Thursday, August 11, 2016

If You Care More About Blocking Immigrants' Access to Welfare Than Reducing Welfare in General, You're Neo-Malthusian, Not Capitalist

Stuart K. Hayashi

 Insofar as people favor restricting immigration on the basis that they hold zero confidence that their political economy can support that many people, they are necessarily a neo-Malthusian. Yes, that even applies -- especially applies -- if those detractors against open immigration claim to value the free market and to reject the welfare state.

No Increase in a Population’s Size Is Big Enough to Destroy a Market Economy 
 The reason I say that is this: a truly sustainable model of political economy is one that can support an indefinitely large number of people. A market economy has shown itself capable of sustaining a growing population.

If the population grows at a rate that exceeds the rate at which food can be produced, the price of food increases and this incentivizes entrepreneurs to find methods of producing more food. When more food is available on the market, the real (inflation-adjusted) price goes down again.

If there is not enough land to produce more food, land rents increase. That incentivizes entrepreneurs like Karl Bosch, Cyrus McCormick, and John Deere to develop cheaper methods of producing more food on less land. Once those cheaper methods allows more food to be grown on less land, land rents decrease again.

If it comes to housing -- if there are too many people on not enough land, that incentivizes entrepreneurs to improve the carrying capacity of land -- hence, when land prices went up, such entrepreneurs as William LeBaron Jenney, Henry Clay Frick, Elisha Graves Otis, and Willis Haviland Carrier made skyscrapers possible. Skyscrapers allowed for more people to be housed on the same amount of land; land prices (in real, inflation-adjusted terms) decreased. There is no population size too large for a market economy to handle in the long term.

But in the Zero-Sum Game of the Welfare State, Shouldn’t We Side With Native-Borns Over Immigrants? 
 The typical rejoinder to this is, "But we're not a market economy anymore. We are a mixed-economy welfare state. Now immigrants can come and infest our tax-funded schools, use our tax-funded hospitals, and drive on our tax-funded roads. They will deplete everything, rendering the welfare state unsustainable."

What that rejoinder ignores is that the welfare state would continue to be completely unsustainable if there were zero immigration. Were immigration reduced to zero, the welfare state would persist in disincentivizing productivity. Were immigration reduced to zero, the population could have net increases in size if people kept living longer and the death rate dropped. Thus, instead of blaming immigration or other additions to the population's size for making the welfare state unsustainable, you should blame the welfare state itself for making the welfare state unsustainable. 

 If there were no immigration, the welfare state would still collapse upon itself, albeit at a slower rate.

 Were it the case that immigrants were a net drain on the welfare state's coffers -- and that claim is actually dubious -- that would merely mean we would have to face reality sooner rather than later.

It is not the case that the welfare state would be sustainable if not for immigrants being a net drain on it. What many people understand, deep down, is that the welfare state is unsustainable by its nature, and is in for a reckoning.  They blame immigrants to the degree that they believe that the immigrants will make us face this reality sooner rather than later. Too many of us want to believe that if it were not for immigrants, we could go on obliviously pretending that we and our children and grandchildren would not have to worry about the welfare state's self-destruction.

In this respect, the welfare state is an addict. The addict will tell you that you are kind if you give him his next "fix" and help him pretend that his situation is fine and that he is not due for any sort of rude awakening. Conversely, if you refrain from enabling him and let him go through withdrawal -- let him his rock-bottom sooner -- the addict and his army of sycophants will cal you mean-spirited and cruel. But we know that, in the long run, the kindest route is to allow the addict to face the consequences of his poor choices much sooner rather than later, not helping to delay the inevitable. 

 Insofar as a man says that immigration should be restricted on the basis that immigrants deplete the welfare state's coffers at a rate faster than it otherwise would be depleted, that man is disingenuous when he calls himself a critic or detractor of the welfare state. To try to preserve the welfare state's coffers, by blocking immigrants' access to them, is not to let the  addict face what needs to be faced;  it is to be an enabler ensuring that the addict will still be able to get his next few fixes in the near future.

To Block Immigration to Stop Them From Accessing Welfare Is Not to Oppose Welfare But to Conceal Dorian Gray’s Portrait
Recall the story of Dorian Gray. The man remains young and beautiful as he grows old and increasingly performs evil. As this goes on, all of the depravity and corruption appears on a portrait of him -- the ugliness of the portrait represents the ugliness accumulating in Dorian Gray's soul. In time, Dorian Gray hates to look at the portrait, because he does not want to confront the what his choices have made of him. He does not want to contemplate the unpleasant reality.

Were it the case that immigrants were causing the welfare state's coffers to drain at a rate faster than they would otherwise be drained, those immigrants would not be changing the nature of the welfare state; they would simply be showing us its logical conclusion at a date earlier than was expected. That is, they would be helping us face reality sooner rather than later. They would be helping Dorian Gray take a look at his own portrait.

If you block immigrants' access to welfare while preserving that same welfare for the native-born, you are doing nothing to combat the welfare state. You are doing nothing to liberalize the economy and doing nothing to help people keep their private earnings. You are not standing up for anyone’s private property rights on principle. You are not opposing, on principle, the government’s compulsory extractions of wealth from people. You are simply an enabler to Dorian Gray, helping him to avoid looking at his portrait for another day.

Worse, you are violating my private property rights. If I invite a foreigner to come onto my private estate peaceably, and this person agrees to stay on my private estate peaceably, we are not harming anyone else’s person or private property . . . even if that foreigner makes the trip without having gotten permission from the U.S. federal government in the form of a visa. Yet enforcing restrictions on immigration would entail that armed federal agents invade my private parcel and manhandle this peaceful foreigner.

That is what, in practice, advocates of immigration restriction are calling for, and I am incensed that this governmental overreach is advocated under the guise of some sort of free-markters’ defense of private property against the welfare state. Anti-immigrationists who pretend to love the free market are a Dorian Gray, too, and holding up the portrait to them means reminding them that they are the ones begging the government to initiate the use of physical force on peaceful people.

The real test of how sustainable a model of political economy -- be it a constitutional liberal republican Night Watchman State or a welfare entitlement state -- is in the long term is whether it is able to support a growing population, regardless of how it grows or the rate of growth.  If a society must forcibly restrict the size of its population -- be it through immigration restriction or a one-child-per-family policy -- to remain "sustainable," then its model of political economy is not sustainable at all; period.

If someone objects more to immigrants accessing welfare than he objects to the welfare being accessible to anyone, then his main gripe is not with the welfare per se.  By contrast, we principled free-marketers understand that a system that pays welfare exclusively to the native-born is no more sustainable in the long run than a system that pays welfare to the native-born and foreign-born alike.Those who would block immigrants' access to welfare simply to ensure that the native-born will continue receive first dibs on that welfare spending in the coming decades, are not helping us to fight the ill effects of the welfare state but instead are working to preserve those ill effects for future generations.

To the degree that a welfare state pits immigrants against the native-born in a zero-sum competition over who gets more tax-funded loot, those of us who are native-born should stop scapegoating the immigrants, and turn our disapproval to the politicians who imposed and continue to impose this corrupt situation on us in the first place.  Thus, in lieu of scapegoating the foreign-born for destroying a system that would destroy itself if the foreign-born were altogether absent, let us work to dismantle the self-destructive system and replace it with voluntary charity and productive for-profit enterprise.