All posts by Bill Walker

Immigrants ARE “American Exceptionalism”

Immigrants have become more, not less important as technology grows more complex. Immigrants in the 1800s built the nation’s railroads, but today’s immigrants have built the information economy. 60% of our 25 largest tech companies were founded by first- or second-generation immigrants. Apple, IBM, Google, Oracle, Amazon, Intel, Ebay, EMC, Texas Instruments, VMware, ADP, Yahoo!, are all children of the Statue of Liberty. Most of our best jobs are the result of immigrant brainstorms… even to look for a job we use LinkedIn, founded by an immigrant.

Scapegoating Immigrants: Good Politics, Bad Logic

So why are immigrants blamed for our economic problems? Because as politicians before and after Hitler have known, scapegoating “foreigners” is the easiest path to political success. Also, it’s the safest… it takes no bravery to attack working-class immigrants, rather than facing up to the wealthy corporate-welfare interests.
So, let’s go through the various economic fallacies used to blame working people for the collapse of the US economy…

“Immigrants Don’t Pay Taxes”

Immigrants, tragically, do pay taxes. Everyone knows that immigrants pay sales and gasoline taxes. They also pay property taxes (passed on in their rents) and corporate income taxes (passed on in the products they buy).

Less well publicized is the fact that two-thirds of illegal immigrants pay Social Security, Medicare, and income taxes. Starting in 1996, the IRS began issuing tax numbers to about 8 million illegals. Of course, being illegal, they can never collect Social Security or Medicare; the taxes paid by poor illegals go to support the improvident American middle class in their old age. This robbing of the poor to support the rich amounts to about 50 billion per year.

In fact, these immigrant SOBs pay too many taxes. How un-American! Haven’t they ever heard of the Boston Tea Party?

“Some Immigrants Are On Welfare”

As in any welfare state, this is a problem. The problem is the welfare, not the immigration, however.

In 1996, Clinton took time out from launching cruise missiles at medical factories in the Sudan and signed the welfare reform bill. The 1996 bill banned illegal immigrants from food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid and Medicare-funded hospitalization. So welfare for the able-bodied poor is still a crisis… but primarily a crisis caused by native-born Americans who adapted to the ecological niche offered by ADC and other family-replacement programs.

Immigrants, like other Americans, do use government-provided emergency medical care and public schools. Both education and medical care are dysfunctional… in fact, it may be our terrible public schools (25th out of the 34 OECD countries) that cause our STEM worker shortage. Again, it’s not immigrants that decided to Sovietize US education and medicine.

The only solutions for government-created failures are markets. We have to privatize medical care and public schools. This has to be done anyway, unless we want to produce yet another generation of expensively uneducated Americans.

“Immigrants Hurt the Economy”

Every economic success story is based on free trade. Regardless of cultural or ethnic factors, it’s always economic freedom that drives success. Liechtenstein or Singapore, Hong Kong or Dubai, they’re all free trade zones. There are even the “controlled experiments” of East vs. West Germany, North vs. South Korea, Taiwan vs. Mao-era China, New Hampshire vs. Vermont… freedom always wins.

The laws of economics are impersonal. They don’t distinguish between trade in different factors of production. Human beings are a factor of production, and blockading immigration has the same economic effect as blockading steel or computer chips.

In the time of Adam Smith, people understood the good effects of free trade. In war, you blockade the enemy to prevent trade. This is how you destroy an economy. Today economic literacy is less common… so our politicians have convinced us to blockade ourselves.

Trade is not war. You can’t make yourself better off by hurting your trade partners; that just means they have less wealth to buy your products, and the prices of your goods suffer. Other people’s work, in the long run, makes you richer. Everyone specializes, the overall economy becomes more efficient, and instead of a nation of 99% peasants we have a nation with thousands of occupations.

Economists disagree on how much new immigrants help the economy, but the effect is clearly positive. If sealing borders made you rich, North Korea would be the world’s most thriving economy… instead of a dark blot on night-time satellite pictures.

“Immigrants Take Our Jobs”

Yes, all those tomato-picking jobs that Americans clamor for. Not to mention all those molecular biology postdoc jobs that require Ph.Ds. Most immigrants take jobs that Americans can’t or won’t do.

But even in those cases where an immigrant is “competing” with an American job seeker, it’s still a good thing. “Competition” in the job market just creates more niches, more new and different jobs. This shouldn’t be surprising… real wages rose in the US for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, even though the workforce was growing steadily.

“Comparative advantage” is a basic economic concept. Comparative advantage doesn’t mean that there is an economic “winner” who gets all the money. It means that in a free economy, everyone does what they are relatively better at, and everyone’s income is raised. Even if Bill Gates were twice as good at picking tomatoes as the average tomato-picker, he would still specialize in making annoying operating systems. (Which is a good thing, because tomatoes engineered to carry every possible virus would be very dangerous).

