ROBERT ZUBRIN, BOULDER, COLORADO.
To recover its sanity, the GOP must reject not only Trump, but Trumpism.
As President Biden pushes to liberalize America’s immigration laws, Republicans are predictably mobilizing to stop him. This is a mistake.
Anti-immigration is anti-free enterprise. It is counter to Jewish and Christian moral traditions. It is directly opposed to the founding proposition of the Declaration of Independence, and contrary to the tradition that built America. Anti-immigration is clearly not a conservative position. What then is it?
Friedrich Hayek’s classic analysis of collectivism, The Road to Serfdom, correctly diagnoses anti-immigration as a policy orientation. Hitler’s insight, in Hayek’s view, was to see there was no contradiction between socialism and nationalism. To the contrary, Hitler—like Stalin and subsequent left-wing tyrants—grasped that tribalism must be invoked to mobilize passion for a collectivist agenda, and thus formulated national socialism. This was to be a uniquely effective and lethal form of socialism, for it was based on blood instincts, not philosophical constructs.
Donald Trump is not, and has never been, a conservative. Donald Trump is a national socialist demagogue. That is not to say that Trump is a Nazi. He certainly is not. But he is a fruit of the same rotten tree.
A rotten tree cannot bear good fruit.
Conservatives horrified by the total wreckage made of their movement must ask themselves how this was accomplished. What was the poison that transformed the party of Reagan into party of Trump? Anti-immigration was the poison.
I was an alternate delegate to the April 2016 convention of the Colorado Republican Party. Ted Cruz addressed the convention, as did former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, representing John Kasich, and Stephen Miller representing Trump. Cruz gave a speech calling for deregulation. Sununu called for moderation. Then Miller spoke. He claimed he had in his hand a letter from the parents of a boy who had been killed by illegal immigrants, then another from the parents of a girl who had been raped and murdered by a gang of illegal immigrants. He went on and on in this blood-curdling manner for fifteen minutes, climaxing with, “And why is this happening? It is happening because your political representatives in Washington have been bought by international bankers who do not care about people like you!”
The crowd was stunned. A conservative Christian Cruz supporter sitting nearby turned to me and said, “He is trying to bring out the worst in people.” Precisely so. The fundamental basis of the Trump campaign was bringing out the worst in people, using the proven method of xenophobic demagoguery. It succeeded.
In shouting about Mexican rapists and the like, Trump’s purpose was never to address immigration policy. It was to fog Republicans’ brains. That said, there are issues concerning immigration that need to be addressed rationally. So let’s look at the problem systematically to determine what immigration policy might actually be best for America.
In any economy, the entire population is supported by the fraction that is working. All other things being equal, it follows that the most attractive possible acquisition for a society is a young adult, one whose childhood and education have already been paid for, but whose entire working life still lies ahead. In other words, the typical immigrant.
All other things are not equal. Those with more skills are greater prizes, as they cost more to create and are likely to be more productive in life. So it is absurd to deny young foreigners who graduate from American universities a path to citizenship. Rather than reducing their numbers, we should seek to increase them. This logic remains valid for young adults of lesser eminence but above-average prospects, including but not limited to those serving in the military and high-school graduates accepted by a college. In fact, it is valid for anyone who seeks to take advantage of America’s economic freedoms and contribute. We should not banish any such person to their countries of origin. In seeking to set up an eight-year process to legalize the young people who grew up in America after being brought here illegally, Biden is doing exactly the right thing, not only morally, but economically.
Labor protectionists argue otherwise. Immigrants will take away scarce jobs, they say, echoing Trump’s claim that “America is full.” But as every conservative should know, this is pure nonsense.
Where do labor protectionists imagine jobs come from? Are they a fixed resource, with only so many to go around? Were there 150 million jobs here when the Pilgrims landed, but now they are all taken? Are presently-high rates of American unemployment caused by overpopulation? No, jobs are not a resource that exists separately from people. Jobs are created by people. Immigrants are famously entrepreneurial: They constitute 13 percent of the American population but own 18 percent of small businesses. Recent studies show that immigrants powered 30 percent of the growth of US small businesses in the past two decades. As a whole they are net job creators; recent creations include Intel, SpaceX, Google, eBay, Nvidia, and Yahoo. We need more people like this.
Furthermore, the idea that by excluding immigrant talent from the US workforce we can prevent it from competing with Americans is risible. By excluding skilled or educated foreigners, we guarantee they will compete with American workers and businesses. They’ll just do so from other countries, depriving us of the jobs, industrial capabilities, and tax revenue they would have created here. All of this will be created elsewhere, instead, and America’s position in the world market will be further eroded. By giving up the effort to compete for this talent without a fight, we effectively build a Berlin Wall for the benefit of our foreign competitors. We allow them to retain a skilled workforce without making the concessions to liberty and living standards competition for this talent would force upon them.
Some opponents of immigration object to American universities’ financing themselves by charging out-of state tuition to foreign students. But why? Foreign students who come to the US and pay triple the tuition of their American counterparts subsidize our educational system. If we added the incentive of a green card to the degree, their numbers would expand considerably, bringing down the cost of education significantly for all Americans.
Education is not the only area where Americans could reap enormous savings by rejecting the arguments of the labor protectionists. Health care would benefit, too. Because of the limited numbers of American medical-school graduates, many specialist doctors are currently taking home salaries above US$ 400,000 per year. That may be nice for them, but it imposes high medical-care costs on everyone else. These costs are typically passed on, via health insurance, to employers, making American industry less competitive internationally, which contributes to unemployment. Furthermore, because specialist salaries are so high, they attract doctors away from providing primary care, and thereby strip many Americans—whether insured or not—of access to timely medical assistance. These problems could be readily solved by opening our doors wider to foreign medical talent. In the midst of a pandemic where we desperately need every doctor, nurse, and paramedic we can find, why would we want to do anything else?
