Give me your tired, your poor...
When trying to understand the economics of sustainability and immigration, we must ask : Can a nation go it alone?
April 8, 2018
Lindy Davies

The consternation over Brexit highlights some of the paradoxes of Nationhood in today's weird world ­ as does the whole crap-flap over Donald Trump's presidential bid. Supporters of both those things want to take their countries back, to make their Countries Great Again! In some visceral way, people blame this Diminishment of Greatness on the softening of Boundaries, the flow of foreign people and products. We must keep THEM out, so they won't use up our hospitals and schools; we must keep THEIR products out. We used have jobs making products here! Now we're just clerks in the stores that sell THEIR products.

Yet we're told it would be an economic disaster for Britain to go it alone. Its currency and stock markets would plummet; its exports would be taxed to death. So, if we globalize, we lose jobs, but if we refuse to globalize? We lose jobs! What's a sovereign nation to do?

There is something topsy-turvy about all this. After all, imported goods are things we want to buy. And no one is forced to hire an immigrant who seeks work. In fact, it's often highly advantageous to do so, because undocumented immigrants lack the wage and safety protections afforded to citizens. Yet the Trump and Brexit voters seem to think their countries are being preyed upon by importers and immigrants. So we'll seal the borders! Buy only home-made products! That'll show 'em!

But will isolationism and closed borders create more jobs? Raise wages? Increase the GDP? Reduce the terrorist threat?

In "The New Colossus," Emma drew a vivid contrast -- between a monument to power and conquest, and America's emblem of radical welcome:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

For a long time, Americans truly felt that way. But we seem not to, anymore. Why? Have we run out of room? Is there nothing left to do?

We have plenty of room. Economist Mason Gaffney notes, "Many upper middle class suburbs house people at 10,000 per square mile, along tree-lined streets with sidewalks and yards. At that density, 300,000,000 people can be housed in a circle with radius of about 100 miles." That's an area just about the size of South Carolina.

Will teeming hordes of newcomers "take our jobs"?

Our new administration wants to withdraw federal funding from cities that won't help them deport undocumented immigrants. For New York City, that amounts to some $8 billion per year. Here's how New York City could raise that money, and improve its economy in the process: Self-Supporting Sanctuary Cities.

Why is the opportunity to make a living so scarce that we horde it, turning away newcomers who only want a chance to work? We haven't always done that! When did things change? WHY did they change?

These are the questions that we tackle in our course, Understanding Economics. Enrollment is free. You owe it to yourself to check it out.

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Lindy Davies

LINDY DAVIES was Program Director of the Henry George Institute and Editor of the Georgist Journal. He was the author of The Alodia Scrapbook, the fictitious story of how a struggling African nation used Geoism to set itself on the path to prosperity, and of the novel The Sassafras Crossing. He managed a successful campaign to get the Henry George Institute's distance-learning program approved by the National College Credit Recommendation Service. He passed away in 2019, and is lovingly remembered by the many people whose lives he touched.