Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Doing the Right Thing

Yesterday I was listening to a radio talk show host discuss immigration. He pointed out that a lot of illegal immigrants are hired by home owners to do casual labor. He then asked his listeners to imagine they had a grand piano to move, an illegal would do it for $40, and an American citizen, perhaps the kid next door, for $100. Would the listener save money by hiring the illegal or do the right thing by hiring the citizen?

My response, if I had been able to get through, would have been that I would have done the right thing—by hiring the illegal, who almost certainly has more need for the money than the kid next door.

Unless I missed it, the sole argument that the host offered for his unstated assumption that hiring the kid was obviously the right thing was that hiring the illegal immigrant was illegal. My response would be to ask the host if he ever drove faster than the speed limit and if he tasted wine or beer before he reached the legal drinking age. If his answer to both questions was "no," he is in a very small minority of Americans.

If it was "yes," as I expect it would have been, I would next have asked how he would defend himself against the charge of hypocrisy.

In the America I live in, despite political rhetoric to the contrary, most people believe in obeying laws selectively–ignoring the ones they think are foolish or wicked except when the risk of getting caught makes it more prudent to obey.

When I told the story to my wife, she offered another question to put to the host. It is 1855, the fugitive slave law is the law of the land. Do you help with the underground railway or do you do "the right thing" and turn in any escaped slaves who come your way?

33 Comments:

At 4:27 PM, May 02, 2006, Blogger Gil said...

Good point.

Unfortunately, the host would probably dodge the issue by arguing that "That's different!"

He'd probably say that the slave laws are a gross denial of liberty while the immigration laws are a legitimate control.

I do like your wife's example better than my standard of "Hiding jews from nazis." Better to use an example from America than flirt with Godwin's Law.

 
At 5:34 PM, May 02, 2006, Blogger Joe said...

The "right thing" for me would be to hire the person who's better at moving pianos! Grand pianos can require special care when moving, and it's best to find someone with that particular expertise. So, I'd call an actual piano moving service and pay them to do it :)

 
At 6:59 PM, May 02, 2006, Anonymous Dog of Justice said...

You are correct that the existing state of the law is not authoritative when the debate is about how law should be changed.

That said, I disagree with your example. The illegal immigrant has to live somewhere, use public roads and other services, school their kids, etc. When you provide jobs to illegal immigrants, you profit while imposing these costs on other citizens. One of the jobs of government is to prevent this sort of behavior at least in the cases where aggregate utility decreases. (If aggregate utility increases, it's of course better to encourage the behavior and find some way to compensate the third parties.)

Should "aggregate utility" include noncitizens or just citizens? What collection of laws and enforcement algorithms result in the best expected aggregate utility? I'm not sure. But I am sure that you're wrong when you simply ignore these issues in an analysis of hiring illegal immigrants.

 
At 7:48 PM, May 02, 2006, Blogger Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...

doj: The illegal immigrant has to live somewhere, use public roads and other services, school their kids, etc. When you provide jobs to illegal immigrants, you profit while imposing these costs on other citizens.

How are the costs "imposed" in this case different from the costs "imposed" by hiring anybody who has to use government roads and services to get to your house? How are they different from the costs "imposed" by you personally when you use these government services?

Are you operating on the (false) assumption that only citizens (or perhaps citizens and documented immigrants) pay taxes?

doj: One of the jobs of government is to prevent this sort of behavior at least in the cases where aggregate utility decreases.

The easiest way for them to prevent freeloading on taxpayers is to stop subsidizing schools and roads and other services. Trying to minimize or contain freeloading by taking it out on immigrants who aren't, after all, responsible for the subsidies is not a solution; it's just a diversion, and one that happens to harm a lot of innocent people.

 
At 8:10 PM, May 02, 2006, Blogger Gil said...

rad,

I think it is the case that illegals tend to avoid paying income taxes.

But, that only supports Virginia Postrel's point that "Liberals who support immigration should rethink their love of progressive income taxes."

 
At 8:22 PM, May 02, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

"I would have done the right thing—by hiring the illegal, who almost certainly has more need for the money than the kid next door."

What does his need have to do with the rightness of the action?