In the same way, even if you are a tomato-picker, if there is an influx of immigrant tomato-pickers, that doesn’t mean that you will be forever unemployed. You will just move on and get a better job, as did the 96% of Americans who no longer work on small homesteads plowing behind mules. Perhaps as a tomato-picker supervisor, or perhaps as a Wal-Mart manager who sells things to tomato-pickers. Somewhere, the new wealth created by the tomato-pickers is making new jobs for you.

“Immigrants Cause Crime”

We, the descendants of the drunken, violent Irishmen, Jewish gangsters (the feared Kosher Nostra), Ital… uh, other ethnic groups, accuse today’s immigrants of “causing crime”. Well, when you make it illegal for people to work, then by definition they commit crime by supporting themselves with honest labor. Amazingly, the vast majority of them manage to do so in spite of every obstacle that government puts in their way.

Of course people living with insecure property rights cannot be as stable as those whose natural rights are (somewhat) respected by the laws. Making immigration legal would instantly raise the stability, incentives, and productivity of all the currently illegal workers. Legal status would make it more profitable for the workers to invest in their own homes, education, retirement funds etc.

The high (though falling) crime rate in the US comes from two things that are not part of our traditional Irish-German-Italian-African-Japanese-Chinese-etc. culture (and therefore did not exist during the previous immigration waves): a permanent welfare class, and Drug Prohibition. Illegal immigrants did not cause either of these problems, Congress did.

 “Immigrants Threaten Homeland Security”

Terrorism, the all-purpose excuse for any program that doesn’t produce any tangible benefit. “We have to control our borders to keep out terrorists”. This certainly sounds nice; everyone would like to keep out terrorists. If we could deport the CIA officials who funded terrorist groups in many countries, that might actually help. But the fact that all the 9-11 terrorists were here legally (while millions of honest workers were here illegally) should make us very skeptical that North Korea’s security solutions are going to work for us. (Considering that Dennis Rodman got into North Korea, maybe their system isn’t working that well for them either).

Legalizing immigration (at least, if we also ended Drug Prohibition) would make security much better. Under the current system, we have millions of illegal crossings… there is so much nightly traffic that an armored division or two would barely be noticed. If workers were allowed to cross at freeway checkpoints in a civilized fashion, then anyone sneaking across the desert would really stand out on a drone’s IR sensor… and could be assumed to have bad intent.

And when push really comes to shove… in an isolated America we wouldn’t have to worry about minor terrorist attacks. Without Einstein, Fermi, and the other immigrants who built our defense technology and defeated the Nazis, we would already be part of the Thousand-Year Reich and/or Rising Sun Co-Prosperity Sphere. Do we really want to force the high-tech geniuses of the world to stay home and work for dictators?

The Real Threat to American Exceptionalism: Welfare for the Rich

Welfare for the rich costs trillions of dollars. Bailouts and routine subsidies for our new privileged class cost so much that they have rendered the dollar, our very means of economic calculation, unstable and untrustworthy.

When Obama took office in 2009, the national debt was $10.6 trillion. It’s now at $17.5 trillion. (This is only the “official” debt, which doesn’t count Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, finance-industry guarantees, military obligations, etc. Estimates of the real debt vary, but are over $100 trillion). The US GDP was $16.8 trillion in 2013. If the US were a family we would be in credit counseling.

Since 2008, Federal Reserve “quantitative easing” has kept interest rates at artificially low levels. This has allowed the government to evade paying market rates on its debt. But an economy cannot function forever without real, market-driven interest rates. Interest rates, like all prices, are information. An economy without real information cannot function. Nor will the dollar hold its value if we keep printing like Zimbabwe.

Fed Chairman Paul Volcker is famed for “saving the dollar” under President Reagan. In order to do this, he had to reduce the rate of dollar creation, and allow interest rates to rise. By 1982, the prime rate was at 21.5%.

But in 1982, the Federal debt was only $1.1 trillion. If Ms. Yellen tried to “save the dollar” with Volcker’s interest rates, 21.5% of our current debt would be $3.76 trillion. The OMB estimates that total tax collections for 2014 will be $3 trillion dollars. So the entire US Federal budget would be absorbed by interest payments… and wouldn’t be enough.

It wasn’t Mexican construction workers or Indian computer programmers who bankrupted our country. It was bailouts for banks, crony deals for car companies, subsidies for the many faux-Green Solyndras, endless military interventions and nation-building. The US economy is broken because we turned away from free markets and put our faith in crony socialism.
To be Exceptional, We have to be Free

America can be exceptional again, if we choose to be. We can follow the recipe of economic success again. Our children can go on to cure cancer, colonize the Solar System, rebuild ecosystems; possibly even Detroit can be made habitable again. But we can’t do it with mindless ethnic-cleansing tribalism.

