The Independent Institute


“But They’re Illegal!” The Worst Argument Against Immigration

fence_MLA few weeks ago I wrote a piece titled, “An Apology to an Immigrant.” In the piece, I discussed my experience with thinking through the immigration debate, and offered sources that not only debunk many commonly-held myths regarding immigration, but also offer information on the benefits immigrants bring to the United States.

The response was about what I expected—people told me I was wrong, accused me of being a flaming lefty, etc. Many others agreed with me outright.

Some of the comments I read, however, gave me pause. It wasn’t because I agreed with them, or their sentiment made me question my position, but I was frankly shocked by their argument (or complete lack thereof). Many of the comments didn’t address my argument at all. In fact, many dissenters actually agreed with me that even illegal immigrants generate more benefits than costs!

Then came the line, “if someone is here illegally there has to be a punishment.”

My question to those who hold this line of thinking is, “why?” Why does the mere fact that something is illegal require a punishment, especially if the actions in question generate outcomes that are positive on net?

The fact that something is legal doesn’t make it moral. Nor does something being illegal make it immoral. Legal does not necessarily mean ethical. Illegal doesn’t necessarily imply unethical. For example, most would probably agree that adultery is immoral, but it’s not illegal. We might also agree that smashing out a car window on a hot day to rescue a dog inside is moral, but in many places such an act would be illegal (you’d be destroying private property).

Some argue that the fact illegal immigrants enter the country illegally is indicative of some larger criminal tendency. This is complete nonsense. Not only have countless studies debunked this myth, but this logic is positively farcical.

How many times have you j-walked across the street? What about drinking or smoking underage? Have you ever gone over the speed limit? Made an illegal turn? How about playing poker with your friends for money? Bet on a football game or joined a fantasy league with your friends? Did you fail to update your license after you moved? Remember to keep your dog or cat up to date on their license or vaccinations? Are you one of the nearly 50 percent of Americans who has illegally smoked marijuana? How about cohabitate with a member of the opposite sex? Had sex outside of marriage? Depending on the state, you could be jailed for such uncouth, illegal behavior! In fact, in the course of a given day, you probably commit three felonies.

The answer is, yes. You have done at least one, if not many of the things above. All are illegal, but you’d argue that all of these actions generated no negative consequences. In fact, you and others benefitted from many of them. They allowed you to get where you were going, enjoy time with friends, made paying bills easier by living with your significant other, and allowed you to spend time with the one you love. None of these activities are indicative of some larger criminal nature. You bet on a football game? You’re obviously going to turn in to a loan shark. Smoked pot? Call the DEA, because you’re clearly the next Pablo Escobar.

You’d say that such a logic jump is silly–and you’d be right. But this is exactly what people say about illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants break the law by crossing some imaginary line in the dirt. This doesn’t imply criminality any more than the time you rolled through a stop sign, probably while talking on your cell phone (which is also illegal in many states). The vast majority of immigrants, illegals included, come here to make their lives better and in the process lift themselves and countless others out of poverty and, oh yeah, generate benefits that we all enjoy.

The idea that, “if someone breaks the law they should be punished” has additional problems. In fact, there are provisions built into our legal system to specifically avoid punishing someone who people can look at and say, “but he broke the law!” It’s called jury nullification. In such cases, a jury can acquit a person based on the fact that they believe the law is unfair, silly, or just that the person shouldn’t be punished. They acknowledge that the person “broke the law,” but recognize that such a fact alone does not necessarily justify criminal penalties.

In debating issues of immigration, it’s important we get our facts right. When it comes to issues of criminality, “draining the system,” taking jobs, etc., countless studies have found time and again that such arguments are not only incorrect, but that the opposite is true. Immigrants, illegal and legal alike, create jobs, contribute greatly to the country to which they immigrate, and are less likely to be in jail or use public assistance than their native counterparts. Claiming that “they broke the law” as the basis for punishment should be a swan song for any immigration argument. If not, you should turn yourself in the next time you are going 40mph in a 25mph speed zone.

Freedom, Fairness, and the Transitional Gains Trap

choice_180x270During the many years I have written about liberty, among the most common criticisms I’ve encountered has been that freedom, including a free market, is unfair.

