Wetback wealth

2007

People create wealth. And so a wealth creating system (economy) needs more people if it is to continue to grow.

There are three ways of accomplishing "more people". First: encourage more baby-making (France and Italy offer cash payments for women who venture into the valley of the shadow of motherhood). Second: shift production overseas so the economy expands to include other countries populations; and third: encourage people to cross your borders to increase your population.

This last option has encouraged some 300 million new people into the USA – all either immigrants or their descendants. All the DNA on Planet America originated on some other continent and almost all of it has arrived over the past 200 years. So it can hardly be concluded that immigrants have hurt the American economy.

In a similar vein, take a look at this map of the world produced by Sheffield University with countries resized accorded to their net "legal" immigration. On it you'll see an inflated USA, UK, and Western Europe alongside a pathetically-shrunken South America and Africa.

Consider for a moment which way that the cycle works. Do rich countries attract immigrants or do immigrants build rich countries? Do the best and boldest leave their homes and improve ours?

This list of celebrity immigrants to the US might suggest the latter. To which we could add Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has admitted to overstaying his visa but has gone on to become governor of California - the world's 8th largest economy.

In many of the most popular legal (and illegal) destinations, public opinion is generally hostile towards immigration. One poll (New York Times/CBS, 2007) of 1125 adults found that 92 per cent believe that the US could be doing more to stop those pesky immigrants, 81 per cent feel it's a very or somewhat serious issue, 70 per cent believe that illegal immigrants weaken the economy while a (quite frankly loony) minority feel that immigration (the origin of the nation) will make society worse.

And yet studies show the reverse. Some 94 per cent of illegal immigrants in the USA are employed and tend to take jobs that US workers do not generally want – that's why 70 per cent of all agricultural workers are illegal immigrants.

What's more, according to a report by University of California-Los Angeles, they contribute some $800 billion to the US economy, revitalize abandoned towns, renovate bottom-rung property and increase economic links between the US and the rest of the world.

Sure, illegal immigration is imperfect – think of all the income tax that goes unpaid (can't really 'fess up if you're an 'illegal') - while working and living conditions are made worse by being labelled "illegal", but that doesn't mean that it the immigrant is not valuable or necessary.

Recognition of this reality has led to efforts to engineer what would amount to an amnesty aimed at legalizing many of the estimated 15 million illegal immigrants currently living in the USA. Since attempts to keep people out cost $9 billion a year, why not start collecting tax revenues and keeping hold of workers that America can ill afford to do without.

But unable to cut a deal in the partisan, them-and-us, sticks-and-stones, Capitol Hill climate, the government has instead begun a crackdown against employers who dare to generate profits by sharing them with people from other countries.

Announcing the campaign in August, Homeland Security (Don't you hate that term?) Secretary, Michael Chertoff said: "obviously there are employers who deliberately violate the law, and A href="http://www.workingimmigrants.com/2007/08/new_crack_down_on_illegal_work.html" target="_new">we will come down on them like a ton of bricks."

All of which is somewhat reminiscent of the 1954 Operation Wetback, in which President Eisenhower ordered the deportation of 80,000 Mexican illegals. This led, inevitably, to perhaps 780,000 people crossing back to Mexico until the Operation ended amid public criticism of its "police state" methods.

Chertoff, meanwhile, accepts that "families will be disrupted" which can be "distressing", and that business will struggle when faced with a shortfall of up to 12 million workers.

Or, as the legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau put it: "either you obey the law and you watch your crop rot in the fields or you attempt to try to get the crop out and run the risk of being hit by the federal government."

So instead of celebrating our luck in attracting those with a desire to work, a belief in the economic dream and a willingness to take risks that reinvigorates our entrepreneurial core, we have allowed fear of the unknown, petty narrow-mindedness and the instincts of the playground bully to create an irrational distrust – even hatred - of those who create our wealth.

The latter-day minute-men on the Arizona/Mexican border are the descendants of immigrants in an immigrant democracy who - if they could stop hunting hard workers like rabbits or jackals long enough to think about it – ought to be thanking each new arrival for showing the initiative to help make America a better place.

In fact, we should all be a little more grateful to each of the billions of people who do the work that supports our lives of luxury. Remember - innovation is difference – and people create wealth.