We are all immigrants or children of immigrants, whether our ancestors traveled by 747 or walked across the Bering Land Bridge. If we are going to fulfill the Founding Fathers’ dreams, we will do it as a nation of immigrants.
Bill Walker of Plainfield, New Hampshire is a member of the Sullivan County Republican Committee. His ancestors immigrated from Prussia in 1870. 

High on Hypocrisy – Governor Maggie Hassan: Drug User, Drug Warrior

New Hampshire, February 13, 2014– This week New Hampshire governor Maggie Hassan (D) boasted that she is a former marijuana user. The revelation came on WMUR-TV’s Sunday morning “Close-Up” program, when the governor was asked by host Josh McElveen whether she had ever tried marijuana.

She stated that she had used it “when she was in college” in the 1970s and 80s. Hassan is a graduate of Brown University and later attended Northeastern University School of Law.

So Hassan now joins President Barack Obama, former President Bill “I didn’t inhale” Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Secretary of State John Kerry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. All drug warriors, all drug users, all high on hypocrisy.

Hassan has gone on to double down on her support for Prohibition. She says she will continue to block passage of the current marijuana legalization bill with her veto. She additionally came out for adding more “drug treatment” bureaucracy. Somehow drug user Hassan became governor without any forced “treatment”, and of course without the little difficulties involved in being imprisoned with violent criminals either.

Her claimed concern for “treatment” is ironic, considering that in 2013 she used her veto threat to gut New Hampshire’s medical marijuana law. Cancer and MS patients can technically use marijuana under her version of the law, but there is no legal way for them to actually obtain the drug. Inflicting extra pain on cancer patients is a crime against humanity.

It’s all about the political support of government-employee unions and tax-dependent corporate interests. The police unions, the prison guards, and the prison construction industry all depend on Prohibition. And they all come out to support Democratic governor candidates in New Hampshire. As does America’s even larger “prison industry”, the teacher’s unions. Hassan has been their standard-bearer as well, recently winning a lawsuit that she filed against a state program that provides partial scholarships to help poor children to attend private schools.

This “Boardwalk Empire” formula has been keeping Democrats in power in New Hampshire for ten years. The New Hampshire statehouse has been trying to roll back Prohibition, regardless of which party is in the majority. Five times in the last six years, they have voted to decriminalize and/or legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. In 2012 (in a Republican statehouse), a “decrim” bill passed with a 2-1 margin.

New Hampshire is tired of paying for Prohibition, tired of its drain on law enforcement resources that should be fighting real crime, and tired of the loss of civil liberties. This is the “Live Free or Die” state, and yet we are the only state in New England that has not yet started to roll back Richard Nixon’s “War on (some) Drugs”.

In 2013’s session, Representative Steve Vaillancourt (R) introduced HB 492 (sponsored by three Republicans and two Democrats), which would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and place a 15 percent sales tax on it. The bill passed the House, and while in the Ways and Means committee the state’s DRA has determined that it would bring in $26 million to $39 million per year from NH residents. Sponsor Vallaincourt estimates that figure could easily pass $50 million when sales to tourists are included.

But Hassan’s veto makes it unlikely that Prohibition will end in New Hampshire as long as she is governor. So we will continue to tax the MacDonald’s meal of a working mother, and the house of a retired veteran, rather than tax a recreational drug. The only hope for change is Republican governor candidate Andrew Hemingway, who has said that if elected he will work with the statehouse to find a path to legalization.

Prohibition Never Works

Although marijuana is a far less harmful drug than alcohol, a look back at alcohol Prohibition is useful. When alcohol was made illegal (by a Constitutional Amendment, not by arbitrary Federal power grab), it caused the same problems that we have now with illegal drugs. People didn’t stop drinking, but the illegal alcohol cost them more. Tax revenue was lost. People died from adulterated alcohol. Profits from the illegal trade created an ecological niche for organized crime. Murder, assault, and corruption of law enforcement all skyrocketed.

When FDR took office, he quickly signed legislation repealing the Prohibition amendment. State governments started receiving tax revenues from legal alcohol again. The human costs of deaths and blindness from adulterated alcohol ended. Murder and assault rates fell immediately. Today, no one is killed in drive-by shootings over beer or bourbon. And according to New Futures (New Hampshire’s largest anti-substance-abuse group), the state collected around $150 million dollars in alcohol taxes in 2012.

