With unemployment at chronically high rates in nearly all countries, it is not surprising that the number of explanations and interpretations is on the rise. In less developed countries, we are told, the high birth rates and population growth rates exceed the ability of agriculture and industry to absorb the new population, with the result of increasing unemployment.
In the industrial countries, where the rates of growth of population are much lower, the explanations cover a wide spectrum from the Marxian exploitation doctrine to the Keynesian inadequate- spending theory. In the United States, the oldest explanation of them all is coming to the fore. Rooted in the fear and resentment of foreigners, many of whom are illiterate and poor, more and more Americans are pointing at the newcomers as the cause of their difficulties. Labor leaders, especially, are quick to vilify “the illegal aliens” for the chronic unemployment that is plaguing organized labor.
Their explanation is almost 300 years old. The descendants of the original English settlers used it, viewing with alarm the influx of Germans and Scotch-Irish. And they in turn later protested the arrival of southern and eastern Europeans.
Their intellectual descendants now are pointing at millions of “illegal aliens” from Latin America who are blamed for our high unemployment rates, for lowering our enviable wage rates, for corrupting our political and social institutions, and their reluctance to conform and “Americanize.”
The estimate of some 8 million illegal aliens in the United States suggests a simple solution to our unemployment problem. Let us expel the 8 million aliens after we have inflicted appropriate punishment for illegal entry, and our chronic unemployment will cease to exist. Now every native American will cheerfully find his job.
In reality, unemployment is a cost phenomenon. There is always employment for anyone whose productivity exceeds his employment costs. And unemployment is awaiting anyone whose costs exceed his usefulness. This is true whether or not he is a citizen.
Rendering Useful Service
No one can possibly know how many illegal aliens actually have entered the United States. But we do know that they are earning a living through rendering services in agriculture, commerce and industry. You may find them in the fruit orchards of California, Oregon and Washington, on the farms and ranches of Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, in the hotels and motels in our cities, and in other service industries from coast to coast. They are working because their services are useful and economical.
Eight million Americans are unemployed because their employment costs consisting of wages and social benefits exceed their usefulness. How would they become more productive and economical through expulsion of foreigners? Would a black teenager in New York City whose employment costs exceed $5 an hour (minimum wage $3.35 plus fringe benefits) and whose labor may be worth only $1, find employment more easily after a Latin chambermaid at the Park Hotel had been arrested and deported? The expulsion of eight million foreigners would not vacate eight million jobs for deserving Americans. In fact, it is likely to create even more unemployment.
Productive alien employees cannot forcibly be replaced by native labor that inflicts losses on employers. They can be removed and deported, which would withdraw useful labor, restrict service and production, inflict losses on employers, and thus cause a contraction of economic activity. The hotel and motel industry, for instance, would be severely hampered in service and capacity. The fruit orchards would harvest less fruit, which would cause prices to rise and the industry to contract. And the American people would suffer a significant reduction of living stan dards through the loss of wholesome fruit in their diets.
Economists readily admit that in a stagnant economy the influx of new labor, native or foreign, tends to reduce wage rates. The given amount of capital is distributed over a greater number of workers, which reduces individual labor productivity and wage rates. But this admission does not apply to labor markets in which generous unemployment compensation, multiple benefits, and liberal foodstamps keep millions of workers from seeking employment. The institutional benefits that are creating the unemployment are not reduced when aliens illegally enter the United States.
Not Welfare Recipients
In constant fear of detection and deportation, few illegal aliens, if any, are seeking the social benefits that induce so many natives to prefer unemployment. There are no jobless benefits, no foodstamps, not even public assistance for illegal aliens. They live, and in many respects are like those old-fashioned Americans before the dawn of the New Deal and its redistribution programs.
While the fear of detection may prevent illegal aliens from collecting transfer benefits, it is more difficult to escape the taxes that are levied on labor. Surely, there are many who by arrangement with their employers pay neither income nor social security taxes. But this makes employers accomplices to illegal employment and tax evasion, which is a risk no large employer can possibly take. Therefore, it is likely that most illegal aliens suffer tax with-holdings like anyone else. They are probably paying “their share” in the expenses of our social institutions.
And yet, illegal aliens stand accused of corrupting our political and social institutions, favoring political and social radicalism, agitating for more transfer programs, and so on. All of this may be true. But we wonder about the political and ideological dangers of a California fruit-picker or an Atlanta chambermaid who, in constant fear of detection and deportation, timidly inquires about membership in a labor union. Surely, every native newspaper publisher, editor, commentator, writer, or professor can be, and probably is, immeasurably more effective in propagating radical ideas than is an illiterate alien.
The illegal alien stands accused of refusing to conform and “Americanize.” But he may be at a loss about the standard to which he is to conform and about the meaning of “Americanization.” As there is no standard, and cannot be one in this nation of refugees from all corners of the world, he, the illegal alien from Latin America, must be acquitted of this charge. It must suffice that he conforms to the only standard of a civilized society, that he is a human being who was born with inalienable human rights.
The festering problem of illegal entry to the United States and the social agitation that is besieging an estimated 8 million illegal aliens concern us all. We must therefore reject old fallacies and seek amiable solutions. But such resolutions may be beyond the bounds of possibility in the present institutional setting.
It is futile to stem the human flood of immigrants with dikes of laws and regulations from the armory of the police state. If the causes that are generating the migration continue to be active, no fine or imprisonment of “illegals” or their American employers, no government-issued identification card or work permit can arrest it.
To confer citizenship to all illegal aliens may promptly add several million workers to the unemployment and public assistance rolls. To make the aliens legal is to subject them to the minimum wage law, the wage and hours legislation, and countless fringe regulations that boost labor costs and cause chronic unemployment. To make them legal, therefore, is to sever their productive employments and send them to their ethnic welfare centers, the metropolitan areas. Like many thousands of Puerto Ricans before them, many legal aliens would discover that, after all, there was no job for them in the country of opportunity. A few who would survive the purge following the bestowal of citizenship would be tempted by their newly acquired welfare eligibility to join their idle brethren in the cities. And once again, the farms and ranches, hotels and motels, and many other service industries would have to curtail their production because of lack of labor.
Nothing but the right can ever be expedient. In the cause of individual freedom, we must defend the rights of all people, including illegal aliens. But if the political rights of American citizenship entail the denial of the human right to work diligently for one’s economic existence, and if we are forced to choose between the two, we must opt for the latter. The right to sustain one’s life through personal effort and industry is a basic human right that precedes and exceeds all political rights. It is an inalienable right of all people, including illegal aliens.
For millions of European immigrants who reached our shores, the Statue of Liberty signaled the promise of personal liberty. As long as its torch is still burning we have no choice but to live by its light.