Free Trade for Some, Miniature American Flags for Others!

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In response to my argument that undocumented workers and the commodification of domestic labor have been especially beneficial to working women, Ramesh Ponnuru comments:

"…the argument that we need to cut the pay of some women—those stay-at-home mothers who charge a fee to watch other people's children, for example—in order to help other women, and that this is somehow good for women generically, seems to me to be pretty weak."

The argument I made is an argument about gains from trade; Ponnuru finds it dubious. But since Ponnuru presumably prefers free trade in cases not involving free labor; since he presumably opposes protectionism when protectionism does not involve the market for jobs—let's just substitute a good for jobs. The American cotton industry has been similarly protected; let's start there:

The argument that we need to cut the pay of some cotton producers—American cotton producers, for example—in order to help other people who happen to wear clothes, and that this is somehow good for people generically, seems to me to be pretty weak.

It's somewhat disingenuous to refer to opening up a market as "cutting pay," but downward pressure on wages will be a result of allowing people to voluntarily contract for services. So fine then; we're cutting the pay of carmakers when we allow foreign cars to be bought and sold in the states, and cutting the pay of sugar producers when we dare import sugar.

You can also play this game with candle makers or shrimpers. Closed borders constitute labor protectionism. There's no way around it. As Jonah Goldberg argues, free trade in labor will involve problems of absorption and assimilation that free trade in goods will not. But anti-immigration free traders need to make a case based on the relevance of that difference, because the economic logic behind imported goods and imported labor is identical.

NEXT: And Imus Rejoiced

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  1. The presence of undocucmented immigrants in the labor market is a manifestation of neither “closed borders” nor “open borders.”

    Nor is their wiillingness to work for the low wages they are able to secure, given their weakened bargaining position and lack of access to most jobs an example of “voluntary contract(ing) for services.”

    Although it’s not intentional on the part of the Americans who secure domestic labor and childcare this way, they are using the threat of extensive government force to secure more favorable terms from their employees.

  2. Yeah, but in this case we are talking about Mejicans!! and, and women working!!!! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!

    …AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

    ………….AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

    …BTW where is Steve Sailer? He seems to be a little late to the party.

  3. As Jonah Goldberg argues, free trade in labor will involve problems of absorption and assimilation that free trade in goods will not.

    Don’t say ‘problems’, say ‘the melting pot’ which is the strong foundation our society is built upon. As always, Jonah Goldberg is an asshat.

  4. The issue for libertarians is what are the consequences for liberty of importing poverty. Can liberty survive a quasi-caste system where some jobs are seen as beneath the dignity of native born Americans? Will the masses at the bottom get uppity?

  5. How are these “problems of absorption and assimilation” more overwhelming now than they have been in, say, the last 200+ years?

  6. Don’t say ‘problems’, say ‘the melting pot’ which is the strong foundation our society is built upon.

    Only if assimilation of immigrants is a societal/national goal. Such assimilation is inconsistent with [many versions of] multiculturalism, so it is by no means a given.

  7. The US has been “importing poverty” for centuries now and the result is among the highest standard of living in the world. I guess that would be a huge issue for libertarians.

  8. Only if assimilation of immigrants is a societal/national goal.

    Collectivism will be the savior of us all!

  9. The issue for libertarians is what are the consequences for liberty of importing poverty

    So we are getting poorer?

  10. You know what they say about “assimilation.” When you do that, you make an “ass” of “I” and “milation.”

    wait a minute…that was the word “assume”……my bad

  11. I’ll suffer for admitting this, but I really do want immigrants to assimilate into our culture as far as our political and economic systems are concerned. Other languages and foods are peachy, but don’t harm the goose, please.

  12. The most wonderful thing about assimilation is that it happens… all by itself. The best thing the govt could do about it is get the hell out of the way.

  13. “Such assimilation is inconsistent with [many versions of] multiculturalism, so it is by no means a given.”

    Props, RC, for that qualification.

