The tragic southern border is a market signal, and begs to be treated as such
By John Tamny
If you’re reading this, odds are you’ve seen the horrifying photos of adults with water up to their necks trying to transport crying babies across rivers to safety. Whether you’re for a wall or fully open southern borders, these scenes likely horrify you? The bet here is they’ll be the norm until it’s acknowledged that scenes at the southern border are a reflection of market signals suffocated.
The foremost market signal is that the U.S. is prosperous. Extraordinarily so. And enormous prosperity will always exist as a magnet for those seeking a better life.
The problem is that the various political religions can’t acknowledge the above market truth. Some want a “wall,” while others desire “skills-based immigration,” while others seek quotas. A wall implies a massive increase in the size and armed scope of government, while the others are central plans. Even though human capital is the most important capital of all, wall and skills-based proponents both presume they can plan the capital. They can’t.
Worse, they pursue non sequitur. Walls and central plans won’t keep the desperately poor from trying to improve themselves in the world’s richest country. For as long as the U.S. has existed, ambitious people have risked everything (including their lives) to get here. Short of legislation meant to crush the U.S. economy, the latter isn’t about to change. Which speaks again to why “immigration policy” is an obnoxious non sequitur: it ignores why the poor and desperate want to be here. And why they’ll keep coming no matter the policy.
So while legislation is always and everywhere the worst solution to anything, it’s not unreasonable to hope that photos and videos of crying babies wake the various sides up to the human tragedy that’s taking place. Having done that, might they consider simply legalizing work? American businesses need workers, and individuals in foreign countries need American work. Keep it that simple.
From there, it’s easy to see what will happen if coming to the U.S. is legal, and about work: those who want work won’t have to pay “coyotes” enormous sums to get across the border, nor will they have to stay once across. If so, it’s no reach to suggest that many will not make their children participate in the journey to the United States. Why would they if they’re just coming for work? Individuals will come in as needed, and even better, legal arrivals will take pressure off of the southern border. One guesses that a lot of businesses will fly the ambitious workers to where they’re needed, and fly them back when they’re not. Money earned stateside would logically go very far in countries south of the border, which one guesses many legal workers would take advantage of if their work were legal.
Importantly, basic legislation like this would seemingly please both sides. Members of the left fancy themselves as humanitarian, so what could be more humanitarian than recognizing a market signal that would enable the arrival of workers humanely, and free of all the horrors that come with sneaking in.
As for members of the right, they talk a big and arguably real game about being pro-life and of the importance of every life. If so, they would have to embrace that which would save defenseless babies from the terror that comes with crossing rivers.
Better yet for members of the right, legalization of work would amount to an explicit embrace of actual market forces. If it’s well known that border crossings increase and shrink with economic growth and contraction, and it is, what could be better than acknowledging the existence of a market and letting it be?
What we have right now is unacceptable, as is life in general unacceptable when markets aren’t employed in the movement of capital to its highest use. As always, freedom works.
John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Vice President at FreedomWorks, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors. His latest book is "The Money Confusion: How Illiteracy About Currencies and Inflation Sets the Stage For the Crypto Revolution."