Illegals needed? That's a fallacy
February 12, 2004
Conventional opinion holds that our economy and entire industries could not survive without low-wage foreign labor, both legal and illegal. Looking at the work force that picks our fruits and vegetables, it seems like common sense.
But it is no more logical to argue that the American economy cannot survive without a steady supply of cheap foreign labor in the 21st century than it was to argue that the economy of the antebellum South could not survive without slaves. When slavery was not an option, the economy of the South and the technology for producing cotton had to change. The economy organized itself in response to the values that we chose for ourselves as a nation.
Now we must decide whether we are a nation that requires a continual flood of hardworking, low-wage peasants, or whether we plan to build a nation in which all workers have livable wages that enable them to purchase homes and live in dignity without taxpayer assistance.
In the debate regarding the recent Bush announcement to legalize illegal workers, we confront a basic question: Do we really need these workers?
Employers obviously want cheap foreign labor, and many of them have built businesses that have grown dependent on it. But this is not the same thing as saying that America needs this cheap labor.
It is critical in this debate that journalists and the public are perfectly clear about who is answering this question, what their credentials are, and whether they have a political or economic incentive for their answer.
I have seen many articles in which it is reported, as if it were a well-established fact, that we need these workers, and the proof is in their continual arrival. But neither legal nor illegal immigration is connected to the economy. Even during recession and high unemployment, the number of immigrants coming has remained unchanged.
Advocacy groups such as La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund are major proponents of this myth. These organizations are lavishly funded by corporate money, and they do excellent work on behalf of our Hispanic population. But it is also quite likely that they represent the financial interest of their donors, who want to import more low-wage workers and new consumers. They are neither objective nor informed authorities on whether we really need these workers.
The same can be said about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Civil Liberties Union, or any of the organizations representing immigration lawyers. Immigration lawyers have a huge financial stake in continuing the present policies of mass immigration. Although often quoted, none of them is unbiased about whether we need these workers.
So who is a reliable authority, without a political or economic stake, and what are these authorities saying? Regarding guest workers, at least three independent bodies of experts, including a number of labor economists, have studied foreign labor: The U.S. Commission on Agricultural Workers, President Clinton's U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform (the Jordan Commission), and the U.S-Mexico Binational Study on Migration. All three panels of experts came to the same conclusion: no more guest-worker programs.
All cited the depressing effect on American wages and the explosion of illegal migration that consistently accompanies all guest-worker programs.
Another prominent authority is Dr. George Borjas, a Harvard professor and one of our nation's most widely respected labor economists. For decades, Borjas has studied the impact of foreign labor on our nation. He concludes that our current immigration policies create a tremendous drag on wages, resulting in a transfer from American workers to employers of $160 billion per year.
We have millions of Americans who want full-time work and cannot find it. Nearly half of all African-American men without a college education are currently jobless. The lack of job opportunities today for descendants of American slavery is a national disgrace. And our immigration policies have played a major role in this disgrace.
How to stop exporting jobs
"The loss of 3 million jobs under Bush's leadership," has become the central battle cry of Democrats in this election year. The outflow began long before the current administration and will continue well after November, regardless of who wins the White House.
There is another alternative: force India, China and the other nations to adopt the same environmental and social standards America has adopted, thus imposing the same production costs on foreign producers that American producers must pay. This is the goal of the United Nations, working through the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and several other international institutions.
The goal of the United Nations is to bring the global economy under its regulatory power. The U.N.'s High Level Panel on Financing Development is trying to establish a global mechanism to equalize tax rates and to extract a tax on currency exchange to provide independent funding for a global government. The Kyoto Protocol to the Climate Change Treaty attempted to give an international agency the power to control energy use, in developed countries first, and then globally. The Convention on Biological Diversity and other treaties and agreements seek to control the use of land and natural resources.
These are all components of "sustainable development," a euphemism which means a controlled society, spelled out in great detail in the U.N.'s Agenda 21.
The United States has been a driving force toward sustainable development for many years. The current president is the first since Ronald Reagan to show any reluctance at all to advancing the principles of sustainable development at home and around the world.
Many people, including many in Congress, believe that the sustainable development model is the only solution to the world's economic and environmental problems. The Democratic Socialists of America, the Progressive Caucus, most of the Democrats in Congress and many Republicans actually advocate this policy. Of course, the idea of free enterprise cannot exist in a managed, or "sustainable," society, but this fact seems to be unimportant to proponents of sustainable development.
Americans will decide whether or not the world continues to move toward a globally managed society by the people elected to Congress and to the White House.
Americans, however, are in a real dilemma: They want the highest paying jobs possible for the work they perform, along with the highest possible environmental, safety and social standards. At the same time, they want to pay the lowest possible price for the goods they buy – even if those goods are produced in India, China or any other nation.
We cannot have both at the same time, unless we allow a third party – the United Nations – to manage the global economy and dictate "fair" wage and tax rates for all producers, and also dictate which products are really needed and which resources may be used to produce them.
The North American Free Trade Agreement and the evolving Free Trade Agreement of the Americas are both major steps toward ultimate economic globalization. While proponents of these agreements may argue to the contrary, they both exacerbate the conditions that beg for third-party oversight. Specifically, the agreements tend to abolish tariffs, making foreign goods much cheaper than domestic goods, while doing nothing to elevate the standards (increase the cost of production) in foreign countries.
This so-called "free trade" is precisely what drives American companies and capital to move to foreign countries where they can produce goods cheaper, to sell in America. This is, in fact, the redistribution of wealth dreamed of by the authors of Agenda 21. The process has begun to diminish the economic power of the United States, while providing new economic opportunity in foreign lands.
The irony is that Americans have made it happen. The policy agenda driven by the DSA, the Progressive Caucus and the other Democrat and Republican proponents of "sustainable development" are responsible for the export of jobs in recent years.
Since the first alternative suggested – repeal of the laws that inflate the cost of production – is not likely to happen, and since the second alternative is already happening, with the approval and support of much of society, those who cherish free enterprise must find a way to save it.
Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation
Organization and chairman of Sovereignty International.
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