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Jeff Maurer's Politics Blog
Tuesday, 7 November 2006
Pipe Dreams
Topic: Policy

            Today is election day. The Democrats will possibly take both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994. I should be really excited about this, but I'm not. I haven't been particularly impressed with Congressional Democrats in recent years, and there don't seem to be a whole lot of smart, forward-thinking candidates this time around (though I admit that I haven't been following the races in other states very closely). So many of the candidates seem to have simplistic views on the Iraq War (I'm not happy about it either, but to just say "it was a mistake" isn't helpful), and it's becoming increasingly hard to find an openly pro-trade Democrat. Jim Webb, in my opinion, is a pretty crappy candidate, but George Allen is such an eight-cylinder douchebag that I have to vote for Webb anyway.

 

            Still, if the Democrats take Congress, things should get marginally better (in my opinion). But there are a lot of things that I'd like to see happen that probably never will (at least not in the near future). Here is a list of those things, in no particular order:

 

  1. Get rid of the electoral college. It's undemocratic and puts fewer people in touch with the candidates.
  2. Publicly finance Presidential, Senate, and House campaigns. Not only is money a corrupting influence, but candidates have to spend inordinate amounts of time raising money. No, this won't do anything about 527s, but there's probably not anything that can be done about 527s.
  3. Tradable patent years for life-saving drugs. Patents last for 20 years, and they are extremely important to the pharmaceutical industry, because new drugs cost a lot of money to develop and virtually nothing to manufacture. This creates a problem when it comes to life-saving drugs, most notably AIDS drugs; we want them to be cheap, but companies won't rush to manufacture them if they can't make a profit. We've got tons of allergy, anit-impotence, and hair-growth drugs because there are a ton of rich people who will pay big money for those drugs. We need to make AIDS drugs (and other life-saving medicines) into moneymakers, both in the US and abroad. I'd like to see this: if you create a drug that is determined to be a life-saving drug (you'd have to decide on some body to make that determination, probably the World Health Organization), you can have your 20 patent years on SOME OTHER DRUG. So, if you invent an AIDS drug, there is no patent protection on that, but you can extend the patent on, say, Viagra (which is a cash cow) for 20 more years. This would work because there are a small number of pharmaceutical companies that manufacture a wide variety of drugs.
  4. Dedicate 0.7 percent of our GDP to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. It's an investment worth making in the short run for ethical reasons, and it's an investment worth making in the long-run for practical reasons (it's in our interest to help promote stability and economic growth). Let me add that I have no problem at all with withholding money from countries with bad governance; just give that much more to countries with good governance.
  5. Start sending signals to China that we would acquiesce to a Japanese bomb if China doesn't get serious about North Korea. It's time that everybody involved start thinking about what the consequences will be if we let North Korea's nuclear program go completely unmonitored.
  6. Begin nudging Israel towards military self-sufficiency. They have the technology and capacity to maintain a military vastly superior to every other one in the Middle East, so tell them to make their own planes instead of buying ours.
  7. Expand the NATO concept beyond Europe. There is no reason that geography should dictate the limits of this alliance now that the Cold War is over. The prospect of NATO membership encourages good governance and peaceful behavior; it seems to have had a stabilizing effect on much of Eastern Europe in the last ten years.
  8. Have the tax burden be shouldered more by income taxes and less by taxes on business. This sounds counterintuitive, but it would actually create an incentive for wages to be more widely distributed. Furthermore, it would reward people for work and make our businesses more competitive internationally.
  9. Create a federal fund that low-income communities can use to attract business investment. Currently, these communities use tax breaks to do this, but these tax breaks are usually woefully inefficient and are often something that the community can't afford. We should also expand programs that do things similar to this, such as HUD zones.
  10. More free trade agreements, especially with the developing world.
  11. Encourage the development of genetically modified crops. Fuck you, hippies; it's revolutionary technology.
  12. While I'm on the topic of things hippies hate: encourage nuclear power. Advances in technology have made it significantly safer, and it's presently the greenest power source that we have.
  13. A federal gasoline tax that keeps the price around $3.00 a gallon. I'm with you, Tom Friedman and Danny Rouhier: increased energy independence is both and environmental and a national security issue, and people won't get serious about it until they know that gas prices are going to go high and stay high. Provide subsidies for low-income people who are dependent on their cars to get to work.
  14. Shift more funding of public schools to the federal level; decision-making can remain at the local level. Though some people debate the effectiveness of increased spending on the quality of schools, the debate is really only about the strength of the correlation; there is no doubt that more money usually means better schools. There is a significant disparity in the per-capita GDP of the 50 states, and it shouldn't be surprising that the schools in Mississippi aren't as good as schools in Connecticut. The gap between good schools and bad schools is especially problematic because graduates of those schools usually end up competing in the same college and job markets. Shifting more funding to the federal level would promote more equal spending levels, and also likely increase overall funding levels in poorer states (because richer states wouldn't be willing to see their funding levels drop).
  15. Get rid of farm subsidies. They're a waste of money, they're frequently abused, they go to the wrong people, and they hurt farmers from developing countries. It's not 1933 anymore.
  16. Reform the Presidential caucus system (this is for the parties, not the government). Have them go in four groups, smallest states first, largest states last. This means that one state won't have an inordinate amount of influence in choosing the nominee (as Iowa and New Hampshire currently do), you won't have states competing to see who can go the earliest, you'll have a decent amount of diversity in each round (you could wedge at least one state from each region into each round), and far more people will get to vote when the race is still competitive.
  17. Reform affirmative action so that it grants preference based on economic status, not race.
  18. Abolish the death penalty. If I thought it was a deterrent, this would be a tricky issue to me, but the fact that statistics suggest that it has no deterrent effect at all makes it pretty simple.
  19. Means-test Social Security (actually, this might happen). Also, if we were ever to get into the kind of fiscal shape that would allow us to create private investment accounts without taking out a huge loan (and we probably never will), go ahead and create private accounts with limited investment options. One option must be to keep your Social Security just as it would have been without private accounts.
  20. Re-instate the estate tax at progressively increasing rates, starting at, say, $700,000, reaching 100 percent taxation at around 2 million dollars.
  21. More subsidies (or tax breaks – same thing) for mixed-income housing.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:37 PM EST
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Tuesday, 8 August 2006
Dishonesty in Politics
Topic: Policy

