Last month Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint and Heritage scholar Robert Rector presented the Heritage Foundation’s solution to the latest immigration crisis. The premier conservative foundation in the country thinks the federal government should focus on bringing in immigrants who have high-school degrees because they’re more likely to bring more benefits and lower costs to American society.
As columnist Dana Milbank pointed out, under the Heritage proposal “no poor and huddled need apply.”
The irony was that in his remarks DeMint quoted the famous poem by Emma Lazarus that is posted at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…”
Unfortunately, DeMint failed to provide any data as to how of those many tired, poor, huddled masses have high-school diplomas. Like Milbank, my hunch is not very many.
But what’s really funny about the Heritage proposal is its embrace of socialistic central planning. Notice something important about the Heritage proposal: The government, not the free market, is determining which immigrants should be permitted to enter the United State — the types, the qualifications, the country, the language, the education, and so forth.
Why is that funny?
Well, take a look at Heritage’s mission statement: “to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”
How in the world can Heritage’s immigration proposal be reconciled with its mission statement?
That’s a good question!
The answer is: Its proposal cannot be reconciled with its mission statement. When government is deciding which immigrants to permit into the United States, you’ve got a classic case of socialistic central planning, along with all the chaos and crises that central planning always brings to an economy.
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, socialistic central planning is the opposite of free enterprise.
Think back to the Soviet Union, whose economic system of central planning conservatives loved to rail against. The government would centrally plan, say, the production of shoes, deciding how many shoes should be produced and in what sizes and colors. The result was an absolute mess, in terms of shortages, low quality, and overall consumer dissatisfaction.
Whenever Soviet officials were asked why they didn’t just turn the production of shoes over to the free market, their response was panicky: “How could we be sure that anyone would even produce shoes? Oh no, the production of shoes is too important a matter to be left to the free market.”
Whenever a libertarian asks a conservative why he’s not willing to turn immigration over to the free market, his response is similar to that of the Soviet socialists: “Oh my gosh! How could we make sure that the right types of immigrants would come to America? Oh no, immigration is too important a matter to be left to the free market.”
A free-enterprise system, which the Heritage Foundation claims to favor in its mission statement, is one in which all economic enterprise is free of government control. That’s what the word “free” in “free enterprise” means — free from government control.
Thus, in a free-enterprise system, people from anywhere in the world would be free to come to the United States to seek employment or open a business, without any bureaucratic interference whatsoever. In other words, the same freedom that people have within the United States to cross state borders without government interference would apply to people traveling into the United States.
The free market, not government, would determine which immigrants came to the United States and where they would go once they got here.
That’s one of the beauties of free enterprise — the price system. Unlike a system of socialistic central planning, which involves a board of bureaucrats planning the proper allocation of labor, the price system in a free-enterprise system does that.
If low-skilled labor is needed in New Orleans, the price of labor rises. Workers learn about that. They rush into that market to make money. If the price of housing in Seattle soars while the price of labor is dropping, immigrants tend to stay away because they’re not going to make as much money.
That’s the way the system works domestically. Every day millions of people are crossing state borders for one reason or another, and they’re all doing it without some government official’s planning the activity and directing it.
Central planners suffer from what the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek called the “fatal conceit.” It is the mindset by which a government board or agency believes that it possesses the requisite knowledge and information to centrally plan an intricate and complex endeavor like a labor market. What you end up with is what libertarian economist Ludwig von Mises called “planned chaos.”
We also mustn’t forget the enforcement mechanisms that come with keeping out all the people that the Heritage Foundation wants kept out. The Soviet-style fixed immigration checkpoints along the U.S.-Mexico border where domestic travelers are asked to produce their papers. The warrantless searches of private property along the border, including farms and ranches. The East Berlin-style immigration fence along the border. The immigration raids on private businesses that are hiring immigrants.
How does Heritage reconcile those police-state measures with its mission statement purporting to favor “limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values”?
That’s a good question too.