What Makes It Shine?

I had a physics teacher during my senior year of high school, Mr. Miller.  His classroom was a riot of posters.  “186,000 miles per second.  It’s not just a good idea.  It’s the law.”  “ Time flies like an arrow.  Fruit flies like a banana.” “Black holes suck.”  These pearls of wisdom were accompanied with various toys and other objects that he used to demonstrate whatever physics principle he was teaching at any given time.  He had (or has, hopefully) a wry sense of humor that made him a popular and effective teacher.   One bit that he would regularly work into his lectures was the multiple choice question.  It went something like this:

“Mr. Viertel, Newton’s third law is:

A:  An object at motion or at rest will stay that way until acted upon by another force.

B:  Force equals mass times acceleration.

C:  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

D:  Bakersfield.”

Now, in this case, I would know for sure that the correct answer was C.  It was, however, not always the case.  I can assure you that I am not writing this blog as a side enterprise to my brilliant career as a physicist.  But even when I didn’t know the right answer, I knew the answer that was definitely wrong.  (And if you’re wondering, the obviously wrong answer was always Bakersfield.  Why Bakersfield? I have no idea.)  

Now Mr. Miller did not have the monopoly on inserting obviously wrong answers into multiple choice questions.  It’s pretty common to have three or four choices and be able to immediately eliminate one or more of them and then mull over the remaining ones.  Sometimes, many times, we know the one choice that’s wrong before we know what choice is right. 

With that thought in mind, we come to a topic that is boring and lacks any controversy whatsoever:  immigration.

Of course, I’m writing this in reference to Arizona’s new immigration law. This recently-passed law, according to the New York Timesrequires police officers, ‘when practicable,’ to detain people they reasonably suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials” and makes it a misdemeanor to not carry immigration papers on any public or private property in the entire state.  Beyond police, it requires every state and local government agency to verify the status of anyone they lawfully contact and have “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country illegally.  The law gives individuals the right to sue any such agency if they believe said agency is not enforcing federal or state immigration law.

At this point, it is hardly news that this has met with significant controversy.  Jim Wallis of Sojourners has documented the response of faith communities in Arizona who find their ability to minister to people who may be illegal immigrants compromised.  Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles has called the ability of an authority figure to demand papers as being reminiscent of Nazism.  Wallis is known as a progressive, but Mahoney is not really known for such extreme language.  In an uncommon presidential statement about a state law, President Obama, set the stage for a summer debate on comprehensive immigration reform by saying that the Arizona law could “undermine the basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities….”

So what do we do about illegal immigration? Part of the genesis of the Arizona law is a perceived notion that Washington has been ineffective at protecting our borders.  But make no mistake about it.  This law also has racist roots.  The language in the bill was heavily influenced by a man named Kris Kobach who has ties to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

It should come as no surprise that I write as an opponent of this law.  I’ll get to my reasons for this position later in this post, but, I want to start by laying a little bit of a foundation for it.  Illegal immigration is a complex issue that we, as a nation, need to address.  I’m certainly no expert on the matter, but I know a few things.

First, I want to go back to something that I learned in my first political science class back in college.  There are three elements that must exist to govern a nation-state.  The first is authority.  The government must have the power to enforce its laws.  The second is legitimacy.  Enough people must accept that the government deserves its authority for the government to exercise that authority. The third is sovereignty.  The government must have control of its geographic territory.  This is obviously oversimplified, as the three elements must balance one another.  The manner in which that balance is achieved can influence the character of the individual elements and of the nation-state itself.  My point in glancing down this particular road is that there are two of the three elements at play here.

The lunatic fringe aside (yes, I’m talking about birthers), there is no serious question about the legitimacy of either the U.S. or the Arizona government.  Likewise, while there are questions about the constitutionality of the law, there is no serious question about the legislative process by which the law has been enacted.  So legitimacy does not play into the equation.  Authority does come into question in that the ability (or willingness) of the Federal government to enforce existing immigration law is in question, thus leading states to act, albeit wrong-headedly in the case of Arizona. 

Sovereignty, however, is the real question.  For the United States to function as a nation-state, it is necessary for us to control our borders.  That is a simple fact.  It is not good or evil or liberal or conservative.  It just is.  In much of life, the facts matter less than how we respond to them.  Such is the case when it comes to immigration.  There are very good reasons for getting a handle on immigration, and they are not based on racism or nativism.

