Sunday, June 30, 2013

Libertarian Guest Worker Mania

How fanatical are some libertarians on immigration issues?  This will give you some idea:

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, made some curious comments in a recent Cato's Letter

The Cato Institute is, of course, the premier libertarian think tank in America.  Even so, it is hard to not argue with just about everything that Mr. Nowrasteh said in his interview.  For instance, Mr. Nowrasteh's comments on guest workers seem both fanatical and myopic: 

"A guest worker visa program must be large and cheap enough to channel the vast majority of would-be unauthorized immigrant workers into the legal market."

Large enough and cheap enough?  

It may not be fair to read too much into his brief comments, but Mr. Nowrasteh's view,  that the number of foreign "guest" workers ought to include the "vast majority" of "would-be unauthorized immigrant workers" (i.e., illegal aliens), seems boundless. 

Is there a limit to such channeling of foreign workers into the legal workforce? 

Would creating a greatly expanded legal "guest worker" labor force invite an ever increasing number of foreign workers to try for the same deal? 

What would the impact be on American workers and legal immigrants of such a system? 

It would be devastating.  On the other hand, however, it would be a dream come true for certain employers as Mr. Nowrasteh makes clear.  

He continues:

"Furthermore, the program must be dynamic and allow the widest possible variety of businesses from all sectors of the economy to hire guest workers in the numbers they deem fit."

In addition, Mr. Nowrasteh believes that guest workers should be free to change their employment in order to keep employers from abusing them.

One can admire his concern for the well-being of foreign workers, but why does he not express the same concern for American workers, who would surely be cast aside in such a scheme of unlimited "guest" workers?  

And, would they truly be "guest" workers? 

Mr. Nowrasteh also proposes that the system have "unlimited renewals of visas"  - in other words, permanent "guest worker" residency.  

Another idea in Mr. Nowrateh's interview is that immigrants are complementary to the American workforce - not competitors with Americans.  According to him, immigrants are "more likely to be higher skilled or lower skilled than most Americans."   We could spend a lot of time arguing strongly against this idea and the damaging impact such a view would have on America if not carefully examined and limited to a small number of very specific temporary situations.  

Briefly, however, let's consider what this idea of worker complementarity means if applied to Mr. Nowrasteh's views of guest workers.

When Mr. Nowrasteh says that "the widest possible variety of businesses" in "all sectors of the economy" must be allowed to "hire guest workers in the numbers they deem fit," we need to be concerned that the idea of complementarity of worker populations, even if accurate in some limited circumstances, will be quickly thrown out the window in favor of pushing Americans and legal immigrants out the door in favor of cheap labor "guest" workers.

Temporary foreign labor in America might make sense in certain very limited circumstances - such as some agricultural work.  But, opening the door to a never-ending flood of foreign labor would be ill-advised and counterproductive to the well-being of the nation on many levels.