    It’s also worth noting that there are different kinds of assimilation. If my neighbor knows how to keep his house up, drive safely, and otherwise function in society, what do I care if wife wears a scarf, if their food smells funny, or if they speak their native language at home or even – gasp – with another family that lives down the block?

    Structural assimilation is not the same thing as cultural assimilation. Look at Switzerland, or Pennsylvania circa 1800, or southern Texas for the entirety of our nation’s history. People can and do live peacefully among those with cultural differences all the time.

  14. joe,

    Right. I love Cuban sandwiches and mojitos. But hold the authoritarianism, gracias.

  15. mmmmm. Cuban sushi. mmmm.

  16. mmmmmmmm. Pork Roll.

  17. Actually, I am one lib who would not mind if some day the Southwest seceded or even did go back to Mexico…I think secession is the wave of the future…the nation state consolidation of the last 350 years is over (quoted from previous reason blog on Vermont secession-ism).

    What galls some of my populist friends who with one breath say the South was right is that instead of slave owning Bible thumping Protestants, todays Southwest is dominated by Statue worshiping, Spanish speaking Papists…it seems the principle isn’t the same if the actors are fundamentally different.

    I tell them I am the President of Notre Americanos for Reunification.

  18. “Nor is their wiillingness to work for the low wages they are able to secure, given their weakened bargaining position and lack of access to most jobs an example of “voluntary contract(ing) for services.'”

    Last time I checked, these people were enduring great hardship to get here – sounds about as “voluntary” a contract as you can get.

    A lot of us tend to forget that the reason these immigrants come (legally or otherwise) is that they believe that their opportunity ot prosper is greater here that where they left. Its why people work in sweatshops overseas – not because they have to, not because they’re great places to work, but because they’re better than the other opportunitues available to them.

    Kind of like why the vast majority of *us* work where we do.

  19. So we are getting poorer?

    There are more poor people in the U.S. as a result of immigration. This is because the immigrants themselves are poor, and because wages for poor non-immigrants are lower than they otherwise would be.

    Of course, poverty is not being created globally – on the contrary, it’s being reduced. So liberals should be pro-immigration, unless they want to pretend to be allied with working class America.

  20. @Pro Libertate

    I’ll suffer for admitting this, but I really do want immigrants to assimilate into our culture as far as our political and economic systems are concerned. Other languages and foods are peachy, but don’t harm the goose, please.

    Bingo. Therein lies the rub. It’s all very nice to point out the short term economic gains to be had from immigration. But how long will those last if it also erodes the cultural/political infrastructure the free economy depends on?

    There was an article on Hit & Run not long ago pointing out that the social democracy of Sweden was deteriorating because the welfare state was eroding the entrepreneurial culture that it depended upon as a foundation.

    Libertarianism apparently shares the same self-destructive tendencies. It has no mechanism to protect the political and cultural institutions that make it possible. Everyone enjoys perfect freedom – even the freedom undermine the foundations of their free society.

    That is a large reason I’ve become disillusioned with libertarianism. What’s the point in supporting political systems designed to self-destruct?

  21. The presence of undocucmented immigrants in the labor market is a manifestation of neither “closed borders” nor “open borders.”

    How is it not a manifestation of closed borders?

    Nor is their wiillingness to work for the low wages they are able to secure, given their weakened bargaining position and lack of access to most jobs an example of “voluntary contract(ing) for services.”

    They are still voluntarily seeking employment in the United States. But, you’re right, they do have limited choices and a weakened bargaining position.

    Although it’s not intentional on the part of the Americans who secure domestic labor and childcare this way, they are using the threat of extensive government force to secure more favorable terms from their employees.

    True. I’m sure some people who employ illegal aliens are fully aware of the bargaining advantage, and want to keep it that way. But, then, there are all kinds of people, of all degrees of honorableness, employing illegal aliens.

  22. joe,

    The gap between what Cubans can do with roast pork and our capabilities is truly frightening. Obviously, we have barbecue pork superiority, but roasting? They could take us out at any time. And we are totally primitive when it comes to paellas and sangr?as. Man, I need to make a run to Ti? Pepe (yes, I’m mixing Cuban and Spanish cuisines, but we’re a fondue pot hereabouts).

    libertreee,

    Domed city-states, baby!