The fact is that undocumented immigrants, all 11-12 million of them in the United States, are people. Some bring trouble.  Most want to live their lives just like everyone else.  The problem is that they can’t live their lives like everyone else.  They can’t demand a minimum wage from an employer or even demand justice when that employer shorts their pay.  They will be more reluctant to call the police when they need them.  This makes them more vulnerable than you or me to crime, or worse, falling into a life of crime. 

But, they’re illegals so they’re already criminals!

I’ve discussed this issue a few times already (in other venues), and that is the cry of those supporting the Arizona law.  All I can say to that is that it would be really nice if the world were that simple.   But we all know that it’s not.  Should people be sneaking over the border?  Of course they shouldn’t. But, what do you do with the 15 year-old who was carried across the border in the dead of night in her mother’s arms as a baby?  Is she a criminal?  What if that 15 year-old’s parents are illegal but she was born here?  Do we kick her out of the only country she’s ever known?  Do we break up her family?  Should we really raid workplaces and leave small children stranded at school or daycare wondering when or if mommy and daddy will come get them?

These are human beings, and it must be reflected in our policy.  Do we attack the market for these workers by cracking down on employers?  Do we try to help the countries they come from out of mass poverty?  Do we reevaluate our drug policies to see if we can’t do something about the drug war that is sending combatants and refugees alike into our border communities?  Do we issue a green card to anyone who asks for it if they aren’t violent criminals or involved in the drug trade to prop up the wages that create demand for illegal immigrant labor?

I don’t know the right answer, but I know the wrong one.

I have a good friend, a lifelong friend who is Latino.  As we approached adulthood, I got my driver’s license and we would go driving around in my [parents’] car, just doing the things kids do.  We stayed out of trouble and never attracted the attention of police.  Now, my friend didn’t really want a driver’s license.  He had his school ID, but he didn’t get a state ID until he had to for work and such.  Sometimes he didn’t even bring his wallet.  There was no need.  He wasn’t driving.  We weren’t going anyplace that demanded ID for entry.  Now, under the Arizona law, if we did get pulled over and if the officer decided that there was “reasonable suspicion” that my friend might be an illegal immigrant, he would not have been able to prove otherwise.  I would have gotten a ticket and he would have been arrested.  The thing is he was born in the United States.  He’s just as much a U.S. citizen as I am.   

Putting aside, for a moment, the question of what constitutes “reasonable suspicion,” we come to the fundamental problem of SB 1070.   It turns the presumption of innocence on its head.  At the moment that a police officer decides that he or she has a reasonable suspicion that a person is illegal, that person is assumed to be guilty and must prove their innocence, their legal status, or face arrest.  Moreover, it makes the very inability to prove one’s innocence at a given moment in time a crime in and of itself.  Does that seem problematic to anyone else?  It should. 

Returning to the question of reasonable suspicion, what would make a police officer suspicious that someone is an illegal immigrant? Brown skin?  A Spanish accent?  A Spanish language newspaper or radio station?  I can tell you this.  I grew up in the city of Los Angeles, living there for 23 years before moving to Seattle.  So I’ve spent my entire life living in diverse communities in Border States.  In nearly 37 years, I have known of exactly one person who I knew was working illegally.  I will say nothing more about this individual except that a police officer would not have reasonable suspicion of their illegal status.  But I know quite a few Americans who, were they living in Arizona under the new law, would probably be very reluctant to leave home without their papers.  I just don’t see how this law can not lead to racial profiling.

If SB 1070 is bad, how do we approach immigration policy?  Again, I don’t know the right answer, but I know that we need to seek an answer.  Sometimes, when we seek an answer, it’s important to think about our values, about who we are.  As a Christian, I need to look to scripture, to my faith tradition, for guidance.  This 2006 Seattle P-I editorial makes some very good points on the matter.  Of course, using religion in a debate about secular policy brings me back to the dilemma that I wrote about in January.  Even if I hold a public policy position based on my personal faith, my belief in separation church and state dictates that I must argue that point from a secular position. 

Well, I can go back to my own roots.  On my dad’s side of the family, I am a first generation American. My father was born in Vienna, Austria in 1925 and came to the United States in 1928 to join his parents in Hollywood where they were working in the movie industry.  He was a little young to remember it, but he sailed into New York harbor past a certain statue, a statue that became a symbol of hope for a nation of immigrants.   Inside the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands, there is a tablet inscribed with this poem.

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


Of course Lady Liberty is a statue, a symbol but she’s a symbol that embodies what we say our nation is about.  Were she a real person, would she smile? Would she feel pride at the passage of SB 1070? A symbol can’t craft policy, but it can remind us who we are.

