Immigration and the Orchard

 

Sometimes, people ask you questions that make you stop. The other day, I was asked what I considered to be the source of my positions and convictions about immigration. This got me to thinking.

A lot of things go into it, of course. Intuitions. Principles. History. As a matter of full disclosure, my own family largely immigrated to this nation in the late 1800s and early 1900s as near as I tell. Not that this particular fact matters a whit with regard to how I formulate my positions. My opinions are generally derived from first principles, and I will employ an analogy to illuminate them.

In my mind’s eye, this nation is akin to a prosperous, semi-private orchard. The territory we now know as the United States didn’t come to the possession of people (like my immigrant great-great Grandparents) in its current condition of being a prosperous orchard; the nation’s initial condition was that of a wilderness largely in a state of nature. Immigrants to this continent (not Amerindians, who lived in technological conditions largely unchanged since the stone age until their contact with Europeans) carved this orchard out of that undeveloped wilderness in accordance with the principles Locke laid out in his Second Treatise on Government. They cleared the land, planted the trees, pulled the weeds, pruned the hedges, built the fences, and chased away nuisance animals. In short, they supplied the capital in various forms such as blood and toil that laid the groundwork for those fruit trees to grow tall and become mighty. They claimed the land and made improvements to it in order to justify their ownership of it in the finest English tradition.

What’s more: those people reached general agreements about defending those investments via establishment of their own governments. To refer back to Locke: “Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be where there is no law.” The Founders of this nation, and necessarily their forebears, understood that the purpose of government was to secure the liberties of its citizens. Thus was born the notion of ordered liberty. Those Founders even enshrined these values in the Constitution, whose Preamble refers to “Securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Posterity of course meaning, their offspring; their descendants, to whom they would bequeath not only this semi-private property where citizens worked to make improvements (the Orchard) but also the notion of Liberty itself.

For a moment, let’s compare this to the condition of other nations. On the other side of America’s border lie lands which are not as productive — this is not necessarily due to some natural happenstance or catastrophe. Indeed, much of the land in other places is just as rich and capable of producing orchards of the very same quality as America, but largely due to mismanagement, either political or corruption-based, such places have failed to achieve the levels of productivity which the American Orchard displays. Those who have attempted to plant trees in those places frequently have had them cut down for firewood; the ground has been stripped of its nutrients by misuse.

Some people who live in those desiccated lands now seek to come into this nation in order to pluck the fruits of this orchard (literally, in some cases) and rest in the proverbial shade provided by those well-tended trees. That shade emerges in the form of the relative peace and atmosphere of prosperity which we enjoy from living in this place, which is in turn largely due to the generations of accumulated cultural and physical capital that our ancestors toiled to construct, and bled to defend.

They did not do those things so that foreigners and scofflaws could invade the orchard, shelter under its branches, and enjoy the blessings of ordered liberty while paying no costs for the privilege. Those who are the inheritors of the Orchard have the right to determine (under the principle of freedom of association) who may come into it. The right of freedom of disassociation is the necessary obverse of the right of association.

“But this is unjust! What have Americans done to deserve this right simply by dint of birth?” I can hear some saying. The answer is: it is not what those Americans have done, but what their forebears have done that gives them that right. It was their ancestors who carved this nation out of the bush for the express purpose of gifting it to their progeny. That right — the fundamental right of property — makes this distinction just; and for that reason, I am unabashed in the fact that I prefer Americans over people of other nations. Why? Because our principles and the creedal notion of our ideas hold primacy over humanitarian considerations. Not all people — not even all Americans — are suited to liberty, even though they benefit from it as a function of birth. That is a fundamental reality that we must wrestle with if we look around the world. Freedom is not the style in which most people do or seem to want to live in. That makes America a special place; a place which requires preservation and tending… and a certain degree of selectiveness with regard to whom we invite in to do the tending.

That is the central paradox of our ideals: Only a remnant of people actually want them. We may strive to live up to Jefferson’s lofty notions (and frequently fail), but the reality is that we slit our own throats by assuming that everybody else is equally interested in upholding or advancing them. People love the fruits of the Orchard, but don’t appreciate the difficulties involved in its creation in the first place.

This only forms the narrative portion of my position, and I feel as if the analogy functions to establish an important narrative regarding why America works and exists as an economic powerhouse where people want to come, and not one from which people typically flee. You can tell a lot about a nation by how people vote… especially with their feet.