            One of my frustrations with politics is that it often rewards people for being stupid or dishonest. For example, if you promise voters that you will cut taxes, increase spending, and balance the budget, then you are either incredibly stupid or incredibly dishonest. But you will also be one other thing: popular. Voters will love you.

 

            This dishonesty and/or stupidity is usually present first and foremost on economic issues, and perhaps no issue more so than the issue of the estate tax. Currently, Congressional Republicans have tied an increase in the minimum wage to a permanent repeal of the estate tax, hoping to complete a demolition of the tax that they began in 2001.

 

The outright dishonest and/or stupidity of the argument against the estate tax was crystallized in an editorial written by Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions that appeared in the June 5 edition of the Washington Post. Id like to review that article now, not so much to debate the estate tax, but more to highlight the way in which extreme stupidity and/or blatant dishonesty can be used in politics to take advantage of voters naivety and polish up even the smelliest turd of an argument. Senator Sessions' article is in bold, and my comments are in italics.

 

This week the Senate is expected to vote on permanent repeal of the estate tax. With this vote, Congress will have an opportunity to finish the job it started five years ago.

The estate tax -- or, as many of us prefer to call it, the death tax -- is a tax imposed on the transfer of assets or property from a deceased person to his or her heirs. This is one of the IRS's most painful taxes, as it hits families at the worst possible time, when they are dealing with the death of a loved one.

 

            First, if the estate tax's opponents insist on calling it the death tax (and he calls it the death tax for the rest of this article), then perhaps I should invent my own euphemism that appeals to sentiment more than reason. I think we should start calling it the Paris Hilton tax.

