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Fixing Immigration and More, Part Two

THINK TANK WITH BEN WATTENBERG
#1411 Fixing Immigration, Part One.
FEED DATE: May 11, 2006
Tamar Jacoby


Opening Billboard: Funding for this program is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

WATTENBERG: Hello, Iím Ben Wattenberg. America is divided on immigration. Some say that immigration hurts American workers. Others maintain that immigrants are a vital part of our economic engine. President George W. Bush supports a temporary guest-worker program, but proposals in Congress range from building a wall at the Mexican border to putting millions of illegal immigrants on the path to citizenship. Most everyone agrees that current immigration policy doesnít work. What should we do about it? To Find Out, Think Tank is joined this week by Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a leading neo-conservative, author of, 'Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What it Means to be American.' The Topic Before the House: Fixing Immigration and More, Part Two, this week on Think Tank.

WATTENBERG: Okay, Tamar Jacoby, old and dear friend, welcome back for part two of our discussion on immigration and more.

WATTENBERG: Let me ask you a question. You know, for many years the Wall Street Journal has been for what they call, I guess, open immigration. Anyone that wants to come here, thereís a job for you, I mean, itís putting an employer and employee together, let them come. What do you think?

JACOBY: I think we want a system thatís in line with the reality of whatís going on out there in the world. I think globalization, our changing demographics do mean that there is a flow here now and thereís a market equilibrium. And we want a law that is kind of in sync with that market equilibrium. We donít want to say open borders because we donít want more people here than we can fill jobs with, we donít want people here living on the state or sleeping in the streets or creating a big black market, but if we can regularize this phenomenon of us leading the labor...

WATTENBERG: But youíre not against the idea of an open market?

JACOBY: Iím -- Iím --itís not an open market; I would say a law thatís consistent with the reality of the market driven flow.

WATTENBERG: Yeah, but what about the idea that...

JACOBY: You still want to regulate it. I mean even liquor license, we donít say that anyone can serve liquor on the street; we say itís -- itís something that exists, people want to drink and we want to have laws to regulate it, laws in line with reality, but not just saying open season.

WATTENBERG: But -- but...

JACOBY: Borders mean something. We need borders.

WATTENBERG: But what about the idea -- let me put on the hat of a free market man. I donít have to put on much of a hat, but thereís a job here, thereís a worker there, the employer wants to hire the employee, let him come.

JACOBY: Thatís what weíre going for, thatís exactly what weíre going for but...

WATTENBERG: But you want to regulate itÖ

JACOBY: But I want it -- I want it to at least be - No, and I want there to at least be a job because I donít think it should be anyone who feels like coming whether or not there is a job here for them because that would end up blowing wages.

WATTENBERG: In the old days -- honored and - may still be on the books -- they had to have somebody sign for them to keep them off welfare. Some type of a...

JACOBY: Yeah.

WATTENBERG: ...that if they support themselves so and so would pay.

JACOBY: Yeah, public charge.

WATTENBERG: And of course, in the whole liberal revolution that was regarded as...

JACOBY: But immigrants donít actually get welfare. What they get is...

WATTENBERG: Some do.

JACOBY: No, what they get is -- you have to be here five to ten years even if you are legal before you get any kind of state sponsored federal benefit. Everybody is entitled to emergency room care because thatís in our interest and K-12 education for their kids because thatís in our interest. Not just humanitarian, but we want educated children and we want -- we donít want public health, rampant disease.

WATTENBERG: The other interesting fact is the median age of an immigrant in the United States is twenty-nine. So even if they follow every law, give or take a year or two, itís going to be forty years if they are paying into social security and Medicare before they take out a legal nickel.

JACOBY: And we donít pay for their education.

WATTENBERG: We donít pay for their education, it -- I mean, itís...

JACOBY: Do the math.

WATTENBERG: You know, I sort of think itís worth it. I mean, we deserve it because we do a lot of things very well here; we give people a chance. You get into a cab here, and so many immigrant -- immigrant cab drivers, and ďHow long have you been here, where are you from, what do you think of America?Ē and I I try to count the number of words until they say hard work and opportunity.

JACOBY: And opportunity.

WATTENBERG: Youíve got guys pushing a hack...

JACOBY: Yeah.

WATTENBERG: ...for seventy hours a week, its hard work.

JACOBY: Yeah.

WATTENBERG: And they are still talking about hard work and opportunity and we bought a house out in the suburbs and my kids are doing...

