Imagine someone cryogenically frozen in 1950 is woken up today. The first thing he sees is an op-ed calling for increased immigration to handle America’s labor shortage. The second thing he sees is the U-6 unemployment rate, which is over 13%.* He’s going to be very confused. How can someone look at an unemployment rate of 13% (with depressed, inflation-adjusted wages to boot) and say the problem is a labor shortage?
In this sense, the current debate over increased immigration, and consequently open borders, is predicated on this puzzle. A lot of the opposition to open borders and increased immigration can be seen as an extension of the above puzzlement. Most people are intuitive thinkers, which means that calling for an expanded labor market during a time of severe unemployment just doesn’t make sense.
Thus, it’s helpful to ask two questions. First, why is the current unemployment rate 13+%? Second, why are foreigners such a desirable source of labor?
Once we begin to answer these questions, we quickly realize that there are a lot of distortions in the labor market that have led to American unemployment being over 13% while still enabling foreigners look like attractive sources of labor.
First off, why is it that 13+% of Americans cannot find a job while employers are complaining of a worker shortage? There are myriad reasons, among them are: minimum wage laws, labor regulations (like OSHA regs, EEOC regs, etc.), payroll taxes (which impose double costs on employers since they must both collect the taxes and maintain records of them), corporate taxes (the incidence of which is usually workers, not owners or consumers), and so forth. In addition, American workers often need to earn more money since the government mandates certain expenditures like health and car insurance. Personal compliance with government regulations does have its costs, and so workers are going to demand more pay in order to break even. Furthermore, the government incentivizes outsourcing and automation through the corporate status and trade agreements. The cumulative effect of all this government interference is that employers have a strong incentive to employ non-American labor while American workers are hamstrung and are thus considerably less-able to compete with foreign workers.
Thus, the current immigration debate can be seen as a sort of proxy of other problems. When the unemployment rate is 13+% but employers are complaining of a labor shortage, it is not unreasonable to assume that some people’s rights are somehow being violated. And as quick glance at the federal (not to mention state and municipal) intrusion into American workers’ lives shows, a lot of people’s rights are being violated in some rather unconscionable ways.
This, then, begs the question of why certain “Cheap Chalupa” (nominal) libertarians are so concerned about open borders while remaining relatively unconcerned with the prolonged human rights violations of their fellow citizens. Why is a Mexican’s right to work freely and without imposition more important than an American’s right to do the same? (I have a personal theory, but I’ll save that for another post.)
To be consistent, libertarians need to argue for open borders/increased immigration in concert with radical deregulation/the abolition of the federal government. AsI’ve pointed out numerous times before, hamstringing domestic businesses and workers while giving greater market access to foreigners is not the free market; it is a cruel and gross violation of human rights. To argue for the rights of one racial group over the other is hypocritical and racist, and to ignore the repeated violation of human rights that occurs in one’s own country simply because one sees it every day and is used to it is inhumanely calloused.
Thus, the matter of immigration and open borders is more than merely a matter of race and culture. It is the intuitive thinker’s way of addressing what is clearly bureaucratic oppression. The terms may not be articulated as such, but logical steps are there if one is willing to look. Asking why more immigrants are necessary in light of 13+% unemployment might sound xenophobic at first blush, but an honest consideration of the question reveals that immigrants aren’t the only ones whose rights are being violated.**
* Of course, this presupposes that the BLS statistics are representative of reality. An argument can be made that they are not.
** To distill this even further, both pro- and anti-immigrationists are focusing on the human-rights-violations aspect of the issue. The difference between the two groups is which humans they focus on. The pro side is focused on the violation of Mexicans’ rights; the con anti side is focused on the violation of Americans’ rights. Fittingly, to bring this full circle, we’re right back to culture.