Given that my “emotional” appeal of comparing America to a well-manicured orchard which has been constructed, pruned and weeded in order to become a highly efficient agricultural entity has been challenged, I’ll switch the discussion to where I normally reside, which is the world of numbers and figures.

To answer the question “why do we have immigration in the first place?” I have in the past provided the answer: “Primarily to benefit Americans” with the interests of foreigners being a distant, trailing concern. World poverty isn’t going to be solved by importing the world’s poor here, and attempting to do so will end up imposing costs on natives in terms of their quality of life (due to overcrowding and the like) far in excess of the potential benefits they can provide.

Therefore, what are the criteria that we should be using to determine who should gain entry? My initial rule of thumb comes in the form of the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) metric I’ve previously cited. If we’re going to add people to our nation, they should, at the minimum, add to our net reserves of monetary, moral and talent capital at a rate greater than that of the median American, as that is roughly what “replacement” in this case means. To complete the baseball analogy, if you are a General Manager and want to improve your team’s batting average, you cannot add players to your roster who bat below the existing team average. (Obviously, you can select the arithmetic mean instead of the median, but the distortion of that signal by high earners drags the average considerably higher than the mode of the middle quintile of incomes.)

The median income of American households in 2013 was about $56K/yr (as a means of comparison between how median and mean values play out, the median per capita GDP in 2017 was about $31k while the average was about $48k.)

What then forms the case that we need to be more selective about the nature of the immigrants we permit? Well, immigrants come in forms which are as varied as Americans, if not moreso. According to the Pew Hispanic forum, the household income of recent immigrants is far below the median household income of Americans. The numbers on the low side are somewhat under-representative as well because there are few households that report zero income to the tax authorities, and those on the lower half of that median receive a variety of transfer payments that increase their purchasing power in ways that economists can occasionally track.

Compare this with the median income of a particular sub-class of immigrants: those with college degrees. According to the Liberal (and pro-immigration) Migration Policy Institute, this number is $65,000, which appears to be individual, not household income. This is an important distinction which reveals the scale of the problem. Although not strictly comparing apples to apples, the numbers for foreign-born, college-educated households would inevitably be higher if they are married and their spouse earned even one dollar more. College educated immigrant households not only earn twice as much as median immigrant households they also out-earn median American households.

The disparity between the income of individual immigrants with a college degree and overall immigrant households deserves further investigation all on its own. Why should we be concerned about this? There are several reasons, starting with the balance of taxes and the existence of social programs.

Imagine for a moment that you have a family of immigrants from Guatemala consisting of a mother, father and two children who are at the median income level for immigrants, or roughly $30,000. The father of this family has obtained employment via a fraudulent social security number (we know this is fairly common as there are at least 6.5 million such social security numbers active whose holders are now 112 or older) and pays taxes to the Federal and state government via that taxpayer ID. Given the nature of the tax system, a person who is married filing jointly with that household income has an income tax liability of $600 (considering a $24k personal deduction and 10% marginal rate) and FICA liability of $4,890 (after considering their employer’s obligation to match) which means this family unit provides a net Federal receipt of $5490 before applying any child or other tax credits. That’s the positive side of the ledger.

Given that this immigrant has a fraudulent SSN, this also gives them access to the various SCHIP programs for their children (which may even be legitimate if those children are citizens who were born here… because we’re incredibly stupid and allow birthright citizenship to the children of illegal parents) and Medicaid for themselves and their Wife. The annual expense of this emerges at various ERs around the country where illegal immigrants show up (like for births) but it’s harder to track down the amount of fraud which leaks out of the system via this fake SSN/birthright citizenship problem… because the SSA doesn’t really enforce its own rules.

This report from the US Attorney’s office indicates that they managed just 1,000 or so convictions for SS fraud in the span of roughly ’02-’03, which indicates that really, nobody’s trying that hard. The scale of this problem is reinforced via the revelation that over a million SSNs were compromised… and their legitimate owners were never informed.

Via the basis of simple math, I’m just going to state flatly that low-skilled immigrants of this sort cannot under any circumstances be a net economic benefit to the coffers of the nation… and that’s before we assess the costs that their children impose on the school system, which in this nation is about $11,000 per student per year. You might argue that such pupils will produce returns in the future which exceed those costs, but that’s whistling past the graveyard given what we know about the intergenerational trends of educational attainment for those without a college degree — see Reihan Salaam’s Melting Pot or Civil War for the divergent nature of college-educated/non-college educated lifetime income profiles. You would only assume such a thing if you are the type of person who uses the Powerball or a casino as a retirement plan. A relatively complete breakdown of the total fiscal costs of illegal immigration can be found here.

