Saturday, July 13th, 2013...1:21 pm

How the state ruins everything: Immigration

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This post is hopefully a series of posts on how the state ruins everything.  The overriding thesis of this series is that individual people can run and plan their own lives far better than the coercive agency of the state can do it for them, and that whenever government intervenes in any aspect in our lives beyond the very narrow biblical scope of punishing crime (not sin, crime), it fails to solve the problem it claims to be solving and creates several other problems and distortions that turn people who could otherwise peacefully coexist into enemies.

Immigration and the Correct Attitude of the Christian Toward the Alien

In the Old Testament, compassion was commanded toward the alien.  This was in spite of the fact that aliens were “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12 KJV).”  What was the correct attitude of Israel toward these aliens and sojourners? The covenant people were free to trade with aliens and sojourners, were commanded to provide hospitality to them, and were to be a kingdom of priests that the aliens might know the LORD was God.  The people of Israel were commanded not to be led astray by foreigners to serve false gods.  They were also not to trust in alliances with foreign governments.  While many of the warnings against disobedience stated that aliens would inherit their possessions and rule over them, the correct solution was not xenophobia, but faithfulness.  Jonah knew that the repentance of Nineveh was a precursor to the judgment of Israel because he was familiar with the blessings and curses of the covenant and knew that Israel was deserving of the curses.  Rather than repenting, Israel (led by her tyrannical and unbelieving government) “cracked down” on immigrants, aliens, and sojourners (Malachi 3:5).  They did the exact opposite of what was commanded by adopting the false gods, trusting in alliances with foreign powers, and oppressing the alien and sojourner.

In the New Testament, those who were afar off have been brought near.  Christianity is truly an international religion.  In an important sense we are all aliens and sojourners (1 Peter 2:11).  We wait for a city that has foundations, whose maker and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).  Our primary allegiance must never be to the borders drawn by some sociopath more than a century ago, but to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  There is no room for nationalism or xenophobia in the church.  Just as war should be abrogated because there are Christians on both sides that are unwilling to take up arms against other Christians, xenophobia and animosity toward immigration should disappear because many of the people trying to come to your nation would be fellow Christians.

Human Action and Relocation

Moving from one location to another is a costly ordeal.  In order to move from one location to another, a person must value their appraisal of his situation at his destination more than his appraisal of his current situation plus the cost necessary to relocate and the risk that things won’t work out as he plans.  If you value the two equally, you will not take the action to relocate; you must value the “after” (as appraised in advance of taking the action) more than the “before” in order to act.  This often means leaving behind family, friends, loved ones, and a culture and/or language that you are familiar with and the risk of facing hate, discrimination or oppression at your destination.  Property that is too expensive or impractical to move must be left behind or sold.

Think about what it would take for you to move across the country or to another country.  It’s the same for people who leave other countries to move here.  In 2006, I left my life in New Hampshire to move to North Carolina and marry my wife who lived there.  I gave up a lot.  I don’t see my family or friends from home more than a couple of times a year.  However, I knew that my wife would have needed to make a similar sacrifice and it was cheaper to live in North Carolina. I valued the life I was gaining more than I valued the life I was leaving behind.

Why do people relocate?  It depends on the person.  These valuations are subjective which allow for trade to be possible.  Some might relocate in hope of a better job or business opportunity.  Others might relocate to flee oppression or famine.  Some people relocate for religious reasons, either as missionaries or to be a member of a particular church or religious community.  Some people value the lifestyle of being a transient or vagabond more than putting down roots in a single location, but even transients need to make decisions about which place to go next and when to make the move.  In all cases the person relocating needs to believe that his life will be better in the new location as he subjectively values the situation in advance of making the move.

How Government Involvement in Immigration Destroys Correct Attitudes Toward Immigration and Encourages Animosity and Distorts the Incentives for Relocation

If you think moving within a country is a hassle, just try it if your intended destination is across an arbitrary line that some sociopath bureaucrat drew over a century ago.  The conservatives and Republicans (many of whom are Christian) glibly state that people should just follow the immigration laws.  Either these people are disingenuous when they say this or they don’t realize that the agencies that control immigration are like the DMV on steroids.  If you are politically connected, you go to the front of the line.  If not, you get to wait and wait and wait.  This is just the direct involvement in government in immigration.  All the “immigration reform” in the world won’t solve the problem.  The best thing that the government could do is admit that they can’t regulate immigration for people better than they can regulate it for themselves.

The greater problem in government involvement in immigration is the problem of incentives created by the myriads of other programs.  Let’s contrast two societies.  In one of them, people are free to come and go as they please, but they need to pay their own way or rely on voluntarily provided charity.   In the other society, you are not allowed to relocate there, but if you do manage to smuggle yourself in, you are promised a free lunch at somebody else’s expense.  Free education, welfare, medical care, you name it.  Now think about how this affects people’s valuations in whether they choose to relocate to that nation or not.  Because people make their decision to relocate subjectively, the populations who would relocate to society A and society B are very different.  To transform a familiar aphorism, it’s the socialism, stupid.

