Why Immigration Today Is Not the Same As It Was in 1900 (Thanks to the State)

Matt Wilson has a new post on ideas to reform the welfare state when taking into consideration immigration, which under the current model encourages poor immigrants to come and remain poor.

While providing some background, he did a commendable job explaining the difference between immigration in 1900 and immigration today (emphasis added).

The problem, as many point out, is that while we welcome poor people in, our government does their best to keep them poor by incentivizing them not to work. Let me be a little more generous and say our government incentivizes them not to strive to get out of poverty. The fact is that being poor in America is exponentially better than being poor in a 3rd world country. They do this through entitlement programs, otherwise known as welfare programs. The problem with immigration isn’t immigrants, it’s the ever-growing burden of welfare programs that now takes up about 85% of our federal budget each year.

This wasn’t a problem in the early 1900’s when millions of people were coming to Ellis Island in search of a better life. There was basically no safety net for those people, they lived or died by their own effort. The vast majority of them survived, mainly because they had to. Of course there was poverty, how could there not be, but they worked hard and within a generation or two became the middle and upper class.

I would also speculate that this lack of welfare also encouraged cultural assimilation, because they found that assimilation opened up economic opportunities. Accusations of racism aside, I think a large section of nativists and anti-illegal immigration crowd would be more than happy to  help someone trying to learn English or become “American,” but now they are tacitly encouraged by the government not to do so.

I’m planning on stepping away from the Net for a few days to enjoy some time off, but I wanted to just quickly elaborate on what Wilson pointed out: Immigration today and immigration a century ago are not equivalents, and the reason for this is not the immigration themselves per se but the federal government.

When people say “we are a nation of immigrants” they’re missing the crux of the issue.The immigrants of 1900 who came often penniless arrived to take advantage of economic freedoms that enabled them to create their own wealth, not wealth provided by the state stolen from others. They were responding to positive incentives, not perverse ones. This is what needs to change.

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4 Responses to Why Immigration Today Is Not the Same As It Was in 1900 (Thanks to the State)

  1. Thanks.

    As much as I am for “free immigration” (meaning that immigrants get to come here and homestead previously unowned property or be accepted in by invitation from a native property owner), I do have some qualms with the “nation of immigrants” argument.

    I think that while the left overplays the argument, the “nation of immigrants” argument does have considerable merit, as much of America’s demographic is composed of more than white Anglo-Saxon Protestant men and women. We have Irish, French, Spanish, Jewish, Eastern European, and Scottish immigrants to make up much of America’s “melting pot” heritage. I think that were it not for the State’s perversions, Arabs and Hispanics could be part of the “melting pot” without causing the damage that it otherwise would (in a statist society of subsidized migration).

    Having said that, you are right to note that the “free immigration” that libertarians and early American society promoted is a different creature from the “free” immigration promoted by self-serving left-wing elites and pundits.

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    • The Question says:

      I think that were it not for the State’s perversions, Arabs and Hispanics could be part of the “melting pot” without causing the damage that it otherwise would (in a statist society of subsidized migration).

      This is an area where entho-statists and the bulk of neo-reactionaries would disagree. To them, race and culture are practically intertwined, where I see them as closely but not necessarily related. Without perverse incentives, what we would have would be Arabs and Hispanics who come to America or other Western countries with the understanding that they need to assimilate to the culture (just as those who go to Arab and Hispanic countries need to assimilate as well). This reality would naturally weed out those who wouldn’t want to.

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  2. Tab Spangler says:

    So until the welfare state is abolished, should the state keep protecting us from the consequences by limiting movement?
    I agree that there are strong perverse incentives and try to point them out to others.
    Personally, I don’t want to be against freedom of movement just as I’d never argue that as long as we have a Federal Reserve, we must pay income taxes and it must be illegal to pay for things in other currencies.

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    • The Question says:

      So until the welfare state is abolished, should the state keep protecting us from the consequences by limiting movement?

      Unfortunately they’re doing the worst of both worlds; they have a welfare state, plus bad immigration laws they enforce arbitrarily and capriciously. They’ll let millions illegally enter the country if that means they’ll vote for big government, but they’ll also deport people who claim asylum because they want to homeschool their children which is prohibited in their home country.

      Personally, I don’t want to be against freedom of movement just as I’d never argue that as long as we have a Federal Reserve, we must pay income taxes and it must be illegal to pay for things in other currencies.

      If there’s a way to reduce the size of the state without having to close the borders I’ll all for it, but I have yet to come across one. And being cynical I think that we’ll continue to get the worst of both worlds; if Trump’s elected he’ll build a costly wall that doesn’t work and inflate the size of the INS bureaucracy, and eventually both will be used to enforce emigration restrictions. Regardless of who is elected, we will continue to see more and more emigration restrictions as Americans either try to leave or take their wealth overseas.

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