As we engage in this debate over immigration, I have to ask the question.  When we invoke Ronald Reagan’s vision of America as a shining city on a hill, what is it that makes it shine?  Who are we America?  What do we, as a nation aspire to? What are the best ideals by which we define ourselves?  What makes us shine, America?  Glaring searchlights?  The icy gleam of floodlight-illumined razor wire?  Spot lights from watchtowers high atop reinforced concrete walls?  Or is it a welcoming beam of light cutting through the storm of poverty, of fear, of tyrannical oppression; a lamp lifted beside a golden door?


About Andrew

I'm a Christian, American, liberal, geeky, thoughtful, Northwest-transplanted Angeleno husband, father, and pundit who writes about anything he can think of.
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16 Responses to What Makes It Shine?

  1. Pingback: What Makes Us Shine? | Undead Poets Society

  2. sasoc says:

    I like your comments about the foundation of a nation (authority, legitimacy, sovereignty). You are almost there on coming down on the right side of this issue, which is to support the Arizona law.

    But you stumble on the “they’re human beings too” altar of non-sense. Any argument using that as a basis quickly falls to nothing when you consider all the bad apples throughout history who were “human beings”. Do I need to name the rogues gallery of “human beings” who tortured, enslaved, and killed? Bush 43 made the same feather-weight argument when he said that illegal immigrants “have families just like we do”. Yeah, so did most of the SS officers in the Nazi regime. Having a family, or “being a human being”, bestows NOTHING of particular value on a person or group of people. Nothing.

    The relevant question concerns the character of the person or the group. And since you like facts, consider the fact that the 10-20 million illegals have no interest whatsoever in assimilating into the anglo-saxon culture that has melted all prior immigrant classes. Their efforts to vigorously cling to latin culture are easily documented.

    If you think the latin culture should compete with the American culture inside U.S. borders, then you know little of what has made this country great in the first place. Your immigrant ancestors, and mine (which are not anglo-saxon at all) LEFT their countries to come here for the simple reason that they believed in the superiority of the way things are done here. Same with the Mexican illegals: by definition, they know it is better here. Yet they think it will stay wonderful despite their refusal to assimilate, and this makes them a collectively, massively, unwelcome guest whether they are illegal or not.

    By all measures of national health (wealth, freedom, political stability), England/USA/Australia/Canada score dramatically higher than Mexico/Spain/Central America/South America. There is no comparison. I spent some time in Costa Rica and I have never seen so many young people desperate to leave a place by any means necessary.

    What makes the USA shine? This: http://wp.me/pMW8w-iv

    • bluedrew says:

      Where to begin? First, let’s deal with the whole human being issue. I’m not talking about them being human beings in a biological sense. I’m talking about “illegal immigrants” (or whatever “undesirable” group that may serve as a scapegoat for a disgruntled majority) having the same basic humanity that you and I have. That is a foundational point when we talk about American values. The Declaration of Independence does not talk about citizens, or white people, or land owners having those inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It talks about “all men” (people) being created equal and possessing these rights. Moreover, that simple statement declaring their humanity has serious implications for me as a Christian. I don’t know if that is a factor for you or not, but for me it means that I need to see each person as someone created in the image of God, and when we’re talking about people on the margins (and The Bible clearly include immigrants in this category), I am forced to remember Jesus saying that how we treat “them” is how we treat Him. So framing an argument about people who are on the margins and are being vilified by emphasizing their intrinsic humanity is critical. If I did not believe these things, then I would not be so offended by the Arizona law.
      Now, moving on to your insistence that Anglo-Saxon culture is somehow synonymous with American culture, your argument has a few problems. First, your argument is flawed in that you assume that the melting pot, or cultural assimilation, will preserve Anglo culture. Was preserving Anglo culture critical to the Framers? The legal system was based on English Common law, but if cultural issues were so critical, it is not reflected in the Constitution. One would think that the founders of a brand new country, surrounded by French and Spanish colonies, would establish an official language if they were so concerned about maintaining Anglo culture. And yet, just as the actual text of the Constitution defeats the myth that the United States is a Christian nation, it also shows very little concern about culture. Beyond that, if you embrace the melting pot concept, then you need to accept that any addition to that melting pot will change it’s properties.
      Let me demonstrate. Have you ever made real homemade macaroni and cheese, where you make the cheese sauce? To make that cheese sauce, you start by heating up a milk mixture, which is very white. As the cooking progresses, you start adding cheese. Assuming you’re adding cheddar cheese, eventually the sauce will turn yellow. The fact is, if you add enough Hispanic or Asian or African influence to American culture will change the culture.
      Last, you seem to imply that the condition of the non-Anglo world relative to the Anglo world is simply a function of cultural superiority. That argument completely ignores the history of colonialism and imperialism and their impacts on economic and cultural development. It’s very clear that, at least to a degree, the actions of the colonial powers has had negative impacts on the subjected cultures, and frankly, many of those actions are reprehensible. To say that the economic disparities in the world are evidence of cultural superiority/inferiority, is to say that the ends justify the means.