JACOBY: Well, they come here for their kids and the American dream. I mean, they come -- the ones who stay, stay for the American dream.

WATTENBERG: Itís an American Dream...

JACOBY: And we benefit.

WATTENBERG: ...which has never been a piece of cake. You have to work your tail off.

JACOBY: And we benefit from their -- we benefit from their hard work and self-sacrifice and pent up energy. Itís a win-win.

WATTENBERG: Okay, now, the argument is made that they lower wages -- lower middle class people, poor people who work get hurt. The argument is made specifically: black people get hurt.

JACOBY: They donít very much compete with American workers because they are doing kind of unskilled work that most American workers donít want to do. The one small group they do compete to some degree is Americans without high school diplomas. And that can be blacks, it can be slightly... Or a slightly older generation of immigrants. Immigrants who came five or ten years ago. And there is some competition at that level. But the offsetting factors are the competition is minimal - is not very great, the wage effects are very small, we are talking about a couple of percentage points over a decade, and they are growing the economy for everyone and even for those people, anything that takes service input or light manufacturing or agriculture is cheaper. So even the -- even the -- even the African-American high school dropout whoís wages are a little lower, is buying things more cheaply.

WATTENBERG: Alright, to wrap this up. It used to be when you talked about illegal immigrants, particularly, but I guess equally you were talking about California, Florida, New York, Texas, and now itís in Nebraska and Kansas...

JACOBY: Oh, in Georgia and North Carolina and Maine and Arizona. Itís all over the country because everyplace in America is having the same demographic shift.

WATTENBERG: And there are these stories, and you know it from New York City, of course, where immigrants -- immigrants have revitalized whole neighborhoods, and Fort Apache is now...

JACOBY: Well, and you know what, the cities and states with the highest immigrant population have the fasted economic growth, the lowest unemployment, because they grow the pie for everyone.

WATTENBERG: Okay. Who are the Minutemen?

JACOBY: The Minutemen are -- there are not -- first of all, there are not many Minutemen. Thereíre were more reporters down on the border when the Minutemen were there then there were Minutemen and there were more news stories then there were immigrants stopped or captured.

WATTENBERG: And Minutemen held up their actions till the cameras got...

JACOBY: You bet, but look, the American public is concerned about immigration. The American public is concerned about the illegality and the poss -- the potential cultural shift. The Minutemen are the tail thatís wagging the dog of that amorphous concern. The Minutemen are saying shut the border, keep these people out, send the ones here home. The American public is -- is not ready to shut the border, keep everybody out or send all the people here home; they know that that is not practical. So, the Minutemen have successfully kind of crystallized and exploited that general public concern to get a lot of attention, but you know, the momentum has shifted away from the Minutemen in the last month or so.

WATTENBERG: They are clearly acting illegally also.

JACOBY: Well, but the point is that now that the federal government is stepping up to stop it in a more serious way, these crazy people on the border with their beer and their, you know, whatever, Confederate flags, donít look so appealing anymore. The Senate might actually solve it; itís a lot more appealing to the public than -- than these Minutemen.

WATTENBERG: Well, great. We are doing a series of programs on sort of the next generation, the younger thinkers and intellectuals. Some of us are getting a little long in the tooth and we want to know where we are going and you certainly qualify and we want to hear about your own intellectual hegira. So, tell us about you.

JACOBY: Iím flattered. Iím a journalist by training. I worked for the New York Times for many years and for Newsweek...

WATTENBERG: What did you write at the New York Times?

JACOBY: I was -- at the Times I was the Deputy Op Ed editor.

WATTENBERG: No kidding.

JACOBY: ...through the Reagan years, and then I was at Newsweek where I was the Justice Editor, which meant everything from...

WATTENBERG: The Justice Editor?

JACOBY: ...which was everything from serial murderers to Supreme Court cases.

WATTENBERG: Yeah, murder and serials, these are...go ahead. Iím sorry.

JACOBY: And, gee, when was it? Late Ď90ís, I decided that if I was going to be a writer, Iíd like to be writing about what I really cared about rather than the weekís assignment or Topic A, I really wanted to dig my teeth into something and know something about something and -- and have some extra...

WATTENBERG: And that took you to immigration?

JACOBY: Well, that first took me to race. I spent about ten years thinking about race in America and thinking about what had happened since the Civil Rights Movement and had we achieved the dream that was laid out in the civil rights movement, not just of black and white kids sitting next to each other on the school bus, but really becoming one society.