Second, notice the way he employs a technical description to avoid using the word inheritance. As someone who writes for a living, its obvious that this phrasing was chosen because the word inheritance invokes images of spoiled, idle brats, such as Paris Hilton.

Third, the tax occurs after a death because inheritance occurs after a death; that's just kind of how it works. He makes it sound as if the IRS shows up at the funeral and tries to repo the casket. In reality, nobody's losing money; the bereaved are actually receiving money (that's also how inheritance works), and that windfall is taxed.


Congress passed a gradual phaseout of this tax at the urging of President Bush in 2001, and it was scheduled to disappear in 2010.

 

That tax cut was never intended to disappear in 2010. 2010 was cynically chosen as the sunset date precisely because doing so would reduce the apparent cost of the tax cut in the 10 year budget projection. This was just one of the ways that the President and Congress cooked the books to disguise the actual cost of the 2001 tax cut. Everyone knew that Republicans werent going to let the estate tax repeal expire. And - surprise! - here we are in 2006, and the Republicans arent going to let the estate tax repeal expire.

 

But because of the peculiarities of the lawmaking process, the death tax will return in 2011 -- at the same high rates that existed before -- unless Congress enacts new legislation.

 

Here, he conveniently forgets to mention that the overwhelming majority of Americans don't ever pay a penny of those high rates. Historically, only the richest 2 percent of households have ever paid the estate tax. The key to the Republican strategy on this issue is to convince ordinary Americans that they're going to pay this tax, which is one thousand percent untrue.

 

In April 2005 the House passed a permanent repeal of the death tax by a vote of 272 to 162. Over a year has passed since; it is time for the Senate to act.

The list of reasons for eliminating the death tax is long. To begin with, this tax punishes thrift and saving. It tells people that it's better to spend freely during their lifetimes than to leave assets for their children and grandchildren, which will be taxed heavily by the federal government.

 

If you want to increase the savings rate (i.e., reward saving), there are roughly a bajillion ways to do that, most of which wont punch a huge hole in the budget. But encouraging saving is, in itself, not necessarily a good thing; a healthy economy needs a balance between saving and investment. You need people to spend because that's what makes the economy go; if you encourage too much saving, you get slow growth and deflation (ask the Japanese about this). So the effects of an increase in savings are ambiguous, and at any rate they are easily countered by a small shift in monetary policy.

Furthermore, if Senator Sessions wants to talk about tangential effects of the tax, then perhaps he should mention that the estate tax increases charitable giving. In addition, though this effect is unprovable, the estate tax is the only tax I can think of that actually INCREASES the production incentive, a fact that you'd think would be relevant to Republicans who constantly complain about the negative effect that income taxes have on production.

The death tax hits hardest at heirs of small-business owners and family farmers. In many cases, the heirs cannot afford to pay the tax and are forced to downsize, lay off employees or even sell their business or farm.

 

This small business/family farm lie is probably the biggest lie in the whole steaming pile of lies that is the argument against the estate tax. Point #1: There are - and have long been - exemptions in the estate tax that allow family farms (and many small businesses) to be passed down without being subject to the tax. Point #2: Hardly anybody even uses these exemptions anymore. The reality is, most children of farmers choose not to be farmers. Point #3: You don't even need the exemption if you are truly a SMALL business or farm. Under current provisions, the estate tax doesn't apply to assets worth less than four million dollars. If your assets are greater than $4 million, by what measure is your farm or business considered small? Point #4: As far as we can tell, nobody has EVER lost a farm to the estate tax EVER EVER EVER. Neil Harl, an economist at Iowa State University, has made a career of giving tax advice to Midwest farmers, and he claims to have never encountered a case in which a farm was lost to the estate tax. In 2002, he was quoted in the New York Times calling the idea that families lose farms to the estate tax a myth. In that same 2002 article, the American Farm Bureau Association could not cite a single example of a farm being lost to estate taxes. To argue that the estate tax is the scourge of family farms and small business is blatantly dishonest.