  23. Libertarianism apparently shares the same self-destructive tendencies

    As what you might ask?

    ….the social democracy of Sweden …..

    It takes all kinds.

  24. PL-

    I’m working to achieve roasted pork superiority, with the help of cheap Mexican ingredients. I mix mole with mango juice for an excellent sauce. When pork loins are immersed in this sauce and placed in the oven for a long, slow cook, the results are stupendous!

  25. if it also erodes the cultural/political infrastructure

    Can you give a couple of examples of what you have in mind?

    Whenever I hear someone complaining about threats to our culture, I assume it’s just a bunch of coded racism, but maybe that’s not what you’re talking about.

  26. Agamemnon,

    “Last time I checked, these people were enduring great hardship to get here – sounds about as “voluntary” a contract as you can get.”

    No, that “sounds” as if their immigration was voluntary. Nobody is disputing that. Where did you get the idea that immigrating to a country = striking a deal on pay and working conditions? When you cannot hope to get 80% of the jobs in the market, and the person who does hire you can have you locked up and deported any time you tick him off, your assent to his offers regarding pay and working conditions is coerced, not truly voluntary.

    Mike Laurson,

    If the borders had actually been closed, there wouldn’t be all of these undocumented immigrants in the country. They didn’t close the borders – they just passed laws so that there would be a large body of vulnerable workers – perhaps not deliberately, but that’s how it’s worked out.

  27. thoreau,

    That’s kind of like working on the atom bomb when the other guy is playing with fusion. Sure, it’s great, and most people can’t compete, but you need to aim for the top. Please stop what you are doing and go to Tampa and/or Miami to conduct more research.

    I’ll send you a bottle of mojo over the Intertube, shortly. It should be homemade, but this is a starting point.

  28. joe, while it’s theoretically possible that some employers benefit from illegal immigration being illegal, in general, this is unlikely to be the case, and of course the industries that hire a lot of illegals are lobbying for legalization.

  29. This may be anecdotal, but I’ll share it anyways.

    I have a friend who immigrated from Mexico with his parents around 20 years ago. He has since obtained his citizenship, married (another immigrant), and now has a 12-year-old daughter. He also has a good paying, “white-collar” job, but I digress from my point. His 12 year old daughter understands the Mexican language and culture, but the years of schooling and associating with English speaking teachers and kids have all but taken the Mexican out of her. By this I mean, if not for her skin color she could pass for a Caucasian. She is also a very intelligent little girl – and I’m sure her future is bright, full of possibilities, and full of contributing to the prosperity of OUR nation. My friend (her dad) came from Mexico the same way and for the same reasons as most other Mexicans. Since he was young when he arrived, he had plenty of opportunities to become what he has become today. I was going to make the point that assimilation takes place very quickly, as in within only one or two generations at the most. However, in my friend’s case, he made the assimilation within the first 10 years of arriving here.

    Anyway, long story short, assimilation happens very quickly in most cases – not all – most. Sacrificing benefits for a few years of cheap labor should be well worth the possible returns that the children of these immigrants will provide for years to come. I hope that makes sense…

  30. Whenever I hear someone complaining about threats to our culture, I assume it’s just a bunch of coded racism, but maybe that’s not what you’re talking about.

    I can give you a great example, and the people involved don’t come any whiter – Minnesota. It’s largely inhabited with people of Swedish decent, and the cultural influence is obvious. Culturally, it’s very insular and communal (like Sweden itself), and, of course, politically it leans heavily to the left, having one of the largest tax burdens in the country.

    I suppose whether that constitutes a “threat” or not depends upon your perspective, but it is a fact. Now, maybe you can explain why pointing out the obvious, namely, that populations will build their political systems to reflect their cultural values, is inherently “racist”? (A word which is so over used that whenever I hear it, it automatically triggers my Internal Idiot Alert.)

  31. Pro Lib,

    Miami has the best pulled pork, rice and beans, and yuca. IMO. I’ve never been able to find anything nearly as good in the Tampa area.