WATTENBERG: I have an answer which is we keep making progress, but the problem never goes away. Thatís my answer.

JACOBY: Well, well Iím -- Iím with you there.

WATTENBERG: Okay.

JACOBY: ...and I spent about ten years thinking about it, I wrote a book.

WATTENBERG: Called?

JACOBY: Someone Elseís House: Americaís Unfinished Struggle for Integration, and it was -- it was a book -- my politics shifted in the course of writing that book. I had been a pretty conventional...

WATTENBERG: From/to?

JACOBY: ...been a pretty conventional liberal, assuming that liberals were -- that liberals were the good guys and that conservatives were the mean people and I think I discovered -- I hope it wasnít that simplistic but looking back in retrospect it feels about that simplistic.

WATTENBERG: I know the feeling, yeah.

JACOBY: Looking back, and as I wrote the book and as I researched the book on race and looked at what had happened from the Civil Rights movement through the end of the Ď90s...

WATTENBERG: I mean, the idea that we went from equality of opportunity toward, to use the buzz word ďquotasĒ, thatís...

JACOBY: Itís not -- It wasnít just that. It was that the whole idea that the liberals were the ones who wanted to do it right and the Conservatives were the bad guys who derailed it...

WATTENBERG: True.

JACOBY: ...started to seem -- well, but it started to seem a little simple when you started to get into the history of the Ď80ís and the Ď90ís, and about preferences, but also about bussing and attitudes toward what we have in common and what whether what we have in common is more important than our differences.

WATTENBERG: Right.

JACOBY: ...and so I started to think that -- I started to question my liberal orthodoxy. I started to question the idea that liberals had a monopoly on virtue and to think that maybe there were well-intentioned people on both sides and the questions were really about how we do -- certainly we have questions about ends, and those are very important questions in politics, but the means were also important, too, and a good debate about means is the best way to get somewhere.

WATTENBERG: Right.

JACOBY: Not demonization, not a red and blue, polarization/demonization.

WATTENBERG: So, how did you start out, where did you go, where are you going, why and...?

JACOBY: Yeah, well I -- as we talked about earlier, I did start out as a kind of card-carrying conventional wisdom liberal and I sometimes -- now Iím often thought of as a conservative, I like to tell audiences that only my hairdresser knows for sure, and you have to be from the Ď60ís or Ď50ís to know why thatís a joke. Because it was an advertising sloganÖ

WATTENBERG: Did you buy neo-Conservative?

JACOBY: Well, I...

WATTENBERG: If you can define it.

JACOBY: I mean, I like to -- what I like to do is look honestly at the problem and think about what I think the answer is and I think we -- I mean, sure, Iím probably more conservative then Iím liberal and Iím -- my allies are -- I think market solutions are better than government solutions and I think, you know, America has a role in the world and there are certain tenants of conservatism, many tenants of Conservatism that I buy into, but I do think we are very much -- weíve gotten very -- very stuck in the labels in the buzzwords in the polarization and looking at reality and trying to solve the problems and trying to think hard about what our values should be, thereís just not enough of.

WATTENBERG: My...

JACOBY: Easy to say, harder to do. I mean, Iím not trying to be sanctimonious about it.

WATTENBERG: My political hero over the years, and I worked on his campaigns, was Senator Scoop Jackson from Washington. His first big primary, which was Florida in 1972, a big poster and it said ďJackson, common sense for a changeĒ. And I sort of learned -- thatís sort of...

JACOBY: Well, and itís easy...

WATTENBERG: Thatís my workingÖ

JACOBY: No, I agree. I agree. I agree. Itís easy to be pious about it, itís easy to say weíre honest and weíre for common sense and you know, you can use those labels for a lot of bad answers for things, but I do think weíre -- Iím -- Iím uncomfortable with a lot of my friends on both sides of the aisle because I feel that they are a little bit stuck in their catechisms. And the writers I like the best are the writers who try to break through the catechisms either because they are asking hard questions or they are looking hard at what is going on out in the world. And, I like -- I like bipartisan solutions generally, I like -- one of the reasons I like working on immigration is that I like the bipartisan coalition thatís pushing for a solution, I mean, if you can have an issue where President Bush -- everybody -- the people from President Bush to Senator Kennedy who kind of generally agree on what the solution should be, something interesting is going on here.

WATTENBERG: So, tell us the story here. You started out as a card-carrying liberal, tell me...