That conclusion always struck me as backward. How is a system fundamentally based on self-ownership and voluntary arrangements unfair? It certainly meets the traditional definition of justice, which is “to give each his own.” Besides, the alternatives unfairly violate self-ownership and individuals’ power to make voluntary arrangements.

How does a system that is fair get tarred as unfair? Gordon Tullock offered an important reason four decades ago, one that also explains why government is seldom able to end even obviously inefficient and unfair programs designed to benefit particular groups at the expense of virtually everyone else. He argued that a “transitional gains trap” undermines the fairness of undoing things that shouldn’t be done in the first place, leaving no fair way out.

Tullock’s main illustration involved taxi “medallions,” or permits. It remains a good illustration, in that current melees about Uber largely originate in his trap. Here’s how it works.

Happy Birthday, US Department of Education...Now Go Away

DeparmentOfEducationLogoNext month marks the 36th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Department of Education.

Proponents insisted that such a department would improve federal education spending efficiency as well as student achievement. Opponents countered that there is scant (if any) evidence that increasing federal control over education would achieve either.

Turns out, they were right.

Focusing on just elementary and secondary education, on-budget federal education appropriations increased more than 490 percent in real terms between fiscal years 1965 and 2014, from $13.5 billion to $80.1 billion.

Meanwhile, elementary and secondary enrollment increased by about only 30 percent over the same period, from 42.2 million students to 55 million students (see here and here).

The Fed’s Interest Rate Hike Is Overdue

FederalReserveI am not the only one who thinks the Federal Reserve should have raised its target federal funds rate at its September 17 meeting, as they suggested they would do months ago, although opinion was mixed on whether the Fed would raise the rate, and whether it should.

The Fed is holding the federal funds rate near zero, which is holding all interest rates down. The argument is that the economy is still showing weakness so the low rate is needed to shore up a sagging economy.

First, let’s look at the facts. The Fed has been holding interest rates down since 2008, and the federal funds rate has been near zero (below 0.2%) since 2009.

Now, let’s look at the Fed’s argument. They have been holding interest rates down for well over half a decade now to stimulate the economy, and it hasn’t worked. So, they are going to keep trying that same policy that has not worked in the past.

Clinton’s Pitching $350 Billion in “Free” College

College_AnimalHouseEarlier this month we learned that the Class of 2015 posted the lowest SAT college entrance exam scores in more than 40 years. Yet Hillary Clinton says college is an entitlement—not an opportunity that’s earned.

Clinton will host a community forum today on college affordability in Durham, New Hampshire. We’ll recall that last month Clinton unveiled her “New College Compact,” stating:

College is supposed to help people achieve their dreams, but more and more paying for college actually pushes those dreams further and further out of reach...That is a betrayal of everything college is supposed to represents [sic].

Under Clinton’s compact the federal government would “incentivize” the states to offer “no-loan tuition at four-year public colleges and universities” through grants.

Higher education should be a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it,” according to a video promoting Clinton’s plan.

Along with her promise of debt-free four-year degrees, Clinton is also pledging to make two-year community college degrees “free.”

So how much is all this “free” going to cost? Approximately $350 billion over the next 10 years.

Some Constitution Day Reflections about Government’s Role in Education

ConstitutionSquareToday is the 228th anniversary of the signing of our Constitution—not that you’d know it from most news headlines. The big story today is yesterday’s Republican presidential debate. The headline from Politico grabbed my attention for lamenting that education was a “no-show”:

Education didn’t just take a backseat during [last] night’s GOP presidential debate—it wasn’t invited along for the ride. There were zero questions about education over the course of the second, three-hour debate hosted by CNN. And none of the Republican candidates focused on the issue in any substantial way.

Rather than lamenting, we should be celebrating.

Presidents have no business meddling in K-12 curricula through Common Core (see here and here), interfering with parents’ preschool and child care choices (see here and here), or micromanaging our higher education options (see here, here, and here).

Ronald Coase and the Battle of Breastfeeding

momPeople pay to make them bigger and smaller and there is an entire store in the mall dedicated to them. Every year, thousands of people walk to cure them of cancer. If there are 7 billion people in the world, this means about 3.5 billion people have them. What am I talking about?

Today, I’m talking about boobs.

