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A little fact-facing about labor pools

It isn't altruism or Christian charity or the desire to treat all men equally that fuels big business' backing of open immigration policies. Businessmen admit this in whispers among themselves all the time, and every now and then one of them lets it slip in public. Once in a great while one even has the -- I don't know if the word is 'audacity' or 'foolishness' - to propose a policy which makes this impossible to ignore.

I'll add that it isn't just the price-point of wages which incents business to support as much open immigration of unskilled labor as possible. It isn't as though there isn't enough unskilled labor right here, in the form of our own countrymen. It is just that in addition to being relatively more expensive than immigrant labor in terms of direct wages, these countrymen of ours are also - though one has to be delicate in how one says this, ironically in order to avoid a charge of racism for having the audacity to consider the possibility that our own countrymen are employable even though they are not white - objectively more difficult to employ, leading to greater expense and uncertainty, two things which American capitalism is designed to ruthlessly minimize.

I'll emphasize, though, that this latter labor pool consists of those who are already our neighbors and countrymen, to whom as an objective matter we have a greater obligation than we do to men from other lands. "Jobs that Americans won't do" is at least in part code for "jobs it is easier and less expensive to hire unskilled immigrants to do than it is to hire inner city Blacks to do". (Oddly, the Time article misses the elephant in the room entirely).

Business isn't the only faction in favor of open immigration, of course, though without business as bedfellow it seems unlikely that the push for ever more open immigration would be politically practical. And I'm sure plenty of businessmen tell themselves bedtime stories about family values and the Rio Grande. But don't kid yourself about what is fueling the boilers in the engine room, and don't kid yourself that you have no indigent countrymen who are harmed by the wedge that more pliable and easily employable immigrant labor drives between these countrymen of yours and escape from conditions which make Dickens look like a peaceful oasis.

Comments (25)

Well said, Zippy. It had to be said, and I'm glad our resident Thomist businessman said it.

Three things I want to emphasize:

(1) Your point that one of the things "American capitalism is designed to ruthlessly minimize" is "uncertainty." If that's right, and I suspect it is, then it is all the more wise, and even vital, to point out the distinction between our current system (Capitalism) and the original Free Enterprise system which is the bedrock of American energy and boldness.

(2) Indeed our inner cities do "makes Dickens like a peaceful oasis." What a shame upon this country's honor the 'hood is! And yet our Liberals and progressives will never admit this plain pulverizing evidence of their ruinous social policies.

(3) The construction of "incent" as a verb -- as in, the "price-point of wages incents business ..." etc. -- is a stroke of genius. I have always detested the word "incentivize" -- thanks for giving me an alternative, Zip.


I realize I'm turning into the cranky uncle of W4, but...

If it were between two of your countrymen you had to choose, and one of them definitely had a nasty attitude, or were violent, or a drug pusher, I would _hope_ we cd. all agree that it would be perfectly legitimate to hold this man responsible for his own actions and attitudes and to hire the other man.

What, then, exactly is the message w.r.t. hiring a non-fellow-countryman over that same hypothetical nasty drug pusher? Is it that you are obligated to hire the fellow countryman regardless? That you are permitted morally to hire neither and just scroll back your business, and that you have a duty to do this rather than hire someone other than your own countryman? Or what?

Does this principle apply only if the prospective employee who is a fellow countryman has a grumpy and difficult attitude, or shows up to work late frequently, or is unreliable in some other way, but _not_ if he is violent or a drug pusher? How far, in other words, does the duty to prefer fellow countrymen that I'm inferring you hold to, Zippy, extend?

And y'all know that I am if anything too hawkish on illegal immigration. But this issue seems to me to be rather separate from legal/illegal, or from many other questions about immigration. It would seem that if there's a true principle that we mustn't hire non-countrymen who are better employees over fellow countrymen who are poor employees, this principle would apply even to legal aliens and even if the immigration situation were under control and only a trickle of carefully-vetted immigrants were entering the country.

Lydia has a nice question. One that once again shows us that we have way too many parameters to this debate.

But, I would like to say that a country, any country, has a duty to ensure that ALL of it's citizens who want to work, are working. I would go so far as to say that mathematically it is in our best interest that as many members of the population are paying into society instead of drawing from it. So, if that is the case, we have no real metric for that. We have our unemployment numbers, but the system is designed to ensure that if you don't want to work, or rather you want to sit around and draw your unemployment you can.

So, in short, we lack the data to even extend the discussion or find a solution. We do not know how many Americans (black, white, etc) are working who want to work. We do not have accurate numbers of those on welfare that prefer that system to actually working for a living. Nor do we know how many illegal aliens we have working. And I dare go out on a limb and say we do not even have accurate numbers of those who are legal immigrants and are working through the process.

