In this debate concerning Central American children flooding across the US southern border, conservatives seem to be missing the point. The global consensus, between religious people and secular humanists, is that these immigrants are poor and deserve help from rich neighbors like ourselves. The fact that they came from a country with poorly run institutions hints that it may not be their fault that they were poor to begin with. The fact that they're children makes them even less responsible for their poverty. Due to this, immigrants are considered the 'good' type of poor people who are trying to make a better life for themselves. They aren't the 'bad' type of poor who had every opportunity to succeed but were simply too lazy to work hard and too belligerent to follow the rules.
There is an enormous segment of the human psyche devoted to punishing malingering, freeloading, nonconformism, etc. It's an instinctual act that's already apparent by age 2 in how toddlers treat each other. The fact that there are any poor people left in America, a country with a per capita GDP of $53,000+, is due to this instinctual desire to punish groups or individuals who for some reason have sinned against the community and therefore the social safety net has abandoned them in retaliation. You can garner a lot of righteous wrath together when people hear that said poor person is on drugs, or spends all his time surfing, or has born children out of wedlock. After reciting all the sins of the poor American, the middle class Americans smirk cynically and say 'Well to hell with him. Why should I have to pay for his decisions?'
Mind you, this is absurd, because regardless of how poorly the man is acting, he's saving the US taxpayer a ton of money by not being in jail. For the simple reason of wanting to thank the man or woman for refraining from crime, we could afford to give these people at least as much money as we spend on institutional facilities. The average cost of keeping someone in prison for a year is over $30,000. Giving someone a citizen's dividend of $12,000 in order to keep him out of jail would save twice as much money as it costs. Furthermore, we already spend trillions in social welfare programs in America, so the idea that we should search out and punish malingerers seems to be a vestigial hangup that has nothing to do with our overall social policy outlook and at this point is just persecuting minorities because we dislike them, rather than any sort of principled philosophical position. Why exactly should we punish people who just want to surf all day when we're giving tons of money to single mothers who just want to have sex all day? One member of society is only burdening himself on the public dole, whereas the other is adding a giant litter of additional mouths to feed in addition to herself. And yet in our demented system, one of them is cast out as an unbearable evil, while the latter is welcomed with open arms.
It is not self evident that getting poor people to work would actually help society. The unskilled work available to poor people pays so little that simply the price of going to and from work is equal to the pay they receive at work. The labor force participation rate is at record lows ever since women entered the workforce. This means that if all these poor lazy 'malingerers' tried to get jobs at once, by, say, cutting off welfare to all of them, you would need to virtually double the number of jobs in America overnight. However, there's no evidence that businesses would find it profitable to double the amount of people they're hiring even if said people volunteered to work for them. Even if you force them to get a job, it's not actually possible for them to do so in today's automated, streamlined for efficiency business climate. Even college graduates in STEM fields are finding it difficult to get a job. Microsoft, far from hiring workers, is laying them off as we speak. The idea that anyone who wants to get a job can get a job, may be true locally, but cannot be true universally. The presence of 'lazy people' is just a mask for the fact that we don't have nearly as many jobs as we have potential workers in America and so all we can do as a people is play musical chairs with what few jobs we have left. Lazy people, far from malingerers, are doing a public service by not competing for what few jobs are left and choosing to live a life of poverty instead. Giving them $12,000 a year as a repayment for staying out of the workforce is a completely fair deal, compared to how much we'd have to pay them to get into the workforce.
I must assume that if welfare is banned from jobless people, it would be a public necessity that jobs be made available, no matter what, for everyone who wants one. Otherwise you would simply be abandoning people to die who are willing to work and trying to find work but can't get any work. Not even 1800's Britain was that callous. I doubt more than the 1% libertarian lunatic fringe would be fine with just watching people die all around them with a 'serves them right' grin. But the cost of giving someone a makework job that the market isn't calling for because it can't make a profit from it would be vastly higher than a simple $12,000 welfare check a year. From past attempts, like during the stimulus bill, it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per job created of public spending. If you had simply given that level of money in a lump sum to poor people, they could have lived off of its interest for life, plus the money could have been invested into something productive like capital for Google instead of dithered away on digging ditches and then filling them back in again, the only jobs public hiring can possibly do with unskilled laborers who can't find a job in the private market. The cost of making people work when they can't find work is far higher than the cost of letting them not work. However, we only want to give money to people willing to work, because we don't trust their own calculations about whether their working makes sense or not. This is just a paradox where our primordial instincts are interfering with our rational prefrontal cortex portion of our brain, creating ridiculous results that everyone can see is wrongheaded.
