This is the final installment of a 3 part series.
Conservatives, too, are not without fault. Take for instance the talking point that massive low-skilled immigration into the United States will depress wages for Americans and harm the overall economy. The argument for restricting immigration for this reason is the same one used to justify raising the minimum wage, and the reverse is also true. Think about it,what do conservatives argue will be the negative consequences of a higher minimum wage? The answer: job losses among low-skilled workers. Why will this occur? Because, in the language of economics, raising the price of labor will decrease the quantity of labor demanded, leading to a labor surplus as more workers now fail to find employment at prevailing wage rates. In other words,it is no longer cost-effective to employ the lowest-skilled workers at the higher minimum wage, and so these workers are laid off (the supply of labor is effectively reduced).
The same argument in reverse is used to justify a restrictive immigration policy. Here, though, instead of directly raising the minimum wage, the same effect is created by way of directly restricting the supply of available labor. Think about it this way: many conservatives argue that raising the minimum wage will not add the overall health of the economy because the actual effect would be to reduce the pool of available low-skilled workers and incentivize employers to automate. But what happens when the supply of labor is restricted by way of cutting off or drastically reducing low-skilled immigration? The very same thing: the pool of available low-skilled workers is reduced, wages are artificially propped up (just as if a higher minimum wage were mandated), and employers are therefore encouraged to automate.
Many progressives at least implicitly agree with this (in reality fallacious) line of reasoning. Why else would Senator Bernie Sanders have for so long (until he had to become sufficiently new-progressive to have a chance in the Democrat Party presidential primaries) been an immigration hawk? Well, in his own words, from 2016:
If poverty is increasing and if wages are going down, I don’t know why we need millions of people to be coming into this country as guest workers who will work for lower wages than American workers and drive wages down even lower than they are now.
Sounds quite a bit like President Trump, doesn’t it: “For decades, open borders have … allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans.” Many conservatives argue against the minimum wage as though it will irreversibly negatively impact the fortunes of the least well off. However, in their actions these same conservatives work to effectuate policies that will have the same underlying effect on wages, work, and productivity.
If we are to learn anything from this analysis, it is that simple answers rarely solve complex problems, and that perhaps we should stop taking ourselves so seriously until we can with a straight face take ourselves literally. Conservatives and liberals alike talk as though their favored policy debates will end in either salvation or Armageddon. However, their actions suggest a different path. The answer to the question of why we fail to act in accordance with our professed apocalyptic sense of the world is that we do not really believe our own rhetoric. For many Americans, our revealed preferences are more in tune with how we experience reality than our professed beliefs. Taking a step back and re-examining our priors, concordant with developing a deeper appreciation for just how non-apocalyptic our world really is, would go a long way to mitigating the contemporary dread that pervades society. The world is not ending, and for the overwhelming majority of people, your actions today would not be the last line of defense even if it were. By all means, go out and make the world a better place, but don’t skip right to the defense of civilization when paying off someone’s layaway or helping a neighbor fix their car will in all likelihood better serve the world. After all, “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”
In other words, we have collectively built civilization over the course of several thousand years, and in the past 300 or so we have made such astounding progress that the depressed, dark, and dangerous world of our distant ancestors has passed almost into myth. Death no longer haunts our everyday existence. Disease no longer threatens to kill one-third of the population before adulthood. And material prosperity has grown at a pace that is nothing short of miraculous. Deep down, we all realize this. It is high time we acted like it.