Friday, May 19, 2006

A National Language (Revisited)

Old Business: Homosexuality

A Senate Committee passed a proposed Constitutional Amendment to declare that no state may permit marriage other than between a man and a woman.

This is really nothing more than a 20th century version of the Crusades, Inquisitions, religious wars, and witch hunts of the past carried up to the present. Once again a group of people have decided that their all-loving and benevolent God has commanded them to identify a group of “others” and to bring some misery into their lives.

My personal hope is that future generations will see this as the last instance of a long history of persecution on the basis of divine command.

Old Business: The Mexican Wall

The Senate is also approving the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico.

Since I wrote my posting on “Immigration” I still have not been given a reason to believe that I should be concerned with people coming from Mexico looking for work, but I ought not to be concerned with people coming to my state from California, Texas, or Florida looking for work. It seems to me that if the latter is not a cause for concern, then neither should the former.

New Business: A National Language (Part II)

Recently, the Senate passed two amendments to an immigration bill. One amendment declared that English is our national language, and prohibit the use of any other language in promulgating government ordinances and other government services. The second amendment said that English is “the common and unifying language of the U.S.”

Earlier, I wrote in defense of a national language in a post called, “A National Language” I argued for a national language on the grounds that a common language promotes efficiency. It is a part of a national infrastructure, like roads and a court system, that makes society run more smoothly to everybody’s benefit.

There is one significant difference between what I argued and what follows from these premises and what the Senate voted to do.

This analogy between roads and a national language is more than superficial. One of the characteristics that both have in common is that they are what economists call “public goods.”

In economic terms, a “public good” is a good that people can get or benefit from without paying for. A paradigm example is national defense. It is not possible for the military to defend the property at 1226 Main Street, without also defending the property at 1228 Main Street. So, if the owner of the first property pays for a national defense, then the owner of the second property can benefit from this without paying a dime.

Imagine how much money the military would receive if its contributions were entirely voluntary. The military could not go to each person and say, “because you paid, we will defend your house, but not your neighbor’s.” There would be a lot of people who would under-contribute, and the military would be funded at a level far below its worth.

To counter the problem of free-ridership, we have the government provide for the national defense and to pay for it through taxes. This reduces the amount of free ridership because the government can make people pay whether they want to or not.

What I am talking about here is straight-forward free-market economics. Free ridership is a type of wealth redistribution from those who produce wealth to the ‘free riders’ who exploit those goods without paying for them. However, it is a free-market argument in favor of some sort of intervention. That is to say, the government must step in to ensure that those who benefit from a (public) good pay for that benefit.

In the case of a national language, this means that those who benefit from the economic efficiencies that a national language provides should pony up some of the costs.

Specifically, this argues for a policy in which the government itself gets involved in funding English-education courses – collecting money from those who would benefit from the increased economic efficiency, and giving some of that wealth to those who would otherwise have to suffer the costs.

The amendment the Senate passed, authored by Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, is simply a mean-spirited piece of legislation. It aims to increase the amount of suffering and hardship inflicted on those who do not speak English without offering them any form of relief. To somebody like Inhofe, their suffering is not important.

What apparently is important to somebody like Inhofe is giving certain voters an even larger economic advantage over potential non-English speaking job competitors, and protecting the free ridership status of those voters.

Republicans typically assert that they are opposed to wealth-redistribution schemes. They want to use the free market to obtain maximum efficiency in the distribution of goods and services. This requires using the government to eliminate free-ridership; to prevent people from ‘redistributing the wealth’ by becoming free riders on the efforts of others. It is entirely contrary to this objective to be passing legislation that has the purpose of maintaining and defending the redistribution of wealth that is inherent in this amendment.

Yet all but one Republican voted for this amendment. They were almost unanimous in their agreement to abandon the economic principles that they claim to stand behind for the sake of this legislation.

This hypocrisy is only one more reason to believe (as if we needed one more reason to believe) that the Republicans – at least those Republicans serving in the Senate -- are not the party of moral principle that they claim to be. They are more than willing to harm innocent people and to pass wealth-redistribution schemes when it suits them. What is important is that the wealth distribution goes in the right direction.

Typically, as in this case, the wealth redistribution is from the poor (since non-English speakers tend to be poor), to the wealthy free-riders who are in a position to exploit them.

2 comments:

John said...

Your analogy between workers from other states and immigrants awakened my memory. In Detroit, living through the auto industry's depression of the 1980s, many skilled tradesmen moved their families to Houston, TX, which was booming. (I was living in Detroit at the time, watching families lose everything.)

The Detroit-area incomers were quickly loathed by Houstonians for being better trained- the Detroiters took the best jobs. Anti-Michigan sentiment reached a fever pitch. I recall an article in The Detroit News dealing with the backlash. The insults were usually prefaced as "a car with a MICHIGAN plates".

I suppose we humans always need outsiders to hate.

Oz said...

Nobody's concerned with people looking for work coming here. It's the people who come here looking to do us harm that requires that we have immigration law. I'm for open borders, but that requires that we do in fact have borders. As it is, there are 11 million foreign nationals in this country without our government's consent. It looks like an invasion to me.

The Mexican government's open encouragemet of its citizens to break our laws is a clear sign of hostility, and I am baffled as to why our government tolerates it. I hear Fox is threatening to close Mexico's borders to Americans; I wish him luck in that endeavor and I hope he shares the secret to any success he has.