Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Free Trade Requires Free Movement Of People

I'm reading Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton. I am a sucker for this genre of English lit, the social conscious raising of the Industrial age that includes Dickens and Wilkie Collins.

It used to be in England that charity only came from the parish you were born in. If you were born in Buckinghamshire and moved to Surrey, it didn't matter if you had spent your entire life working and paying taxes in Surrey, you would have to go back to where you were born if you needed assistance, like if you became terribly ill and needed medical care and couldn't pay for it. In the book, a poor man with typhoid fever faces that problem. The trip home would kill him, and his wife and all of his children were born in the town that won't help him.

Reading a story like that in Mary Barton reminded me of this story. A legal US resident from Honduras goes into labor prematurely, and then into a coma. She has health insurance, but it doesn't cover long term care. The hospital, rather than do what it is legally required to do and care for her anyway, tries to have her deported back to Honduras so they don't have to foot the cost of care.

Same story, 200 years apart. I swear we never fucking learn anything.

With the industrial revolution, not only did goods go farther and faster than they had before, but people had to follow the jobs that produce those goods. We know that within a country. That is why we don't have restrictions on where we can live within the US and we don't have import taxes from state to state. And we don't allow states to shuck responsibility because people aren't from that state. Welfare benefit amounts may differ from state to state, but they cannot use residency requirements to issue them. You just need to prove that you live in a state now, not that you have been there for six months or six years pr your entire life.

People need to be free to move where there is work that will support their families. And the communities that those people come to are responsible for them because they are benefiting from their labor and their taxes. Even the poorest of us pay taxes, and the taxes we pay generally go straight to state and local budgets in the form of state income taxes and sales taxes. Even illegal undocumented immigrants (and I really hate that term- people are not illegal. Someone give me a new term) pay sales taxes in a community.

By disallowing the free movement of people while allowing the free movement of goods, you force a system of illegality into place. And the only people that serves are the unscrupulous employers who no longer have to follow labor laws. There is no minimum wage for illegals undocumented immigrants. There is no OSHA regulation for illegals undocumented immigrants. There are, however, rampant abuses including rape, inflicted on people who are just trying to feed their families and who are contributing to the community.

If the real problem with immigrants is that they are taking jobs away from Americans, there is one easy fix to that. Make the jobs pay better and follow the rules that other employers have to. Don't arrest the employees, arrest the employers. If the problem is that we are shipping jobs overseas, then stop providing tax breaks to American companies that do that. But exploiting cheap labor and then refusing to bear the cost of the exploitation pisses off the people that lose jobs to immigrants and hurts the people who end up doing the jobs. While there may be short term profits to be made, there is long term damage done to society with greater wealth disparity and less social mobility. That is the role of government to fix.

ETA- TOAC in comments gave me a link to terms that better reflect undocumented immigrants. I changed the post to reflect that but kept the original in with strike throughs.

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