This essay is about migration. As background I will provide a brief recap in summary of the conclusions of the first essay in this “Invisible Hand” series which examined the physical object nature of our money and some of the unfortunate consequences of that nature.
All money in history (and pre-history) has been considered to be or to represent physical objects such as a basket of grain, a cow, a coin, or a paper bill. Today most money is in computer accounts and though it zips around the world from account to account at almost the speed of light, it still is treated as if it were a physical object of some sort. Because we treat money as if it were a physical object, anything which is true of physical objects in general will also be true of money. This obvious point is ignored by economists and others who talk and write about money, even though it is the most important truth about money. The importance of the physical object nature of money cannot be overstated. What follows are some consequences of that physical object nature.
First, money is like other physical objects in that it can be taken from its owner against the owner’s will by force, fraud, or stealth and it can be lost or destroyed. This means that you need to suspect almost everyone of trying to get your money by fair means or foul.
Second, money must be amoral because all inanimate physical objects are amoral. Even animals are amoral in that they have neither an ethical sense nor morality, especially when they are used as commodity money. You can use your physical object money for anything, good or bad.
Third, the money supply is independent of the supply of goods and services for sale because the supply of one physical object is independent of the supply of other objects.
Fourth, money falsely simulates a zero-sum game in monetary transactions because the money gained by one party must be lost by some other party or parties. Money makes us think that other people can gain money at our expense and that we can only gain money at their expense. It makes us treat others as if they were competitors, rivals, opponents, or even enemies.
Fifth, money is almost impossible for a society or nation to control. In every nation that attempts to limit, regulate, or tax trade a black market comes to exist; and organized crime flourishes in all nations.
Sixth, money transactions are two-party interactions. Two-party interaction is inherently unstable because if one party gets an advantage in power such as having more money, the stronger party can use that power to gain still more advantages. This is particularly true of money. The old saying “them as has, gets” is true. Possession of money does make getting more money quite a lot easier. Naturally, the weaker party in such two-party interaction will eventually want to end the interaction. Thus the relationship is unstable.
So keeping that review in mind, let’s consider migration.
At one time there were no governments and no nations. All human beings lived in hunting-and-gathering economies and societies. There were no boundaries except those imposed by nature in the form of rivers, mountains, deserts, and oceans. Peoples moved, often in family groups, following game and edible plants’ maturation. One group of people might well attack some other group under these circumstances, with the attackers either defending or invading lands and resources. The losers would have to move on if they survived. So migration was very common.
With the coming of agriculture as an economy, migration became more difficult. For some areas of the world, slash and burn agriculture required that the fields be abandoned every few years as the nutrients in the soil placed there by the burning were exhausted. But in most places where the soil was replenished by regular floods (like the Nile river valley) – or where domestic animals could graze only part of the year – the people could “settle down” and build permanent houses, barns, and fences or even permanent irrigation projects. In such places the people had a huge investment of time and labor in the land and their farms and pastures. Such people would organize and fight to defend their possession of these resources. The concept of “property” or “ownership” was extended to land and structures. Outsiders were a threat and a danger. Not only did they probably speak strangely and dress differently but they were possible enemies, opponents, thieves, attackers.
Naturally these suspicions were a consequence of the many physical objects which the farmers owned and which those strangers might try to take against the will of their owners. Sounds just like physical object money or POM doesn’t it? As we know from reading the Old Testament, people from outside could come onto your land, kill you, take your women and children as slaves, and take over your towns and farms for themselves. That’s what happened to the Israelis when Egypt conquered them and what they did to the citizens of the Promised Land after leaving Egypt. So the fear of the stranger was appropriate often enough in those times to make such suspicion reasonable and even prudent.
