Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The guest worker problem...

Much of the anxiety of the current immigration debate is centered on the proposed guest worker program, which has been largely advanced by agriculture (although only 4% of immigrants work in ag) and other employers. Much of what we suspect - not know - about guest workers is ill-informed or influenced by other fears.

For example, many think outsiders depress the wages of native workers. But not to the degree you might suspect.
But immigrants tend to work in different industries than native workers, and have different skills, and so they often end up complementing native workers, rather than competing with them. That can make native workers more productive and therefore better off. (In construction, for instance, the work of carpenters and masons, who are often immigrants, can create a need for crane operators and foremen, who tend to be native-born.) According to a recent study by the economists Gianmarco Ottaviano and Giovanni Peri, between 1990 and 2004 immigration actually boosted the wages of most American workers; its only negative effect was a small one, on the wages of workers without a high-school diploma. And if by increasing the number of legal guest workers we reduced the number of undocumented workers, the economy would benefit even more. [More]

There are many aspects to the immigration debate, and the most likely outcome right now is to continue the status quo - hardly a good working solution. Hardliners who want to wall-and-deport cannot muster the political power to spend the enormous sums needed for that kind of enforcement - even if it is possible.

The current answer for most problems in the US is more police of some kind - more coercion. One the the amazing features of American success has been voluntary compliance. Or as in the case of income taxes - a pretty good try. It seems to me America works best when we simply show people our way of doing things and they choose to copy us. We are less successful using strong-arm tactics. See "policy, foreign"

I am concerned this debate will produce only a larger enforcement sector in the US economy ( a really unproductive activity), a less than charming no-man's land on our border, a crippled economy, and significant alienation for many of our citizens.

And about the same number of illegal immigrants.


Anonymous said...

I appreciated your take on the border issue, but until you come down to the border and see for yourself your comments basically stradle the fence (pardon the pun).

I have helped provide warm food, a blanket and water for pregnant a pregnant woman about to give birth. However I couldn't "touch" her because that could be considered assault.

Border Patrol tells volunteers that they appreciate the help, but call the Mexican Authourities to inform them just where the lines of volunteer's are.

Our Federal and State goverments take multiple motorcoaches out into the scrub "backside" of the desert to give transportation to the illegals an air conditioned ride to Phoenix, just before they are deported by goverment financed jet travel.

I am neither left or right, but it is my prayer that we can solve this deadly problem. Each year more than 400 people die in the desert. Perhaps they didn't know what they were getting into, perhaps not enough water, perhaps the redneck who shoots holes in the blue AGUA barrels.

I do know one thing there must be a better way, a more compassionate way. The Hippocratic oath states emphatically "Do no harm". Well It's about time.

John Phipps said...


There is nothing like ground truth to a sobering perspective. Thank you for your comments.

The danger of my concerns about an even larger police state and erosion of personal liberties is paralysis - nothing gets done. That said, I simply haven't heard an option that doesn't sound worse than the status quo - a very low standard indeed.

Rather than add a lengthy comment here, I will post again soon on what solutions seem more less awful to me.

Brian said...

Back in the '60s I used to go to school with illegals from Mexico. They were nice kids, I never got into any fights with them. They went home to Mexico on Friday nights and came back Sunday nights. They always got more attention from the teachers than I did. They graduated, I didn't.

In the '70s, My God parents that lived in Tustin, Calif. said their church in Tustin was smuggling Mexican Family's into Tustin. They said the church would give them a house, food, clothing, job, and educate them so they could apply for citizenship.

I don't know why the churches didn't just go downthere and make their country better.

In the early '70s I went to JOB CORPS to learn a trade and get my GED, a Mexican Kid pulled a knife on me for my laundry money, I took the knife away from him and stuffed him out a window into the snow. I took the knife to the office and told them my story and he went to jail.
Upon completion of JOB CORPS I went to work for the U.S. Forest Service where one of my jobs in reforestation was inspecting alien contractors.