  3. sasoc says:

    Oh boy, you really can’t embrace the notion that our culture, however each of us chooses to define it, is a superior one. But you are not alone in this, it seems impossible for many Americans – somehow even shameful. Perhaps you haven’t traveled in other places? Do you think the USA is no better or worse than any other place? Why are people dying to get in here, and dying to leave where they are? Are you unable to make value judgements about different countries and cultures? Does it feel shameful to do?

    I can tell you this: the illegals are not afraid to say it and act on it: the USA is the land of milk and honey and they’d risk their very lives to make a life within our borders. But many Americans somehow short-circuit when it comes to understand, and proclaiming, our greatness.

    As for the melting pot, as I said here: http://wp.me/pMW8w-l8 the fact that ethnic flavors add to the spice of American culture does not change the fact that the Enlightenment ideals and ways of thinking and behaving of the Founders has remained the bedrock of our national character notwithstanding waves of (legal) immigrants. Go and do business in India, or Asia, or Latin America and compare it to how we do business in the USA. We are anglo-saxon and very much a former colony of Great Britain, and this persists. That the Constitution didn’t mandate it means nothing. The Founders consciously surveyed all of the great empires of history and deliberately sought to avoid the pitfalls that all segments of the human hive are prone to step into. They succeeded in spectacular fashion (feel no shame please) and their philosophy and institutions have become our heritage and the essence of why we are great.

    We can either embrace it and preserve it. so that the world may enjoy the peace that comes from our keeping would-be fascists, megalomaniacs, and dictators at bay, or we can choose to believe that our heritage is not special, is not meaningfully different from all the others, and is therefore to be set adrift in a sea of endless human misery and carnage that has characterized most of human history.

    As for Christian values, do you believe your faith requires you to open your house, or your town, or your country, to all those who wish to take up residence in it? If you welcomed people in your home, would you require that they follow your rules and customs, or would you let them seek their own happiness in whatever ways they choose? Do you believe Christ’s worthy message of love and compassion restricts you from making value judgements about people and cultures while you are here, in the incarnate world? Would you, like Susan Sarandon’s character in “Dead Man Walking”, kiss the rapist/killer as he walked to his execution? Would you be like Batman in “Dark Knight” and save the Joker from his death-fall after he slaughtered 150+ innocent people in sadistic and cruel ways?

    It reminds me of a story about Marlon Brando when he was living in Tahiti. At first he attempted to live the Buddhist way of “do no harm”, not even to the legions of flies that pestered his every waking moment. But then he had a revelation: in the realm of incarnation, the very act of his breathing was harming the world in myriad ways; that is, we are bound up in the endless cycle of death and rebirth of all living things devouring one another, and attempts to separate from this reality are hopeless.

    The point is that to show enlightened mind one need not open his house and garden to every passerby, whether benefactor or malefactor. No — we are entitled to make distinctions and have boundaries and hold ourselves and guests to high standards and enforce rules as necessary, all without losing our place in heaven. We can and we must be proud of our heritage while acting with humility and gratitude at the same time.

    But we must also acknowledge and know that the genius of our heritage, though proven to be resilient, is in fact extremely fragile by nature of its being only a set of ideas. If we cannot articulate those ideas, and understand them, and hold them up higher than competing ideas, their ability to bind us together and bridge our differences will be lost, as will the civilized world, as the last best hope of earth fades inexorably into the slime.

