Complex and Simple: Immigration and Economy

As we consider the referendum in the UK on whether to leave the European Union, let's consider a couple of definitions:


Complex, adjective

  1. composed of many interconnected parts; compound; composite: a complex highway system.
  2. characterized by a very complicated or involved arrangement of parts, units, etc.: complex machinery

1: adjective 1. composed of many interconnected parts; compound; composite: a complex highway system. 2. characterized by a very complicated or involved arrangement of parts, units, etc.: complex machinery.

Simple, adjective

  1. easy to understand, deal with, use, etc.: a simple matter; simple tools
  2. not elaborate or artificial; plain: a simple style
  3. not ornate or luxurious; unadorned: a simple gown
  4. unaffected; unassuming; modest: a simple manner
  5. not complicated: a simple design
  6. not complex or compound; single.

As an Engineer, looking at things as systems, my mind hones in on interconnectedness. Simple means independent and not interconnected. And Complex denotes interconnected and intertwined.

Immigration and Economy: Intertwined

Some people assert that the Brexit referendum is about immigration and xenophobia, not economics:

Others make strong arguments that it's about the economy and sovereignty.

I observe that I couldn't find any pure articles containing only economic arguments for leaving. Thus, I suspect that the voices talking about economic reasons tend to be the more rational side of this debate.

Also found on the side of the discussion in favor of leaving, are charicatures of xenophobic white people written by their detractors. I have no opinion on whether this is true, who is right, and who is wrong.

I tend to notice the complexity of the discussion. Economics and immigration will always be complex/intertwined so long as you have a Welfare State. With a welfare state in place, there isn't a way to talk about immigration that doesn't include consideration for people who intend to immigrate and to contribute nothing to the society.

Even if used your imagination to remove the welfare state from the picture completely, for example by denying welfare benefits to new immigrants, the governemnt would still have a lot to figure out. For consideration: what happens to an immigrant fails to thrive? Homeless people, whether citizens or not, tend to become something the government has to deal with.

Do we expect that immigrants that left everything behind are able to stand up and trive immediately in a country where they may not speak the language? It's not likely. I can tell you for certain that my family benefitted from foodstamp programs for some part of the time my parents were trying to figure out their new life in America after fleeing a Vietnam that had recently fallen to the communists.

My little thought experiment suggests to me that immigration is untetherable from economics no matter how we slice it. Because being in a country and trying to live means being an actor in the economy. But that doesn't mean that a Welfare State has no role in xenophobia. I still maintain that it makes the situation worse.

Selection for Desirable Traits

The first chapters of Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card include an e-mail epigraph discussing trait selection in space colonization efforts:

" history shows us, when colonization is voluntary, people will self-select better than any system.

It's like those foolish attempts to control immigration to America based on the traits that were deemed desirable, when in fact the only trait that defines Americans historically us 'descended from somebody willing to give up everything to live there'...

Willingness is the single most important test..."

Contrast that with this visual:

"Make America White Again," says the billboard of a restaurant-owner in Tenessee which lays bare the entitled attitudes of some people who don't seem to understand this: just because you were lucky enough to be born on the right bit of soil doesn't make you any more deserving to be here than a person that left everything they owned behind for a chance to live in freedom. You may have a right to be here, but whether you morally deserve it or not is up to you (and we are not impressed).

The essence of the United States of America ought to be the spirit that created it: Liberty. We couldn't have it where we were born so we came here to bring it into existence.

The people who fight tooth-and-nail to get here deserve a chance to try to make their lives work here. What if we let in anyone who wanted to come from anywhere so long as they didn't come here to be a drain? I think this would be easier if we didn't try to make the government into this entity that is supposed to take care of us all.

The government cannot simultaneously be the protector of liberty and the coercive tax-collector for handouts. Giving euphemistic names such as "social contract" and "social safety net" doesn't change the coercive nature of it. You don't pay taxes, you go to jail. You don't like the recent tax hikes? Pay for a lobbyist.

This isn't the essence of America. It is a perversion of it.

So what would be more consistent? Essentialize the government to the protection of rights and minimal administration. Move ALL of the welfare programs into private not-for-profit concerns that are voluntarily funded.

Then maybe, we would have a shot at being able to say to the world with a straight face:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Try reading that aloud, by the way. They are some powerful words.