Advertisements

The Occasional Re-Thinking About Immigration

Wednesday’s news included an actual policy proposal, for a change, and for another change we found ourselves siding with President Donald Trump. The issue is a Trump-backed Senate bill that would significantly alter America’s legal immigration policies, so despite our support it’s likely to be controversial.
The Senate bill would halve the million green cards that grant permanent residency rights to immigrants every year, award the remaining number on a “points system” that rewards English proficiency and high levels of education and marketable skills, tightens the rules regarding family members following, as well as restricting immigration from certain countries almost altogether. There are strong arguments to be made for all of it, without any appeal to nativist or xenophobic passions, and for the most part Trump made them well enough during a Wednesday speech.
The un-repealable laws of economics dictate that expanding the labor supply faster than demand for it lowers the price it is paid, and Trump rightly and shrewdly noted that black and hispanic workers are proportionally even more affected by than white and Asian workers. We’ll leave it to our privately-schooled readers to calculate what small percentage a mere one million green cards annually makes on a population of 325 million Americans, but even our publicly-educated selves know that after 50 years of it there are now some 50 million foreign-born residents in the country, and you don’t have to be a Trump enthusiast to worry how it affects the broader culture, which Trump wisely didn’t go on about it.
We’ve never shared the left’s opinion that the white working class is a bunch of a knuckle-dragging racists who’ve been itching since the Civil Rights Acts of ’65 for some Republican demagogue’s dog-whistle to start lynching all the darker folk, but neither have we ever accepted their assurances that you can annually bring millions of non-English-speaking and low-skilled and rootless people from very different cultures into the Trump precincts without some unpleasant social disruptions. Our weekly commerce includes very pleasant interactions with a family of Laotian immigrants who sell the cheapest beer in town, Mexican immigrants who bake the city’s best and most reasonably-price doughnuts, some Chinese immigrants who sell drive-through Kung Pao Chicken at a price so low we’re almost embarrassed to pay it, and our social circle of friends includes a charming Bolivian playboy and a delightfully bawdy English wench who are now fellow American citizens, but immigration has been an undeniably mixed bag of results.
Economics is almost as complicated as culture, however, and the bill’s opponents also make some credible arguments. For better or worse America as we know it today began with a wave of European immigrants who wound up disrupting not only the lives of the natives but also the European powers they rebelled against, and the country’s economic and cultural fortunes were greatly enhanced by massive immigration waves prior to the Civil War and the First World War, and that the third wave which began just prior to the Vietnam War has for the most part proved a similar boon. By now foreigners are as American as apple pie, and the left is trotting out that tear-jerking Emma Lazarus poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty and all the old black-and-white-movie success stories about plucky immigrants, and we’ll have to see how Trump counters all that corny Americana without appeal to nativist and xenophobic passions.
One of the most un-repealable laws of economics is that things change, though, so those past success stories about immigration require some reexamination. The first wave of mass legal immigration came at a time when the American economy was shifting from an agrarian to an industrial model and needed to fill a rapidly-expanding economy’s demand for unskilled labor, and needed to find soldiers to fight the agrarian and slave-holding states of the rebellious south in a bloody Civil War. The second wave came just as the country was approaching both economic and cultural preeminence among the industrialized powers, and could make use of all the unskilled labor and genius physicists and future black-and-white movie moguls and other creative types who were pouring in. The third wave has persisted through the past 50 years of ups and downs in the economy, probably having something to do with both swings, and it’s made undeniable contributions the country’s culture and our weekly commerce, but has also caused some social undeniable social disruptions.
At this point the country is quite rapidly shifting from an industrial model to some sort of high-tech and talking-robot post-industrial economy and a starkly post-modern kind of culture, so it seems reasonable to re-think the nation’s legal immigration policies accordingly. The Senate bill favors the Albert Einsteins and Nikolai Teslas and Andrew Carnegies whose exceedingly high skills did so much to enrich America during the previous waves of mass immigration, restricts the entrance of the workers in the lower-skilled ranks that have not seen any economic gains for most of the past 50 years, and offers benefits to such a diverse group of people that it really doesn’t require any appeals to nativist or xenophobic passions.
There’s no telling what great and transformative ideas the Senate bill might wind up excluding from the American culture, of course, but at this point the country could probably survive a brief respite in its economic and cultural evolution. The first two waves of mass legal immigration were followed by a pause to to get all the economic and social disruptions settled, and there’s a case to be made we could use another one after the past 50 years of the third. The left celebrates those first two waves even as they grouse that it was almost entirely white folks from European countries with certain ethnic and religious and cultural similarities to native-born Americans, and they rightly note that the Asian minorities who trickled in on the second wave and poured in on the third have mostly proved model citizens, but things change.
In the first and second and even third waves the immigrants were cut off from their ancestral cultures, forced to assimilate to some functional degree with the broader culture, but the current wave remains connected by wire-exchange and the internet and the permission of the cultural left to the cultural values of their homeland. By now some of those immigrants are coming from cultures where most people are openly hostile to the values of America and the broader West, and you don’t have to be at all nativist or xenophobic to worry about that. All in all, the Senate bill has some strong arguments.
We wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Trump and the rest of the Republicans lose that argument, though. Even the Rust Belt’s Democrats and the ones from the most nativist and xenophobic black districts won’t sign on, and the business lobby with its preference for an ever-expanding labor supply still holds enough sway in the Republican party to peel off at least a few congressional votes, and we can easily imagine Trump resorting to some dog-whistled appeal to nativist and xenophobic passions that puts it beyond the pale of polite discussion. Trump’s lately claiming credit for ┬ásuch a booming economy that a low-skilled labor shortage seems imminent, too, which further complicates the discussion.
The left will also rightly note that the Senate bill leaves intact the low-skilled visa program that Trump’s still-wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago resort relies on for maid and janitorial services, and that Trump has long relied on immigrants to build his buildings and be his wife, and that he can’t credibly claim to be not all nativistic or xenophobic. That doesn’t reflect on the Senate’s bill and is no way to make policy decisions, of course, but here we are.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