Solving poverty in America is easy, but apparently overcoming lizard brain instincts that want to punish freeloaders is impossible. We are living in a society where the labor force participation (for men) and the number of hours worked per year has dropped over 50% since 1900. This is clearly due to technological changes rendering work less valuable which has been accelerating ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It has nothing to do with lazy people, freeloaders, or malingerers, but is a broad universal trend affecting people from all walks of life. As technology continues to improve (and we're just at the beginning, just wait once AI is invented) human labor will only continue to lessen in value, and yet more people will have to drop out of the workforce. When the human brain and the human body were useful tools capable of producing useful products, it's certainly true that 'those who do not work should not eat.' But that was hundreds of years ago. Our instincts are operating by a manual that no longer applies. Muscle power has become virtually useless, which is why women are finding it easier to gain employment than men. Man's greatest advantage was our strong bodies, and robots have made a mockery of that robust frame for decades now. Brain power is distributed unevenly across the population, through no fault of the people born into this world, because IQ is 80% genetic. No matter what they do they cannot perform above their own inborn potential. People with low IQ cannot outperform the standard algorithms of a computer. As computers become smarter, more and more people fall below the IQ threshold necessary to do useful work with their brains. We are living in a world where, most of the time, automation can do our work better, faster, and cheaper than we ever could.
Workers cannot 'retool' into some field of work that computers can't do yet, because every field requires as a baseline higher IQ than a computer's algorithms. Since IQ is genetic and cannot be improved, workers who have lost their jobs due to automation have already shown their IQ to be too low for any job computers can't do. It doesn't matter if computers open up 'tons of job opportunities that previously didn't exist,' like technological optimists like to blather on about. Because every one of those opportunities by their very nature must be in a high IQ field that can still out think computers, the very job fields that those unemployed by computers could never hope to achieve, which is why they've been laid off by automation in the first place. I don't believe there are any new job fields about to blossom up anywhere, because all human needs have already been met. But even if a giant slew of new jobs opened up, like Bopping and Tophing, jobs we haven't even imagined yet but are essential to future life, you can be certain that such unimaginable jobs are only available to supergeniuses, or else they would have been thought of and achieved long ago.
Relying on moral instincts that evolved in a time of labor scarcity to run a polity in a time of labor abundance is irrational. Applying principles developed thousands of years ago, before the industrial revolution, for a period after the industrial revolution, is basically the same as turning off your brain and blindly operating a set of algorithms just like the computers who are so quickly replacing us. Just as it doesn't make sense to punish unemployed people for being unable to find useful work in the world today, it wouldn't make sense for a factory to go on producing endless new cars in an assembly line long after a nuclear war has finished off humanity and no customers ever come to pick up the products. Nevertheless, even after the world ends, machines will continue to slave away producing more and more manufactured goods for a non-existant public, because they aren't smart enough to adjust their behavior based on the circumstances. Moral zombies who just continue to read aloud from the bible or never go beyond what they felt was fair as 2 year olds are just as pathetic as these ghost factories, endlessly producing more vitriolic judgments against an innocent and abused minority that really deserves our pity instead of our approbrium.
However, this hatred of poor people is a conservative tool that only works on American poor. Poor people abroad are assumed to be innocent victims of bad institutions, bad environments, bad historical legacies, or whatever. When immigrants come from all over the world to share in the 'American Dream,' no possible objection can be leveled against them. These immigrants want to work. They are trying to find work by coming here. They did not cause their own poverty, they were doomed to poverty at birth just by being born into a country with no upward opportunities. They certainly aren't lazy, or they wouldn't have made the difficult transit to the USA in the first place. None of the primordial lizard brain reactions that apply to poor Americans can possibly apply to poor immigrants. In the past, many poor immigrants arrived on our shores and quickly joined the middle class or even beyond, showing that their current status in no way resembled their innate potential. Objecting to poor immigrants because they are poor is pretty mindless, and the public isn't going to go with such facile logic.