JACOBY: And I looked at race. And I looked at race. And I looked at race. And I looked at the...

WATTENBERG: Right.

JACOBY: ...moral, the overly rigid black Manichean way that the morality base is often described and I realized it was a -- it was a -- it was a tough problem that had to be solved by looking at how you really solve it. Thinking what our values were and then thinking about the best meansÖ

WATTENBERG: Okay.

JACOBY: And not too many people were doing that. And then I started thinking about -- and then you get to first principles, and you say well what principles and politics do matter to you and they are for me, that generally market solutions are better than government solutions, but, you probably do need often government to prime the pump or direct the market solutions or regulate the market a little.

WATTENBERG: I find it very interesting that the very people or their later generation counterparts who oppose social security or Medicare to name two most obvious ones, today, you know, swear that they would not touch a hair on the head of those wonderful programs. I mean people -- you took away Social Security and Medicare in this country, you want to talk about Minutemen, boy youíd see it.

JACOBY: Yeah, well it just has to be some sort of balance, a mix.

WATTENBERG: Okay.

JACOBY: And itís, you know, itís easy to -- again, thatís easy to say and that you sound mushy when you say I want -- I want -- I want a sensible middle or I want a third way, but to me it is about business and government do kind of keep a check on each other and they have throughout American history and itís when the pendulum gets out of -- out of whack that you have to go back the other way, when you get over-regulated or when you get government trying to do too much then you have to push back. But in a different era, I might be on the other side saying push back this way.

WATTENBERG: It Ė After this great counter cultural spasm of the 1960ís, values changed, morals changed; you were on the board of the Natural Endowment for Humanities. There was one famous incident where an artist with an NEH grant painted a portrait of Jesus covered with urine and this was exhibited in a museum and all hell broke loose. What do you think about that kind of thing?

JACOBY: I think that the -- itís important to have the power of the government not deciding what should be art in the country, thereís plenty of room for the Piss Christ to be -- for somebody else to do it on their own nickel, but I donít think the government should be -- needs to be paying for that. So I donít think -- I donít think you want the government only encouraging conservative culture humanities, but you -- I think there is a role -- the government has every right to say we are going to draw a circle around what we are going to encourage and more important then that you want them also to be saying we want to uplift what we do think is valuable about America in a sophisticated way; not in a rah-rah, you know, my country right or wrong, but art and the humanities that do underline what is quintessentially American I think is a place for the -- for the -- for government to be encouraging and seeding other work. That doesnít mean there isnít room for plenty of other things but I donít see why the taxpayer needs to be -- to feel that they -- itís not censorship if the taxpayer decides they donít want to pay for the Piss Christ.

WATTENBERG: Right, but what about the idea that look, youíve got this incredible education revolution, high tech revolution. You can learn about anything you want on the internet. Youíve got artists, youíve got singers youíve got everybody, youíve got philanthropy supporting it; maybe we donít need a National Endowment for Humanities. I mean, if it was an LBJ program I think -- I was in favor of it, but...

JACOBY: I -- there are lots of things we donít need...

WATTENBERG: Right.

JACOBY: But we are a civilized wealthy country and I think you do want to say that there are certain things that -- we have values and we want to express those values.

WATTENBERG: Alright, let me ask you this. Where are you going next?

JACOBY: Thatís a very good question and Iím not sure where Iím going next Ďcause Iíve been so absorbed in the immigration battle and when we win, as I hope we will soon, when sensible, common sense reform passes I am going to have to sit back and think what am I really interested in and what am I going to write about now and what am I going to work on, and I have a lot of things I care about...

WATTENBERG: Like?

JACOBY: Iím -- Iím very interested in is America a meritocracy and is -- is meritocracy what -- is it what we are and is it what we want to be and what does that mean and thatís really about class and equality of opportunity. Iím interested in that. Iím interested in political polarization and are we too polarized and what kind of political society are we. I think about -- I think about that a lot.
I also think about whatís -- an interesting book would be the baby boomers and they have affected American politics and social trends over time and how thatís going to change now that they are -- that they are -- weíre going to be the old people and dying. So I mean, thereís a lot of things out there Iím kind of watching...

WATTENBERG: You know, Iím...

JACOBY: ...but Iím not really sure what Iím going to do.