There is no "right thing" in this example, you're morally free to do as you see fit. I'd do what benefited me.

 
At 8:42 PM, May 02, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

dog of justice writes:

"That said, I disagree with your example. The illegal immigrant has to live somewhere, use public roads and other services, school their kids, etc."

As others have pointed out, that is also true of citizens. But in any case, I was responding to the particular argument offered by the talk show host. As I said in my post, the only reason he seemed to be offering why hiring the citizen was right was that the alternative was illegal.

 
At 8:44 PM, May 02, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

John T. Kennedy argues that the morally right thing is whatever is in my interest. He is, of course, free to follow that morality if he wishes. I, as it happens, think that benefitting other people, while not obligatory, is on the whole good thing to do, ceteris paribus.

 
At 9:04 PM, May 02, 2006, Blogger rickthefightguy said...

Yeah. I get torqued at the legislators who argue that 'amnesty' wouldn't be fair to all the people who have been 'doing it right'. My feeling is that that is like a 19th century Brit saying "Well, we can't free India, because that would be unfair to all of the people who have been _not_ sitting down with Ghandi."

If it is a bad law (and, in my opinion it is) then getting rid of it does not hurt the people who have been obeying it - they can stop now, so it actually helps them.

 
At 10:02 PM, May 02, 2006, Blogger Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...

Gil: I think it is the case that illegals tend to avoid paying income taxes.

All undocumented immigrants pay gasoline taxes, sales taxes, and (either directly, or indirectly through the rent paid to their landlord) property taxes. These, and not personal income taxes, happen to be the primary sources of funding for government road-building, government schools, and the state and local services that immigrants are said to be using.

Not all undocumented immigrants work under the table, either. Many undocumented immigrants also pay personal income taxes and FICA taxes, because they use forged papers to get a job and are processed like a normal employee, with money withheld from their paycheck.

 
At 11:45 PM, May 02, 2006, Anonymous edgr said...

Also, if you pay the kid next door $100 cash, you really think he's gonna declare that on his tax return?

 
At 2:54 AM, May 03, 2006, Anonymous Dog of Justice said...

How are the costs "imposed" in this case different from the costs "imposed" by hiring anybody who has to use government roads and services to get to your house? How are they different from the costs "imposed" by you personally when you use these government services?

It's obviously silly to focus on the single use of government roads in getting to your house, and that's not what I'm doing. Instead, I am trying to look at the big picture and comparing the case where an illegal immigrant is living in the US with the case they aren't, since the largest marginal effect of the $40 job is a probabilistic increase in the number of illegal immigrants living in the country.

As others have pointed out, that is also true of citizens.

When you hire a citizen, the probabilistic effect you have on the number of similar citizens in the country is far, far smaller than when you hire an illegal immigrant.

The easiest way for them to prevent freeloading on taxpayers is to stop subsidizing schools and roads and other services. Trying to minimize or contain freeloading by taking it out on immigrants who aren't, after all, responsible for the subsidies is not a solution; it's just a diversion, and one that happens to harm a lot of innocent people.

In principle, I may agree. However, just because one policy is optimal in utopia does not mean that policy makes sense in concert with the messy set of other policies that are currently in place. The welfare state in the US is not going away soon, and wishful thinking to the contrary when setting immigration policy is potentially disasterous. We need to be realists.

And the reality is, among other things, that most of California's public school system is shot to hell and can be expected to remain so as long as too many illegal immigrants stress the system. The majority of voters are quite willing to pay more for labor if they can reverse this sort of thing; when we refuse to enforce the immigration laws they vote for, that is a subversion of our political process.

But in any case, I was responding to the particular argument offered by the talk show host. As I said in my post, the only reason he seemed to be offering why hiring the citizen was right was that the alternative was illegal.

I accepted that point in the first paragraph of my post.

 
At 5:19 AM, May 03, 2006, Blogger autodogmatic.com said...

And the reality is, among other things, that most of California's public school system is shot to hell and can be expected to remain so as long as too many illegal immigrants stress the system. The majority of voters are quite willing to pay more for labor if they can reverse this sort of thing; when we refuse to enforce the immigration laws they vote for, that is a subversion of our political process.

