Ezra Klein has a revealing interview with Senator Bernie Sanders today at Vox. Sanders’ views on immigration jumped out as a particularly baffling eruption of economic illiteracy, political tribalism, xenophobic nationalism, and general silliness:
You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the US are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders. About sharply increasing ...
Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal.
Of course. That’s a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. ...
But it would make ...
Excuse me ...
It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn’t it?
It would make everybody in America poorer — you're doing away with the concept of a nation state.…
What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.
You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today? If you’re a white high school graduate, it’s 33 percent, Hispanic 36 percent, African American 51 percent. You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?
Every word of this nonsense should make it clear that Sanders is not a serious thinker or credible candidate.
“That’s a Koch brothers proposal.”
Oh, well if the Kochs want something, ipso facto it must be stopped. I assume Sanders must also oppose gay marriage, ending the war on drugs, ending the wars overseas, NSA reform, criminal justice reform, and other nefarious Koch proposals.
“That’s a right-wing proposal.”
I’m surprised he was able to get this line out with a straight face, but it does highlight an inconvenient fact for moderate liberals like Klein: the far left really agrees with the far right about keeping out foreigners.
The right has traditionally feared immigrants using welfare, and the left fears the same thing — conservatives because they want less welfare, and leftists because they want more. The right thinks immigrants will take your taxes, and the left that they’ll take your welfare. (They’re both wrong, for what it’s worth, but it still drives their politics.)
“It would make everybody in America poorer.”
This is patently untrue, but it also ignores Klein’s question: “It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn’t it?”
The answer to that is absolutely yes. Because the United States has better capital, infrastructure, and institutions than most other countries, labor is enormously more productive here. As a result, identical workers can earn 280% more here than in Mexico; workers from Yemen and Nigeria, 1300% more; Haitians, 2200% more.
If Sanders really cared about global poverty and taking a more “international view,” he ought to support allowing poor people to improve their lives by moving to where they have the best opportunities.
“You're doing away with the concept of a nation state.”
Presumably, then, he thinks that the United States didn’t really exist until the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act started arbitrarily excluding mass categories of people from coming here.
“What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that.”
That’s too bad, Bernie, because if those workers are earning $2 or $3 a day in their home countries, it would be great for them, and great for us.
Of course, the minimum wage prohibits people from working for less than $7.25 an hour, even if they want to. Speaking of which...
“I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.”
It speaks volumes about his economic literacy that the senator doesn’t recognize that these goals are in conflict: Government should make jobs more expensive (but also create millions more of them); we need to do everything we can to create more jobs (except allowing people to negotiate their own pay, or hire people from other countries).
“You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today? If you’re a white high school graduate, it’s 33 percent, Hispanic 36 percent, African American 51 percent.”
First, this is just false. Unemployment for teens is about 16% for whites, 21% for Hispanics, and 32% for African Americans. For ages 16-24, it's 12% for whites, 15% for Hispanics, and 23% for African Americans.
That's still not good, so let's ignore the fact he's making stuff up and take his point at face value. You know what would help reduce youth unemployment? Abolishing the minimum wage that prices unskilled young workers out of labor market. Or reforming a corrupt, failing public school system that leaves disadvantaged young people in dropout factories: out of school, out of work, and out of luck.
But no, Sanders wants to blame immigrants for the problem of youth unemployment that is being caused by the policies he is pursuing.
“You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?”
Finally, the senator falls for the zero-sum fallacy. There’s not a fixed number of jobs out there. The economy is a dynamic, organic system that creates jobs in response to supply and demand.
The dramatic increase in women’s participation in the labor force over the last 60 years did not drive men out of the job market; the economy adapted to the increased supply by creating jobs. Women didn’t take men’s jobs, and immigrants don’t take Americans’ jobs. Immigration creates jobs that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
What Sanders doesn’t recognize is that workers don’t need him to “get them jobs.” They need him to get out of their way, so they can find and create jobs for themselves.
Bernie wants to scapegoat immigrants for the failures of wage controls and the welfare state so that people won’t see through his lame socialist agenda. But no warmed over nationalist socialism can replace the creative power of free people.