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Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.


Monday, April 03, 2006

The Privileged Few
posted by Bathus

From: Bathus
To: David Frum
Sent: Monday, April 3, 2006
Subject: Immigration and Protectionism

Dear Mr. Frum,

You write:
When we debate free trade, it is the free-traders who speak for the public interest and the protectionists who champion narrow selfish constituencies: because protectionism imposes costs on almost everybody in society while concentrating its benefits on a privileged few.

But when we debate immigration, it is the restrictionists who speak for the public interest. The best economic research on the subject strongly indicates that high levels of unskilled immigration impose costs on most people - and concentrate their benefits on a privileged few. (New York mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke for that lucky group in a wonderful Marie Antoinette moment yesterday on WABC radio. Speaking to radio host John Gambling, Bloomberg said, "You and I are beneficiaries of these jobs. You and I both play golf; who takes care of the greens and the fairways in your golf course?" Lower wages for thee equals lower green fees for me!)
If we apply the logic you use to zing Bloomberg about his green fees, then we should also prohibit importation of golf balls because cheap access to those pock-marked pseudo-ovums benefits only the idle "privileged few" who golf (and who are generally from the upper layers of the economic strata).

If you want to know who are the "privileged few" benefiting from immigrant Latino labor (both legal and illegal), go to your local nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospital, and see who's working in the kitchen, wheeling the meal cart, emptying the trash, doing the laundry, and cleaning the commodes.

People rightly scream about the public cost of illegals who show up at hospital emergency rooms for routine health care, but they don't seem to notice all the immigrants who work (for low wages) emptying grandpa's bedpan and wiping granny's fanny in those very same hospitals. The low wages (and hard work!) of unskilled immigrant workers in the health care industry make it possible for granny to live out her days in a rather nicer old folks' home than many of us could otherwise afford to provide. As is so often the case, when it comes to the economics of illegal immigration, immigration opponents focus exclusively on the small bits of the picture that support their view, as to which your riff on Bloomberg is a typical example.

The "privileged few," as you call them, are anyone whose aging parent's health care is assisted by immigrant labor, anyone who works for a company with offices cleaned by immigrant labor, anyone who drives on a highway laid down by immigrant labor, and anyone who lives in a house sheetrocked and roofed by immigrant labor. Simply put, we are all the "privileged few," but most especially privileged are the thousands of recent new home buyers, and the economy whose growth has been driven and sustained by the recent housing boom that would not have been nearly so robust were it not for the lower construction costs made possible by the low cost of unskilled and semi-skilled labor of immigrant Latinos.

The truth is, because immigrant labor contributes to the provision not just of greener greens, but so many of the basic and essential goods and services we all consume, the benefits and the burdens of immigrant labor are spread pretty evenly throughout our economy, especially when one considers that states like mine (Texas) that bear greater burdens also enjoy greater benefits. (We can argue later whether the benefits outweigh the burdens. I think they do, although that is a largely academic argument, given the economic forces that impel the migration. As I've written elsewhere, we might as well make it illegal for hurricanes to enter the Gulf of Mexico.)

One last thing: In exchange for your Bloomberg zinger, let me zing you one in return. The immigration debate sure gets interesting when otherwise sensible conservatives like you start sounding Gorish anti-rich, populist themes about the "privileged few." Next you'll be warning us of "powerful forces."

Nonetheless, I remain . . .

Your loyal advocate,
Bathus

posted by Bathus | 4/03/2006 01:49:00 AM
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