I'm not sure that is the reality. The abundance of illegal immigrants in California is indication that a significant majority of Californians are willing to trade freely with non-citizens despite the effects on public schools. Otherwise, would they be there?

The realistic position is that public schools are in shambles because they are public. If this is such a problem in California, why don't Californians pass a law whereby you pay the taxes due to public schooling when you register your kids for that school. If you're too poor to afford it, then you can register by submitting your last 1040 as proof of your indigence. I imagine that would solve the freeloader problem very quickly.

 
At 5:23 AM, May 03, 2006, Blogger markm said...

"My response would be to ask the host if he ever drove faster than the speed limit and if he tasted wine or beer before he reached the legal drinking age."

I've been asking similar questions for a while. Two more things to add to the hypocrisy list:

1) Smoking cigarettes before legal age. Maybe it's less common now, but when I was in school smoking was illegal until age 18, but even the Junior High bathrooms were always full of cigarette smoke. I suspect that well over half those in Congress now were once puffing away in school bathrooms in defiance of the law.

2) Illegal drugs - I suspect at least 1/3 of adult Americans have some history of trying pot or popping stimulant pills without a prescription.

 
At 6:43 AM, May 03, 2006, Anonymous Jeremy said...

Actually, accusing the host of hypocrisy because he broke other laws would be premature. One particular response would deflect such a charge, namely, "I do speed, and it's wrong." From the information you gave, he only stated his values system; he made no pretense about his adherence to it.

That said, I think it's more likely to get an answer like, "But that's different..." -- as Gil mentioned -- but I really have no idea of that particular host.

I think Joe's on the money here, though: hire the person who's got the most value for the task at hand. Need has nothing to do with it. Following the dictates of others' need is just more likely to introduce poor decision-making, impact economic efficiency as a result, and *hurt* more people with needs of the sort that drove your action in the first place. (For those reasons I hope that David's initial comment about need was incidental, and not integral to his choice.)

 
At 6:58 AM, May 03, 2006, Anonymous Dog of Justice said...

I'm not sure that is the reality. The abundance of illegal immigrants in California is indication that a significant majority of Californians are willing to trade freely with non-citizens despite the effects on public schools. Otherwise, would they be there?

When you trade with an illegal immigrant, you reap most of the benefits, others pay the statistical costs. Market behavior is individual, not collective. You may not consider it morally consistent, but it is perfectly rational to prefer an end to illegal immigration while trading with existing illegal immigrants. This is a game theory 101 scenario.

The realistic position is that public schools are in shambles because they are public.

This fails to explain why the strength of California's public school system has dropped so precipitously relative to other public school systems. I'd happily send my kids to Maryland or Massachusetts public schools.

 
At 1:09 PM, May 03, 2006, Blogger Mike Hammock said...

Apparently "Illegal Immigrants are Paying a Lot More Taxes Than You Think":
http://www.reason.org/commentaries/dalmia_20060501.shtml
(Or more than some of you think, anyway.)

 
At 3:26 PM, May 03, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

David,

"John T. Kennedy argues that the morally right thing is whatever is in my interest."


I said there was no "right thing" to do in this example, both options are perfectly moral.

"He is, of course, free to follow that morality if he wishes. I, as it happens, think that benefiting other people, while not obligatory, is on the whole good thing to do, ceteris paribus."

Won't my market transactions necessarily benefit others by their lights?

If it would instead cost only $40 to hire the kid next door but $100 to hire the illegal immigrant which would you choose?

 
At 5:29 PM, May 03, 2006, Blogger Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...

doj: It's obviously silly to focus on the single use of government roads in getting to your house, and that's not what I'm doing. Instead, I am trying to look at the big picture and comparing the case where an illegal immigrant is living in the US with the case they aren't, since the largest marginal effect of the $40 job is a probabilistic increase in the number of illegal immigrants living in the country.

Well, no, the "largest marginal effect of the $40 job" is that your grand piano is moved, and the worker has $40 more than before.