Which means America is going to have an open borders policy whether conservatives like it or not. If conservatives admitted that racial IQ's meant that central American immigrants were a bad deal for America, they would have to furthermore admit that those IQ's were not the fault of the immigrants themselves, which would put them into yet another moral fairness conundrum. Simply saying Hispanics are stupid so shouldn't be allowed in to America won't cut it. If people with low IQ are destined to be poor, then it wasn't by their own choice that they find themselves public burdens, which means we ought to take care of them out of pity for their bad luck. In which case we should accept in the immigrants and put them on welfare anyway. The only answer to this moral necessity is that we 'can't afford to take care of everyone' and 'you'd be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.' This is certainly true. We can't pay generous $12,000 checks to every poor person in the world who wants to come here. Therefore, there is a way for conservatives to oppose open borders and deny poor people access to our shores.
However, since this way was simply a threshold/numerical argument, the flipside of this argument is that conservatives admit that we do have a moral responsibility to take care of as many poor people as possible given our wealthy economy. Certainly we can afford to take in all the poor immigrants from central America, a mere trickle compared to our vast wealth. So how can you turn away these poor Central American children citing nonsense like 'we can't help everyone?' So? Why not help the people right in front of you? Why can't you do that much, huh?
The answer is that this would encourage yet more immigrants to flood in and eventually we would be overwhelmed, so we have to nip this issue in the bud. But that argument doesn't fly. Using the excuse that you can't help everyone, now you're saying that you have no intention of helping anyone? If your real argument is you don't want to be flooded, why not hold a lottery for all the poor people in the world and at least give all poor people an equal opportunity to come to America and cease being poor, with the number of winning tickets set at the amount the American economy can absorb and support? Wouldn't this follow from your 'can't help them all' rhetoric? Not a complete iron wall keeping out everyone?
In which case, it's not actually an economic objection. The real reason we want to stop immigrants is because we think they will disrupt our society, by breaking up our neighborhoods and communities which we're currently happy with, and by imposing foreign values on our democratic elections which we'd like to keep to ourselves. This is the only logical objection conservatives can have to putting a full stop on immigrants from the third world. It's not that we don't want to help poor people, but the price is too high -- namely, not just our money, but our entire nation will disappear if we tried to help poor people via the tool of inward immigration allowances.
The flipside of this argument is that it's fine to help poor people so long as they stay outside of our country, not voting in our elections and not disturbing our neighborhoods. Which means the only possible way to stop immigration flow is to eliminate poverty worldwide. Once we've done our duty to the unfortunate victims of poverty all across the world, there would be no further reason to have to let them into our country's borders. They will do just fine where they're currently living. They can thrive just by staying put. Eliminating poverty will eliminate immigration naturally, as no one really wishes to leave their native land, their friends and family, learn a new language, be a minority surrounded by a hostile majority, start over again from scratch, etc, if it's at all possible to avoid this fate. The conservative answer to liberal immigration policy, to help poor people, at least as many as possible, by inviting them inside our own borders where we can properly take care of them, is to instead properly take care of them inside their own borders.
I can think of tons of ways to improve living circumstances abroad. To start with, we could overthrow and administer, as a U.N. world government, any nation the U.N. deemed a 'failed state' with corrupt or despotic leadership. We could hire honest, intelligent, and fair rulers to come in like the Doge of Venice to run all the nations of the world that seemingly cannot maintain a bureaucracy themselves. We've done this before with Haiti, Cuba, and other nations, but we always inevitably leave again, and then the government returns right back to the shambles it was in when we arrived. This colonial policy could be lifted by a vote of the U.N. if it feels like native rulers have become competent enough to administer themselves. Afterwards, we would keep our bureaucracy in place, ready to take back over again at any moment, for the first fifty years or so, but do nothing so long as the natives are running themselves smoothly. If these nations pass their probationary periods by remaining non-corrupt, non-violent, and non-despotic, we could leave for good and congratulate ourselves on a job well done. This would be great, honest work for our military which, by the way, could then hire far more Americans to do something actually decent and good in the world, which would kill our native poverty problems simultaneously with the poverty of the outside world's.