For something so common, it seems like this part of the body generates a lot of controversy. If you don’t believe me, ask people to talk about Super Bowl halftime shows. I’d bet within five minutes someone mentions “Nipplegate,” referring to 2004 Super Bowl halftime show in which Janet Jackson (with an assist from recording artist Justin Timberlake) had her nipple exposed for less than a second on live TV. Pandemonium ensued.

What came to be known as the world’s most famous “wardrobe malfunction” isn’t the only time an exposed breast has caused problems. It seems as though at least once a week I come across a story online or on television regarding breastfeeding in public. Every time the story is the same, a woman is asked to cover up while feeding an infant in public, takes to the internet to share her grievance, and comment thread chaos ensues (see here, here, and here for examples).

Is China Really Crashing?

ChinaWe seem to be panicking about China’s economy. Let’s pause and look at some of the facts.

First, consider the short-term concerns that sent shock waves across the world. Unlike the United States, where very developed capital markets are connected to the economy at large, in China the linkage is less strong. Even so, what has really happened to the stock market over there? The Shanghai Composite Index has dropped from 5,166 in June of this year to 3,005 as I write this—about 40 percent. But the index was at 2,059 in July of 2014, when the crazy bull market started, which means it is still more than 50 percent above where it was a bit more than a year ago! Many retail investors who knew little about investing were encouraged to put their money in stocks and use considerable leverage in the process, which caused the stock market to overheat. Things are gradually steadying.

Another short-term concern has been the devaluation of the Chinese currency. China allowed the renminbi to drop from 6.2 to 6.4 against the U.S. dollar. But today it is at 6.36, altogether a very small devaluation if we compare this with the average exchange rate in the first few months of 2015. On the other hand, the devaluation of the renminbi against other currencies such as the euro entails a simple correction: because of the strengthening of the dollar, the renminbi, which to a large extent had been shadowing the greenback, had risen against other currencies—so China let the value drop. But it is still stronger against the euro than it was a year ago.

British National Health Service Stops Paying for Lifesaving Drugs

senior-health-care_squareBritain’s government-monopoly (single-payer) health plan, the National Health Service (NHS), has announced plans to stop paying for the most innovative, lifesaving drugs:

More than 5,000 cancer patients will be denied life-extending drugs under plans which charities say are a “dreadful” step backwards for the NHS.

Health officials have just announced sweeping restrictions on treatment, which will mean patients with breast, bowel, skin and pancreatic cancer will no longer be able to receive drugs funded by the NHS.

In total, 17 cancer drugs for 25 different indications will no longer be paid for in future.

Charities said the direction the health service was heading in could set progress back by centuries.

The Cancer Drugs Fund was launched in 2011, following a manifesto pledge by David Cameron, who said patients should no longer be denied drugs on cost grounds.

Drugs which will no longer be funded include Kadcyla for advanced breast cancer, Avastin for many bowel and breast cancer patients, Revlimid and Imnovid for multiple myeloma, and Abraxane, the first treatment for pancreatic cancer in 17 years.

(Laura Donnelly, “Thousands of Cancer Patients to be Denied Treatment,” The Telegraph, September 4, 2015)

U.S. Has Less Economic Freedom than Chile, Jordan, or Taiwan

Today the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, Canada, released the 2015 Economic Freedom of the World Report (pdf) and it’s bad news for the United States, where economic freedom is falling. The U.S. ranks only 16th in economic freedom trailing Chile, Jordan, and Taiwan.

The EFW Report measures the level of economic freedom in 157 countries by gathering country-specific data on 42 distinct variables in five broad categories: (1) size of government, i.e., taxes and spending; (2) legal structure and security of property rights; (3) access to sound money; (4) freedom to trade internationally; and (5) regulation of credit, labor, and business.

Researchers James Gwartney, Robert Lawson, and Joshua Hall crunched the numbers (here is the master data file) and found that Hong Kong and Singapore once again occupy the top two positions. The other nations in the top 10 are New Zealand, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Mauritius, Jordan, Ireland, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Venezuela is in last place.

A 16th-place ranking might not sound bad, but the U.S. once ranked 2nd and has trended downward consistently since 2000. The EFW Report concludes: “Nowhere has the reversal of the rising [global] trend in economic freedom been more evident than in the United States.”

Today Chile, Georgia, Jordan, Qatar, and Taiwan have more economic freedom than the United States. The U.S. is now only slightly ahead of Armenia and Romania.