It's true, of course, that it also has the effect of increasing the demand for labor not restricted by immigration status; and so it may contribute, on the margin, to the probability that more undocumented immigrants will live in the country. But so what? The only reasons you've offered for thinking that there's anything wrong with having more undocumented immigrants living in the country is the allegation that it involves unspecified "costs" being imposed on innocent third parties--an allegation which has been objected to, since you've offered no evidence that this involves more "costs" for those third parties than hiring anybody else in a welfare state does, let alone that either the immigrant or the person hiring him or her is morally to blame for those "costs." So let's get down to brass tacks. You claim that increasing the probability of more undocumented immigrants in the country is something that you oughtn't do. Why? What's wrong with having more undocumented immigrants in the country, let alone with merely increasing the probability that this may happen?

doj: In principle, I may agree. However, just because one policy is optimal in utopia does not mean that policy makes sense in concert with the messy set of other policies that are currently in place. The welfare state in the US is not going away soon, and wishful thinking to the contrary when setting immigration policy is potentially disasterous. We need to be realists.

How is this any of the immigrant's fault? There are lots of ways you could reduce the total welfare burden in this country. For example, you could shoot people standing in the queue at the welfare office. Or you could blow up government schools. Or you could implement a forced sterilization / abortion program for the poor. Do you think that these are acceptable methods? If not, why do you think that restraining, arresting, confining, an immigrant, beating or shooting them if necessary, destroying their livelihood, and exiling them from the country, is any more acceptable? Why are they fair game for your policy "realism" but not the domestic poor?

doj: And the reality is, among other things, that most of California's public school system is shot to hell and can be expected to remain so as long as too many illegal immigrants stress the system.

Who cares? Why are you trying to fix the government school system?

doj: The majority of voters are quite willing to pay more for labor if they can reverse this sort of thing;

Then they are welcome to pay for it. What I object to is when they propose to force me pay more for labor in order to fulfill their demographic goals, which I couldn't possibly care less about.

doj: ... when we refuse to enforce the immigration laws they vote for, that is a subversion of our political process.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

 
At 10:23 PM, May 03, 2006, Anonymous R.S. Porter said...

I'm trying to accept and understand libertarian thinking, but I don't understand why we should support illegal immigration.

From a market standpoint I understand that it makes the most sense to hire what's in your best interest. But is the Rule of Law not important? I can understand why immigration is hugely important, but why can't we do it legally. I'm all for immigration, hell I'm for massive amounts of new immigration, but is there something wrong with me for wanting it to be legally—even if that means a whole new immigration system?

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the whole argument or something. Do you want to eliminate government completely? Correct me if I'm wrong.

 
At 10:48 PM, May 03, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

R.S. Porter asks about illegal vs legal immigration. I would indeed prefer that it be legal, as it was when my grandparents came. But since it isn't, I am left with the question of how I should act--and I don't feel that the fact that a (bad) law makes something illegal also makes it immoral.

"Do you want to eliminate government completely?"

In the long run, yes. My first book, still available from Amazon, sketched out how a society with private property but without government might function.

But that's an extreme position even among libertarians--most are in favor of a very limited government, but not of no government at all.

Incidentally, are you by any chance one of the Porters who are related to me?

 
At 12:19 AM, May 04, 2006, Anonymous R.S. Porter said...

Thanks for the response.

Ok, I understand what you’re saying with the laws and such. I think I differ a little, but who doesn’t. I just feel that we should have an ordered system with greatly increased numbers and efficiency—maybe we should privatize the border!

I plan to read your first book, but I figured I should gain more knowledge of economics first—though I suppose it’s not a strictly economics book. I currently have your book, Hidden Order, on my shelf, but I’ll admit it was a little over my head, so I went back to read stuff by Landsburg, Sowell and Hazlitt first. I’ll get to it someday, hopefully I’ll understand it.

If I’m related to you I wouldn’t know (though it would be interesting). I live in, and most of my family is located in Canada. Though we do have some roots in Massachusetts…

 
At 12:56 AM, May 04, 2006, Anonymous Dog of Justice said...

Apologies in advance for the length of this post.

The only reasons you've offered for thinking that there's anything wrong with having more undocumented immigrants living in the country is the allegation that it involves unspecified "costs" being imposed on innocent third parties--an allegation which has been objected to, since you've offered no evidence that this involves more "costs" for those third parties than hiring anybody else in a welfare state does, let alone that either the immigrant or the person hiring him or her is morally to blame for those "costs."

