Monday, October 06, 2014

Immigration and Economic Ethics

The alien who lives among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower… You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the LORD your God.
--Deuteronomy 28:43, 62

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that the U.S. labor market added 248,000 jobs in September and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.9%. 

The consensus among mainstream economists and journalists is that job growth is strong and the economy is in recovery from The Great Recession.  “This is a very muscular report," said Eric Lascelles, chief economist at RBC Global Asset Management, parroting the line heard from the chattering class. "It’s showing powerful job creation, no matter how one cares to slice it.”  But when one peels back the proverbial onion a few disconcerting facts come to light. 

First, by way of explanation, BLS employment data consists of two surveys—the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. Estimates provided by the surveys differ because they utilize different definitions and sample sizes.

The payroll survey samples workers in 400,000 establishments who are covered by unemployment insurance. The household survey queries a sample of 60,000 individuals in the workforce.  For my purpose, I will be citing the household survey, which provides more detail relating to ethnic composition and nativity status. 

For the month of September, the household survey reported an increase in total employment by 232,000.  However, native-born American employment fell by 137,000.  This was off-set by a sharp increase in foreign-born employment which rose by 369,000.
According to VDARE’s Ed Rubenstein over the past two months foreign-born employment has increased by more than 1 million workers while the number of native-born American workers employed has fallen by 780,000.

Nor is this trend a new phenomenon.  In June the Center for Immigration Studies found that there were 127,000 fewer working-age natives holding a job in the first quarter of 2014 than in 2000, even as the number of immigrants with a job was 5.7 million above the 2000 level.  In short, all job growth since 2000 has gone entirely to legal and illegal immigrants. 

But immigration does not merely displace native workers, it also drives down wages.  Indeed, the most recent employment report indicates that wages dropped in September despite the boost in employment.  Wages have increased just 2% in the last year, not even keeping pace with inflation.  This is the second straight recovery in which the wages for most Americans did not increase during the expansionary phase of the cycle. 

Immigrants obviously drive down wages of workers in those industries where they directly compete for employment, but they also buy goods and services, which creates jobs in other parts of the economy.  Many economists have now concluded that the primary economic consequence of mass immigration is the redistribution of wealth from labor to capital.  This fact is seldom mentioned by lefties of the Occupy Wall Street type and judiciously ignored by the Chamber of Commerce crowd on the right.  But there is a growing academic consensus that while immigration plays a surprisingly small role in creating prosperity, it does dramatically redistribute wealth from workers to employers and users of immigrant services and, of course, to the immigrants themselves. 

The unbridled insanity of America’s immigration “debate” has been chronicled for a number of years by George Borjas, a Harvard labor economist.  Borjas is widely recognized as academia’s leading scholar on the economics of immigration.  Moreover, he is an immigrant himself, having arrived here from Cuba penniless in 1962. 

One myth Borjas explodes is that immigration adds substantial wealth to the American economy.  In fact, Borjas found that the actual net benefit accruing to natives is small, equal to an estimated two-tenths of 1 percent of GDP. “There is little evidence indicating that immigration (legal and/or illegal) creates large net gains for native-born Americans,” writes Borjas.

Even though the overall net impact on natives is small, this does not mean that the wage losses suffered by some natives or the income gains accruing to other natives are insubstantial.  Borjas  reviewed the wage impact of immigrants who entered the country between 1990 and 2010 and found that this cohort had reduced the annual earnings of American workers by $1,396—a 2.5% reduction.  As low-skill immigrants have flooded the labor market, opportunities for the least skilled workers have markedly decreased and the most vulnerable Americans have seen their wages decline as a result.  Borjas estimates that immigration is responsible for half the decrease observed in the wages of high-school dropouts.  “The biggest winners from immigration are owners of businesses that employ a lot of immigrant labor and other users of immigrant labor”, writes Borjas. “The other big winners are the immigrants themselves.”  The primary losers are native citizens with minimal skills and low levels of education.

What accounts for the fact that the world’s largest economy has become an engine providing wealth to the foreign born even as natives continue to struggle?  I think it is primarily the result of the triumph of the Alienist mindset and a globalist perspective.  The loyalty of American elites is now international rather than regional, national, or local.  But multicultural assumptions have wormed their way into all sectors of life.  The great reactionary writer Joseph Sobran defined alienism as “a prejudice in favor of the alien, the marginal, the dispossesed, the eccentric, reaching an extreme in the attempt to ‘build a new society’ by destroying the basic institutions of the native.” 

Obviously liberals are purveyors of the politics of guilt and pity and “alienism” is the reigning ideological paradigm within many left-wing movements.  But increasingly there are elements of the conservative coalition that have imbibed many of the same premises.  The business wing of the GOP has no attachment to kin, kith, place, or nation and is loyal only to the bottom line.  Many Evangelical Christian leaders are also parroting positions indistinguishable from multiculturalists.  Most American have not been inoculated from the viruses of Political Correctness and Cultural Marxism and have unintentionally imbibed many false presuppositions.  Evangelical pastors and writers—from Russ Moore and John Piper to Joel Belz and Mike Gerson—discuss the immigration issue, to take one example, in a manner that universalizes obligation and undermines concrete ethical duties tied to a place and a people.  They emphasize the universal at the expense of the particular.  Man has a series of concentric duties emanating from himself outward to family, neighbor, local church, etc.  But to obligate a man to care for the well being of millions, or imply that he has six billion “neighbors”, is to create a yoke of guilt that will lead to the bondage of statism.  

Reading Evangelical leaders I am reminded of James Burnham’s discussion of Neo-Conservatism.  Burnham commented that the neoconservatives still clung to "what might be called the emotional gestalt of liberalism, the liberal sensitivity and temperament."  He said they substituted abstractions about "compassion, kindliness, love and brotherhood" for indispensable civic virtues.  Christians are misapplying a range of biblical texts in ways that foster and augment the worldview of modern multiculturalism--a worldview that is polytheistic and fundamentally at war with a Christian view of reality. 

Most Christian social thinkers also lack a basic understanding of economics and fail to reckon with the economic fact of scarcity. Proper stewardship must begin with the admission that resources are finite and limited. Economics is not a science but a branch of applied ethics primarily focusing on the study of human action. In a world of scarcity, a result of God’s curse on the earth due to Adam’s sin, human beings necessarily make choices among competing alternatives effecting the distribution of resources. Ethically speaking do six trillion people have a claim on scarce and finite American monetary and economic resources?

Do Americans have a moral imperative to import poverty, and in so doing divert resources and employment opportunities from our most vulnerable citizens? The primary victims of unchecked immigration are Americans with little education and skills, native-born minorities, convicts who have done their time, and the disabled. These are fellow citizens, neighbors, and often our brothers in Christ, but all too many Christians would consign them to dog-eat-dog competition with those who have broken American law in the case of illegal aliens or who have no ties to our land and people.  Surely such citizens are among "the least of these”.