Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Wealth of People

I have to say that I'm a little excited about the current state of US politics, which is unusual for me. It's been a fairly depressing decade or two for a political mutt of my particular pedigree. My leanings are somewhere in the constellation of Republican, Conservative, Libertarian, Constitutionalist, or perhaps even Federalist. It's hard for me to find any party that shares most of my beliefs, and I always find myself saddened when I stand firm, then watch the major parties wander further and further away from me. That's why I find myself deeply gladdened to see a major force within the Republican party taking up as their core issue a push to decrease federal spending. It's like I'm getting Christmas early.

But nothing's so good that it can't be made better, and there's something about the current crop that drives me to confusion. At the base of it is a question of the value of a person. Not the emotional or spiritual value of a human being, but the economic value. I've long held that one of the core differences between Capitalist and Socialist systems hinges on the value of people. In a free market, the minimum economic value that a person can have is zero. But most people have more value than that. Every person in the society is someone with whom I may engage in trade. In a free market, all trade is voluntary, so if my trade with another person has negative value to me, I will chose not to engage in it. Expanding the volume of people gives me both a broader market to sell what I produce, and a broader market of people producing things I may want to buy. Both ways, I win. Adding a person to the society doesn't mean he's taking "his share" of the overall production of the society, it means he's adding his share to it, participating in the overall flow of money and wealth. In contrast, a Socialist society takes on the responsibility of caring for its citizens. While that may sound noble and generally laudable, in practical terms it means that the value of an individual to society is negative. Each person in that society is a liability, not an asset. Each person is someone with needs that must be met. They certainly may have value as well, and in general people who live in Socialist or Communist societies do end up creating value and wealth, but while the Capitalist philosophy guarantees that a person's value can be no lower than zero, a Socialist philosophy can only guarantee that there is a negative component to each individual's value, with no such guarantee as to the magnitude or even existence of any positive component. My gut feeling is that this is the reason why so many of the mass murders of history were committed by Socialist dictators such as Mao and Stalin - for those societies, there existed the possibility that a person's value to society could be increased if they ceased to exist.

So this brings me to my perplexity at the attitude of our staunchest Capitalists towards immigration. In a free market, every immigrant will add to the overall health and well-being of the economy, just as every other person does. You could say that the problem stems from the fact that we have strayed so far from a free market that immigrants may bring with them a negative value, but I see no one articulating that point. If that's what people are thinking, then I have to respond that the solution to that problem is to fix the free market, not try and cure the symptom by restricting immigration. You could argue that illegal immigration is bad, and I'd have to agree with you there, at least insofar as when laws are broken, and even more so when the breaking of those laws is ignored, it foments a general contempt for the rule of law as a whole. The problem with illegal immigration isn't the immigration part, it's the illegal part. Once again, it's a problem of too many laws.

When I read The New Colossus, I can't help but get a bit misty-eyed. It's a powerful poem. When I see those words
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
I think that may be descriptive of some, but certainly not all. Immigrants aren't necessarily tired nor poor. We shouldn't refuse to allow entry to those who fail to prove that they are wretched refuse, or that the shores they hail from are insufficiently teeming. Hidden within all of that loose description is the one requirement that I believe should be the foundation of our immigration policy. Those that wish to join this great nation, be they rich or poor, strong or weak, wretched refuse or shining beacon of humanity, they must meet one fundamental requirement: They must yearn to breathe free. If we wholeheartedly embraced that philosophy, I think we would all be better for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In a truly free market where every trade is both voluntary and based on accurate information, no one can have a negative value. In any real society there will be thieves, burglars, muggers, con men, rapists, and murderers. I believe that to the extent they fit these categories, these people have negative value.

Where do you think politicians fall?

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