  32. Max,

    You must have missed the news lately. They’ve been cleaning out apparel and meatpacking plants for months. Hundreds of undocumented immigrants at a time.

    The industries that hire Paperwork-Deprived America-Joiners have started lobbying for legalization NOW, that increased enforcement has started to threaten their operations.

    BTW, referring to a human being as an “illegal” is repellent, deliberately dehumanizing. It sounds like dystopian sci-fi.

    “I found a nest of illegals camped by the overpass. I’ll just clean them out.”

  33. But how long will those last if it also erodes the cultural/political infrastructure the free economy depends on?

    How does an economy, completely free from regulation (unlike our current one), need to “depend” on cultural infrastructure… I’m not following your argument, really.

    It has no mechanism to protect the political and cultural institutions that make it possible.

    see, and then having not gotten your first argument, I cannot understand this second one. What political and cultural institutions would be necessary for freedom to exist?

    And how is libertarianism “designed” to self destruct?

    I’m really very interested in understanding what you mean here.

  34. The industries that hire Paperwork-Deprived America-Joiners have started lobbying for legalization NOW, that increased enforcement has started to threaten their operations.

    Those businesses have been for legalization all along. Your theory that illegal status is good for employers (reduces wages) is baseless.

    BTW, referring to a human being as an “illegal” is repellent, deliberately dehumanizing. It sounds like dystopian sci-fi.

    I didn’t mean it that way – it’s just shorthand.

  35. Max –
    The issue for libertarians is what are the consequences for liberty of importing poverty. Can liberty survive a quasi-caste system where some jobs are seen as beneath the dignity of native born Americans? Will the masses at the bottom get uppity?

    I’m not sure I understand anything in this comment. In the current state of things, if a job is really undesirable, we’re able to pawn it off on an illegal immigrant at a low wage because they’re not able to get another type of job. It’s an issue of a captive labor pool. If we were a libertarian country where all people had the right to bargain for their jobs and wages, you’d see a rise in the wages of the undesirable jobs. The jobs that are most desirable would experience wage decreases. Effectively then you could have no such “quasi-caste” system.

  36. I think US culture, as practiced by a majority of our citizenry, simply isn’t appealing enough to inspire assimilation.

    In aggregate, what we pass off as culture is too timid, too frightened, and too knee-jerk obedient to appeal to the low-end foreigners who come here to secure a better life.

    Not everyone aspires to a life of wage slavery in order to pay (way too much for way too long) on a house in some “Canarsie, where everyone looks the same” community. A community where obedience and blind faith are the order of the day, and, according to the sinister looking signs, the denizens stand ready to call 911 for anything “suspicious”.

  37. Pig Mannix–Culturally, it’s very insular and communal (like Sweden itself), and, of course, politically it leans heavily to the left, having one of the largest tax burdens in the country.

    Even Ben Franklin used to complain about the Pennsylvania Dutch–they keep to themselves, they are not assimilating. The Amish are still that way, right?

    Switzerland has Cantons where the predominant languages differ (French, Italian, German)

    But, it has a weak central government…

    I do not believe that the La Raza people are the dominant force in Latino America. However, they do become embroiled in GOVERNMENT and EDUCATION far out of proportion to their actual influence in their own community.

    Most Latinos do indeed assimilate very rapidly.

    I am first generation Irish. I can testify that my siblings and I are very American compared to my immigrant grandparents (now deceased)and parents.

    The Irish immigration “problem” was primarily one of the nineteenth century, of course, but there are illegal Irish in Boston, San Francisco and other cities today.

    The mass immigration of Latinos began with “immigration reform ” of the 1960’s. It is largely government caused, and the solutions will largely be non-governmental.

  38. jimmydageek,

    In my opinion, Cuban food is like Southern food–the best stuff is homemade. A friend of mine’s late grandfather made absolutely fantastic roast pork. This was the kind of fellow with his own sour orange tree–hard core mojo.