  4. bluedrew says:

    I have a feeling that we may be approaching the question of culture differently. I see it as things like language, religion, dress, food, literature, art and music, things like that. I have to concede that your inclusion of philosophical outlook does have some validity.
    I put Enlightement Thinking, which I wholeheartedly embrace, in a different category. A big part of the reason for that is that the Enlightenment was very cross cultural in Europe. Rousseau, the auther of The Social Contract, was French. Bekker was Dutch. There were Russians, Romanians, Irish, English, Spanish, Venezuelans, Poles, Italians and many more nationalities. It was hardly an Anglo-Saxon series of movements.
    As for how important culture is to the laws of our nation, I think it’s very telling that the framers apparently did not consider it a big factor, at least in a public policy context. Moreover, the beauty of Enlightenment Thinking is, in fact it’s flexibility. It’s not limited to a cultural identity.
    Now, as to your questions about how a Christian should respond to “bad” people, I find it interesting that in both of the cases you point out (Dead Man Walking and The Dark Knight), you frame the question in a way that suggests the acts of love and mercy (kissing the murderer, saving the joker) are wrong.
    But they’re not. Those acts represent the Christian ideal of loving all people, no matter how much we’re told we shouldn’t. Jesus would be right there walking along side the murderer, being present, an intimate friend, a source of comfort in his darkest hour. Jesus would show mercy to the Joker by saving him from falling. That is the ideal that Christians should aspire to, when faced with such a test. I take that test every day, and I probably fail it many times each day, but each time I’m forgiven and sent back out to try again.

  5. sasoc says:

    You are right about Jesus, and I guess that is the specialty of a vajra buddha in the incarnate world, though in the Bagavad Gita Krishna advises Arjuna to be true to his warrior self and get on with destroying the enemy (i know, different religion). As for the rest of us? If the Joker is coming for your family, you summon Hit Girl from the movie “Kick Ass” and watch her take care of it. Then you thank her.

    I take your point about the contributions to the Enlightenment from all corners of Europe. My phrase “anglo saxon” is meant (perhaps poorly in execution) to signify not just the Enlightenment ideals and philosophy, but also all of the other revolutionary thinking that the Founders brought to the table when they created the uniquely American way of life and government. That mix of philosophy, belief, and institutions is our heritage, and we best not let it diminish into lesser stuff.

    I see your point about the

  6. bluedrew says:

    Non-violence is a tricky thing. It’s not a choice I’ve been forced to make in a very long time. The last physical fight I was involved in was around 25 years ago when I was 12. So I can’t speak from a whole lot of experience, but as someone who believes in non-violence, I can say that I would not rely on Hit Girl to stop Joker (I really need to see both those movies.) I think that to find a parent whose commitment to non-violence could survive a direct attack on their own children, you would need to find a community of seriously hard core pacifists.

    I think where you and I differ on culture is that I don’t think assimilation of external values is a bad thing. I think true Enlightenemnt Thinking is not only not threatened by external ideas, but embraces them. Just as an example, my wife and kids (I will eventually) occasionally go to a naturopath. Using a technique that blends German technology with Asian medicine, he has been able to diagnose and successfully treat a number of conditions where “Western” medicine failed. To me, Enlightement Thinking is what allows that to happen. There’s a lot we can learn from the rest of the world, some of it instructive, some cautionary.

  7. bluedrew says:

    I think it’s the ideal of American culture to accept that reality and embrace it.

  8. sasoc says:

    One can hold your position (the value of openness and consideration of other ideas, unafraid) but also come down on my side of this issue, namely that many ideas and values are NOT mutually compatible. Again, the quest for Eden (non-duality) is seductive and we all have it in varying degrees (“if we could just stop fighting and love one another…”), but you either (1) believe in female genital mutilation for young girls as a “right” of passage, or (2) you believe it is wrong under any circumstance.

    Both views cannot exist in the same society. It is either to be allowed, or to be outlawed.

    At a political level, American heritage has proven to be brilliant at preventing, for example, an overthrow of the democratic republic by the military. This has been achieved in many ways, including making the military subject to civilian command and inculcating in the citizenry the American revolutionary abhorrence of a “strong-man dictatorship” (King) that latin countries seem to be drawn to.

    I submit to you that Western medicine has a few strikes against it and that we should be open to Eastern solutions given how we have poisoned ourselves uniquely in the West. But I also submit to you that when it comes to our political and economic and institutional ways of life and government, the rest of the world has very very little to offer us.

    Our way – the American way – has produced more freedom and more wealth for more people than any system ever to grace the face of the earth. The latin model can only hurt us, and we should resist it most strenuously.