  Categories:
more articles

About The Author

Max McKeown
Max McKeown

Max McKeown works as a strategic adviser for four of the five most admired companies in the world. He is a well-known speaker on subjects including innovation and competitive advantage. His latest book, #NOW: The Surprising Truth About the Power of Now, was published in July 2016.

Older Comments

What about the three dollars spent in social services for illegal immigrants compared to one dollar paid in taxes, for a net loss? Or the criminal illegal aliens who drive drunk, committ crimes, with little fear or regard for rule of law? I think (sarcasm) they make great contributions to American society.

scconservative

People go to America to WORK, not to live off the taxpayer. (Like, what welfare system?) If you want to scrounge off the state, you should emigrate to the UK.

Don

Hi Max,

You've omitted a fourth group available to the world of work. If Seventy really is the new Forty then older people should be allowed across the ageist border to play their part in wealth creation and society should stop sticking its head in the sands of time, refusing point blank to make economic capital out of its own revitalised generation.

To be ignored for years is enough to make anyone demented.

Think what a difference it would make to the screen-play of our lives if we were seen to be strutting our stuff and doing everything we could to keep audiences on the edge of their seats until the final credits roll.

Such pro-active participation would throw up innumerable possible endings: some whacky, some banal, some happy, some sad. But any one of them would be better than to have no coherent ending at all.

Janet Howd

I'm betting that mr conservative is also an immigrant (from somewhere, at some time) but one who has forgotten his families origins. There are legal and illegal immigrant and non-immigrant 'criminals' - birthplace and race do not equal character or contribution.

The tax/benefits equation is hardly likely to be accurate or well balanced for 'illegal' immigrants because they can't pay tax but can often receive help. And yet their economic contribution is immense - and undervalued - how would all those businesses work without them? It's a network of interdependence. Pay them more of course and the underpaid suddenly appear to contribute less!

We have CEOs earning more in a day than the average person does in a year - do they contribute that much more? Or does the system pay people at the bottom less than they deserve? How could the CEO of a Fortune 500 company make the profits shareholders enjoy or they goods we like to buy WITHOUT the people employed at the bottom?

Max Mckeown United Kingdom

What is wrong with staying in their own countries and making them better? Why leave behind grandmas and cousins, even spouses and children and whole villages that need their strength and spirit? Why should all that talent come to the US? We have 300,000,000 people now. That is enough DNA to get all the brains, talent, and muscle we need. Why be greedy? This is the 21st century. It is time to rethink migrating away from your problems.

Carol Mohr

Thank you for your knowledgeable handling of this important subject.

I was born and raised in Miami, with the children of Cuban immigrants who landed with the clothes on their backs and a work ethic that astounded the people who worked and lived with them. Papi generally had at least two jobs and a little venture on the side and as soon as she had one of her many kids in kindergarten, Mami was working outside the home too. Kids applied themselves in school and as soon as they were big enough were watching the younger children and making themselves useful. Every penny that could be saved was spent getting as many relatives out of Cuba as humanly possible.

Every one of the children of the man who pumped our septic tank attended college and if it suited them, went on to attain degrees in their chosen fields.

I love hungry brown people.

Lisa Miller

Your completely right. Sending most of the jobs to Mexico and China and then dumping half of Mexico on top of the U.S. overnight is GREAT for our economy. They come here and are willing to do a job that a U.S. citizen WAS doing for $10 an hour (livable wage) for $5 an hour illegally. Every time I see an illegal alien and their family of 12 I want to kiss them all on the lips (with tongue). I like how they shoot out kids like gremlins too. I can afford to pay for the entire family since they have made the economy so great and all. Even though I am an American citizen and can't afford to have 1 kid, let alone an entire family of 10, I don't mind helping to pay for a family to have a new kid every 9 months.

They really aren't much of a drain on the resources either. I mean every time they start filling up a neighborhood, it starts looking like the center of Mexico but it's probably just do to racism or something. I don't understand it at all but I hope more start coming over here because they are so badly needed. Even though employment here is at record setting lows and legal citizens can't even BUY jobs, we will find SOME way to accommodate them and their armies of unskilled and uneducated relatives... we always do.

I was planning a trip to Tijuana this year to soak up some of the beautiful heritage and culture but since Mexico came to me, I guess I'll just stay home. WOW! I am just saving money left and right.

GREAT ARTICLE! You should teach an economics class cause your so smart.

CANTDOSIMPLEMATH CENTER OF MEXICO U.S.A.