The situation only gets worse when considering the case of immigrants with household incomes below that median level. You would need to go a standard deviation or two to the right in that distribution before you could reasonably expect to hit an income level whereby the nation begins to “break even” on such an immigrant. This is why the median American income level should be a guidepost by which we allow/disallow immigrants to come into the nation — or at least immigrants should demonstrate some level of personal wealth which allows us to impute income to them in excess of that median value.

So, where that leaves us is needing to apply metrics to sort immigrants in a rapid and fair fashion; one which is racially, ethnically, and gender neutral, whose aim is to ensure that we only accept immigrants of the highest sort of quality. My proposal would be that we begin with college graduation in a STEM or similar field as a baseline for admission, along with the promise of employment in a high-demand field with higher than median income. High school dropouts would be automatically declined, barring possession of some very fantastic personal wealth which must be accounted for via legal means. These are the costs and the reality of tending the trees that we have planted.

The ultimate disposition of the Orchard — and its condition when we hand it to our offspring — is up to us.

Published in Immigration
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There are 18 comments.

  1. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Maj, great post. 

    I like the orchard analogy, although it doesn’t fully capture the fact that a substantial part of America’s productive capacity and wealth is derived from the extraordinary talents of our people, and exceptional science and technology. If you want the miracle of a heart transplant, you need a modern hospital and high-tech equipment, but you also need a doc (and support team) with the skills to use it. If you stretch your imagination to include these talents as intangible trees in the orchard, the metaphor still works.

    Douglas Murray has been using a “life raft” analogy for European immigration recently, which is also helpful in some ways. The Ship of State is also a good analogy, with credit to Longfellow (here).

    • #1
    • January 9, 2019, at 2:57 PM PDT
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  2. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor
    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Post author

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    If you want the miracle of a heart transplant, you need a modern hospital and high-tech equipment, but you also need a doc (and support team) with the skills to use it. If you stretch your imagination to include these talents as intangible trees in the orchard, the metaphor still works.

    This is precisely what I mean. Science, technology, medicine, agriculture, infrastructure and various other items that we take for granted (and live in the shade of) did not grow of their own accord but had to be cultivated.

    Who now gets the fruits that grow from these trees and by what right is the very thing we’re fighting over.

    The soil in which those trees grow is the heritage which we have been endowed. Those trees wouldn’t grow as they have if our ancestors hadn’t invested a great deal in it.

    • #2
    • January 9, 2019, at 3:04 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Mark Camp Member

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk): “Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be where there is no law.

    Where there is not both law and agreement on who owns what undeveloped property, right?

     

    • #3
    • January 9, 2019, at 3:06 PM PDT
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  4. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor
    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Post author

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk): “Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be where there is no law.

    Where there is not both law and agreement on who owns what undeveloped property, right?

     

    Consider the case of Native Americans with regard to this question. It’s arguable that they had considerable liberty in the sense that they were free from restraint, but they were decidedly not free from violence from others. There was no law and no agreement about that among those tribes; all property was essentially undeveloped, as the concept of “property” was not really known as much as “tribal territory.”

    • #4
    • January 9, 2019, at 3:11 PM PDT
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  5. Mark Camp Member

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk): “Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be where there is no law.

    Where there is not both law and agreement on who owns what undeveloped property, right?

     

    Consider the case of Native Americans with regard to this question. It’s arguable that they had considerable liberty in the sense that they were free from restraint, but they were decidedly not free from violence from others. There was no law and no agreement about that among those tribes; all property was essentially undeveloped, as the concept of “property” was not really known as much as “tribal territory.”

    Thanks for the reply but you didn’t answer the question.

    • #5
    • January 9, 2019, at 3:25 PM PDT
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  6. JudithannCampbell Inactive

    None of this would be an issue, if it weren’t for welfare. I am not totally opposed to welfare, but we cannot continue to import large numbers of people whom we know will end up on it. Besides everything else, it attracts the wrong sorts of people: the poor immigrants of the past came here to work, and if they couldn’t swing it, they returned to their countries of origin. They were expected to assimilate and adopt American values, and if the reality of doing that was too unbearable for them, they returned to their home countries. I don’t like the idea of granting citizenship based on earning power, but what else can we do? Maybe we should just shut down immigration altogether for a period of time-not forever, but for a while. We know that we don’t need poor immigrants, but do we even need rich or relatively well off immigrants? Why? Yes, we are a country of immigrants, but we have always taken breaks to assimilate and absorb the immigrants who are already here. Now seems like a good time to do that.