There can be no doubt that closely held family businesses that are growing and beginning to compete with the big guys are often devastated by the tax.

 

As you can see by my previous paragraph, there can be lots of doubt. He's trying to be adamant so as to put his point beyond debate.

 

I believe the death tax is a major factor in business consolidation and loss of competition.

You can believe whatever you want, but I'm not going to believe you until you actually provide some evidence. Also, is the Republican Party now suddenly against business consolidation? Where has THAT sentiment been hiding?


This tax hurts the growth of minority-owned businesses. As the first generation of African American millionaires begins to die, many of the companies they founded will have to be sold to pay the estate taxes.

 

Again, just complete bullshit. And this facet of this argument is a lame attempt for Republicans to score some points with black voters on one of the few issues where they think they have that opportunity.

 

For example, the tax almost forced the oldest African American-owned newspaper -- the Chicago Daily Defender -- out of business.

 

No, the Chicago Daily Defender nearly went out of business because the best black reporters in Chicago now work for the Tribune and the Sun Times. Furthermore, the issues on which the Defender made its name - Jim Crow, lynchings, Jack Johnson - aren't exactly hot topics in 2006. And can you name a third paper in any city that isn't in a tough financial spot?

According to Heritage Foundation economists

 

"Heritage Foundation economists" hits my ear like "Vatican scientists."

 

the death tax also costs the American economy 170,000 to 250,000 potential jobs each year. These jobs are never created because the investments that would have financed them are not made, as these resources are diverted to pay for complex trusts and insurance policies to avoid the tax.

 

First of all, I'm sure that they calculated that number by taking the amount of revenue generated by the estate tax and estimating how many jobs would be produced by an investment of that size. There are loads of problems with that - so many, in fact, that it would almost lead one to believe that the Heritage Foundation economists have an agenda. The first problem is that this calculation doesn't take into account the investing habits of individuals who actually pay the tax, the same individuals whose proclivity for saving was praised by Senator Sessions in this very article. Second, I seriously doubt that this number takes into account the negative economic effects caused by a repeal of the estate tax, which would come in the form of either a budget deficit or an increase in other taxes. Third - and I love this - he's actually arguing that we should abolish the tax so that we can save the money THAT PEOPLE SPEND TRYING TO CHEAT THEIR WAY OUT OF THE TAX! Using that logic, maybe we should legalize heroin so that drug barons don't have to spend so much on lawyers and drug mules. How many jobs would that create, Heritage Foundation? It takes a lot of chutzpah to make that argument.

The death tax is double taxation. Most of the assets taxed at death have already been taxed throughout an individual's lifetime.

 

Double taxation is a concept that doesn't exist in economics; it was invented by politicians. Depending on how you want to look at it, any tax could be considered double taxation. You pay federal and state taxes on the same income, right? Well, using Senator Sessions' logic, that's double taxation. When you buy something, you pay sales tax...that's triple taxation! Maybe you bought cigarettes...quadruple taxation! It could go on and on.

The death tax accounts for a small portion of federal government revenue, an expected $28 billion in 2006, or only 1.2 percent of federal receipts.

 

Blatant dishonesty here; that figure is so small BECAUSE OF THE CUT IN 2001! Furthermore, isn't the issue here what percentage of the tax burden SHOULD be shouldered by the estate tax, not what percentage currently IS? Finally, that money needs to come from somewhere; what tax increase or spending cut does Senator Sessions propose to cover the gap? 

Many argue that repealing the death tax would decrease charitable giving, as this tax allows individuals to deduct gifts to charitable organizations. Yet, even though the phasing out of the death tax began in 2001, charitable contributions in the United States reached a record high in 2004.

 

Inflation, you fucking idiot, inflation! How can you trust anyone who compares 2004 dollars to 2001 dollars without factoring in inflation? Furthermore, can anyone think of a major event that caused a spike in charitable giving in 2004, maybe something involving Asia and tsunamis? The fact that he doesn't mention the tsunami, then sites 2004 instead of 2005, indicates that he is being intentionally dishonest.