Time passed. Thousands of years went by, and the technology and economies of the world developed trade with the aid of significant improvements in the physical objects used for money. Travel increased with the development of boats, roads, and domestic animals. Now there were nations which did have borders, in most cases still based on those geographic features. Now there are armies guarding borders and diplomatic relations between states. The concept of citizenship – which at one time was limited to cities as in Ancient Greece with their conflicts between Athens and Sparta for example – was now extended to whole regions, as in citizens of Rome who had never even visited Rome. Slaves were captured and sold, being often moved hundreds of miles from their nation of origin to some other nation to live out their short and brutish life in servitude. Migrating peoples fleeing powerful enemies or changes in the ecology or climate might invade nations. Remember the Huns, the Goths, and other tribes that invaded Roman Europe in the declining centuries of the Empire.
In those days, some immigrants were welcomed as slave labor and some were fought as invaders. The emigration of slaves was resisted since they were not to escape so easily from their lives of involuntary labor. Within the Roman Empire peoples moved as individuals and families from one part of the Mediterranean to another to get work or otherwise improve their lives. Some traders were constantly moving, in transporting the vast amount of food and other products from their place of production to the persons who would consume that bounty. The roads and shipping lanes were essential to the Empire and they were heavily used. So within the Empire it was not at all unusual for there to be immigrants in large numbers in all the cities and for those immigrants to have come from many places around and within the Empire. But this same pattern was true of large nations and empires around the world.
Some of the migration would be voluntary on the part of the individuals involved and some would be involuntary either due to being forced to leave one’s homeland by economic or political necessity or by enslavement. But in every case the huge increases in trade made possible and even necessary by large states created circumstances of various sorts which encouraged migration and the intermingling of peoples. The trip Marco Polo made to China was made possible by the conquests of Genghis Kahn and his descendants in creating a huge empire stretching from Korea to what is now Hungary. It was said that after that conquest a virgin riding a donkey and carrying a sack of gold could travel alone from Hungary to Korea and arrive there a virgin riding a donkey and carrying a sack of gold. Such peace and security for travelers greatly encouraged trade along the silk roads of Asia.
Today, travel is even more secure around the world and it is far easier and faster. Yes there are still places which present more dangers than others when one travels, but those are by far the exception and not the rule. Tourists frequent many nations and return from their journeys with happy memories and lighter purses. Migration is common both to and from most nations. Those few nations which attempt to prevent the emigration of their citizens find it a very expensive proposition. The cost of the Berlin Wall in money and resources not to mention its cost in adverse publicity serves as an object lesson to those who would attempt to keep a nation’s people captive.
As an economist, how would one view migration? Would an economist view migration as a desirable thing or something to be viewed with alarm for an economy? Well, let’s ask that question another way. Would you rather participate in an economy from which people are fleeing or to which people are seeking access? I think the obvious answer is that it is more profitable and beneficial to be a part of a growing economy in which the rewards are attracting others than to be a part of an economy in which people see no opportunity and from which one would like to escape. So an economist would be likely to suggest that in migration is good for an economy and bad for an economy if it is out migration. States in the U.S. which are gaining population are usually doing better economically than states which are losing population.
Now there’s a lot of chicken and egg in this view of migration. Was it the good economy which attracted the migrants or the immigrants who made the economy good? More likely it was a mixture of the two, I would guess. Obviously the influx of eager young adult workers – and most immigrants are young adults – do not prevent the good economy and growing economies typically do want to increase their labor force. And also typically, depressed economies will have high unemployment rates and those unemployed workers may emigrate to find work. So it may be that the bad economy preceded the emigration rather than being a consequence of laborers leaving. But I find no evidence at all in any historical context in which immigration is bad for an economy. That statement is really profound, so let me repeat it for emphasis: I find no evidence whatsoever, in any historical context, in which immigration is bad for an economy. There are cases such as a city besieged in which more civilians merely makes the shortage of food and water worse but that can hardly be compared to a typical situation in a modern economy concerned with migrants and migration.
Emigration for an economy is usually quite expensive. As I noted earlier, migrants tend to be young adults who have already been educated and supported through their years of dependence in childhood. The nation in which they were born and grew up has already invested in making them able to be productive. When such young adults move to some other nation to work and live, the receiving nation gets to harvest the fruits of the investment by the other nation. If you have investigated the cost of raising a child you will know that it is quite expensive in time, labor, and effort and also costs considerable money. So it is very desirable for an economy to attract labor from other nations.
