Open Immigration?
Jude Wanniski
November 8, 1999


Memo To: Geraldo Rivera, Rivera Live on CNBC
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Open Borders

I heard you had an interesting hour-long interview with Pat Buchanan last week (November 2), so I got a transcript from Burrell's on Friday. Coincidentally, you discussed Pat's views on immigration the same day the WSJournal ran a lead editorial advocating open borders. Pat, of course, is totally opposed to open borders, as am I, although my reasoning is a bit different than his. He reasons that the combination of a million legal immigrants a year, plus a few million illegals, is straining the nation's ability to assimilate this largely Hispanic population into our distinctly Anglo-American culture. His point has some validity, I think, but not enough to carry the argument. He would like to limit legal immigration to 250,000 a year, a quarter of where it is, while I would simply insist that there be no special bilingual education program that discourages assimilation. My grandparents came from Poland, the Ukraine, and Lithuania late in the 19th century or early in the 20th. They spoke no English nor could they read or write in any language -- not having spent a single day in school. But under the economic and social pressure to assimilate, their children learned English, then the popular culture, and essentially taught their parents as they learned. My Lithuanian grandmother taught herself to read in her native language and in English, then taught my grandfather, who never learned how to write -- but for the last 40 years of his life read the NYTimes every day and the New York Lithuanian language paper, Laisve. The experience put me squarely on the side of those who oppose bilingual education.

My reason for opposing open borders is related to the WSJ's advocacy of unlimited immigration. Its Friday editorial noted Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's concern that the unemployment rate is getting so low that demand for labor is outstripping supply, and could cause wage inflation. So the Journal thinks we can solve that problem by importing labor. The Journal, of course, has become an Establishment newspaper, and the Establishment historically has favored more immigration at the time of tight labor markets. In the early days of the republic, when Alexander Hamilton was trying to develop a manufacturing sector in New England, he supported a high tariff to encourage infant industry -- although not so high as to discourage federal revenues needed to retire our bonded indebtedness. Hamilton also favored open immigration because of the lure of cheap western lands, which acted as a drain on the labor pool available to the Eastern mercantile class. There was an early tendency among the Hamiltonians to lock in the western lands as government property, but the Jeffersonians won out easily in that debate. It was not until the 20th century, when we reached our "manifest destiny" in settling the nation from coast-to-coast did the idea of open immigration come to an end. Please note, Geraldo, that while almost none of the eastern United States is owned by the federal government, most of the western states are still in federal hands. Nevada, which is as big as several Northeastern states combined, is still 95% "owned" by the government.

My difference with the Journal's editorial position is that it really has in mind skimming off the best and the brightest of countries like Mexico, who come here not because they face political or religious persecution in their homelands. They come because their economies remain stagnant, with little or no opportunity for their advancement or for their children's. Because they are the most unhappy with the state of affairs they face at home, and because they tend to be more educated, more willing to take the kinds of risks associated with emigration, the Established elites who keep their economies stagnant are happy to see them leave. In Mexico, every time the folks at the bottom of the pile look like they are about to make some political headway, the ruling class screws up the economy with a tax increase or a currency devaluation, and emigration across the Rio Grande swells to new heights. After the surprise December 1994 peso devaluation sent the economy reeling, members of the Zedillo government had the nerve to publicly note that the long border with the United States was acting as a safety valve, to release the malcontents.

Where, after all, are malcontents created? In recent years, Geraldo, the broad and deep flow of immigrants to the United States, from Asia and Latin America, has been created by the economic errors of the United States government, our Treasury Department and our Federal Reserve -- and the perverse blunders of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. These are Establishment institutions, meant to serve the monied class. Or do you really think the poor people of the world are so inferior in intelligence that they have no choice but to work for $1 a day South of the Border or the minimum wage up north?

If you were to privately ask the editors of the WSJournal why there is so much misery and poverty in the world, they would tell you this themselves. They know how our big banks and major industrialists collude in managing international economic policy, that the IMF, while technically independent, is essentially an agent of the big New York and European banks. For years, Jack Kemp has been calling for the resignation of the IMF's director, Michel Camdessus, and his replacement by Pedro Aspe, who was finance minister of Mexico in the years when its government was refusing to play the IMF game. When was the last time you saw the WSJournal call for the replacement of Camdessus? His management has brought about more human suffering in the last dozen years than you can shake a stick at.

Do you see what I mean, Geraldo? The Establishment does not want anybody rocking the boat. It prefers the status quo. It would have been just as easy for the Journal on Friday to ask why it is we have a million and a half able-bodied men, most of them African-Americans, salted away in federal and state prisons. If Greenspan needs more bodies to prevent "wage inflation," he could find a way to direct that labor to jobs that are high enough to support a family. Instead, he prefers the wages to be kept low, so the profits of the industrialists he serves will not disappoint their shareholders.

I do agree with you that some of Pat Buchanan's views are too harsh, even extreme, but in a larger sense, he really is serious about trying to bring about the kinds of reforms that will reverse the disparity of living standards that has grown wider and wider as the rich get richer and the poor fill up our prisons. Please take note of these sincere comments on your show, Geraldo, because they may come in handy when you have Pat on again some day. It is a long way to the November 2000 elections.