There are other incentives that affect immigration.  The minimum wage law forbids people from legally working at a rate below the rate decreed by government.  Let’s hypothetically [heh] state that you have a large adolescent and young adult population that is unemployed and you have another large population of people who believe their lives would be so much better working at a sub-minimum wage that they are willing to risk crossing a border contrary to government edict to work a black market job. Then in the classic government way, those in power use immigration to drive a wedge of division to pit people against their neighbors.  The frustration felt by the people who are upset that money is being taken from them by force and given to people who came to the country for a free ride is understandable, but it is misdirected.  The anger and frustration should be directed at the government itself, but instead most of these people look to the government to pass a law and save them by legislation.

Less understandable is the person who seeks to get laws passed against immigration because they are afraid that foreigners are going to come in, work for lower wages and steal [sic] their [sic] jobs.  Most of these people simultaneously give lip service to the idea of capitalism and the free market and don’t get the irony.  In the 2012 and (especially) 2008 Republican primary debates, it seemed like 40% of total debate time was occupied by the candidates arguing about who will build the biggest wall to keep people in, er, I mean, out.  Even Ron Paul, whom I admire greatly and is right on just about every political issue got caught up in the confusion over immigration.

The Opportunity Cost of Immigration and Relocation Barriers

In economics, opportunity cost is the value you miss of the best alternative being forgone by the choice you actually make.  Because you don’t know the results of the best alternative, opportunity cost is a hidden cost and is often overlooked in analyses of hypothetical situations.  The opportunity cost of government intervention will be a running theme in my series on how the government ruins everything.  The sad truth is that none of us even know how badly government intervention has lowered our standard of living – we can only imagine what things might have been like.  Your opportunity cost of immigration and relocation barriers are all the inventions, products, and services that you never see because people can’t relocate as they see fit.

Let’s use an example of somebody from history (when you had more freedom than today in this area) who was in the right place at the right time but could not be under today’s conditions.  Steve Jobs’s biological father was Syrian.  Right now Syria is under OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) sanctions from the United States government, meaning that you cannot do business with Syria.  Imagine all of the products and services that Steve Jobs has had a hand in (Apple and Pixar will be the most notable).  If the sanctions against Syria were timed differently, you don’t get Steve Jobs – he doesn’t exist because his parents never meet.  Steve Jobs’s very existence was a product of greater freedom of movement than we have today.  Just try to imagine the inventions, products, and services we do not have today that we would have if we had greater freedom to relocate for ourselves instead of having government try to control and manage it for us.


What Immigration Would Look Like In a Free Society

If people were able to come and go as they pleased, provided that they relied solely upon their own money or the voluntary charity extended by others, then there would never be such a thing as an immigration “problem” anywhere.  If a bunch of people flocked to a certain place prices of real estate would adjust to the influx of immigration.  Some people currently living in the destination area would sell their land for a profit and go live elsewhere on the profit gained from the sale of their land.  There is a natural equilibrating tendency here.  If the cost of moving to a certain location changes, it will affect how many other people believe it is worthwhile to relocate there.  Because you never truly realize equilibrium, there will be other factors (inventions, new businesses, climate changes, etc.) that will cause people to readjust their valuation of where they want to live and whether they wish to relocate.

How would the life of the average person be improved under immigration freedom?  Even the person who never moves in his life would be better off, and here is why.  If you have freedom of movement, people can relocate to where the entrepreneurial opportunities are.  Relocating is in its essence a form of entrepreneurship.  When there are fewer barriers to the freedom of movement, the average person gets more and better products and services to choose from at better prices because the freedom of movement allows for greater flexibility in the labor market.  Relocation “entrepreneurs” are able to get where they need to be with less cost and red tape.

Which Society Would you Rather Live In?

Earlier in this post, I contrasted society A (the free one) and society B (which is essentially the one we live in now).  Which one would you prefer to live in?  Remember back to my discussion of opportunity cost.  We have many people today who think that the solution to the “immigration problem” is to become even more like East Germany than we already are.  Do you want to live in a society where you are frequently accosted by people with guns and demanded to produce your papers (comrade)?   Do you think that some petty bureaucrat would do a better job planning where you live your life and whom you associate with better than you can do it for yourself?  I didn’t think so.  How about we apply the Golden Rule and afford others the same freedom that we would want to have granted to ourselves?


  • It’s disgusting that you refer to Chistianity as a religion that is antithetical to xenophobia, yet refer (in March) to homosexuality as heresy akin to adultery and worse than polygamy. This places the arrogance and inexcusable, shameful, malicious brainwashing of your religion in clear perspective. It is truly horrifying.

