Cold Feet on Amnesty

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Unz Runs … from Schumer-Rubio: I’ve known California activist Ron Unz as a highly effective opponent of bilingual education, but also an enthusiastic supporter of freer immigration, especially from Latin America. I heard Unz make the now-fashionable “demographic” argument–the Mexico’s falling birthrate will end the threat of illegal immigration from that country–years ago. So it’s a surprise he seems to be having second thoughts about “comprehensive immigration reform”–and in Salon of all places. But he has a good reason:

[P]rincipled liberals and conservatives should both demand that any immigration reform proposal also include a sharp rise in the federal minimum wage.

The reason is simple. Any increase in the supply or job mobility of willing workers will tend to benefit Capital at the expense of Labor, stifling any growth in working-class wages, especially given our high unemployment rates. The last 40 years have seen a huge increase in immigration, and it is hardly coincidental that median American wages have been stagnant or declining throughout most of this same period.

 … the overwhelming majority of our lowest paying jobs are in the non-tradeable service sector, rendering them immune from foreign competition. A major factor keeping wages low has been the large annual influx of new immigrant labor, which steadily reduces the bargaining power of existing workers, especially including all previous immigrants. Only the power of the federal government can halt this downward spiral into national impoverishment for most Americans by setting a reasonable floor on wages. [E.A.]

Unz favors increasing the minimum wage to $12 an hour, though he concedes that will cost some jobs.

Two points: 1) Raising the minimum wage that high (from its current $7.25) is almost certainly a deal-killer for the immigration compromise now being considered by Congress. Unz is effectively opposing the Schumer-Rubio bill because it will drive down working class wages. I agree, of course. 2) What’s the better way to raise those wages back up:  a) enforce the border and let a tight labor market do the work of driving bottom-end wages skyward or b) try to enforce a  $12 federal wage mandate on top of what may be a loose labor market, with a large supply of workers willing to work for less? Isn’t it pretty clear that path (a)–tight labor markets–is preferable?  If the market wage is too far below the federal minimum, after all, that will only encourage cheating and the growth of a cheap-labor underground. And even those employers who obey the federal wage mandate might choose to employ more eager (or desperate) just-arrived immigrants over less-docile American citizens (and immigrants who’ve been here for a while)?

We tried (a)–a tight-labor market–in the late 90s. It worked

Blue-collar wages, for example, declined by 3.5% from 1982 to 1991. But in the ’90s, real wages for these less-skilled jobs rose by 12%

Under Schumer-Rubio, the official flow of legal guestworkers–and the likely companion flow of illegals–would ensure that this happy situation never occurs again.

I urge Unz to abandon his minimum-wage band aid and simply support an Enforcement First approach to controlling immigration.

Meanwhile, add his name, with that of Bill Kristol, to the short-but-growing  list of those who’ve moved against “comprehensive reform” in the past year. …

Mickey Kaus