The death tax even has a negative effect on the environment, as heirs are often forced to develop environmentally sensitive land to pay the tax. According to a study by researchers from Mississippi State University and the U.S. Forest Service, about 2.5 million acres of forest land were harvested and 1.3 million acres were sold each year from 1987 through 1997 to pay the estate tax.

 

We know that this isn't true because the idea that the estate tax devastates family farms is a fallacy. Furthermore, did researchers at Mississippi State really find a record of every family farm subject to the estate tax between 1987-1997, calculate those farms' liability under the tax, track those farms' land use patterns over the next several years, and then somehow determine what percentage of those land use patterns was attributable to the estate tax? I seriously doubt it.

Finally, the American people already understand the unfairness of the death tax and support its repeal. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed in a recent poll commissioned by the Tax Foundation supported repeal of the estate tax. Moreover, the death tax was rated by Americans in the same survey as the least fair tax.

 

Americans oppose the estate tax because of all the lies they've been told. I find this poll number more telling: According to a 2002 Gallup poll, 17 percent of Americans think that they will owe estate taxes, when, in fact, only the richest 2 percent will.

As a vote approaches, it is essential that constituents let their representatives hear now how unfair they believe this tax is. The death tax is almost dead. Let's put the stake in its heart.

 

 

 

Maybe you read Senator Sessions editorial and saw through the bullshit. If so, good for you. But it's depressing to know that a lot of people read this editorial and didn't. Due to malice or ignorance, he produced a blatantly dishonest article that effectively throws sand in peoples eyes on this issue. And I'll bet it won't cost him a thing when he's up for re-election in 2008.

 



Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:39 PM EDT
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Friday, 7 April 2006
Immigration
Topic: Policy
  There's been a lot of discussion about immigration lately, and lots of legislation floating around Congress reflecting the different viewpoints.  My views on immigration are pretty complex, so before reaching a conclusion I'd like to cover my thoughts on the issue point-by-point.

1.  There is a difference between immigration and illegal immigration.  When the topic of immigration comes up, people often begin talking about illegal immigration.  I find that frustrating; let's be more careful with our language.

2.  The U.S. has a special obligation to welcome immigrants.  Ours is a country where more than 99 percent of the population are immigrants or descended from immigrants.  Immigration is a vital part of the American culture, and our relative openness to immigration has yielded considerable benefits over the course of our history.  There are some out there who would be perfectly happy to see the U.S. never absorb another immigrant - legal or otherwise - ever again.  In my opinion, those people are amoral extremists and morons.

3.  It is in our best interest to admit large numbers of immigrants.  If you're not convinced that the U.S. should allow large numbers of immigrants for ethical reasons, perhaps you'll be convinced that the U.S. should allow large numbers of immigrants for practical reasons.  Immigrants have been a driving force in numerous sectors of the American economy for hundreds of years.  Many of the smartest, most creative, most ambitious people in other countries want to emigrate to the U.S.; what the rest of the world calls "brain drain", we call "a significant portion of our entrepreneurial capital".  Furthermore, low-skilled immigrants also play an important role in the economy; their willingness to work for low wages makes many services more affordable to other Americans, and - it's true - they are willing to take jobs that most Americans won't.

4.  Illegal immigrants are not bad people.  Yes, they broke the law, and that's bad.  But, I've often thought that if I was in their situation, I probably would have done the exact same thing.  Most illegal immigrants come from abject poverty and are seeking an economic opportunity that will create a better life for themselves and their family.  If they could have that opportunity without breaking the law (and without enduring a risky journey across the border), I'm sure that most illegal immigrants would do so.  But, since that's not an option for most, they break the law and come into this country, which is a decision that I can picture a lot of decent, otherwise law-abiding people making.

