Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 726, June 23, 2013

Governments are worse than anything they pretend
to protect us from. They are worse, in fact, far
worse, than anything you can imagine.

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Are Technology Firms Seeking "Spoils" from the Immigration Bill?
by David M. Brown

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Why is a technology company's greater ability to hire immigrants who wish to live and work in the United States—if such wider scope for mutually beneficial trade is what the immigration bill currently under consideration would enable—being referred to by so pejorative a term as "spoils"?

Headline of a New York Times article: "Tech Pushes to Keep Its Spoils in Immigration Bill." A sample of the "spoils"? Well: "[The bill] makes it easier for foreign students who get science and engineering degrees at American universities to get permanent residency, creates a new temporary visa for entrepreneurs, and in the most contested clause, vastly expands how many temporary contract workers can be brought into this country under so-called H-1B visas, while also raising the minimum wages they must be paid."

The primary dictionary definition of the noun "spoils" is "booty, loot, or plunder taken in war or robbery." "Spoils" are not any kind of benefit gained from peaceful, voluntary trade. Nor can getting an okay from government to engage in peaceful, voluntary trade properly be regarded as receiving "spoils."

The term is wrong whether we regard "spoils" as loot or, derivatively, as the payoffs of a successful political struggle a la "spoils of office." Either way, the Times author is using the term to refer, cynically, to any kind of gains gotten in consequence of the fight over immigration without regard to the essential nature of those gains, as if the scramble for pelf and working for a living were the same kind of action.

The wealth earned by productive effort and free trade is not loot of any kind and it is not a political plum. The wealth thus created belongs by right to the producer and those he pays. This means that he did not acquire his wealth by raiding a nearby town or by out-lobbying others. Wealth acquired by robbing people at the point of gun or by more furtive, fraudulent means is morally tainted. Wealth that one earns by right is not thus morally tainted. To refer indiscriminately to the results of robbery, of politicking and of production by the same belittling term is to obscure key moral and other differences between these means of pursuing one's interests. It is also to obscure the difference between engaging in politics defensively, in order to protect one's rights, and engaging in politics in order to take by force what belongs by right to others.

Politicians should do only two things with respect to our peaceful economic life. First, abstain from interfering in what Robert Nozick calls capitalist acts between consenting adults. Second, enforce protections of our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness against the violence and fraud of criminals and governments.

When legislation forcibly transfers wealth from persons who earned it to persons who did not earn it, then we can talk legitimately, and accurately, about the "spoils" being conferred through that legislation by politicians doing the opposite of what they should.

In response to the earliest incarnation of this article, a reader who styles himself "blurkosphere" penned the following comment at the Times web site: "The 'spoils' are the devalued labor value of American workers. The 1%ers are getting their pals in Congress to help them out with some cheap foreign workers, at American workers' expense. Hence, 'spoils.' "

Quod erat demonstrandum, eh? Case closed.

Contrary to what blurko implies, however, the long-run well-being of an American worker is only fostered by the worker's economic freedom, which is simultaneously the economic freedom of any employer or prospective employer.

There is no fundamental conflict of interest between profit-seeking capitalists and those whose livelihood the capitalists make possible. In order to prosper, what entrepreneur and wage earner each need is freedom. To make his plans and pursue his goals, an economic actor needs to be able to act in accordance with his own judgment—which means without coercive violation of his freedom of action by those who happen to disagree with his decisions. The fewer the arbitrary restraints on economic life, the wealthier an economy can become and the more easily a worker can sustain and expand his standard of living. (It should be unnecessary to note, but isn't in light of much "analysis" of the economic events of 2007-2008, that the American economy has been pummeled by government controls and taxes for decades, massively reducing our scope of action and our potential wealth.)

Mr. blurko ignores the fact that no American is owed a particular job at the expense of a foreigner as a matter of right, apart from any actual agreement to employ; just as no resident of Manhattan is owed a particular job in Manhattan at the expense of a resident of Queens. But a worker's potential earning power is not reduced if the competition for a job he wants is citywide instead of merely boroughwide, or statewide instead of merely citywide, or countrywide instead of merely statewide, or worldwide instead of merely countrywide. His potential earning power is expanded.

The blurkovian assumption is that an unfettered economy, including an unfettered labor market, necessarily results in lower real wage rates. This means that only if government coercively throttles productivity throughout the economy could wage rates be improved in a way that, in fact, is possible only in consequence of greater productivity throughout the economy. In other words, the assumption is that the best way to improve economic well-being is to destroy it. No mind can embrace this contradiction after having considered the full impact of government interventions on everybody over the long run. But this is not what Herr blurko is doing. He is focusing only on a specific domestic worker's prospects for obtaining one-specific-job-right-now, while ignoring the many ways that generally expanding productivity and wealth benefits everyone today and tomorrow and the day after that. Thus, blurko is blind to the fact that the ever-more-productive economy enabled by economic freedom and respect for property rights necessarily benefits workers and employers alike. Workers and employers are not two separate species of economic actor who live and work and have their being in two separate social tanks, one labeled Economy A, the other Economy B.

The most productive free market would be a worldwide free market. Only an unhampered global market, with trade flowing without political encumbrance between all geographic areas, could enable the greatest possible development of division of labor throughout the world and the greatest possible range of opportunities to enhance one's comparative advantages as a producer, as well as to enjoy as a consumer the greatest possible variety of goods of the highest quality and lowest prices. The most productive free market would not be a "free" market confined to, say, one square mile the inhabitants of which were at liberty to trade with each other but only with each other; i.e., were prohibited from ever sending goods or payments beyond the perimeter of the square. If one understands why such an arbitrary limitation of a market must impoverish rather than enrich, one also understands why each successive enlargement of a market must enrich rather than impoverish.

Blurkosphere's reference to "the 1%" is a smear currently being repeated in lockstep by socialists and egalitarians at every opportunity. The purpose of the smear is to encourage contempt for persons who possess wealth regardless of how they have acquired their wealth. In this way, facts and justice are to be rendered irrelevant. Obviously, though, both rich persons and poor persons may rob others through the political process as well as through plain jargon-unadorned criminality. Similarly, both rich persons and poor persons may choose to work for a living and to reject out of hand any advice to supplement their incomes by stealing from others. A person's ideas and moral character are not determined by his net worth or economic "class." Each individual has his own thinking to do, his own values to develop, his own actions to take.

The way to find out how any given millionaire or billionaire acquired his millions or billions is to investigate. One would need to consult facts and interpret these facts objectively. One person may be a mobster. Another person may have spent many years inventing his widget, perfecting a production process, and figuring out the best way to get it to market. But blurko seeks only to evoke unthinking resentment of freedom and achievement. He is uninterested in grappling with the moral and practical case for economic freedom, i.e., for capitalism. He is uninterested in appealing to the thinking and values of those who respect both their own productive achievements and the productive achievements of others. His appeal is to envy and ignorance.

A smear is not evidence. It is not an argument. It is not an objective identification of any pertinent fact. It is only a smear.

David M. Brown is the author of The Case of the Cockamamie Killer and Omelet: A Tragedy of Bill Shake-a-speare.

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