The late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman famously commented, "It's just obvious you can't have free immigration and a welfare state." As we've noticed in recent years, what was obvious to Mr. Friedman and indeed to the great majority of American citizens is apparently a mystery to many of our political leaders, Democrat and Republican alike. They have not effectively addressed the issue of the ongoing invasion of the United States from south of the border by millions of destitute Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans and other Central Americans desperate for jobs that pay a living wage.
Tired of waiting for Washington to act, the citizens of Arizona have pressured their state leaders to crack down on illegals. Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law a measure ordering state law enforcement officers to take steps to root out the estimated 500,000 illegal residents of her state. She says that years and years of "misguided" policy by the federal government "have created an unacceptable situation."
As you certainly know by now, the Arizona law has sparked quite the reaction. President Barack Obama took the side of the illegals, saying it was the new state law that was "misguided" and calling on the Justice Department to make sure Arizona law enforcement officers do not violate anyone's civil rights in enforcing it. He says this is a wake-up call for the federal government to at last overhaul the immigration system. But the reality is, there's most likely no way to round up the necessary votes in Congress to get that done.
Meanwhile, Al Sharpton announced he would go to Arizona to march in protest. There are dire warnings that under the new law, racial profiling will become a reality to be endured by anyone in the Grand Canyon State who looks Latino. Calls ring out to boycott Arizona. There have been angry protests featuring the waving of Mexican flags, which is probably more damaging than helpful to the cause of the people carrying them. It reinforces the notion that the new immigrants are inassimilable.
How often we hear that if it weren't for the illegals, who would do the nastier, harder jobs here? Who'd cut your lawn or work in the slaughterhouses or put a new roof on your house? The answer is that Americans would, though the wages paid them to do such things would be higher than they are currently. Labor, like any other commodity, is priced on the laws of supply and demand. In this Great Recession, with joblessness at its highest since the 1930s, we should cut down on our bad habit of giving away American jobs and dampening the wages paid to American workers.
Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation expands on Milton Friedman's axiom:
"To be fully understood, Friedman's comment should be viewed as applying not merely to means-tested welfare programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing, but to the entire redistributive transfer state. In the ‘transfer state,' government taxes the upper middle class and shifts some $1.5 trillion in economic resources to lower-income groups through a vast variety benefits and subsidies. Across the globe, this sort of economic redistribution is the largest, if not the predominant, function of government in advanced societies."
A little over two years ago, a study by Harvard economist George Borjas showed that illegal immigrants cost the Arizona taxpayers $1.4 billion a year in lost wages. They pay a similar amount for the education, welfare and incarceration of illegals. Is it any wonder that the vast majority of Arizonans support the new law? Businesses big and small like cheap immigrant labor. Democrats love the idea of amnesty for illegals because it would work to their party's advantage on Election Day (though many Republicans, being members of the Stupid Party, stubbornly believe they could lure these voters away from the Democrats, even though that idea is preposterous).
Expert opinion can shape public perception about abstractions, or events far away from home. But the invasion of America by illegals — an estimated 10 percent of Mexico's population lives here now — is seen clearly by the ordinary citizen who has to pay the bill even in these times of lessened expectation. It's not an abstraction. It's a threat that must be dealt with, regardless of Washington's ineptitude. Stay tuned.
Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.