My Turn: Scapegoating dreamers versus fixing immigration with work visas

  • A Border Patrol vehicle drives in front of a mural in Tecate, Mexico, just beyond a border structure on Sept. 8 in Tecate, Calif. A French artist aiming to prompt discussions about immigration erected a 65-foot-tall cut-out photo of a Mexican boy, pasting it to scaffolding built in Mexico. The image overlooks a section of wall on the California border and will be there for a month. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 9/18/2017 12:15:12 AM

When Barack Obama took office in 2009, the national debt was $10.6 trillion. It’s now over $20 trillion. This is the “official” debt, which doesn’t count Social Security, Medicare, federal pensions, military commitments to the Saudi monarchy, etc. Estimates of the total actually needed to pay off Uncle Sam’s credit cards range up to over $200 trillion. The U.S. GDP was $18.57 trillion in 2016.

Since 2008, Federal Reserve “quantitative easing” has kept interest rates near zero. Government has evaded paying market rates on debt. But an economy cannot produce real growth without real interest rates. Interest rates, like all prices, are information. An economy without information just burns up resources randomly. Reality always has its revenge, either via a return to market rates or a gigantic Venezuela-style economic shutdown.

Past feds have always steered short of hyperinflation and a total loss of economic information flow.

Chairman Paul Volcker’s “saving the dollar” under President Reagan required interest rates of 21.5 percent.

But in 1982, the federal debt was only $1.1 trillion. If Janet Yellen were to use Volcker’s interest rates, 21.5 percent of our current debt is $4.3 trillion. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that total tax collections for fiscal year 2017 will be $3.3 trillion dollars. The entire budget would be absorbed by interest payments – and still be a trillion in deficit.

So, what is today’s administration doing to prepare for the impending collision between the fantasy economy and reality?

Trump’s approach has been to steer hard to fantasyward. He has proposed eliminating the national debt ceiling. After all, borrowing has always solved all his problems in the past – well, except when it didn’t and the other investors lost their money. But at least getting rid of the ceiling would mean less talking about the issue in public.

Second, he abolished DACA at the stroke of a pen (please take note, you who love government by executive order). He and Congress will now replace DACA with something even more arbitrary and temporary. Endlessly scapegoating immigrant workers and their children will continue.

Hatred of our foreign-born co-workers distracts Americans from blaming those who actually run the economy for its stagnation and instability.

Deporting or just walling out ambitious young dreamers has always been a pet project of many U.S. politicians. Bernie Sanders has long been an enemy of the H1B visa program, seeing it as a sneaky way to take those high-level programming jobs away from unemployed coal miners.

Obama was no friend to ambitious immigrants either; during his terms, the H1B quota fell from 87,000 to 65,000.

But whether it’s Trump, Obama, Sanders, or Sheriff Arpaio, most politicians are sure that they know the “right” number of immigrants (just as they know the “right” number of dollars for the money supply).

The exception is Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. His bill creates a decentralized, state-run program that would allow states to issue work visas – to the number of immigrants with jobs or businesses.

This would allow us to admit exactly the number of immigrants who find work, thus maximizing real economic output.

Now, this radical idea of making the number of visas agree with the number of workers will never catch on. If every “undocumented worker” simply had documents, then they’d just be “workers.” There would be no need for a Great Wall, no exciting Border Patrol shootings, no need for nationwide surveillance to prevent illegal tomato picking or computer programming, no need for endless speeches about keeping out those “foreigners,” those guys who – well, yes, they do speak English, and they watch the same TV shows, and their work ethic is a little better – but darn it, they were born at different GPS coordinates than us! There’s no forgiving them that.

If the millions of “illegal alien” workers suddenly weren’t illegal, then they could get more stable jobs. They could pay more taxes (to be spent by Trump backing the Saudi war in Yemen, I suppose – no plan is perfect). They could buy homes and raise property values. They would be safer from crime. They could leave the U.S. to visit their families overseas.

The Americans who hire them would be richer and safer as well. And we’d be closer to having a GDP bigger than our debt again.

Instead of counting on Trump’s “very good brain” to decide how many people should work in our country, why not let American employers decide?

You can see Sen. Johnson’s work visa bill on his website,

(Bill Walker works for medical-imaging database company M2S in West Lebanon.)

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