What we do know is this...labor through illegal channels is cheaper, easier, more efficient, and the path of least resistance. So, in short, it is easier and more cost affective to break the law than it is to follow the law, or even do the "right" thing by ensuring American citizens, natural or otherwise, are educated and employed.

That is a problem no matter what sub-parameter we debate.


Well let's narrow the focus here, Lydia.

Imagine you own a small, local business. You have several jobs open. I would say that, yes, you have an obligation to discriminate in favor of Americans. Now by no means are you obligated to hire a bad employee. If no American can be found to fill the job, you must look elsewhere. But I would even say you have an obligation toward Americans with roots in your community, and it seems highly unlikely to me that there are many communities in this country where no employable Americans are available.

I would even go farther than that, though I would not make this an obligation: A successful businessman really ought to take risks on local labor, ought to take a risk on that kid down the street whose father left the family and who dabbles in marijuana but who, given the structure and responsibility of steady work, might have half a chance to escape the grasp of urban squalor. I have a friend who does just that: he has renovated several homes around his house in inner-city Atlanta, and seeks out local labor relentlessly, even taking losses occasionally (stolen equipment, shoddy work, etc.) for his neighbors. He is a solid Christian, of course.

So its a hierarchy or gradation that we are talking about here, not a rigid discernible linear principle.

And I would add--again, at the risk of appearing an uncaring meanie--that there is something more involved than whether one wants to work. If you in some sense want to work but are foul-mouthed, unreliable, seriously unpleasant in manner to your employer and fellow workers, or even worse, these are legitimate considerations for your employer to take into account and they legitimately count against you. There are countless numbers of these legitimate considerations. I do not believe that employers are obligated to nurse along or simply keep writing checks to notably poor employees. There does need to be some sort of accountability on the part of an employee for his attitude, cleanliness, manner, behavior, hard-workingness, etc.

I'm sorry, Paul, we were posting at the same time.

I think your friend is admirable. Whether the extent of loss he is taking (shoddy work, stolen equipment) is something all employers are morally obligated to accept is a real question to me. This isn't, after all, just about employers who want to make money. The system hangs together on the basis of personal responsibility. To my mind there is a sense in which we show respect to people by treating them as responsible for their actions rather than always as objects of charitable easy-goingness. To what extent this extends to groups is a very difficult question, but making the induction "If I hire from that group, I'm probably going to get my equipment stolen" and being influenced by that fact *is not* in itself illegitimate, in my opinion. And it provides a motivation to communities and groups to clean up their act and to individuals to show themselves different from other members of their own group if that group chronically has these problems.

I think one question is to what extent employers are required to resist their inductive knowledge, simply to accept losses, and thereby in a sense to subvert the normal mechanism of _consequences_ for bad behavior by group members. I don't mean this to be a self-answering question. Precisely because it's group members, you might well do good to some individual who really wanted to make good and who was not going to steal your equipment. But I certainly think that can be carried too far when we keep giving chance after chance to neighborhoods where it really becomes exceedingly difficult to run a business. I am not among those who burst out in anger at the "white flight" phenomenon. To no small extent it seems to me an entirely reasonable response to the bad behavior of many of one's neighbors.

Whether the extent of loss ... is something all employers are morally obligated to accept is a real question to me.

I specifically denied that what my friend does is an obligation that we can extend to all employers. It would be better to say it is an obligation for Christian employers, maybe.

And I can assure you that my friend, when it comes to work, is not an "easy-going" man. He works these guys hard, demands good, and fires for bad work. But he still takes risks for his neighbors, and his neighborhood is manifestly better for it: three old crack-houses (I do not exaggerate) are now attractive start-ups. On top of that, even in a bad real estate market, my friend has prospered.

It is also somewhat dubious to me to assume that we can really perceive with any precision who will, and who will not cheat, steal, shirk, etc. A recent study I discussed with this very friend reported that over 50% of MBA students admit to cheating. My friend has had plenty of trouble with various electricians, HCAV-guys, dry-wallers, etc, even when he researches and goes out of his community for them.

Okay, but since it would be best if employers were Christians...the obligation could get pretty extensive even then.

Yes, it can be hard to tell about individuals. But we need, in my opinion, to be willing to be politically incorrect about using, or at least admitting the relevance of, all the evidence at our disposal. And group membership is evidence. You yourself seemed to be implying that your friend has taken losses in stolen equipment, etc., _because of_ his determination to hire locally, so there must be _some_ connection or he would have been just as likely to get stuff stolen or suffer those losses had he moved the whole business to the suburbs.

