Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/8/2018: Tolstoy And The News,” (Item #4)

Frequent commenter Otto vanished from the wars for many weeks, and then nailed a Comment of the Day on his first day back. Boy I hate that: it’s as if he can register a sharp, thought-provoking analysis at will, like he’s toying with us. This time, his topic was illegal immigration, as he responded to the item about Nancy Pelosi thanking the parents of “Dreamers” for breaking our immigration laws.

Here is Otto’s Comment of the Day on the illegal immigration item in the post, Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/8/2018: Tolstoy And The News :

…The only reason persons would immigrate to the U.S., legally or illegally, is hope for a higher quality of life than they could have in their home countries. Any positive differential between what they would achieve in their home country and what they would achieve in the U.S. with the same output of effort can only be attributed to living off the fat (wealth, capital, productiveness) of the American people (past, present, and possibly future). If their effort would achieve the same results (or better) in their home country, they would not immigrate. It is that simple.

While this is true, I don’t believe we should even consider the economic benefit to the U.S. when determining who should and should not enter the U.S. or become citizens – it sounds too much like using a person as means to our own ends. However, if we do consider economic benefit, Humble Talent is correct that we must include opportunity cost in our calculation. If admitting a farmer from Guatemala as a citizen precludes us from admitting a physician from Germany as a citizen, we must include any differential in productivity (economic benefit) between the two persons as a cost (or benefit) of admitting the farmer.

Of course, the myriad avenues of opportunity cost are not the only costs of illegal immigration. Assuming illegal immigrants purchase food, clothing, housing, and other commodities, their demand for these commodities puts upward pressure on prices that must be paid by all U.S. citizens. Assuming illegal immigrants seek employment, their supply of labor puts downward pressure on wages, a cost suffered by all U.S. citizens. If illegal immigrants seek an education, they contribute to classroom crowding and greater expense of education, which is a cost to all U.S. citizens. If illegal immigrants drive vehicles anywhere, they contribute to wear and tear on infrastructure, a cost to all U.S. citizens. If illegal immigrants receive any type of governmental benefit, it is a cost to U.S. citizens. If illegal immigrants receive any type of pseudo-private benefit (such as reduced rates on utilities), it is a cost to U.S. citizens.

With the exception of opportunity cost, I concede that the same economic costs noted in the previous paragraph would be suffered by the U.S. citizenry if similar demand for commodities and services and similar supply of labor were provided by legal immigrants or even natural population growth of the U.S. citizenry. This is no reason to ignore the costs or pretend that they do not exist. The costs do exist – they exist far in excess of what any illegal immigrant contributes to the country – and opportunity cost is the key.

The greatest cost, which was not material to the previous two paragraphs, is illegal behavior. The costs of illegal behavior, which is, in most cases, also unethical behavior, are enormous. The loss of the benefit of legal and ethical behavior is what we suffer when we glorify, condone, or otherwise reward illegal behavior (a condition not encountered with legal immigration or natural population growth of the U.S. citizenry, thus the opportunity lost). When our federal, state, or city governments partake in the glorifying, condoning, and rewarding of illegal behavior, we are in deep peril. This is our opportunity cost. This is the only relevant factor in considering whether or not we should allow Dreamers (and possibly their parents) to become legal citizens of the U.S.

There is no place in the universe in which tolerating, protecting, condoning, glorifying, or rewarding any type of behavior contributes to a reduction in exhibition of that behavior. On the contrary, when federal, state, or city governments partake in tolerating, protecting, condoning, glorifying, or rewarding a behavior, there will be more of the behavior. Sanctuary cities and states not only condone illegal immigration, they also promote continued illegal immigration. They also promote illegal behavior generally. “What the hell, if California can ignore the laws, why shouldn’t I?” The costs of illegal behavior are astronomical, economic and otherwise.

In short, it is silly, perhaps even asinine, to believe that illegal immigrants are a benefit to our country. They are certainly not a boon. If we allow Dreamers (and possibly their parents) to become legal residents or citizens, it will be an act of compassion and good will.

If you want to argue this issue, you must show how illegal behavior and the promotion of illegal behavior are good. And, the analogy of U.S. citizens eating lunch at a “whites only” counter will not do. Any economic argument will certainly fail. You will be left with arguing for the benevolence, compassion, and good will. Argue it well.

18 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/8/2018: Tolstoy And The News,” (Item #4)

  1. Good read. Most nations consider their own benefit above all other factors when it comes to immigration. It’s at least partially greedy, but it’s also safer (an immigrant with an advanced degree is a safer bet to never turn to crime or live off welfare.)

    America, of course, has been historically, and still is, a leader in welcoming immigrants out of compassion. We were uniquely suited for this, for reasons I could get into but you can probably guess. Countries like Sweden who have come very late to the party and tried to become America-esque melting pots are learning, the hard way, that it isn’t that easy.

    I personally think we can do more to prioritize refugees suffering in Communist hellholes, and minority religious groups being persecuted in the Middle East and Asia. We can’t help everyone, but we can help millions of people, and it makes since to help people who are going to appreciate and enjoy being here, over and above economic migrants who think we’re the Great Satan.

  2. I was in the process of developing an analogy to debunk the notion that unfettered immigration, legal and illegal, is constructive.

    If we treat immigration as we would rain insufficient amounts would limit our ability to grow in abundance. Like crops, our economy needs a reasonable amount of immigrants (rain) to blossom. Similarly, the “rain” must fall relatively equally over an extended period of time rather than all at once, or after long intervals. The ground must be allowed to assimilate the rain.