That’s the economists’ perspective on migration, which holds that in migration is good and out migration is bad. Let’s take a different perspective, that of the religious leader or politician. If you remember that suspicion of the stranger, the outsider which we dealt with in the early days of human existence you will recall that there was good reason for that fear and caution. Is there good reason for that fear and caution today? Do we fear the tourist? Do we fear the additional customers that flock to our stores and cafes when the big game draws tens of thousands to our city? Do we fear the soldiers coming in from all parts of the country when the government puts a military base in our county? I think that we don’t tend to fear these contexts because we see them as opportunities to sell more products and increase our wealth.
So why should religious leaders feel any different? Perhaps they would not. Perhaps they would welcome God’s children from another nation with open arms as an opportunity to serve, following God’s will even though these newcomers may not be of the same faith. But one suspects that an influx of persons whose faith does not match one’s own would tend to generate fears rather than being seen as an opportunity to “do unto the least of these”. We have some examples of terrible strife in Ireland and in Israel, in which immigration of people with differing religious beliefs resulted in killing and terrorism. So from the point of view of religious leaders, immigration might provide more of an opportunity to stir up the faithful to more strongly support the local religious leader.
Not surprisingly, political leaders often have the same temptations. Some might see the immigrants as potential voters for themselves, but others will probably see them as a scary threat to bring out the ethnocentric voters of their camp. Besides, one can always use a good scapegoat. If the economy falters one can blame the immigrants. If there is crime, the immigrants did it. If there are not enough taxes being collected to satisfy both the wants of the rich and the needs of the poor, one can blame those poor immigrants. You see, it could go either way for a politician as well.
Let’s look next at the perspective of an ordinary person just trying to get along. The average person will not think much about immigration one way or another unless and until some immigrants move into the neighborhood or show up in the workplace or open a place of worship in town. Immigrants don’t look like us, don’t sound like us when they talk – they speak a language we don’t understand – and who knows what God or gods they pray to? What if their sons want to date our daughters? You see, immigrants are an unknown quantity and can be very scary to the average person: It’s only human, given the context and circumstances.
The foundations of the American (U. S. version of America) political theory are found in the Declaration of Independence. Those foundations say that all men are created equal with this equality being before the law not equality in wealth, ability, character, or eye color. Unfortunately they didn’t really mean what those words said. Our founding fathers had no intention of allowing equality before the law for those whom they considered to be their lessors (women, slaves, and the Irish for example) but they did demand equality with the nobles and squires of England. Many, if not most, of those forefathers owned slaves, and certainly did not want their slaves to have the freedom to leave or emigrate. They also liked to be able to buy slaves from Africa so they approved that forced migration of labor. Times have changed, but, as they say: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just as plantation owners liked immigrant labor they could buy and pay little or nothing for, so do the modern-day captains of industry in the U.S. like immigrant labor they can pay little for while providing few or no benefits. I worked beside immigrant laborers in the cotton fields of West Texas as a child, and that experience was very educational. It taught me a lot about myself and it taught me about labor relations. I didn’t have to work in the fields to eat, I was working for money to spend on entertainment and toys. The boys I was working with were working to survive: They had no choice. If they didn’t work, their families would suffer. I learned how easy it was for the farmers we worked for to cheat us. They operated the scales that measured the weight of cotton we had picked. So the farmer could lie about the amount we were owed. We were poor and weak, while the farmers were better off and more powerful, so they could exploit us. I am sure there were some honest farmers, but the constant temptation to cheat without ever getting caught would eventually corrupt almost anyone. That’s one of the aspects of the nature of our Physical Object Money.