    • #6
    • January 9, 2019, at 3:28 PM PDT
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  7. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor
    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Post author

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    Thanks for the reply but you didn’t answer the question.

    It’s fair to say then that didn’t understand the question.

    • #7
    • January 9, 2019, at 3:29 PM PDT
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  8. Mark Camp Member

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    Thanks for the reply but you didn’t answer the question.

    It’s fair to say then that didn’t understand the question.

    Is the requirement I added necessary?

    “Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be where there is no law not both law and agreement on who owns what undeveloped property”

    Or, can we have freedom from violence as long as we have law, even if there are not generally accepted ownership rights (titles) for the law to use in making its judgements? Especially, title to undeveloped land?

     

     

    • #8
    • January 9, 2019, at 4:08 PM PDT
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  9. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor
    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Post author

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Is the requirement I added necessary?

    “Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be where there is no law not both law and agreement on who owns what undeveloped property”

    Or, can we have freedom from violence as long as we have law, even if there are not generally accepted ownership rights (titles) for the law to use in making its judgements? Especially, title to undeveloped land?

    I would think that having such a condition where people are unclear as to how unclaimed territory is to be settled would inherently invite violence.

    Again, my example of the more or less endemic warfare among natives here would seem to confirm that.

    • #9
    • January 9, 2019, at 4:19 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Mark Camp Member

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) (View Comment):
    I would think that having such a condition where people are unclear as to how unclaimed territory is to be settled would inherently invite violence.

    I’ll take that as a yes. 

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) (View Comment):
    Again, my example of the more or less endemic warfare among natives here would seem to confirm that.

    As would the more or less endemic warfare between them and the European immigrants, who disagreed with each other about whether improving land established title.

    Indian tribes established claim to contested property through violence, and then there was freedom from violence. Same as the Europe, the European undocumented immigrants and every other culture in the world. Once the Iroquois nations established title to the Ohio country east of the Little Miami through violence, there was peace with the Shawnee and other western tribes. 

    Once the European immigrants’ title claims in the Ohio Country were established facts through successful violence, there was freedom from violence.

    • #10
    • January 9, 2019, at 4:30 PM PDT
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  11. DonG Coolidge

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk): Therefore, what are the criteria that we should be using to determine who should gain entry? My initial rule of thumb comes in the form of the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) metric I’ve previously cited. If we’re going to add people to our nation, they should, at the minimum, add to our net reserves of monetary, moral and talent capital at a rate greater than that of the median American, as that is roughly what “replacement” in this case means.

    I think WAR is an interesting analogy. But since 80% (guesstimate) of Americans take more from the system than they pay into it, the correct value for a positive cost/benefit is higher than the median and closer to the 80% number. Since immigrants are generally young and income generally grows with age, we’d want someone with 80% income, which at age 28 is $61K/year. 

    The US publicly owns has about $50T in land and infrastructure. So, in addition to cash flow immigration leads to dilution of that shared capital ($151K per person), so to “buy” a membership in America it should cost $151K plus an income of $61K. 

    The whole start of the OP is wrong. The Midwest is the greatest natural farm in the world. It is huge, temperate with steady rainfall, the soil is amazing, the land is mostly flat and it is crossed with navigable waterways (the cheapest way to deliver food). That is a great natural benefit. That said, the industrial age began displacing the agricultural age in the 1880s.

    • #11
    • January 9, 2019, at 5:27 PM PDT
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  12. Bob Thompson Member

    I think your post fairly presents the ideal that undergirds the founding principles of our country. It also presents a fair approach to immigration under that ideal.

    We then must recognize that we have a number of forces operating against this ideal. One, welfare, has been addressed in an earlier comment. Others, that I would include, are products of the globalist mentality operating at the UN and in the rest of the world and include refugees seeking political or religious asylum.

    At the very top of my list is the failing Congress. I invite anyone who ever comments to make an offering describing one significant creative action that has emerge from congressional legislators. I have little hope that this will change since the new energy there just makes things worse.