And while a willingness to cheat is related to a willingness to steal, they aren't the same. I wouldn't want to hire an MBA to run my business who was willing to cheat. On the other hand, I might lose more as an employer by hiring someone who had a poor moral compass in the area of cheating on his taxes but a better moral compass in the area of, say, vandalism or theft of visible property. It depends on what I'm hiring him for and what he will have access to, what harm he will be able to do, etc.

Well, I'm sticking with my principle: there is an obligation to favor local American labor. It is not so strict a principle as to demolish other considerations. But all other things being equal, an American should be hired over a non-American.

(I suppose someone might be able to coax out an exception to this if the immigrant in question is a member of long-standing in the local community, while the American is a new arrival. Might.)

I think, too, you're going to want that principle to apply to non-Christian employers, aren't you? I mean, there aren't very many Christian employers in the economy as a whole, yet I definitely get the idea that y'all think it's bad or unworthy of American employers generally to prefer more reliable laborers if this comes at the expense of Americans who belong to statistically unreliable or badly-behaved groups.

Here's an interesting corollary question, related to your mention of a possible exception: What does the immigrant have to do before being accounted a fellow countryman? I would assume formal naturalization would erase the preference principle against the immigrant. Right? How about legal "permanent resident" status? What if a person were an American citizen in virtue of his mother's having come here while pregnant to make him an "anchor baby"?

Naturally it is a complex issue, and therefore it doesn't lend itself to conversion into a universal principle which can be applied in every individual situation. The main point is that open-borders policy as an objective matter involves throwing American blacks to the dogs. That the situation of American blacks is more difficult than the situation of immigrants in ways not all of which are directly addressible by policy doesn't I think reduce the punch of the point. Public policy needs to support the public good by at the very least not undermining it. Public policy undercutting the employability of American blacks by importing cheap pliable labor for business while simultaneously suggesting that opposition to the policy is racist is the kind of thing which could only have occurred in an advanced postmodern liberal polity.

"Public policy undercutting the employability of American blacks by importing cheap pliable labor for business while simultaneously suggesting that opposition to the policy is racist is the kind of thing which could only have occurred in an advanced postmodern liberal polity."


Well, I'm a major opponent of open borders on other grounds, so we all agree there, at least practically. But I get a little fidgety when "it's making it harder for blacks" is given as an additional ground, especially when, with commendable honesty (I mean this) Zippy admits that blacks are objectively harder to employ. I mean, people aren't animals. They have free will. If they are objectively harder to employ, I tend to think it's legitimate for there to be consequences for this. The whole issue does really seem to me analytically separable from that of illegal immigration, because it would persist w.r.t. legal immigrants even in an entirely different immigration atmosphere.

If I were an employer confronted with an (entirely legal) immigrant young man who _wasn't_ experimenting with marijuana and a native son who was, and there were no other character-related strikes against the immigrant, etc., I would feel guilty for hiring the native son just because he was a native son. Virtue should be rewarded. And the same would apply to arrest for shoplifting or even just hanging around with a very bad crowd, even if the fellow in question hadn't yet gotten into trouble. Kids who keep their noses clean and don't run with a bad pack deserve to be recognized for this. To my mind, that's part of what conservatism should be about.

In a sense, the various university systems that give Affirmative Action points to blacks and thus penalize Vietnamese are practically speaking "taking care of our own" and giving preference to natives over immigrants. But they seem to me highly unsavory and not endorsable by conservatives.

Virtue should be rewarded.

It also has to be cultivated or at least not undermined by public policy, and my main point is about public policy not the individual employer. Public policy which ghettoizes the poorest and most historically disadvantaged of our countrymen, plying them with just enough welfare to keep them from attaining any level of self-sufficient dignity, while importing cheap labor to undercut their opportunities, is I think wicked policy. Yes, individuals have free will and there is no excuse for individually evil acts, and yes, people are kidding themselves to expect identical average aptitudes in all abilities from individuals of all ethnic backgrounds; but that doesn't make objectively evil public policy which gives rise to conditions of squalor (all ironically in the name of universal nondiscrimination) excusable.

I see this as primary (perhaps not unsurprisingly) because I see moral underpinnings as primary in every question of public policy. As a country we are like the man who cheats on his wife while volunteering at the soup kitchen. From my perspective (ever in the mode of making friends of everyone) a lot of the immigration opposition on the Right appears morally akin to avoiding the soup kitchen in order to take on a second mistress.

