Do We Actually Agree?

I agree with a lot of what’s in Peggy Noonan’s latest Wall Street Journal column, a plea to end the shutdown. So, for example, I largely agree with this:

Those of us who are not politicians agree that neither party has really wanted to solve the problem. Both played it for their own gain, cynically, as if they weren’t even invested in this place. They should be ashamed.

It was not in the interests of the Republican Party to address the border problem because that might leave them open to charges they were driven by questions of race and color. Also their major donors didn’t mind illegal immigration, which was good for business. It’s always convenient when you see things the donors’ way! The affluent and powerful in America enjoy feeling liberal and are uninterested in how poor Americans view chaos (as a threat—America is all they have; they don’t have two passports and a share on a plane) and jobs lost to cheaper labor.

Democrats never intended to control the border because they think doing nothing marks them as the nonracist party, the compassionate, generous party that Hispanics will see as home. They would reap the electoral rewards in a demographically changing country. They will own the future! Their big donors too opposed border strictness. They don’t think about security a lot, even after 9/11. I think it was Murray Kempton who said Republicans are always hearing the creak of the door at night. It’s true. Democrats are less anxious about security. It’s fair to point out they tend to be more affluent and have the protections money can buy. Their fearlessness is not bravery but obliviousness. They off-load anxiety onto Republicans, who are always mysteriously eager to take it up.

But the crux of the problem is in this paragraph and, sadly, I don’t think it’s true:

Almost everyone would agree we have a right to determine the rules by which legal entry is attained. Most Americans would agree it is desirable to set those rules according to the nation’s needs. America is beginning to experience a shortage of registered nurses. Have you noticed? You will. Wouldn’t it be good to address the shortfall through immigration policy, inviting nurses from other countries to become legal residents and citizens? My people, from Ireland, were welcomed because the dynamic America of 1900 needed laborers and domestic workers. That, luckily, is what my people were. Two generations later I worked for an American president. What a miracle this place is. Let’s keep that up, the miracle part.

It has many problems. I’m not sure that most Americans agree that “we have a right to determine the rules by which legal entry is attained”. I’m not sure when “her people” arrived but when my people, i.e. my Irish ancestors, arrived in the United States (pre-famine Irish), the United States would experience more than another century in which wages would rise for typical workers. That hasn’t been true for nearly two generations now. Importing nurses will increase the number of nurses today but it will also keep wages for nurses down and discourage young Americans from seeking a career in nursing.

Why aren’t more young Americans seeking to become nurses? That’s the question I think she should be asking.

We presently have as high a proportion of immigrants in the population as at any other time in our history. Under the circumstances claiming that more immigrants will solve our problems is extraordinary and deserving of a high standard of proof. Maybe what we need as a society is fewer laborers and domestic workers and more social equality, something that cannot be obtained by importing workers.

3 comments… add one
  • Andy

    I tend to think a lot of people simply don’t know – at least based on my conversations. Lots of people identify with the border-security side of the argument or the “we are a nation of immigrants” argument, but very few have any specific opinion on just who should be allowed in the country and under what conditions. This is true of wonks and elites as well who seem to studiously avoid any specifics.

    So in my view, the whole immigration issue is purely political and completely divorced from the practical aspects.

  • WPS

    As the spouse of an RN, I can tell you that a major reason for the growing shortage of nurses (especially RNs) is not a lack of interest, but a lack of space in nursing schools. It costs a lot to educate a nurse, and we are not presently willing to pay that cost. Hence, we may have to import them.

  • It costs a lot to educate a nurse, and we are not presently willing to pay that cost.

    That’s the crux right there. The question to ask is whether importing nurses will alleviate or aggravate that problem.

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