Very well, say some, let’s admit educated foreigners, but what about Mexican laborers? Do we need them, too? You bet we do. Currently, over half of US farm workers are illegal immigrants from Mexico. American agriculture simply could not function without them. True, they are breaking the law, but if they didn’t, we’d have no food. So where does the problem lie—with the illegals, or with the system that makes it illegal for people to do good and necessary work?
Let’s consider this problem by imagining a country—perhaps the United States, in the not-too-distant future—where the federal bureaucracy intrudes itself into the hiring process of all companies. For the purpose of assuring fairness, or some other noble goal, the government demands several years’ worth of paperwork from employers to legally approve their private hiring decisions. Say you’re a businessman living under this regime. You’re running a company that must respond to market conditions with frequent, timely hiring. What would you do? Clearly, you’d evade the overweening bureaucracy by hiring people off the books—paying them as consultants or engaging in other tricks. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t stay in business. People might denounce you for giving American jobs to illegal workers, but if you and your employees failed to do what you had to do to function, despite the bureaucracy, your company would provide neither jobs nor goods.
This isn’t a dystopian fantasy. It’s essentially the situation American farmers and farm workers face today. The problem isn’t illegal farm workers, who are willing to work long hours in the hot sun to put food on our tables. It’s the dysfunctional federal immigration bureaucracy, which fails to do its job of swiftly and efficiently processing entry and work permits for people who wish to come to the United States for mutually beneficial purposes. That’s the problem a Republican immigration policy needs to fix, not support.
Boosters of our current system, one characterized by bureaucratic over-regulation in immigration and hiring, claim they’re defending the rule of law. Just the opposite is true. By keeping Mexican farm workers in an illegal status, they’re creating a community within the United States that can’t talk to the police, providing safe harbor for dangerous criminal elements and militating against effective law enforcement.
Since the first Thanksgiving, America’s tradition has been to welcome immigrants. It was only with the advent of the progressive movement in the early 20th century that a significant fraction of educated opinion aligned itself otherwise. Embracing eugenics and Malthusianism, and suffering from delusions of grandeur, the Progressives sought immigration restriction to control and cull the nation’s herd of human racial stock. They embraced environmentalist rent-seeking to restrict access to America’s natural resources, and they viewed the federal bureaucracy as their enforcer. The anti-immigration movement originally sprung from this group.
America is a country defined by a set of ideas. When people choose to accept those ideas, they should be able to become Americans, as fully so as any—and perhaps more so than most—no matter how recently they or their ancestors arrived on our shores. This is the true American tradition. As conservatives, we must defend it. We must not abandon our formative principles: Inclusion and growth, not exclusion and stasis. We should confidently welcome new talent, sure in our knowledge and faith that the more of us there are, the more opportunities we can create and the more great things we can do. Americans are four percent of the world’s population, but responsible for half its inventions. The world needs more Americans. So does America.
As for the argument that Republicans must oppose immigration because immigrants hate Republicans, it is contemptible. If many immigrants have come to hate Republicans, it’s because they see a Republican Party that hates them. Rather than waging a war on immigrants, conservatives should be their advocates against an overweening federal bureaucracy and their teachers in freedom. The Republican Party should be the party of the Melting Pot, helping immigrants by mobilizing civil society and religious organizations to offer free classes in English, business, civics, and American history.
The Democrats’ push for a more open immigration policy is the one area in which the self-described liberals actually are liberals, in the true sense of the word. Rather than oppose them, conservatives should join them and work with them to make the immigration reform bill as beneficial for America as possible.
This is necessary, because there are problems—actual and potential—with the Democrat’s approach to immigration. Milton Friedman famously said that while he supported open immigration, it is incompatible with the welfare state. If we offer free lunch, everyone from everywhere will rush to come and take it. This is indeed a real problem in Europe, which offers very generous welfare payments to migrants and has thus cultivated a large slum population that wishes neither to work nor assimilate. In the US, however, such payments are not on offer. The vast majority of immigrants come here to work hard and get ahead. We need to make sure things stay that way.
Of greater immediate concern are the Biden Administration’s moves to make it harder for immigrants to get jobs. For example, Biden has proposed to raise the minimum wage to US$15 an hour. This will throw millions of immigrants out of work. Biden is also moving to shut down the American oil industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of immigrants in high-paying roughneck and truck driving jobs. This must be opposed. To have open immigration, we must have an open economy that can employ as many newcomers as possible.
The Republican Party must be the party of growth. That means more Americans, and more opportunities for them. If they are making deals, Republicans shouldn’t link immigration expansion to wall-building. They should link it to economy-building.
Furthermore, the Biden Administration has allied itself with forces that seek to discredit American ideals. America is a propositional nation. We are defined by our ideals, not by our race or birthplace. Immigrants that accept American ideals become Americans. Republicans need to hold that as the true criteria for citizenship.
But the Republican Party can’t spread American ideals unless it accepts them. If we reject the identitarianism of the left, we must reject that of the alt-right as well.
Donald Trump promised to build a wall to keep immigrants out of America. Instead, using toxic anti-immigrant demagoguery, he built a wall to keep reason out of the Republican Party. If the conservative movement is to be rebuilt, we must stop swallowing his poison and tear down that wall.
Robert Zubrin, @robert_zubrin, is an aerospace engineer, the founder of the Mars Society, and the president of Pioneer Astronautics. His latest book,The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility
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