As someone who is hopelessly noncommittal about comprehensive immigration reform (at bottom, I hate everybody: the cheap labor-hungry business class, La Raza, and the nativist right alike), I was shoved in the direction of the opposition by Jennifer Rubin’s platitudinous putdown of the “zero sum rightwing.”
Rubin begins with a half-cocked theory:
In some sense the argument goes back centuries to Adam Smith and the mercantilists. It is ironic that the voices on the right who claim to be pure conservatives evince views that the father of capitalism denounced.
Mercantilism is what we threw off by the American Revolution and what The Wealth of Nations replaced: Mercantilism is the ideology that nations must protect their wealth from infringement by other countries using techniques such as tariffs.
“Techniques such as tariffs”! “Techniques” that accounted for the vast majority of federal revenue well into the 19th century. “Techniques” that were championed by Abraham Lincoln and—let’s go ahead and call him the “father of American capitalism”—Alexander Hamilton.
After this auspicious warmup, Rubin then farms out her blog post to Cato’s Alex Nowrasteh, “who tells me the analogy is correct” (thank God for that!). Later she argues: “anti-immigration voices who decry Big Labor and minimum wage (not to mention ‘living wage’) proposals for setting labor rates too high (and thereby contributing to unemployment) don’t seem to understand that immigration restriction does the same thing.”
This is another illustration of ideological android reasoning: human beings are widgets, and all policy disputes are basically math problems. Reality, as David Frum explains here, isn’t so neat and clean:
Whatever else you say about the U.S. economy of the 21st century, it cannot be described as suffering from labor shortages.
Yet however little workers earn, there is always somebody who wishes they earned even less. And for those somebodies, the solution is: Import more cheap labor. But not just any cheap labor—cheap labor that cannot quit, that cannot accept a better offer, that cannot complain.
Dating to the Bush-era attempt at legally integrating the country’s 11 million undocumented workers, I’ve been tepidly in favor of codifying the inevitable: we’re not going to boot them out of here, so we might as well solve the problem. But the facile boosterism of the likes of Jennifer Rubin isn’t helping. At all.