At Least You Can’t Call It Trumpcare

The Senate’s Republicans unveiled their plan for America’s health care on Thursday, and although it’s an admirably short 142 pages there’s a lot consider about the policy and political implications. As President Donald Trump once infamously said, “Who knew health care could be so complicated?”
The policy implications alone will take weeks of debate among people who actually have some idea what they’re talking about to sort out, but the previously unannounced bill is currently scheduled for a vote early next week. So far as we can tell from the news reports that concern themselves with the boring policy stuff, the Senate Republicans’ repeal and replaces some elements of the existing unpopular Obamacare law, differs somewhat from the even more unpopular bill that was passed by the House of Representatives’ Republicans, and will predictably leave some people better off and others worse off. Calculating how likely it is that this all comes out according to the greatest good to the greatest number of people is pretty damned complicated, as even the most greenhorn politician by now knows, and it looks as if we’ll just have to wait until we’re old and sick and to see how all that turns out,
We like to think ourselves far more savvy about the political implications of any given policy, but in this case that’s also pretty darned complicated. That unpopular Obamacare law has been the metaphorical Moby Dick to the Republicans’ Captain Ahab ever since the Democrats took momentary advantage of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and a Democratic president to force the hated legislation down the throats of a reluctant American populace without a single Republican vote. Now there’s a momentary majority of Republicans in the House and Senate and a Republican in the White, so that unpopular Obamacare should be right in the aim of the Republicans’ harpoon, but it’s unlikely they’ll join to pass and unpopular bill of their own.
So far as we can tell both the House and Senate bills allow people to choose a wider range of policy options from a more competitive insurance market, and after a couple of years they’ll let the rest of the country free from paying the subsidies to government-created high risk markets, which is fine with our free-market sensibilities. After that, though, hey’ll also cut loose the beneficiaries of those markets, some of whom voted a straight Republican ticket last time around, and we’re not sure hot they’ll take it.. Planned Parenthood won’t receive any funds for a year, which the right will love and the left will loathe, and certain insurance industry subsidies will continue for a while and a lot of spending will eventually be spent at the state level, and there’s something for every conservative Republican to hate and something that every liberal Democrat will have to admit could have been worse.
Which makes it a tough news cycle for the Republicans. As hated as the Obamacare still is, and well deserves to be, the Republican alternatives from both the House and Senate have even more unpopular. The House bill results in a tax break for wealthier Americans, which might make economic sense but is hard to explain in a headline, and there’s no getting around that some telegenically sympathetic Americans would wind up without health care and on national news as a result, so it will take a pretty noticeable decline in a lot of Americans’ insurance premiums to offset the Republicans’ public relations damage. Both the House and Senate bills retain the unsustainable rules about giving the same priced coverage to pre-existing conditions and for now provide the billions of dollars of subsidies that props that up, but no one on the left is going to give the Republicans credit for that nor acknowledge how unsustainable that will be over is the long run.
There’s a lot for an old-fashioned Republican to like in both the House and Senate bills, but there’s enough to hate that the House bill passed by despite numerous defections and the Senate bill might not get to a simple majority, and all the talk radio hosts were fuming that it wasn’t the full repeal and replacement of Obamacare that they’d been chasing after for eight long years. We’d have to see some district-level polling to decide how we’d vote if we were one of the entire House or that third of the Senate was up re-election. What with those Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate and a Republican in White House the Republicans should be able to ram anything they want down the American public’s throats in the same way the Democrats did with that damned Obamacare law, but of course that’s also complicated.
Trump ran for the president on a solemn pledge to repeal and a replacement that hated Obamacare law, but except for assurances that it would provide coverage for everyone at a far lower cost and be so great it would make your head spin he wasn’t very clear on what it would look. He spoke admiringly of Scotland’s fully nationalized health care system, seemed to endorse Canada’s slightly-less-socialized single payer system, and bragged that unlike every other Republican he wouldn’t make any cuts in in Medicaid or other entitlement programs. Unlike the previous scenario when Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and a president in the White House were ramming things down the American public’s throat, a sufficient number of traditionally conservative Republican senators are taking a principled stand and the president is going his populist ways.
Trump celebrated the passage of the House bill with a beer bash at the White House, even though he’s a tee-totaler himself and the House passing a bill isn’t even a halfway marker toward getting something done. After that budget-cutting bill was celebrated he “tweeted” that more federal money should be spent on health, and it was leaked from pretty much every traditional conservative that Trump had called the House bill “mean” in a tense meeting with the House Republicans, and it’s not yet clear how he’ll respond to a similar Republican bill,
On the night before the Senate Republicans unveiled their health care bill Trump was revving another enthusiastic campaign rally, some eight months after the campaign was supposed to have ended, Trump said he was hopeful would that it would have “heart.” A news cycle isn’t nearly long to discern Trump’s thinking, so for now we’ll have to see if the legislation as sufficient heart to satisfy Trump. All of Trump’s most strident defenders on talk radio and other outposts of the conservative media find it all too bleeding-heart, many of his voters find it potentially life-threatening, and we can only guess where Trump will wind up. We can’t imagine the Democrats seizing this golden opportunity to kiss up to Trump for that single payer system they’ve always dreamed of, or Trump abandoning that portion of the Republican party that’s all he’s got left at the moment, so we expect some desultory compromise on America’s health care.
We’ll hope that it somehow works out with that greatest good for the greatest number, and given how awful that Obamacare law was we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if something better did somehow come to pass.

— Bud Norman