5.  Illegal immigration is a problem.  Immigration laws exist for a reason.  Any country has the right to pick and choose which people get to enter the country.  It is entirely reasonable for a country to seek an immigrant population that contains no criminals (including terrorists), has a diverse skill set (read: contains a lot of skilled, educated people), and doesn't contain numbers that will overwhelm infrastructure or government services.  Furthermore, illegal immigrants' illegitimate status creates some problems; they often don't have drivers' licenses or insurance (auto liability or health), it is extremely difficult to get them to testify in court, and they make labor laws difficult to enforce.  Finally, ineffective enforcement of immigration laws sets a bad precedent; if the U.S. were to abandon all attempts to enforce our immigration laws, a couple billion people from the developing world would be in this country by the end of the week.

6.  Illegal immigration is not that big of a problem.  For all the concerns I expressed in the previous paragraph, many of those concerns are relatively minor.  Most illegal immigrants are not criminals (and ordinary immigration laws aren't likely to be the biggest impediment to a terrorist attack), their skill sets generally match the areas in which we need workers (they wouldn't come if they couldn't find a job once they got here), and situations in which they have significantly increased the burden on government services are limited.  Illegal immigrants pay most taxes, and their use of social services isn't nearly as large as many would have you believe (think about it: if you're an illegal immigrant, how much interaction with the government do you really want to have?).  The U.S. has had large numbers of illegal immigrants for decades now, and major problems have not developed.  Any adjustments to immigration policy need to be done with the realization that our current immigration policy, while imperfect, has not created an intolerable situation.

7.  The U.S. doesn't owe illegal immigrants anything.  To hear some illegal immigrant advocates talk, you'd think that illegal immigrants have been horribly wronged.  That's ridiculous; nobody has a right to immigrate to another country.  Illegal immigrants have human rights; they do not have, nor do they necessarily deserve, the full slate of rights enjoyed by American citizens.

8.  We should definitely not engage in any large-scale effort to deport illegal immigrants.  This is true for two reasons.  First, the draconian measure of actually rounding people up, charging them with a felony, and shipping them out (as the bill passed by the House in December would do) is way too harsh and not the kind of thing that civilized societies do.  Second, segments of our economy have adjusted to the presence of these immigrants, and deporting them all would produce an enormous shock (imagine what would happen to the hotel industry if all the illegal immigrants in the U.S. suddenly disappeared).  Reducing the presence of illegal immigrants needs to be done by stemming the flow of new illegal immigrants and, possibly, either: 1) Granting amnesty to illegal immigrants presently in the country, or 2) Gradually deporting those that get caught over a long period of time.

9.  The negative effects of immigration on wages don't seem to be as large as you might expect.  It seems obvious that increasing the supply of workers in a particular sector would have a depressing effect (in the economic sense) on wages.  However, several recent studies suggest that that effect is not as large as you might think.  Employers in generally immigrant-dependent industries located in areas without many immigrants seem to invest in technology instead of offering higher wages (the Washington Post had an editorial recently explaining all of this).  So arguments that immigration drives down wages for low-skilled workers don't seem to be as powerful as they might first appear.

10.  The effects of immigration on unemployment don't seem to be very large, either.  It's surely true that immigrants - including illegal immigrants - do take some jobs that would otherwise be filled by American citizens.  But those job losses need to be put in perspective by this fact: unemployment in the U.S., in historical and international perspective, is ridiculously low.  Right now unemployment in the U.S. is just over 5 percent.  No advanced economy (nor any undeveloped economy, as far as I know) has an unemployment rate that low, and most European countries would love to get their unemployment rate as low as even 10 percent.  In the late 1990s, when immigration (legal and illegal) was going every bit as strong as it is now, U.S. unemployment hit the ridiculously low number of 3.8 percent.  Now, I know that unemployment statistics generally understate the actual level of unemployment (as they don't account for "discouraged workers" or the underemployed), and that nationwide unemployment figures don't matter much to someone who's just lost their job; those are both good points.  But the fact remains that if immigration was causing large numbers of Americans to be unemployed, it would be reflected in our unemployment statistics.