    I agree that the situation at the border is a national emergency. So is almost everything else around Washington, D.C. 

    • #12
    • January 9, 2019, at 7:10 PM PDT
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  13. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor
    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Post author

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    As would the more or less endemic warfare between them and the European immigrants, who disagreed with each other about whether improving land established title.

    Such conflict occurred due to several reasons – but I would argue that at the center of it all was a dispute over land ownership. European settlers thought that you could own land and there were established procedures for making claim to it. The indians didn’t have such formal processes, as many of them were hunter-gatherers and many that were involved in serious agricultural pursuits lived in constant fear of raids from opposing tribes, making their notions of property tenuous at best.

    Add in the fact that deaths from warfare were quite common among American natives in the Pre-Columbian era.

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    Indian tribes established claim to contested property through violence, and then there was freedom from violence. Same as the Europe, the European undocumented immigrants and every other culture in the world. Once the Iroquois nations established title to the Ohio country east of the Little Miami through violence, there was peace with the Shawnee and other western tribes. 

    The Iroquois were particularly savage, engaging in the serial torture and murder of captives, up to and including cannibalism.

    They weren’t alone in these practices, as the Aztecs and Maya were quite similarly involved in mass, ritual killing of captives and cannibalism.

    • #13
    • January 10, 2019, at 7:20 AM PDT
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  14. Freesmith Inactive

    A fine argument for importing an overclass.

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk): So, where that leaves us is needing to apply metrics to sort immigrants in a rapid and fair fashion; one which is racially, ethnically, and gender neutral, whose aim is to ensure that we only accept immigrants of the highest sort of quality. My proposal would be that we begin with college graduation in a STEM or similar field as a baseline for admission, along with the promise of employment in a high-demand field with higher than median income. High school dropouts would be automatically declined, barring possession of some very fantastic personal wealth which must be accounted for via legal means. These are the costs and the reality of tending the trees that we have planted.

     

    • #14
    • January 10, 2019, at 11:18 AM PDT
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  15. Bob Thompson Member

    Freesmith (View Comment):

    A fine argument for importing an overclass.

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk): So, where that leaves us is needing to apply metrics to sort immigrants in a rapid and fair fashion; one which is racially, ethnically, and gender neutral, whose aim is to ensure that we only accept immigrants of the highest sort of quality. My proposal would be that we begin with college graduation in a STEM or similar field as a baseline for admission, along with the promise of employment in a high-demand field with higher than median income. High school dropouts would be automatically declined, barring possession of some very fantastic personal wealth which must be accounted for via legal means. These are the costs and the reality of tending the trees that we have planted.

     

    When did we start importing people?

    • #15
    • January 10, 2019, at 11:46 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Mark Camp Member

    Freesmith (View Comment):
    A fine argument for importing an overclass.

    As long as we don’t allow a class society to exist (class, in the sense of a group that is not equal under the law*), it isn’t possible that we could import an overclass or any other kind, regardless of our immigration policies.

    (Note: I am opposed on other grounds to Shawn’s proposal, to enable politicians to engineer a labor market by running tests of its choosing and deciding which humans should be allocated to the production system. It will have unintended consequences. Even in the best case, of politicians who happen to be 100% honest, and highly competent in making entrepreneurial decisions for private enterprise.)

    *We already have, and will always have, socioeconomic classes, and place of birth has always and will always have correlations to those.

     

    • #16
    • January 10, 2019, at 11:47 AM PDT
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  17. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor
    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Post author

    Freesmith (View Comment):
    A fine argument for importing an overclass.

    I’m unconcerned by such arguments so long as the number of people whom we allow to immigrate doesn’t overwhelm the native population.

    Aside from that, a median income of $60,000 hardly sounds like “an overclass” to me.

    • #17
    • January 10, 2019, at 2:59 PM PDT
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  18. Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Contributor
    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) Post author

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    I am opposed on other grounds to Shawn’s proposal, to enable politicians to engineer a labor market by running tests of its choosing and deciding which humans should be allocated to the production system.

    The country which has the highest ratings as far as desirability goes is Switzerland.

    They also have some of the most rigorous immigration laws around. For my money, I’d rather be more like Switzerland than Zimbabwe. The way we’re going is more likely to have us end up as Zimbabwe.

    • #18
    • January 10, 2019, at 3:02 PM PDT
    • 2 likes