  • “You’re brainwashed,” said the Ivy League educated man who thinks exactly like 99% of Ivy League educated people and travels in such ideologically narrow circles that he doesn’t think he has any biases of his own, not perceiving the irony.

    “You’re intolerant,” said the borderline totalitarian to the borderline anarchist with an inexplicably straight face.

    Thank you for reading both articles. You have created a false dichotomy here, though. Christianity is a lot more nuanced than you give it credit for. In your prejudice, I bet you never would have guessed that I voted against the North Carolina marriage amendment last year (what with me being brainwashed and all). I believe every word of the Bible is true and the very word of the living Triune God, and I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not wiser than God. The Bible is my standard and it is clear that homosexuality is wrong.

    Christians who believe every word of the Bible are not a monolith; we disagree over applications of Scripture and the relative weight and importance of various teachings. I voted against the North Carolina marriage amendment because I don’t believe marriage is the state’s business (a minority position among American Christians). Polygamy, Slavery, and Crusaderism also takes several minority positions among American Christians (anti-war, against criminalization of polygamy, against the 13th amendment).

    I’m curious about what your standard for right and wrong is. You are good at expressing disgust over my standard, but by what standard do you believe that homosexuality is right? By what standard do you believe that polygamy is worse than homosexuality? By what standard do you believe that Christianity is so evil? Are you just a good little fundamentalist secular humanist who believes whatever you’ve been told to believe on blind faith? Or do you set yourself up as arbitrary ultimate judge of what right and wrong are? If it’s the latter, then I would be a bit slower to accuse others of arrogance.

  • Mike, your implication that I blindly believe no more and no less than what I am told to believe (which you’ve told me before, not long after the presidential election) would be comical if it weren’t so startlingly hypocritical. Have you spent time with gay men or gay women? If so, I wonder what about them—the actual people—led you to decide for yourself that who they are is wrong. My sense is that this is not what happened and that, instead, you see them as heretics because the Bible says so. I needn’t argue that I am not brainwashed; I’ll stop at saying that I’ll take my cleaner over yours. My cleaner is more accepting, more loving, and more aware of the difference between who someone is and how someone acts than yours is.

    Moreover, how I determine right and wrong is irrelevant to the issue. Being gay is neither right nor wrong, just as being introverted or having blue eyes is neither right nor wrong; it is who someone is. I have no problem with Christianity in general. I don’t particularly care what you believe until it becomes malicious. I care tremendously what you believe when it is hurtful to others and when you cannot keep your judgment (or the Bible’s, which you choose to adopt wholesale) to yourself. Nor do I paint all Christians with the same brush. My next-door neighbor is a minister who talks of love and peace and kindness and generosity, and teaches these in his church every week. His writings do not reek of hate and intolerance like yours do. We often share a beer. We think differently about God, but quite similarly about compassion.

    This boils down to a difference between your intolerance of others who have done you or anyone else no harm, and my intolerance of your intolerance, which does do others harm (whether you vote to stamp it into law or not). You can believe whatever you want, but you can’t seem to do it without offending and hurting people. Mike, we used to have mutual friends who are gay and I have chosen them over you. It’s not because I think being gay is better or more right than being Christian. It’s because I admire those who accept others and am disgusted by those who refuse to do so.

  • (Submitted before I was finished.)

    I’ll add that I enjoy reading many of your political posts. I disagree with most of them, but that doesn’t make me respect them any less. You’re entitled to them, and to your vote, and to the opportunity to convince others. But “homosexuality is wrong” is not a respectable view because of its maliciousness. I do not respect your choice to spread such ignorant and harmful judgment, regardless of how you cloak it.

  • You dodged my main question. You state “Moreover, how I determine right and wrong is irrelevant to the issue. Being gay is neither right nor wrong, just as being introverted or having blue eyes is neither right nor wrong; it is who someone is.” My question was what is your standard and how do you know that it’s true? Your epistemology seems to be simply “because I said so.” You call me ignorant, and back it up with “because I said so.” Sorry, “because I said so, indignantly.” How do you know that homosexuality is neither right nor wrong? Or do you just have the ability to pronounce things ex cathedra? It isn’t irrelevant.

    What if I say that your spewing of hatred and intolerance against me is malicious? Will you adopt your own standard and keep your hateful invective to yourself? And I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t hate homosexuals, in spite of your insistence to the contrary. I can honestly say that there isn’t a single homosexual person against whom I hold any malice or ill will. You can believe that an action is wrong and still treat those with whom you disagree charitably. You might want to consider it. I have never treated a homosexual worse than you are treating me right now. You’re a lot less tolerant than you think you are. If I used the words to describe homosexuality, that you are using to describe my worldview, I’d probably get arrested.

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