I already explained that the additional cost of hiring an illegal immigrant, versus a low class citizen, stems from the far greater effect on the number of illegal immigrants in the country.

As for morals, I have not assigned moral blame to anyone in my arguments; on the contrary, I explicitly said "You may not consider it morally consistent, but it is perfectly rational to prefer an end to illegal immigration while trading with existing illegal immigrants." I don't blame anyone for utility-maximizing behavior (as long as the utility function isn't pathological, anyway). If the current system encourages utility-maximizers to do arguably bad things, it is the system should be fixed, and until that happens I'm not blaming the pragmatists.

So let's get down to brass tacks. You claim that increasing the probability of more undocumented immigrants in the country is something that you oughtn't do. Why? What's wrong with having more undocumented immigrants in the country, let alone with merely increasing the probability that this may happen?

Again, I emphasize that I am a realist, and would not criticize anyone for saving $60 and hiring the illegal immigrant mover; the problem is with lack of law enforcement.

The problem with having more illegal immigrants in the country is that our capacity for effective assimilation is not infinite. Thought experiment -- what would happen to America if one billion of the world's poor and unskilled moved in over the next year? (One billion, by the way, is roughly the number of people who would want to move to America if there were no immigration restrictions at all.) Would that be good or bad for the country? If you think it would be bad, how do you propose to draw the line -- what smaller level of immigration would increase rather than decrease America's strength?

I claim that voter sentiment provides at least a first approximation of the position of that line, and a first approximation is better than nothing. And voter sentiment has been suggesting that the current level of Mexican immigration is too high.

Incidentally, have you ever wondered why Mexico aggressively pushes for US tolerance of its illegal immigrants (the movie "A Day Without a Mexican" was made with the explicit support of the Mexican government) while simultaneously having no tolerance of illegal immigration itself? You tell me, what do you think is their private view on the effect of illegal immigration on national strength?

If not, why do you think that restraining, arresting, confining, an immigrant, beating or shooting them if necessary, destroying their livelihood, and exiling them from the country, is any more acceptable? Why are they fair game for your policy "realism" but not the domestic poor?

What are the government's responsibilities? What is the meaning of the term "citizen" if the government is just as responsible to non-citizens as it is to citizens? What is the meaning of national sovereignty without a distinction between citizens and non-citizens? No meaningful right of free association exists without some ability to exclude.

The domestic poor may be less productive than illegal immigrants on average, but we have already accepted responsibility for their welfare. Illegal immigrants, on the other hand, are for the most part Mexico's responsibility, despite Mexican propaganda to the contrary. I claim that it is reasonable to only accept full responsibility for their welfare if we consider that to be in our self-interest. If ownership is a sound principle when it comes to individual and corporate economic behavior, what's wrong with it at the national level?

Then they are welcome to pay for it. What I object to is when they propose to force me pay more for labor in order to fulfill their demographic goals, which I couldn't possibly care less about.

You are welcome to try to move to Mexico or another Third World country if you still want cheap labor.

In a nation of 300 million people, not all desires are going to be compatible. Our political process is charged with finding ways to reconcile these desires without screwing too many people over too badly. It may not do a great job, but it's still better than the absence of a political process; and if you believe otherwise, you're free to try to immigrate to another country with a more effective political process.

I couldn't care less about our current military operations in Iraq. I am annoyed that I have to pay my share for them. But I accept that continuing to live in the US is better than the alternatives despite that drawback. In particular, I am aware that other folks are paying their share for some services I get disproportionate use from.

Obviously, we should make what incremental improvements we can in fairly assigning costs. But there are plenty of situations where a perfectly fair assignment is not possible, and all we can do is make an effort at approximation. The fact that immigration is one such situation is not a valid objection to immigration policy change, and I'm confident 98%+ of other Americans will agree with me on this.

In all seriousness, I would like to see your <2% minority found a state that makes its best effort at implementing the principle you describe; I'd even be interested in assisting such an effort. But that is not relevant to the immigration question today.

"... when we refuse to enforce the immigration laws they vote for, that is a subversion of our political process."