WATTENBERG: ...Iím older than you are, substantially, but the great political writer and political philosopher, Arthur Kessler whoís I guess in the Ď30s and the Ď40s was one of the dominant political writers of our time, and when he was about, I donít know, 60/70, he said, ďYou know where I stand. I like writing; I like learning new things. I want to do something completely different.Ē And he went to the caucuses to follow up a lead that thatís where The Lost Tribes of Israel went. And I donít know whether it was a good book or a bad book, but he had a ball apparently. And Iím actually -- Iím finishing a book now and Iím looking for something...

JACOBY: Like that.

WATTENBERG: ...off the wall, different. I mean, biography -- Iím almost tempted to write fiction, but you donít start writing fiction, the first novel.
Do you ever get that feeling that you want to go somewhere else?

JACOBY: Well, I think I Ė In some way I feel that I have by coming to Washington and getting involved in politics. I mean, itís -- I spent my life behind my desk really as a writer, and you know, and occasionally give a talk...

WATTENBERG: Isnít that sort of lobbying? Youíre lobbying?

JACOBY: Well, Iím not a lobbyist, but...

WATTENBERG: But youíre making your...

JACOBY: ...you know, trying to make something happen and political -- I think as much about political strategy as I do about arguments.

WATTENBERG: Itís very fulfilling when you get a feeling that you can influence.

JACOBY: Well, and you learn you have all sorts of muscles. You know, I had one muscle pretty well, you know, toned but it turns out there are a lot of other muscles so -- so will I go back to my desk? Probably not exclusively back to my desk. So the question as I kind of take the next step is how do I kind of mix being at my desk and keeping a hand in -- in the game here.

WATTENBERG: We have this...

JACOBY: But -- I figure, you know, in a couple of decades Iíll go and do that, but itís about ĎThe Lost Tribes of Israelí.

WATTENBERG: That is great. I have not read the book but I know the title, written by some southern conservative, which is ideas have consequences, and thatís what this whole racket is about.
Just to wrap this up, Tamar, give me really briefly two things. One is what you think we ought to do on immigration, and number two, is what you think we ought to do generally.

JACOBY: Wow.

WATTENBERG: Wow.

JACOBY: Immigrationís the easy one. To me itís like -- the policy has to be a three-legged stool. A way for the workers we need to keep the economy growing, to get here legally rather than illegally, with some dignity in a way that -- it maintains our rule of law.
Enforcement that makes sure they use the second leg; enforcement that makes sure they use those channels and not coming illegally and then a transition for the twelve million people already here because if weíre going to replace a nudge-nudge, wink-wink system with a more or less airtight system, you canít do it on an illegal foundation. For our sake weíve got to give those people a way on the right side.

WATTENBERG: Okay now, generally what do you...

JACOBY: Boy, thatís a harder question than I was bargaining for.

WATTENBERG: ...whatís your -- whatís your public philosophy right now?

JACOBY: Thatís a really good question. I mean, what is most important? The two public questions that mean the most to me are how do we -- how do we hold together as a nation given our diversity? And I think that wonít go away even when weíve decided how many people weíre going to let in and lie. So how do we, given that weíre going to have an increasing share of the population be foreign born or children or foreign born, what does it mean to be an American and how do we talk about what it means to be an American?

WATTENBERG: Stop for a minute. There were at the beginning of the 20th century, you had I think, I donít know, 20 or 30% of the population foreign born first generation. Something like that. Itís much lower today.

JACOBY: Itís still a big percentage. And we donít think enough about what it means to be an American. And that comes back to our discussion of the National Endowment of the Humanities. We just donít -- we donít take enough time out; we donít get the perspective enough to think what it means to be an American, including what it means to be an American if you have different skin color, you have a different kind of last name.
So, that is going to always be something I care about, and how do we as a nation deal with that?
Another issue that I donít work on as much but I think is really important still is -- or increasingly important -- is equality of opportunity. How does a kid whoís parents donít have any books compete with a kid whoís parents take them to Europe and help him do his homework and.. like that. We can -- we can have -- especially if our public schools donít work. So -- so are we really a nation of opportunity? Does that still work? Iím not sure it does work as well as it should. I think it works better than a lot of countries, but Iím not sure it does actually work as well as it could. And itís -- itís something that I think we ought to be thinking about a little more than we are.

WATTENBERG: Okay, we have to stop there. Tamar Jacoby, old friend, thank you very much for joining us again on Think Tank, and thank you. Please remember send us your comments via e-mail, we think it helps make our program better. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.

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Funding for Think Tank is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.



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