So those who are powerful like immigration so long as the immigrants are weak, powerless, and poor. Weak people can be exploited for profit. You can follow the pattern throughout our history. Immigration has always been present into the U.S. For a long time almost all immigration from Europe and Africa was legal. Then in the early 1920s the law was changed to restrict immigration for political reasons. The industrialists had plenty of labor in the rural population leaving the farms, so they did not object to the restrictions. Also, there was plenty of illegal immigration to provide labor. The powers-that-be discovered that by keeping immigration illegal, the laborers were kept weak. They could not organize because they could be deported if they complained. Unions were considered a bigger threat than illegal immigrants. So things went on pretty much as before. It’s just that the exploited labor group shifted from slaves to immigrants from Ireland, Germany, southern Europe or Asia, then Latin America. But the same basic relationships and exploitation continued. Therefore, do not expect the immigration problems to be resolved. The supply of weak people to be exploited will be continued in some way. The use of scare tactics and the politics of fear will continue to be used by politicians. The immigrants will be condemned as evil and as the source of problems. This is the way things have always been in the U.S. because we have been blessed with opportunity.
What might things have looked like if the founding fathers had been serious about all men being created equal before the law? Then people could have moved when and where they liked so long as they were not trespassing, and the movement of labor would not have been restricted. The Native American tribes would not have been driven from their ancestral lands. There would have been no slaves. The economy would have benefited greatly, of course. The free market for labor would have increased the division of labor which would have drastically improved efficiency. The free market is a powerful force for good, but the free market also terrifies the wealthy, the powerful, and the big money interests. So if the U.S. ideals of liberty had been actually put into practice, everyone could have had more wealth, more freedom, more security, and more opportunities.
What about today: Do we judge people on the basis of their own character, their own behavior, or do we put them into a category, labeling them in order to deny them liberty? If we actually lived our ideals of liberty, would we be telling anyone that they cannot live where they like so long as they do not trespass? Would there be laws against immigration? Would we have laws telling me that I cannot employ certain categories of people who would like to work for me, who can do the job, who have good character and lots of ambition? Would we deny anyone the freedom our ancestors enjoyed? Since this is a essay, I cannot hear your response so I will have to imagine it. If you are a true libertarian you are as outraged as I about the state telling people where they can live. If you are only for some liberty for some people some of the time when it doesn’t cause you inconvenience then you are probably in favor of severe restrictions on immigration. You think that “secure borders” means barbed wire, moats, guard dogs, and heavily armed sentries willing to shoot at any moving shadows cast by human beings caught in the glare of the search lights. As the communists of the last 100 years have shown, there’s nothing secure about such borders. Such borders indicate rot from within, paranoia, and state fear mongering. On the other hand, open borders indicate confidence, free trade, good relations with neighbors, and prosperity. If you are a socialist or other kind of statist then you oppose open borders because the state cannot control trade, migration, employment, and other aspects of the national economy with open borders. You are already quite aware that organized crime ignores borders and generates billions in income. Somehow states, whatever their claims, cannot stop organized crime and have trouble stopping any big money interests. But that doesn’t keep a socialist from trying to control all aspects of the economy.
Let’s get down to what the nature of our money has to do with all this. I know y’all just can’t wait for the consequences of the physical object nature of our money to be applied to this issue. So from the top, we consider the fact that POM can be taken from us against our will. You have a pretty good idea which of the people you know well might try to take your money, but you don’t know about those strangers, especially strangers who don’t look or talk like any of your friends. Can you trust strangers? Probably not. After all, there’s that second consequence of POM, it’s amoral. It can be used for any purpose whether good or bad. Those strangers are not restricted in how they use POM by any moral or ethical limitations inherent in the money. It’s only rational to fear those strangers. But then, what’s special about immigrant strangers as opposed to strangers who were born in and grew up in the same nation as you did? Can you trust any strangers? No, but then you can’t really trust anybody, even your family members when it comes to money matters. There’s no reason to discriminate against immigrants in particular since everyone has a motive to take your POM. It’s just that with strangers it’s easier to fear and thus hate them so you get exploited and taken advantage of by all sorts of folks who just want your money. Remember that those immigrants are poor and weak so they are no threat to you. It’s those rich and powerful people who are telling you how bad those immigrants are that are the threat to you. They have the wherewithal to squash you like a bug. The immigrants can’t do anything to you by comparison.