"a lot of the immigration opposition on the Right appears morally akin to avoiding the soup kitchen in order to take on a second mistress."

It is probably me, but I totally miss meaning of a second mistress.

No illegal immigration but more legal?

I don't understand why the issue seems so difficult for some.

Our natural obligations are to family, local community and country.
There could be exceptions and complications of course.

A parent should try to help his wayward kid before he tries to help his neighbor's kid.
Donations to kids causes in remote state should come after that.

However if wayward son is in jail, not much his father can do for him, at least for a while.

If a potential hire, a countryman, is not that great, it is a judgement call. If he looks like violent type, I would not hire him. If just sullen and looks lazy, I would probably take a risk.

Immigrants, even legal, should be considered after pool of acceptable countrymen is exhausted.

Yes, businesses should not hire illegals, but for many it is virtually a survival issue if competitors use illegals.
I met a few contractors who hate to do it, but are forced to.
It is a Tragedy of Commons situation, only national law enforcement can get us out of this mess.

I appreciate your distinction, Zippy, between public policy and individual employers. I'll have to think more about how those two things interact in this particular case.

Mik, I appreciate your concreteness. If you hired the sullen and lazy-looking or "not that great" countryman over a fully legal immigrant standing right in front of you with none of those disadvantages, would you be quite sure you had not been unfair to the immigrant?

I also don't get the "take a second mistress" analogy.

"If you hired the sullen and lazy-looking or "not that great" countryman over a fully legal immigrant standing right in front of you with none of those disadvantages, would you be quite sure you had not been unfair to the immigrant?"

Again, it is a judgement call. If a legal immigrant in question is a US veteran or somebody who has shown his loyalty to the US above and beyond an average citizen, he would go to the head of the queue in my shop.

Everything being equal, a native born citizen gets hired.

As an immigrant (legal) myself, I had expected and had received such treatment. That's how it should be in my book.

I have only a small qualm about a "everything being equal, hire the citizen" principle. I have big qualms about hiring the citizen over the legal immigrant when everything is not equal, and particularly in areas that seem to me to fall generally into the realm of "character issues."

The analogy isn't great in the particulars; I'm going to be pretty busy for the next few days which reduces my ability to respond to the occasional drive-by, and my occasional drive-bys always get me into trouble.

The basic idea though is that although the true and legitimate moral rationale is "home takes a higher priority than the soup kitchen in the next town", there is very little emphasis or concrete activity on actually making home a higher priority. The primary legitimate moral rationale rests on a relative prioritization, but the policy advocacy is only on one side of the seesaw. "Stop large-scale immigration and take care of our own poor and homeless" is suspiciously truncated just prior to the word "and" when it comes to concrete action.

I wrote about this topic some time ago. Illegal immigration unrestrained just gives us more opportunities for exploitation.

"I have only a small qualm about a "everything being equal, hire the citizen" principle."

Stretching my analogy a little further. Legal immigrant is like son-in-law, somebody who came into your family from outside.
He is a family, however you still care more about your own son.

I have only a small qualm about a "everything being equal, hire the citizen" principle.

One small qualm being that it is currently illegal for most employers to operate under that principle if by "citizen" you mean native born citizens only, and not legal immigrants. Do I understand that you are proposing this as a policy, not something that can currently be done from a legal point of view?

C Matt, I don't know who "you" is in your question. If you mean me, since you are quoting me, please note that someone else (Mik, the commentator) proposed the principle, not I. I'm saying what I think of it. As far as that goes, I think it should be obvious that everybody who is proposing any sort of preference for American citizens (which several other people in this thread have proposed) is not discussing the legality of it but rather saying it would be a good idea if it could be done.

I'm actually the one raising some concerns about these proposals, so it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for you to be quoting me on the subject and asking me to respond to the question of legality. As far as I know, if the person in question is a legal immigrant, you are in all likelihood right that giving preference to citizens (naturalized or native-born) over legal immigrants is illegal. But it's always possible to discuss what policy should be. I, for example, think that the world of hiring policy would be better if most non-discrimination laws were overturned, especially as these laws are usually used, ironically, as an excuse to _require_ discrimination. And in states where there are non-discrimination statutes that name "sexual orientation," I _certainly_ think that these laws are wrong.

In the case of the present proposal--made by other people in this thread, not by me--I've made it clear that I retain a small moral worry about it. But I have a major moral worry when all else is not equal and we are actually being asked to _discount_ what are clearly employment-relevant merit issues, particularly those related to character, such as drug use or other questionable behavior by the prospective employee, in order to favor the citizen over the non-citizen, when both are applying fo rthe job.

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