from my mind to yours...

May 2006
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On Illegal Aliens and Immigration Reform - Part 2
Filed under: Politics and Economics
Posted by: site admin @ 6:22 pm

Illegal immigration continues to be a hot button topic. Given the continuation of this issue, I feel it important to update and extend my prior remarks1.

First, we still need to keep clear the cause of the problem - the relative disparity of prosperity between those in the US and those to the south (there aren’t many to the north, and, in any case, they don’t appear to be invading). As long as a strong disparity exists, and the effort and risk required to move here is low, they will continue to come. For some reason, this never seems to be clearly stated publicly.

Second, we need to realize that solving the problem can entail either lowering the incentive to come here, raising the cost of getting here, or raising the incentive to stay home. Pushing for continued political and economic reform in Mexico and Latin America as well as encouraging investment there could raise the standard of living there and remove the migration incentive. Making it harder to get in (with things like walls as are currently being dicussed) will also lower the incentive to come2. The key is that, if we really want to stop the immigration, we need to look at this from all angles.

Third, we need to decide why immigration is an issue at all. Are we just mad because they are breaking the law? Or are we more upset because we feel like we’re being invaded? Do we really want to stop the immigration, or just change how it’s done? Immigration law could easily be changed to make this a non issue. We have somewhat arbitrary guidelines on who can come here under which reason - anyone who looks at the law will see a nearly psychotic patchwork of rules, many of which have outlived their original intent or context. We could easily change the law to make immigration policy consistent, and change the numbers allowed in to accomodate any or all of the Mexicans that want to come3.

I suspect, however, that this is not the real issue. While I might enjoy hosting guests that I invite to my house, I would feel violated if anyone presumed that they could come to my house whenever they choose, even if they offer to work in order to stay. Similarly, as an American, I have nothing against any particular foreigner, Mexican or otherwise. I do, however, feel violated when hundreds of thousands of them take to the streets and, in essence, threaten me by saying that they can stop the economy. I would feel threatened by any group that did such a thing. With illegal immigrants, I have a simple recourse - I can send them back where they came from. And because I feel violated, it is easy for me to emotionally decide to do so, even if it makes no economic sense. In many ways, I would rather suffer economically than allow myself to be bullied.

The problem is that, in these protests, those protesting made a clear distinction between “us” and “them”. They make it clear that they do not perceive themselves to be “American” - at least, not in the way I define it. Rather than absorbing into the culture that was already here, they brought a culture with them. When they comprise 5% or less of the population, this kind of isolationism is “quaint”. When they comprise 50% of the population, it’s an invasion. And that is VERY threatening.

The sad thing is that in an economic sense, this kind of migration is probably essential to shore up the social safety net. Wealth tends to result in declining birth rates. These immigrants supply young labor to fill the gap left by “Anglo” DINKs4 and these kids will be the ones paying into Social Security when I’m withdrawing. If we allow our emotions to dominate, we can probably go a long way towards stopping the immigration, regardless of whether it’s due to fear or righteous anger. However, this might be one of those things that, on getting what we asked for, we find we don’t really want the consequences that come with it.

1. See this blog
2. I don’t really know why we would want to encourage investing in another country. We already have enough jobs leaving this one without doing that.
3. I haven’t heard anything about this in the current debate.
4. DINK = Double income, no kids

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On Public Financing of Non-Governmental Functions
Filed under: Politics and Economics
Posted by: site admin @ 9:31 am

There is currently an attempt where I live to convince the State Legislature to use public funds to help finance not 1, but 3 separate stadia (or stadiums for those without an inclination to ancient Greek). One of these is for a State funded educational institution - the other 2 are for local sports teams. Apparently, some of these attempts have been going on for 10 years.

This is no different than the use of eminent domain to transfer property from one private entity to another. In this case, it amounts to the transfer of tax dollars to subsidize a private institution from which the government receives no specific benefit. In other words, its not like a government agency purchasing something from a private company - in that case, the government receives valuable goods or services in exchange. In this case, what does the government receive in exchange for its investment? And is the value of those things received (if any) commensurate with the investment made? If, for example, the government were to be guaranteed payments that would repay the investment plus 10% interest over the life of the loan, I think it would be a pretty easy decision to make.

However, if it were that easy, there would be plenty of private investors lining up to finance the project. The fact that this process has gone on repeatedly for years suggests that either there is no compelling financial arguement for investing in stadia or that those trying to get the money have yet to adequately explain them. Either of these should ring alarm bells. First, it isn’t the government’s place to invest in private enterprise - particularly when favoring one organization. Second, if those who want something cannot adequately explain it, they aren’t likely to be able to use wisely any money they do get.

Wall Street has long known how to market investment opportunities to the masses. If this were a good investment, it could be packaged and sold as either an equity investment or bonds of some sort. The fact that it isn’t should be a warning that those who want the money realize that the only way they will ever get it is to feed at the public trough.

Politicians should be reticient to make investments that Wall Street won’t.

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On Plagiarism
Filed under: General
Posted by: site admin @ 5:58 pm

The The MehtaMorphosis Award was recently established based on the flap raised by similarities between a book written by Kaavya Viswanathan, a 19 year old Harvard student, and several ones written by Megan F. McCafferty several years ago. The list of similarities apparently encompasses a number of phrasings, but doesn’t appear to encompass any real ideas - at least not based on the samples I’ve seen. Nonetheless, it has generated a tremendous amount of heat over accusations of plagiarism.

The lesson here is that we now know that people aren’t nearly as creative as they aspire to be, but so what? Solomon once said “There’s nothing new under the sun”. Does it take 3,000 years to figure out that he was right? The issue here isn’t ideas, but expression. Copyright law states that the expression must be an “exact replica”, not just close. In fact, the replication must continue for more than a sentence. The examples I’ve seen don’t even make it that far.

If we are to assume that this carries to ideas, then we are saying that no two people can express exactly the same opinion. Not only would this silence nearly everyone, it would also (as a result) cause political gridlock.

Expression, particularly first person expression, is a way of demonstrating personality. Phrasing can be a signature of a particular cultural group - and the use of that phrasing can be a way of establishing a character as part of that group. While Kaavya Viswanathan may not be as creative as she’d like to believe, she’s hardly a thief.

This high temperature moralizing is ludicrous. Further, the publisher is stupid to NOT take advantage of the controversy - it’s great publicity for the book.

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