So Trent (and others, based on the underwhelming show of support for the current iteration of the immigration bill) are deeply upset over the porous nature of our borders. Not only does it impact the domestic economy as low-wage workers have the bottom cut out from under their wages, but it presents risks as terrorists potentially make use of the easy access across our borders to come here and make their plans, and it impacts domestic politics and culture as communities change to become “Little [Name Your Foreign City Here]”.
There’s a connection to the motorcycle picture, honest.I have concerns about immigration policy, but they are broader and far less apocalyptic, and I strongly believe that the concerns above are wrong, overblown, and in some cases dangerous.
Let’s go through them.
The biggest impact on wages hasn’t been at the bottom of the food chain, but on the high-wage industrial jobs which have been automated, exported, and deskilled. Border and immigration policy hasn’t materially changed that. The impact on low-skill low-wage service, agriculture, and distribution jobs has doubtless been real – but when we look at the hollowing out of the middle class in the US, we look more closely at the layoffs from Flint than we do at the wage pressures at Hormel or WalMart.
It’s fundamentally dishonest to conflate the real impact of globalization – in which high-wage US workers are now directly competing against lower-wage workers abroad – with the impact of porous borders in driving down US wages.
I refuse to believe that Trent really believes that it would be meaningfully difficult – in any non-Stalinist US regime – for 20 or 30 committed terrorists to get across the US borders. Locking down the borders tightly enough – and requiring a level of internal document control that would crank down illegal immigration to a level where we’d be safe from those 30 committed jihadis means we’re all living Winston Smith’s life. I’ll take a pass, thank you.
Yes, increasing immigration is changing the cultural and political complexion of communities around the country. That can be a good thing – if we embrace and incorporate those communities and make them a part of the US civic religion. We in the US have not had the kinds of closed, insular ethnic communities that we’ve seen in Europe – and the key element of our immigration policy needs to be ensuring that the cost of living in the US is embracing the civic religion enshrined in our politics, and working hard to dissolve the tribal bonds into individual and family connection to our polity.
In general, I do believe that we need to look at macro-level policies like this and embrace a certain level of mess. That’s called ‘flexibility.’
People who actually build things in the real word know that things flex and that we need to design systems to flex – in sometimes unpredictable ways.
The picture above is of a Grand Prix motorcycle (a Suzuki, bring ridden by John Hopkins), and one of the keys in designing fast racing motorcycles is designing in the correct amount of flex. If you don’t have it, the bike is unridable.
In designing policies around immigration and border security, maintaining awareness of flexibility and mess is critical. And no policy that doesn’t acknowledge that those exist isn’t a policy proposal and more than an inflexible motorcycle is a race winner. It’s a paperweight.