Another way to improve the living circumstances of the poor abroad is to send massive numbers of people, experts in every field, to train third worlders in how to do their work properly. Farmers could teach them modern farming techniques with modern farming equipment. Construction workers could teach them modern building codes for sturdy and comfortable housing. Teachers could go teach them in schools. Doctors could tend to their sick. We need to bring the first world to them, train their native elites in first world careers, and then let the best and brightest of abroad enrich their own countries by staying right where they were born. Even Africa has plenty of bright people capable of becoming doctors, engineers and scientists -- many of them have immigrated here to America and are passing our college courses with flying colors. If we nurtured the native talent in these regions and gave them the capital and facilities and government support they needed, they would feel no need to come to America with their skills, but would invest themselves wholly into making their own countries better.
We obviously need trillions of dollars of foreign investment. To improve farms, we must first be willing to buy them seeds, fertilizer, tractors, irrigation networks, etc. We must build state of the art highways, railroads, canals, or whatever other infrastructure they need. We must get their electrical grids up and running with the same reliability as exists in the first world. We must build water purification plants, sewage systems, and every other amenity we take for granted over here, like regular trash pickup times and landfills. Britain did just this sort of project with India when it was a colony, as did Japan with Taiwan and Korea. It is entirely possible to give a third world country a first world infrastructure, so long as it also has a first world administration overseeing things from overhead and a first world army ready to protect its investments.
In addition, we need to deliver targeted aid to individuals and families that strike a grand bargain with anyone in the third world that volunteers for it. $4,000 a year per person who doesn't have a child, for as long as they choose not to have a child. The biggest cause of poverty in the third world is their out of control birth rates. By giving them an incentive not to have children, women around the world will gladly prefer to stay in school, get a job, or go play on the beach for all I care. Furthermore, with western oversight of their governments, it is no longer possible for men of these societies to force women into marriage or childbirth any more. Basic human rights will be extended to the billions of women who currently are treated like property or livestock in the Islamic/African/South Asian world. With this twin whammy of financial assistance for putting off childbirth and military protection from the child-marriage and domestic-abuse patriarchy that inevitably haunts the third world the birth rate can be brought back under control and worldwide poverty can become a manageable, rather than an exponential, problem with a clear date of worldwide eradication.
We have a moral duty to eliminate poverty, not as citizens of a nation, but as human beings in the world. Simply keeping immigrants out because they're poor and we 'don't need their kind here' will not fly in a moral soul. It might appeal to a hyper-cynical conservative fringe, but it will not fly in the general electorate, who is either religious and thus cares about all poor people everywhere, or secular humanist utilitarians and thus draws no distinction between natives and foreigners. If you want to eliminate economic migrants, building a wall isn't going to avail you any, because the majority of Americans approve of economic migrants coming across the border and finding a better life here in the 'land of opportunity.' You must eliminate the root cause of economic migration, which is poverty itself. And if you aren't willing to eliminate poverty abroad, then kiss America as you know it goodbye, because we will lose not only the money you tightfistedly refused to spend, but your schools, your elections, your jobs and even your native language to the immigrant hordes.
Only a morally principled position can defeat a morally principled position. Liberals have a universal morality that makes sense. Conservatives have lizard brains that just reflexively lash out at various groups in a haphazard and out of control fashion, just like our invasion of Iraq showed. Between the two, it's obvious who's going to win in the end. Ditch the lizard brains, develop a universal moral outlook, or get left behind as a democratic rump with no power and no say in anything ever again.
P.S. An example of labor scarcity in the past is the fact that a black slave in the South was priced in current US dollars at approximately $82,000. This was the expected return a slave's labor would bring in over and above their upkeep costs over the course of their lifetime, which is why they sold at that price (taking into account inflation since 1860). In the 1800's, a fit adult male could at least be expected to make, not only enough to support themselves, but $82,000 in addition to their own upkeep just by swinging their arms and putting weights on their backs. The equivalent in modern terms of a black slave is a migrant crop picker. Their pay isn't enough to even support themselves, and requires massive intervention of the state in terms of social welfare programs to even feed themselves, much less earn $82,000 in profit for the sake of their families. It used to be easy to provide for yourself via unskilled labor. Even people who couldn't read or write, who couldn't do anything at all, could easily make a profit above and beyond their own room and board. Now, no matter how many years of education you go through, it doesn't look like employers want anything to do with you. Even Microsoft's uninterested in your labor. This is a clear shift in world paradigms that throws all previous morality lessons out the window.