates put no value on the lives of people killed by guns?

                If not, how do they come to the conclusion that the benefits of the second amendment outweigh the costs?

  3. Glenn Logan

    Well, this obviously got scrolled down out of my memory and I didn’t have a chance to respond in the thread. So, considering this:

    Agreed, and a good observation. Laws are made by men, many times men with hidden agendas who stand to profit from those laws. What I think Glenn is getting at is that ‘illegal’ is seen as equal to ‘immoral,’ which many equate with ‘bad.’ Is it immoral to disobey a law? In the strict sense, by the definitions involved, I think so. In practice, I am not so certain. What if the ‘law’ is written by an un-elected bureaucrat who has no effective over site from lawful entities? When petty rules have the enforcement power of law, democracy falls into tyranny.

    I think what we had in Chris’ comment, which can be seen here and to which slickwilly was responding, was the generalization of a contextualized statement. I am partly responsible for this in my comment by not keeping the comment within the scope of the law in question; specifically, immigration law.

    Laws generally are not written by “un-elected bureaucrat[s],” but by legislatures. The bureaucrats write the regulations which implement the laws, and certainly a well-intentioned and even reasonable law can be turned into an abomination by bad regulations. It also matters how you enforce laws, which I think was part of the point Chris was making when he wrote:

    And of course, tough enforcement of laws has not always been an “unalloyed good” in the United States, and has often led to abuse.

    This is no doubt true. You have to look no further than the recently disclosed IRS abuse of the structuring law to essentially perpetrate legal theft of millions of honestly-earned dollars.

    But to keep from going too far afield, my point was intended to be that regardless of the judgment one subjectively makes about the necessity or fairness of laws, they are part and parcel of the social compact we enter into when we are granted citizenship in a society. We have every opportunity to object to laws through the political process, and a subjective judgment that a law is bad, even by a majority of people, does not justify disobeying it. It was duly enacted, and may be enforced unless held to be violative of said compact or repealed.

    So pronouncement of a law as “bad” must be done through the political process, not through willful disobedience and objection to the consequences. Therefore, the ILLEGAL=BAD representation.

    Jack has aptly dealt with the rest of the comment better than I, but I would offer one additional observation regarding immigration laws: Countries without borders are not countries, they are merely occupied land. If people can enter and leave at will, take jobs or advantage of the economy at will, and offer no loyalty to it, it might as well not exist. It is manifestly unfair to allow foreign persons to enter the country and enjoy the benefits of liberty without making any of the sacrifices its citizens do without the permission of the citizens. It is also an unconscionable security risk to everyone; citizens, legal and illegal entrants alike.

  4. Thank you, Jack, for the COTD.

    My wife asked if I was okay with your criticism of my writing, and I told her yes: I look at it more as a critique. Allow me to elaborate on a few points:

    1. I only quoted the word ‘evil’ and did not use it again. To be fair, I endorsed the usage of the quote, but did so as a generalization of abuses of laws rather than literally. In that, this point is fair: ‘evil’ should be reserved for the literal entity. So substitute ‘unfair’ or ‘corrupt’ if you like. Life is unfair, but that is the best word for my points.

    2. I never endorsed civil disobedience in the comment. I agree that you CAN disobey laws that are immoral, but also assert there will and should be consequences. I also acknowledge that the consequences might be unfair, disproportionate, and severe. Take that into account. Civil rights marchers willingly faced fire hoses and jail

    3. I never called the laws evil. I did call most of them “unethical, non-sensible, and unproductive.” It is fair to disagree with my use of ‘most’ here; it is subjective and generalizes

    4. Jack made some good points here. I will think my position over

    5. This annoys me as well, but given I was responding civilly to Chris, I chose to not douse my point in flammable liquid. I agree that illegal is illegal, and motivation matters little to the act of lawbreaking. I also believe that if we did not allow them to work here, they would not come.

    6. PLEASE enforce the laws on the books, evenly and across the board! Some of them are still in bubble wrap, having never been used. I agree with everything Jack said here

    Again, I appreciate Jack hosting the site where we can converse and learn. I am certainly going to reread his comments here as I internalize and evolve my positions into stronger, more ethical ones.

    • Pennagain

      slickwilly, you belie your name. You might consider doing, as Spartan and others have done here, evolve your name to better suit the character and rationality you display. Think on, sir. I, for one, admire your spirit.

      • My first attention to politics (and the crooks therein) were under the Clinton Administration. The Teflon President infuriated a young idealist enough to use his nick name ever since. I am unlikely to change the name at this point in my online career.

        But thank you for the compliment!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s