11.  Any measure to prevent illegal immigration needs to be considered with its effectiveness in mind.  Many proposals to limit illegal immigration seem good at first, but, in reality, wouldn't be very effective (of course, that won't prevent many politicians from advocating them, as much of the politics of immigration involves pandering to a xenophobic base instead of crafting good policy).  Many people say that we should step up border controls, but previous efforts to step up border controls have had little impact.  I was optimistic about the effectiveness of a proposal to require employers to run new employees' information through a national database, but now questions are being raised about that program's burden and effectiveness; those concerns are articulated well in this editorial in the Post.  That same article, fortunately, provides some hope that requiring employers to follow up on Social Security "non-matches" might yield some results.  Building a wall would probably be effective, but would cost around $2 billion (not counting the border guards that would still need to patrol it), and has an undeniably negative appearance (though people who compare such a wall to the Berlin Wall are, in my opinion, idiots).  I am willing to consider practically any proposal to reduce the flow of illegal immigrants, but I am going to weigh the benefits of that proposal against its costs.

12.  Granting amnesty is not desirable, but it might be a sensible policy anyway.  Granting amnesty (whether you call it that or not) to illegal immigrants does reward people for illegal behavior, and it does set a bad precedent, but it might be the most sensible way of dealing with the illegal immigrants who are already here.  As I said, we shouldn't engage in a large-scale deportation of illegal immigrants, and many of the problems posed by illegal immigration could be solved if those immigrants were simply documented.  If we can develop effective measures to prevent future waves of illegal immigrants, then the best method of dealing with immigrants who are already here might be to grant them amnesty on the condition that they do things such as pay back-taxes and submit to a background check.

13.  Programs allowing immigrants into this country should promise the prospect of full citizenship.  My main problem with Bush's guest worker proposal is that it provides no path for those guest workers to eventually become citizens.  Not only will this result in many guest workers eventually becoming illegal immigrants, but it creates a powerful disincentive for guest workers to assimilate.  If a guest worker knows that he or she will eventually be deported (or become an illegal immigrant), that person will never fully adopt the mindset that he or she is an American.  This discourages immigrants from learning English or participating in American civic life.  And, perhaps most importantly, it sends a signal to immigrants that they are not really wanted here and they will never be real Americans.  That, in my opinion, is much more unfriendly than a wall. 

  Now to connect all these dots.  Given the opinions I've expressed above, my ideal immigration policy would:
1.  Use effective but proportionate measures to prevent illegal immigration.
2.  Increase the number of green cards issued so that our total immigrant inflow is similar to (or possibly slightly below) the current aggregate level of legal and illegal immigrants.
3.  Issue those green cards with an emphasis on skilled and educated workers (like we do now), though large numbers of green cards would also be available for low-skilled workers.
4.  Offer amnesty with the prospect of citizenship to illegal immigrants presently in the country on the condition that they pay back taxes and submit to a background check.

  Of the proposals currently floating around Capitol Hill, the closest to the plan above would probably be the compromise that just fell apart in the Senate.  I would give that proposal a "B", with it missing an "A" because it is not comprehensive and I don't fully understand why a person's length of illegal stay in this country would affect their prospects for citizenship.  I would give the bill passed by the House in December an "F"; it is all draconian enforcement and does nothing to address the fact that we should be welcoming large numbers of legal immigrants into this country.  I would give President Bush's guest worker proposal a "C", as it is a half-measure that recognizes the need for legal immigrants but doesn't address the issue in a manner that is sustainable in the long term. 

  One final note: I think that issuing large numbers of green cards to countries with whom we have friendly relations should be a major component of our foreign policy.   This would likely result in immigrants coming to this country in greater numbers than they presently do, though they would come from different places (think more Ghanaians and fewer Venezuelans).  We already do this to a certain extent, but it's a strategy that I think should be ramped up, as it is a carrot that we're not fully utilizing.

Posted by jeffmaurer1980 at 1:44 PM EDT
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