Thursday, May 25, 2006

Column on Group Think and Immigration

Tribalism, Welfare, and Immigration

Tibor R. Machan

The same mentality that drives interstate squabbles about bringing
goodies home from Washington may well underlie the controversy about
illegal immigration. When government plays Santa Claus, those on the
receiving end will become very interested in how many gifts are being
handed out and who all receives them?especially when the recipients
believe they and their kin filled Santa?s bags in the first place.

Although advocates of the welfare state treat entitlements as basic
rights?like those to one?s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness?the
entitlements are actually something very different. For me to respect
others? rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness all I need to do
is refrain from interfering with them. The right to property, too, means
no more than abstaining from trespassing on other?s dominions, from
stealing and robbing and extorting from others.

Entitlements are another thing entirely. Your right to health care or
education or social security implies that others must provide resources to
you?I need to fill the government?s coffers so that you may draw the
benefits you are said to be entitled to. Without this ?taking from Peter
so as to supply Paul? system, the welfare state doesn?t work?which is why
some economists advised former Soviet bloc countries to wait until people
become prosperous before they install welfare programs. After all, if no
one is prosperous, one cannot raid anyone?s wealth to distribute it to

O.K., the welfare state is a reality in most developed countries,
including the U.S.A. So just as citizens of different states now indulge
in group think about ?our? versus ?their? take from the feds, many
Americans look upon illegal immigrants getting stuff from ?our? treasury
the same way. They aren?t entitled, we are, so keep them out otherwise
they will get our goodies.

Yes, when illegal immigrants go to hospitals to receive emergency
service, get education benefits, etc., and so forth, this may look to
bystanders as a matter of kindness and generosity but those who are being
taxed so as to pay for these services may not share that attitude. Instead
they may think of it the same way as recipients of entitlements in one
state think of the disproportionately larger share received by those in
another state: it is wrong. You didn?t contribute your share, so you
should not receive, even if it is a matter of feeding your baby and
healing your sick.

Group think does this to people. And the tragedy of the commons
exacerbates the problem. ?We, Americans,? the mentality goes, ?have
supplied what comprise the American treasury?s resources, so it is we,
Americans, who should be getting what?s in there, not people from other
countries.? Yes, if they come here by following ?our rules,? that?s
different. Then they have earned the right to get into them game of
America?s complex wealth redistribution. But if they do not follow our
rules, they have got no right.

Is there a way to avoid this messy and acrimonious way of dealing with
how different people feel about each other? Is there a way that people
from abroad can join Americans in benefiting from the political economic
system that has attracted millions and millions over the decades to come
to these shores and get a shot at thriving and flourishing?

There is, indeed. It is to leave the referees, the government, out of
the wealth redistribution game entirely. Let them just do the one job they
ought to be doing, namely, securing our rights?those basic ones laid out
by the American Founders. Let?s abolish all entitlements and there will no
longer be the constant mad scramble for them that makes citizens of
different states, different special interest groups, and potential
immigrants hostile toward one another.

Is this likely to happen soon? No, not until the country goes bankrupt,
which may not be so far off. And one reason it will go bankrupt is that
everyone has come to think that what?s in the public treasury is for him
or her to raid?it?s ?ours,? is it not?

Well, those from across our borders are starting to think so too?after
all, some of their relatives have made substantial contributions to that
treasury, have they not? Are they then not part of the group that may
reach out at take some of the goodies ?we? are entitled to?

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