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Again, you are welcome to work on founding a thoroughly libertarian state; but don't blame the rest of us for actually giving a damn about America's strength and trying to do what we can within the American political system.

 
At 9:29 AM, May 04, 2006, Blogger Paul Pennyfeather said...

dog of justice said,

"No meaningful right of free association exists without some ability to exclude."

Thank you for introducing to this debate an essential libertarian principle, without which a society based (even nominally) or private property could not exist. Private property along the border is the first victim unrestricted immigration. Freedom of association is the second. There will be much more as the demographics turn.

Moreover, one of the worst offenses a libertarian can commit (it seems to me) is to be fuzzy on the economics. I'm just not getting the picture here.

It is a given that those who impose costs on others, through the State, are guilty of theft. If you are forced by the State to pay (in any amoount) my way, you have a justifiable grevience (or so we liberatarians are supposed to think).

Therefore, anything that increases this scheme, as illegal immigration does, would seem to also be worthy of condemnation. And just how do sales taxes, etc. make up for the horrendous costs in health care premiums, prisons, the publik skook sistem, etc. that are imposed upon us? I've never seen the numbers crunched on this, but my sense is that the assumption that illegals "pay their way" is fantasy. It won't do to say that some citizens don't pay their way, as illegal immigration only increases the bad.

DON'T MISUNDERSTAND: I have nothing against them. They are, for the most part, hard-working, Catholic, and family oriented, as am I. I'm certain they are preferable to many of the people who already live here. But that's not really the point.

Besides, didn't someone named Friedman (Milton) once explain, in great detail, that illegal immigration and the welfare state cannot coexist?

 
At 9:30 AM, May 04, 2006, Blogger Paul Pennyfeather said...

dog of justice said,

"No meaningful right of free association exists without some ability to exclude."

Thank you for introducing to this debate an essential libertarian principle, without which a society based (even nominally) or private property could not exist. Private property along the border is the first victim unrestricted immigration. Freedom of association is the second. There will be much more as the demographics turn.

Moreover, one of the worst offenses a libertarian can commit (it seems to me) is to be fuzzy on the economics. I'm just not getting the picture here.

It is a given that those who impose costs on others, through the State, are guilty of theft. If you are forced by the State to pay (in any amoount) my way, you have a justifiable grevience (or so we liberatarians are supposed to think).

Therefore, anything that increases this scheme, as illegal immigration does, would seem to also be worthy of condemnation. And just how do sales taxes, etc. make up for the horrendous costs in health care premiums, prisons, the publik skook sistem, etc. that are imposed upon us? I've never seen the numbers crunched on this, but my sense is that the assumption that illegals "pay their way" is fantasy. It won't do to say that some citizens don't pay their way, as illegal immigration only increases the bad.

DON'T MISUNDERSTAND: I have nothing against them. They are, for the most part, hard-working, Catholic, and family oriented, as am I. I'm certain they are preferable to many of the people who already live here. But that's not really the point.

Besides, didn't someone named Friedman (Milton) once explain, in great detail, that illegal immigration and the welfare state cannot coexist?

 
At 9:31 AM, May 04, 2006, Blogger Paul Pennyfeather said...

Sorry I posted twice. The verification thing asked me to re-enter. Maybe on the second reading it will make more sense :)

 
At 5:22 PM, May 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

DOJ wrote "One billion, by the way, is roughly the number of people who would want to move to America if there were no immigration restrictions at all."

That may be true (though I'd like to see a source) but I'm pretty sure that the number of people who actually would come here with open borders is quite a bit smaller than one billion, once you factor in the cost of getting here and the limited number of jobs that don't require knowledge of English.

 
At 1:41 AM, May 05, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

DOJ,

"Thought experiment -- what would happen to America if one billion of the world's poor and unskilled moved in over the next year?"

Not a problem if property rights are secure.

And if they're not then that's your problem, not immigrants.

 
At 6:12 PM, May 05, 2006, Blogger John T. Kennedy said...

David,

"John T. Kennedy argues that the morally right thing is whatever is in my interest. He is, of course, free to follow that morality if he wishes. I, as it happens, think that benefitting other people, while not obligatory, is on the whole good thing to do, ceteris paribus."

