Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Impressions of the REPAIR Proposal

Just finished reading the Democrat's first proposal on immigration reform. The first thing that strikes me is that the whole enforcement approach is fundamentally flawed because it is centralized planning of the type decried by Hayek and that was shown to be a miserable failure by the Soviets. Why this isn't obvious to everyone screaming Socialism is completely beyond me, probably because of the insistence on separating economic freedoms from other freedoms in such an arbitrary way (I've also been reading the Contract from America, which I'll eventually post on).

While centralized planning for immigration will certainly fail utterly, these things always do, I'll highlight some of the parts of the bill I found most interesting, though not necessarily most important. First of all, out of 26 pages the first 18 are devoted solely to enforcement, and that's not absent from the rest. As I've said before, we are way past the point of diminishing returns on this and we're not getting much for our money, I don't think marginal increases that fall short of the Berlin Wall or the Korean DMZ will have a significant effect. The Onion accurately sums up what I believe the effect of increased enforcement measures will be. I'm not so much morally opposed, I actually think there are argument on both sides, I just think it is futile and throwing good money after bad.

Part of the proposal regards biometric social security cards, which are pretty cool but underutilized. I want one that will function as cash and update to all government databases so I don't have to mail information the same information in to different offices and keep filling out the same stupid forms all the time. Unfortunately, while quite snazzy it doesn't actually do anything useful (kinda like how I feel about the iPad). This is the proposal that baffles me however:

(4) offline verification capability (eliminating the need for 24-hour, 7-days-per-week online databases);

Erm, are our Senators really so ignorant about computers? That you want to verify things without computers makes sense. However, ff you have an electronic database with all the data and functionality online making it 24 hour, 7 days a week isn't so impressive. At all. What kind of online database is only available, say 9-5 M-F? Outsource this to Google if you have to, not a problem that needs a separate provision to deal with. Eliminating the need for a 24 hour per day database is about the least useful thing I could possibly think of.

There's lots in there about SSA needing to verify people's status to issue the cards, which sounds disastrous since SSA always has a huge backlog for everyone else and I doubt the logistics of this have been thought through. That is a lot of new Federal Employees you're throwing money into the money hole for. Not to even mention that people will find ways around this, they always do.

Then there's the name, BELIEVE. They are just asking for this to be a joke. The whole enforcement is a faith based policy boondoggle anyway. You can believe it will work all you want, see my earlier post for my thoughts on that.

Unsurprisingly, there is also a clause for ratcheting up punishments:

To make the system air tight, the proposal substantially increases civil monetary penalties by 300 percent for violations... (16)

Throw em in the galleys and it still won't work, give it a rest.

Other details, new national birth and death database, read above. I want it to fill out my DMV paperwork too, then I'm for it.

Then we get into the parts I like. There are new provisions for immigration, and temporary work programs, for low and high skilled immigrants. These are big improvements on the status quo, but still a command economy approach to immigration. It's a market damn it. Stop pretending it isn't and employ market mechanisms. May as well set targets for steel production while we're at it. While I'm complaining, this is better, just still in a fundamentally flawed framework.

This is my favorite section, just for the heading:

This is the amnesty clause giving a pathway to citizenship. They did a particularly good job on making it sound as much like Orwellian double-speak as they could, well done. It is unnecessarily harsh, but honestly, I think providing any doable pathway to citizenship is good enough so I'm fine with it.

On the whole, it's better than things are now. I think the central planning approach to immigration is madness and ignores everything we've learned about what kind of policies work and which don't as well as how policies interact with human behavior. Given that we're stuck with this mentality though it's a step forward within a bad frame. We'll just have to wait and see if it gets even worse in negotiations.


  1. I'm not sure I agree with you about the central-planning, per se. It's a national border defended by federal agencies, so to whatever degree we're going to patrol the border seems likely to be by central planning. A government is never more central than at the margin.

    But I think the point you were trying to make, that we're trying to regulate against the natural course as well as the personal preferences of the many is an excellent one, which is why immigration is such a, well, money hole.

    Another double-plus-ungood touch is the logic of:
    We need to demonstrate that the border is secure
    Demonstration requires measurement
    Ergo, we must intensify process.

  2. I'd agree that border control isn't central planning, it's part of the state's duties. What I'm trying to get at with the central planning however, is that we're calling for more border control because of failure to meet central planning goals set for immigration and importation of consumable recreational substances. If we were calling for more border control solely because of say, people being kidnapped or illegally brought across the border to be used as sex slaves or gang hitmen, or illegal importation of arms or other goods available through legal channels, I'd be all for it. But I think the calls for more border security aren't because of an uptick in criminal activities that the law is successfully controlling but because we are failing to meet arbitrary quotas set by central authorities.

  3. Here's what I read as your thesis (with which I strongly agree:) Immigration is natural and inevitable, so instead of cranking up a whole lot of government to try and stop it if we can, control it if we can't and persecute it regardless, we should crank up less government to try and make it go smoothly. I agree 100% with that, but in my opinion, your references to central planning are confusing things a little for the purpose of tweaking hypocritical conservatives who aren't reading yet.

    You are right, and I've said myself, that trying to stamp out undocumented immigration by any means other than liberalizing legal immigration requires a massive expansion of government for very little return. But the main point, I think, is not the hypocrisy but that anti-immigration law is bad for the country and wrong to advocate.

  4. Hmm, Doug thanks for the critique, it's clarifying my thinking. On reflection I am actually making two separate arguments, the explicit one that you stated nicely and an implicit arguments about why I believe immigration is natural and inevitable. I believe the government's powers to actually control immigration are limited because of the free labor market and that labor has become martketized as a commodity. I think this actually deserves a separate post to make this argument explicit.

  5. I look forward to reading that.