    Too much rain depletes the ground’s ability to absorb excess moisture and such excesses wind up causing the people to build systems to drain the excess to avoid spoilage of productive resources. Similarly, excess immigration forces us to build or expand otherwise unnecessary systems to manage the excess populations that cannot add to growing abundance. These systems include prisons, shelters, nutrition programs schools, low income housing, etc. Each of these systems is an unnecessary cost borne not by the newcomers but by the existing population.

    If we had totally open borders then we would create the equivalent of an endless monsoon season that would strip away that which holds fast the earth below eroding all that holds our society together. Equilibrium will occur when the value of immigrating to the US is equal to that of staying put. While a rising tide lifts all boats a tsunami will sink them.

  3. “Assuming illegal immigrants purchase food, clothing, housing, and other commodities, their demand for these commodities puts upward pressure on prices that must be paid by all U.S. citizens.”


    “Assuming illegal immigrants seek employment, their supply of labor puts downward pressure on wages, a cost suffered by all U.S. citizens.”

    Also correct.

    But these two statements are both missing half the story. Nobody is going to pay illegal immigrants to do nothing. The only way they will get paid is if they do productive work. In other words, the immigrants in the second quoted sentence will be employed to make all the food, clothing, housing, and other commodities from the first sentence. This will flood the market and lower prices.

    Alternatively, when the illegal immigrants from the first sentence put upward pressure on prices, the rising prices will encourage firms to increase production, which will require more workers, and the additional hiring will bid up wages.

    The same reasoning applies to the other items in that paragraph. If illegal immigrants increase the need for teachers or infrastructure, they will also provide a workforce that can do the teaching or build the roads. Or if you don’t think they can do those jobs, then illegal immigrants can fill the positions left open when other people quit their current jobs to become teachers and construction workers.

    Will these effects offset each other exactly? Probably not. But they have to work out pretty close. After all, if immigrants are driving down wages, who exactly would be able to afford to pay enough to drive up consumer prices?

    This is pretty much how economies adjust to new workers entering the workforce. It’s how our economy absorbed tens of millions of women entering the workforce in the latter half of the last century, it’s how our economy absorbs children growing up, and it’s how our economy absorbs immigrants. More people means more goods produced and more goods consumed.

    • Windy
      Opportunity costs are the values of things we give up when we make a choice. What Otto is saying is that the arguement for unfettered immigration fails to include these costs in the analysis.

      For example: the state has a finite amount of borrowing capacity for long term capital projects. Because resources are finite the state chooses to build more schools to handle the influx of new residents into their communities rather than repair decaying infrstructure such as sewer systems or bridges. States make choices based on immediacy of need. The aging sewers still work but we need classrooms now so the choice is to defer infrastructure repairs to build schools. Who bears the costs of ruptured sewers or water mains because we kept deferring the replacement because we had to create the necessary accomodations for illegal immigrants?

      Good policy requires that we evaluate the opportunity costs relating to the choices we make. I have seen no arguments that tell me how many immigrants we can absorb without a deleterious impact on existing systems or will not require us to delay much needed infrastructure projects.

      We cannot make any representations about the value of any future immigrants from an economic perspective but we can extrapolate the average value of existing recent immigrant populations and impute future values and then determine the degree to which we establish immigrantion levels based on costs of assimilation.

    • Windypundit, I agree. You make a fair economic argument, one much more thorough than mine. I have little doubt that one of the economic results of illegal immigration is growth of the economy. Illegal marijuana plantations and dealers in cocaine also contribute to growth in the economy. Still, I remain unconvinced that economic growth shackled with the cost of illegal behavior is something we should champion.

  4. Great comment.

    I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this point:

    “While this is true, I don’t believe we should even consider the economic benefit to the U.S. when determining who should and should not enter the U.S. or become citizens – it sounds too much like using a person as means to our own ends.”

    • But this was the motivation behind what lefties consider to be the golden age of immigration into the country: the Ellis Island/Statue of Liberty era. The country needed to be filled up and built. Surely economics needs to be taken into account. A country needs to be solvent to function well and prosper. (Not that we’re solvent in a technical financial sense.) But economics can’t be used as an ad hoc shibboleth either. It’s dumb to say, “We need roofers after hurricanes, let everyone in that wants in, and their grandparents!”

      And of course, the frustrating part of the illegality aspect Otto discusses is that to Social Justice Warriors, controlling a country’s borders is immoral and therefore illegal. “Immigration is a human right!” they say. So you’ve got this sort of alleged natural law trumping national law. That’s why to them there’s no such thing as an illegal immigrant. All immigrants are, by definition, legal immigrants. It’s immigration policy that is immoral and therefore illegal.

      And speaking of economic concerns driving immigration policy, what about the economic concerns, i.e., remittances, driving Mexico’s emigration policy? Are we obligated to prop up the Mexican domestic economy by wire transfer from the local Western Union office?

  5. I had a great argument with one of my sisters on this, who allowed that the illegals “did jobs that no citizen would do,” like picking tomatoes. She also stated that absent cheap “picking labor” the price of tomatoes would rise astronomically. This all followed a “give me your poor, your huddled masses” cant.

    Amazing! So toss out your ‘America as sanctuary’ argument, kiddo: You only care about what tomatoes will cost you? Make farmers pay fair wages to citizens, give them the benefits they deserve, and sure, tomatoes will be more expensive. But do not, do not, glop together liberal bullshit with the economies of illegal workers.

    Also, she and others need to learn a little history of immigration to the US: e.g., if one arrived at Ellis Island with pink-eye one was turned away (as only one Ellis example of many) and the horrific anti-Semitic FDR State Department who disallowed major migrations of Jews from the hands of Hitler and his camps. It may be lousy in Mexico, but it’s not Hitler’s Germany, now is it?

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