Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Immigrant Labor and Outsourcing

Old Business: Another Bush Lie

50 days after the start of the invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration was claiming to have found trailors used to manufacture biological weapons. According to the Washington Post, two days before Bush made this statement, the Pentagon filed a unanimous report stating that the claim was false.

Is such a reckless disregard for the truth a sign of a good moral character?

New Business; Immigration and Outsourcing

I do not see why it is supposed to be good for the American economy to outsource jobs to some foreign country where low-paid workers can do the work, but such a poor idea to bring those same workers into this country to work at the same jobs in the same factories?

Or …

I do not see why it is supposed to be such a good idea to bring foreigners into this country to "do the work that Americans will not do," but it is such a poor idea to outsource similar kinds of work to other countries so that the same people can do similar work over there?

In America, we seem to have Republicans who insist on shipping jobs overseas but detest the idea of foreign workers coming to America, and we have Democrats who think that it is an act of mercy and kindness to have foreign workers come into America to work, who detest "outsourcing" American jobs overseas.

I cannot find anything consistent in these two positions.


I hear liberals say that immigration is good because the immigrants do work that Americans will not do, while outsourcing takes away jobs that Americans will do. At the same time, outsourcing is to be condemned for exploiting foreign workers by giving low-paying, menial, and degrading tasks at low wages with no benefits. Those who say this also claim that illegal immigrants in America are gaining economic opportunities they would not otherwise have.

In reality, outsourcing involves exporting jobs that Americans will not do at the pay rate that foreigners are willing to accept. Immigrants take jobs that Americans will not do at the pay rate that immigrants are willing to accept.

The two issues are the same. However, people who debate those issues take an absurd position. On one issue they assert their position while claiming those who disagree are either stupid or evil. Yet, when they move to the other position they embrace the very same arguments that their ‘stupid’ or ‘evil’ opponents used in the first issue.

People assert that we must condemn outsourcing, and deny work to foreigners so that Americans can have those jobs for higher pay. At the same time, they insist that we have the liberty to give low pay jobs to foreigners seeking jobs in America who are willing to do work at those wages that Americans will not do. Another group of people insist that we keep jobs in America out of the hands of immigrants so that Americans can earn higher pay, while they praise outsourcing jobs because it gives foreigners opportunities that they would not otherwise have.

Numbers of Jobs

One of the claims that both sides make, in their separate contexts, is that the jobs that immigrants/foreigners take are jobs that Americans would otherwise have. This is false.

At higher wage rates, some of those jobs would be taken over by machines. Other jobs simply would not be worth paying for. The higher price for the goods and services those businesses would produce would mean less demand for their higher-priced goods, which means less production, which means fewer jobs. The higher cost for those products means that industries who use those products will face higher costs, so they too will face lower demand, which means fewer jobs.

A lot of those jobs will disappear if businesses had to pay more. Some of jobs that depend on those industries will also disappear.

Medical Care and Education

There is an important point of asymmetry between the two types of cases.

Foreigners coming to America also use government services -- education, medical care -- that Americans pay for through their tax dollars. Foreigners staying in their own country taking outsourced jobs are not straining our government services.

Can this be a true moral difference?

If we use this to argue for outsourcing and against immigration, we are saying that the best system is the one that allows us to best exploit foreign workers. We are to prefer paying them a wage without education and medical benefits over paying them a wage with education and medical benefits.

This may be a political difference. However, it hardly qualifies as a morally defensible difference. If these people have a moral right to basic medical care and education benefits for their children, then they have this right regardless of where we put the factories -- in America or in some other country. This is part of what it means to have a moral right.

If, instead, they have no such moral right, then we should feel just as free to deny them medical and education benefits in America as we feel about their not having these benefits as they work in some other country.

Either way, we find no morally justified reason to have one attitude towards outsourcing (conservative - pro; liberal - con) and a different attitude towards immigration (conservative - con; liberal - pro).

Taking Sides

At this point, I have not said which is better.

I do not have space for detailed arguments, so I will briefly state that I tend to support both immigration and outsourcing.

Take two groups; A and B, where A is more prosperous than B. It would be morally difficult to justify limiting peoples’ freedom for the purpose of driving B even further into squalor for the purpose of making A still better off. This principle gives us a common answer for immigration and outsourcing – where freedoms are limited to drive foreigners in squalor to benefit Americans.

Tragically, Americans do not even benefit. It makes no more sense to say that America suffers from prosperity in India and China than it does to say that Colorado suffers from prosperity in California and Texas. It makes no more sense to worry about immigrants finding work here than it does to worry about another crop of college graduates finding work. These people do not drive away or take jobs; they create jobs.

To the degree that we worry – as we should – that the rich are getting richer by exploiting workers, we are not doing those workers any benefit by destroying their jobs. It would be better to simply tax the rich to provide the poor with medical care and an education to go along with their salary.


Like I said, this is not a definitive argument for any particular conclusion on these issues. It is an argument that people should at least try to be consistent. It is strange that people who sigh in exasperation at the arguments they hear their opponents use when discussing one issue, use those same arguments when discussing the issue. It suggests that people should think a little more clearly about what they are saying.


Simon said...

Hypocricy - it makes your want to scream. Well, it makes me want to scream anyway.

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