But that’s not all: Remember that false simulation of a zero-sum game relationship that POM produces? Both you and those strangers think it’s a zero-sum game relationship. Each of you sees the other as a competitor, a rival, an enemy even. They think you are a stranger just as you think they are strangers. It’s only natural that both you and they are willing to take advantage of each other. Nobody goes around saying be nice to your enemies. Sure there’s that “Jesus said” stuff but nobody pays attention to that any more, if they ever did. Well POM makes us ignore Jesus’ sayings. Thinking that you can gain only if someone else loses makes you want others to lose and it makes them want you to lose. No wonder you fear immigrants. And no wonder they fear you. Rather an uncomfortable situation, isn’t it?
Are immigrants really your enemies? Are you really the enemy of immigrants? Immigrants have made the U.S. the richest nation in the world. Immigrants reduce your cost of living. Immigrants perform jobs that most of us are unwilling to do. People tell you that immigrants cost lots of tax money, but the truth is immigrants pay taxes both directly and indirectly. The poor pay high tax rates, much higher than the rich who control the legislatures which write the tax laws. The poor also indirectly pay taxes by paying rent and buying from businesses. If immigrants stopped paying rent how would those landlords pay their property taxes? If immigrants stopped buying consumer goods, how would those businesses pay their property and other taxes? So immigrants, especially those who pay into Social Security using false cards, support the state via taxes and support the old by paying for social security when they can never claim benefits. Immigrants are cheap labor in two ways. They are victimized by employers who pay them far less than their labor is worth. But they are also cheap in that we didn’t have to pay for their upbringing in the nations they came from. It costs a lot to raise a child. That expense was paid by their home nations. Then we harvest the benefits by getting their work without having paid their childhood expenses. So immigrants are your friends. They are working for you. They improve your life style. They lower your living expenses.
Immigrants also bring diversity. That’s a good thing. Do you like pizza? Do you like bagels? Do you like tacos? Do you like sushi? Do you like champagne? Do you like pasta? Do you like hot dogs? Well those foods are from cultures around the world. Without immigration you would not have so many options. But there are far more advantages to diversity than just good food. Some ideas can be most easily expressed in one language or another. Ideas are the only things that can save us in the years to come as we face problems we don’t even imagine today. Do you really want to confine the solutions we can think of to just a tiny subset? Diversity of genetics also is a good thing. If we have no genetic diversity then we can all be struck down by a single disease. If we are genetically diverse then no disease will be able to get us all and those who are immune can help us fight off diseases. We need all sorts of people with all sorts of talents and all sorts of abilities. That should be obvious to anyone with any understanding at all. But POM lies to us. POM scares us into stupidity. POM says we need to fear diversity.
With non-POM there is little fear of people, so immigration is welcome and emigration is also just fine. People will be going where they think they will be needed and where they can enjoy life. It would never occur to a participant in a non-POM economy to try to force someone else to come or stay away. Doing either would cost you possible future income. Helping others accomplish their objectives earns non-POM.
With non-POM there are no laws, so there is no state to say you can’t come in or you can’t leave. There are no illegal immigrants because there will be no laws about migration to violate. That’s quite like the colonies in the 1600s in North America. No one will be able to point and say, “You are a bad person because you moved across a meaningless line against the law.”
With non-POM there’s no motivation to come unless you think you can benefit the people already here. One gets non-POM only if one produces net benefits. So anyone coming with evil intent will be very disappointed. No one will help do evil things. There’s no money to be made by doing harm to others. Acquiring the means of doing harm will be quite difficult. Also, everyone will try to prevent the harm you intend. Immigration with non-POM is an “everything to gain and nothing to lose” proposition.
Finally there’s that alleged problem of too many people. Well if an increase in the number of people makes things worse with non-POM people will leave. Opportunities will be greater elsewhere and because coming and going has so few barriers, shifting the population around will be quite easy and take place without anyone having to require it or force it. As we have seen when women have the power to control whether and when they get pregnant, overpopulation is not a problem. Same thing will be the case with non-POM and immigration.
So if you love liberty, if you want prosperity, if you don’t like the immigration situation consider the non-POM solution. You really have nothing to lose, except a whole host of unnecessary problems.