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Good for America? Good for Jews? Good for the Whole World?

From: John Derbyshire To: Gideon Aronoff Subject: Good for Jews? Good for America? Good for Everyone?? Gideon, I don't think I shall get anywhere arguing scriptural interpretation with you. Are Jews at large driven by the calculating ethnocentrism described by … Read More

By / October 15, 2007

From: John Derbyshire To: Gideon Aronoff Subject: Good for Jews? Good for America? Good for Everyone??

Gideon,

I don't think I shall get anywhere arguing scriptural interpretation with you. Are Jews at large driven by the calculating ethnocentrism described by Kevin MacDonald? Or by the universalist humanism you profess? Something of both, would be my best guess, the mix being different under different circumstances and at different degrees of religious intensity. My strong impression of the Haredim, for instance, is that they don't give a fig about Gentiles and would not subscribe to your moral universalism. On the other hand, a lot of secular Jews I know are idealists like yourself, whose idealism embraces Gentiles too.

In any case, I gather you don't agree with my suggestion that for Jews, the issue we are discussing—where should Jews stand on immigration?—really comes down to: Good For The Jews? or: Good For America? You seem to think our organizing principle should be: Good For Everybody In The Whole World!

That is so preposterous I can't even summon up any admiration for the high idealism that must underlie such a position. I actually prefer the ethnocentrism Kevin MacDonald imputes to your people. At least it is recognizably human. Perhaps you are familiar with Pascal's wise observation that while man is neither angel nor beast, he who would act the angel acts the beast.

While I am with you in wishing to see "a considered, rational approach to the immigration problem," it was not "a small group of pontificators" who derailed the recent Senate bill by "lathering up their base." Do you really regard ordinary Americans with such contempt? Do you really think that they can be "lathered up" to oppose something that a small group wants them to oppose?

The recent Senate bill was derailed by great masses of ordinary citizens overwhelming their representatives with mail, email, phone calls and faxes because they were outraged at the shoddy dishonesty of the bill's contents, and were inclined to believe that the 1986 experience, when the government promised us strict enforcement in return for amnesty, then delivered the amnesty but not the enforcement, would be repeated. This was not an army of brainless automata "lathered up" into action by some small, sinister clique of manipulators. It was popular democracy at work, and a proud moment for freedom and the rule of law in these United States.

Nor is it true that "a majority of Americans actually want comprehensive immigration reform that includes a realistic path to citizenship for those already here." It took me less than two minutes on Google to locate a poll, by a respectable market-reasearch firm, showing 68 percent of respondents favoring deportation as an answer to illegal immigration.

I don't myself believe that "America needs more people to keep our economy running smoothly." That the Chairman of the Federal Reserve says this is so, does not make it so. Even a Fed Chairman can be mistaken. There was very nearly no immigration at all into the U.S.A. from 1945 to 1965, yet the economy boomed as never before. How did that happen? A national economy is a very flexible and ingenious thing, certainly able to cope with shortages, of labor or anything else, by means other than immigration. It might raise wages, or automate, or outsource. Indeed, many economists tell us that automation, and technological advance in general, is retarded by a large supply of cheap manual labor. I am not an economist, but this seems plausible to me.

"The role of immigrants in our economy is … a well-established plus." Is it? Does that include both legal and illegal immigrants? Both high- and low-skilled immigrants? Is your "well-established plus" net of the costs of educating immigrants' children, supplying health care to immigrants who cannot afford it, incarcerating immigrants who commit crimes, and defending ourselves against immigrants like the nineteen who committed the 9/11 atrocities? In any case, even if this were true in some general sense, it would not get us very far with the questions I thought we had agreed were central: How many immigrants? With what skills and education levels? From where?

The various names and studies you cite as claiming to have proved that immigration increases our prosperity can easily be countered by others who claim the opposite thing. I named George Borjas and Robert Rector in my previous post. But again, even if I were to concede this point, which I do not, some issues would be left dangling. For all I, or you, know, the American people at large might be willing to sacrifice that claimed 0.1 percentage point in GDP growth if they could be relieved of the social, cultural, political, and fiscal problems arising from mass immigration. I personally would certainly be so willing. Man does not live by bread alone… Speaking of which, what happened to your ringing declaration, five paragraphs earlier, that: "The Torah is a unique attempt to create a nation governed not by pursuit of power or the accumulation of wealth but by recognition of the worth of each person as the image of God"? If the accumulation of wealth is not, according to the Torah (which "We Jews take … very seriously") a governing principle, why are you bringing it forward to justify your views on immigration?

I think you are quite right to say we "can't predict who's going to make the greatest contributions." I certainly wouldn't depend for accurate predictions on those functionaries in the immigration bureaucracy who, in practice, end up as the decision-makers.