  39. How does an economy, completely free from regulation (unlike our current one), need to “depend” on cultural infrastructure… I’m not following your argument, really.

    Because, obviously, in a democracy your economy (and pretty much everything else) will only be free from regulation as long as a majority of your population desires it to be free from regulation. And should you acquire, either through conversion or importation, a population that desires it otherwise, then your economy (and pretty much everything else) will cease to be unregulated. I’m not sure how that could possibly be a source of confusion to anyone with even a cursory understanding of politics.

  40. You must have missed the news lately. They’ve been cleaning out apparel and meatpacking plants for months. Hundreds of undocumented immigrants at a time.

    I can understand the meatpacking, but isn’t using immigrants for apparel illegal?

  41. Now, maybe you can explain why pointing out the obvious, namely, that populations will build their political systems to reflect their cultural values, is inherently “racist”?

    Sorry, I want to make it clear I’m not calling you a racist. You haven’t said anything racist.

    All I can say, is, yes, if enough people in this country vote for it, they can eliminate the libertarian aspects of our government.

    But the democracy part of our government has never been the libertarian part; the guarantee of certain rights part has been the libertarian part. The only way, ultimately, to hold onto one’s individual rights is to fight for them, since there really isn’t any such thing as “natural” rights.

  42. Hey, don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

  43. Pig –
    I didn’t understand your argument because you worded it poorly (as far as I’m concerned), not because your concept is flawed. The way you just explained it was perfectly comprehensible (for me), although a bit condescending toward the end. Now that it’s clear wtf you’re talking about, I can respond to it.

    First of all, I fail to see how allowing people who may, or may not, oppose freedom into the country means that libertarianism is “designed to self-destruct.” It’s not like it explicitly asks for people who don’t approve of freedom to come in. And it’s not as though people who wanted an authoritarian state would really decide to move to someplace that doesn’t already have one.

    Democracy would hardly need to exist in a country where people didn’t constantly want to pass all sorts of laws. By the time libertarianism succeeded, the government would be so powerless it would hardly matter whether you had democracy or not. You don’t have to pass laws that say that people have the right to not pay for a highway in West Virginia using federal taxes.

    As for native-born opposition, no ideology is going to build into itself a mechanism for dealing with the event that the ideology doesn’t, in fact, make people’s lives better. Especially not libertarianism, where a mechanism existing in the first place would be contrary in principle to the actual ideology.

  44. I dont think it’s the first generation immigrants from third world nations who have a problem with liberty. I think it’s their better off progeny who get used to the good life and feel entitled to it, whether or not they work for it.

    The initial immigrants are willing to work for a better life because they understand what they left behind. The following generations don’t, they only know the (relative) comfort they’ve been born into.

    Granted, there are certainly going to be exceptions, but if anything, I think immigrants would want as much freedom as possible.

  45. Anyway, the argument that we need to cut the pay of some women-those stay-at-home mothers who charge a fee to watch other people’s children, for example-in order to help other women, and that this is somehow good for women generically, seems to me to be pretty weak.

    No one is “cutting” the pay of at-home day care workers. They are free to charge what the market will bear. The government solution seldom involves raising their pay, most often it seeks to regulate them out of business. For the good of the children, of course.

    Of course you are correct that reductions in the supply of immigrant labor would have negative consequences for some people

    It would certainly impact immigrants. In the daycare situation it would impact the folks depending on the inexpensive child care. Without the competition midrange daycare prices could rise as well. And we need more enforcement to shut down the illegals.

    Now, who wins?”

    (although Howley doesn’t come close to showing that women-of all classes!-would be disproportionately affected negatively).

    Actually, as I recall, Howley didn’t mention women “of all classes.” The article said that the main disadvantage would be borne by low-income immigrants and single mothers in low-paying jobs.

    Granted, there are certainly going to be exceptions, but if anything, I think immigrants would want as much freedom as possible.

    That’s what we see in Texas. A few of the folks immigrating from California and NYC bitch because we don’t do things like they did back home. But the vast majority are extatic when they find they don’t have to register guns, pay state and city income tax, etc.

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