  9. bluedrew says:

    You choose a very interesting example in female genital mutilation. I’m pretty sure that there is no viable political movement that is advocating for the rights of parents from cultures that do such things to do that to their daughters in the US, or for the practice to be protected under religious freedom. The courts have pretty consistently come down on the side of the safety and well-being of minors over the rights of parents to impose their religion on their kids in a way that does them physical harm. There are however significant political forces in this country that bristle against child abuse laws, citing their own religious interpretation of “spare the rod spoil the child.”
    I never took it myself, but there was a class in college called “Women in Non-Western Civilizations.” I always thought that the implied premise was that women were mistreated in those civilizations. I don’t really know if that’s the case, but I do know that there is an odd tension between feminism and multiculturalism, specifically because it is hard to embrace as valid a culture that does not have western standards with regard to women.
    I think the answer is to foster a culture where there is a choice. A woman in the states wearing a burqua is probably doing that because it is her choice. The same cannot be assumed about a woman in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. To me, that freedom is a point for the US and for Enlightenment Thinking. Moreover, I don’t think the presence of people from other cultures threatens that kind of thinking at all. I think the bigger threat to Enlightenment Thinking and American values comes from the Religious Right when they claim the US was supposed to be a Christian Theocracy and demand that religion be taught as science.
    As for Latin America in particular and the developing world in general, it’s really critical to look at history and the effects of European colonialism, imperialism and hegemony. I don’t think you can really say that the strong man is bad and and function of a disfunctional culture when history shows that we tend to create those strong men in the name of American self-interest.

  10. This is a good post. I’ll keep to the post itself for now, and ignore some of the comments that have been made in response.

    Immigration is a touchy and difficult subject, but I think you handle it well here. Your points about the requisites for governing a state are duly noted. However, I would probably disagree with you that only the fringe (birthers) deny the state’s legitimacy. I think there are plenty of people who question the legitimacy of states, particularly the legitimacy of states to act unbecomingly (e.g. engage in warfare, torture prisoners, or enact racist laws against immigrants). This is how civil disobedience arises.

    I like the point you make about the very basic notions of fairness and justice that Americans hold dear. From the perspective of how you explain the law causes suspects to be “guilty until proven innocent” I think clearly demonstrates the very backwardness of this law. It’s an excellent point.

    Finally, I think your last paragraph is an excellent use of emotion to invoke the ethos of a nation that is supposed to pride itself as a symbol of a “welcoming beam of light.” Couldn’t have written it better myself.

    For me, as an economist, I like to look at the issue from an economic standpoint. I think virtually every economist agrees that immigration, even illegal immigration, brings a net benefit to the nations economy. I won’t go into all the details of the economic explanations, but it’s there in the literature.

    But even more important to me is the notion of free trade. People like to think “free trade” only means allowing the free flow of goods and capital. But it doesn’t. If we go all the way back to Adam Smith–a hero of the right–he recognized that we cannot even speak about free trade if there the free movement of labor does not exist.

    The problem is that capital is very mobile; labor, on the other hand, is immobile. A U.S. firm can easily move its operations to a foreign nation, because capital is mobile. Workers, however, are far less mobile, for many reasons including racist immigration laws. Again, I won’t go into details, but the disparity in mobility has major economic implications and is a rallying point for many on the left, particularly those critical of capitalism. I think we could benefit greatly from increasing the mobility of labor–that is, allowing the free movement of labor (e.g. across our border), just as Adam Smith advocated.

    • bluedrew says:

      When I write about the challenge to legitimacy, I’m taking it from more of a practical standpoint. No one is disputing that the Arizona legislature is duly elected, that Brewer was duly elected into the constitutional line of succession that made her the Governor, or that Obama won the election. I would certainly agree that there is a wide range of opinion on what the government can and can’t do.
      As for “free trade”, it is a difficult subject. In its purest form, free trade challenges the basic notion of nationalism. I think that trade needs to be coupled with labor and environmental standards in a way that brings externalities into the equation. If that can be done effectively, free trade can raise all boats by allowing good practices to spread. If the externalities are left out of the equation, as they are now, you get a race to the bottom. Of course, as an economist, you probably know that better than I do.

  11. sasoc says:

    “…a welcoming beam of light…” “…free mobility of labor…”
    So I guess that means open borders? Ridiculous, childish, ignorant, irrational, and insane.

    • bluedrew says:

      I can’t speak for Benjamin, but I don’t necessarily support open borders. The thrust of my original post was that we don’t have to know the right answer to recognize the wrong one, and one that turns the basis of our justice system on its head and runs counter to our most powerful national ideals is clearly a wrong answer.
      It’s interesting. I’ve debated SB1070 ad nauseum on Facebook, and I’ve been relentlessly accused of favoring open borders, which I do not. That’s not to say that I couldn’t come to that position, but I’d be surprised if I did.

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