But what follows from this truth? In a situation where you can't accurately predict, you have no choice but to "go with the percentages." In this case that means preferring some groups over others. Groups who have thrown up great numbers of entrepreneurs, generated plenty of jobs and helped increase our national prosperity, or who have enriched our cultural and intellectual lives—groups like, oh, say, the Ashkenazi Jews—should be given preference over groups whose members are more inclined to vegetate in low-skill employment or welfare dependency.

Don't you agree? Or, if you don't agree, what would be your prescription for increasing the probability that our selection of immigrants (remember, we have already agreed that selection is unavoidable) will be optimal for our nation? What, actually would be your criteria for selection, Gideon?

You say, correctly, that I want more diversity in our immigration. You then say: "this point makes no sense." You then go on to argue that your program "would promote diversity and fairness." Why do you want to promote something that makes no sense? I am afraid I did not follow the logic of this paragraph. I also object to your assertion that "people migrate to neighboring places." No, they don't. I didn't; neither (I am pretty sure) did your ancestors. People migrate to places that (a) offer them a better life than the one they currently have, and (b) permit them to come in and settle. Migration flows are not governed by irresistible laws of nature. They can be—and, among sensible nations, always have been—controlled by borders, visa procedures, and laws.

I am sorry to have "astounded" you with my caution towards persons claiming to be fleeing persecution. However, a generous attitude to such persons will result in massive fraud. As an illustration, I point you to Britain, where the phrase "asylum seeker" is now a synonym for "illegal immigrant." I can guarantee that an open-hearted program such as you favor will provide, for every genuine refugee from real persecution, at least ten, and more likely a hundred, persons who are taking advantage of your generosity. Many of them will be, almost by definition, people of criminal or amoral character.

I do not want these people. I don't think I am a callous person—I am pretty sure than no-one who knows me would describe me so—but I am not generous towards strangers with things I own that are precious to me, that I have struggled and sweated to acquire. If the stranger has a hard-luck story I may do him the courtesy of listening to it; but the world, you know, is full of hard-luck stories.

Of course we can deport 12 million people if we want to. (And according to at least some polls—see above—we do want to.) Our nation has, by acts of collective will, done far more difficult things than that. If sensible policies were implemented, great numbers of illegal immigrants would anyway self-deport.

I am not clear why Auschwitz came to your mind. We are speaking of deporting people back to their home countries. Are you supposing that those home countries would gas the returning deportees and incinerate their corpses? Why on earth would you suppose that? My own opinion of the government of (for example) Mexico is pretty low, but not that low. As to families of mixed status being "ripped apart," again I'm afraid I don't quite follow. Are you suggesting that, in a case where one family member is legally resident and another is not, we should deport the illegal resident while forcibly preventing the legally-resident member from accompanying them? That is certainly not something I would favor, and I don't see how it could lawfully be done. Our government has no power to prevent persons from leaving our territory, unless they are guilty of some crime.

I am flattered and pleased by your kind remarks about my accomplishments since coming to the U.S.A. They seem to me, honestly, to be very slight. Again, though, this is individualist stuff. Any given person might make great contributions after settling in the U.S.A. Unfortunately, as I said before, this is not a thing that we—certainly not our overworked and ill-paid immigration officials—can predict on an individual basis. We can only "go with the percentages."

I have ended up as a writer of (I hope) modestly useful books and (I hope) mildly entertaining commentary. I might, for all anyone knew when I first entered the U.S.A., have ended up as an axe murderer doing 25-to-life in some state correctional facility. Who can tell? As I said in a previous post, the individualistic approach, though highly congenial to the national temperament, and appealing to the universal human interest in the life particulars of other human beings, does not get us very far with policy-making, which must primarily be based on statistics, modified slightly, and very cautiously, around the edges to take account of some few particular and exceptional cases.

You conclude with further expressions of regret that this year's Senate immigration bill was "shot down" by a "vocal minority." This account of the bill's fate is not true, though. See here and any number of other places. The U.S. public at large was hotly opposed to that bill, the more so the more they learned about it. The principal reason for such widespread opposition was that the bill promised amnesty in return for enforcement; and the American public has been given that promise before, and remembers that it was flagrantly broken. Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on us.

I, at any rate, am not ashamed of what happened to that wretched, deplorable, and dishonest bill. To the contrary: I should be proud and glad to think that I contributed in some small way to the slaying of that dreadful monstrosity, that gross and impertinent fraud on the citizens and lawful residents—Jew and Gentile alike—of the United States.

Next: Jewish immigration activists looked out for Jewish interests. So what?

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