I still can't figure out what you mean by "ceteris paribus" here. If one course of action benefits me more than another then in what sense are all other things equal?

 
At 8:30 AM, May 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi.

Unfortunately, the specific type of talk show was undisclosed. I think that it is almost pointless to overly analyze an example proposed by just about any host of a phone-in talk show. Even interview political talk shows tend to produce a lot of ill conceived commentary.

As for the specific example, the information provided is on the face of it incomplete as the illegal in question may be holding a group of illegals in some sort of slave-like relationship. While you can also argue that his slaves need the work and the owner needs their work, you cam easily find yourself in effect arguing for the fugitive slave law. Of course, as a gedanken experiement, you can brush this issue aside, but as a real experiement it is much more difficult to do so.

I believe that there are several fundamental problems. One is whether or not the United States should have an immigration policy at all. We all know that sufficiently motivated and financed individuals will attempt to enter the country illegally and that some of them will succeed on a statistical basis.

Another problem is whether or not there should be Labor Law and Labor based taxes. We have heard all sorts of assertions that the illegals are paying their taxes. This is an unverifiable assertion. Further, it is one which we have good reasons to disbelieve. The only taxs which we are reasonably certain that they are paying is sales and use taxes which are collected at the point of the transaction in question. Further, we have good reason to suspect that some employers are avoiding paying FICA, Unemployment and other labor related taxes on these people.

Incidentally, those using forged social security numbers can be injuring others if they are filing their taxes. While it might appear beneficial to have additional FICA witholdings, these individuals might also be pushing the legitimate owner of the social security number they are using into a higher tax bracket thereby putting them at risk to audit.

Thus far, I have heard of no reliable study of forged social security numbers. I suppose that there are several ways to use forged papers to obtain a unique number from the government. But, I suspect that some people are at some point simply forging numbers. I suspect that a study of forged numbers might reveal a bit about actual tax compliance.

Regardless, if you know that you are employing an illegal alien, it is probably in your advantage to tell them that you are collecting and paying their taxes, that they have no other tax liability and are in a no-filing status, and simply keep the money yourself.

Basically, I think that illegal immigration is most strongly a tax and labour issue and that the employers who are dodging tax and labour laws are those who should be subject to criminal prosecution. I would even make it beneficial for illegal immegrants to report their employers by:

1) Giving illegals who have been in the country x years a permit to work in the country for x more years with completely legal temporary status. Those whose age exceeds say 55 after the expiration of this period would receive permanent residency permits upon reaching the age of 55, but not an automatic path to citizenship. This allows them the option to retire near their children who are often citizens.

2) Giving illegals a cash benefit equal to at least all differential pay in comparison to minimum wage and all applicable taxes not collected from the employer. The employer would of course be fined in considerable excess of this figure.

Solveig

 
At 11:40 PM, May 06, 2006, Blogger David Friedman said...

Solveig writes:

"Giving illegals a cash benefit equal to at least all differential pay in comparison to minimum wage and all applicable taxes not collected from the employer. The employer would of course be fined in considerable excess of this figure."

This gets us back to my initial point--one ought not to identify "illegal" with "wrong." Why should you penalize an employer who pays less than the minimum wage to an employee willing to work for less than the minimum wage?

 
At 9:29 PM, May 08, 2006, Anonymous trumpit said...

It's clear from your post that you have a heart as well as a brain. If more people in positions of wealth and power thought and acted like you do then there'd be little need for redistribution of wealth. Last figure I heard was that the top 1% of the population has as much wealth as the bottom 40%. Now that strikes me as defective and sick. Apparently, rich and powerful people don't think or act like you do. So, I'm still in favor of spreading the great wealth of this country around. Grown adults can scrounge around in the trash for something to eat, but should their kids have to? They are the next generation for goodness sakes. Self-interest is one thing, piggish selfishness is quite another.

 
At 12:09 PM, May 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The truth is that if anything we are mooching off the "illegals":
http://www.strike-the-root.com/61/walker/walker1.html

Of course if it were legal for them to work, most of the problems that do exist would be solved... except the "problem" of finding someone other than Congress to blame for high taxes and a bad economy.

 

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