Legalizing marijuana would have several benefits. First of all, as has been seen in other states with decriminalization laws, non drug users aren’t going to run out and start using marijuana. What will happen is “drug switching:” people who now may be binge drinkers or even OxyContin users will switch to the safer marijuana. No one has ever died of a marijuana overdose, and it doesn’t have the severe physical effects of many other drugs of abuse. While HB 492 will keep it illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, THC in the blood doesn’t affect traffic safety as severely as alcohol does.

The NH affiliate of ACLU has released a report showing that direct costs to the state of prosecuting marijuana crimes were $6,526,364 in 2010. But the real cost to society must be far higher. Current law provides for a jail sentence of up to one year for possession of even the smallest amount of marijuana. A young person convicted for a youthful indiscretion can have his/her entire life derailed, education disrupted, career aborted, relationships cut off. When in prison with violent criminals, peaceful offenders may even be permanently injured or drawn into a life of crime.

If New Hampshire wants to live up to its “Live Free or Die” motto, it’s going to have to stop voting for Prohibitionists like Hassan. Republican candidate Hemingway has a tough race ahead; Hassan has the financial support of the health-insurance monopoly created by the preceding governor’s regulations. She also has money from casino-monopoly interests, public-school monopoly interests, and a campaign army of government-employee unions. All Andrew Hemingway has is his support for our traditional freedoms.

Bill Walker is a member of the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance and the Sullivan County Republican committee.

Knowing the Value of a Bitcoin

Bitcoins have no intrinsic value”. –Alan Greenspan

It’s true that Bitcoins are just numbers. But then all currencies today are “just numbers”, with no intrinsic value (or in the case of the former Zimbabwe dollar, no value of any kind). But unlike any government currency, there is an absolute, mathematically fixed limit to the quantity of Bitcoins… there are only 21 million possible Bitcoins, and 12 million of those have already been created. In contrast, 85 billion new US dollars have been printed every month just to buy our own government debt. (Now supposedly going down to 75 billion, unless it doesn’t).
The difference between Bitcoins and dollars, pounds, or Euros is not that Bitcoins are “just numbers”. The difference is that Bitcoins can’t be used to rob their owners via inflation, as there is no central office that can print trillions of new Bitcoins. No national fiat currency can make that claim; dollars, pounds, or reminbi, all national currencies are at the mercy of the central banks.

So is Bitcoin the “perfect” money? Of course not. But then, it’s not competing with perfection, it’s competing with the Euro, the dollar, and the reminbi.

In fact, perfection has rarely been an option for users looking for safe monetary systems. Even when money was supposed to be backed by gold and silver, there were constant efforts to game the system. One anachronistic leftover of those manipulations is “fractional reserve banking”, where banks lend out ten or more times their reserves (and then demand bailouts when too many of the loans go bad at one time). Our monetary system is unstable today because of fractional-reserve practices which were originally designed to siphon real gold from bank depositors… even though no gold is left anywhere in the system!

Bitcoins can’t be used by banks to create inflation. If someone loans you a Bitcoin, then they don’t have that Bitcoin anymore… unlike a dollar or Euro, which can be loaned out multiple times by any bank. If national currencies worked like Bitcoin, there would be no inflations or deflations… if a bank “failed”, it would just go out of business like any other bankruptcy. There would be no change in the overall money supply, no change in the value of the money itself, and no change in the overall economy. This would be a major change from today’s situation, where changes in the money supply are a constant threat to every economy.

So will Bitcoin “replace the dollar”? No. The dollar may have no intrinsic value, but as long as the tax man threatens to take your house if you don’t pay him dollars, the dollar will have a built-in demand. The same is true for pounds, yen, renminbi etc. All these currencies already exist in competition with each other, without “replacing” each other.

But while the national currencies will still exist, Bitcoin and other e-money will increasingly protect the family nest egg from rapacious authorities. E-money already limits the amount of wealth that a government can confiscate. For example, when Cyprus confiscated part of every bank account in that country, a Bitcoin holder there could still move their Bitcoins out of Cyprus via Internet.

Where Bitcoin still falls far short of perfection is in stability. An optimum money would be tied to the price of a large number of commodities, making it more stable than any single commodity. Unfortunately such a Utopian money would require a physical location where you could exchange it for the commodities, and an honest banker to do the exchanging. Governments have historically been hostile to e-currencies, and because physical backing requires physical offices, governments were able to wipe out enterprises such as E-gold that offered commodity-backed money.

We will still need dollars and yen for the taxmen, to keep our houses from being confiscated. We will still need stock shares for long-term savings and investment growth. And of course we still need giant circular rocks when we visit the island of Yap. But for electronic shopping, international money transfers, vacation spending, etc., Bitcoin may be the future of money. Unlike Alan Greenspan’s dollar (or any other fiat currency), a Bitcoin’s digits just might have more “value” in the year 2100 than today.

Opinion: Obama Crossing the Rubicon into Syria

US Presidents do not have the legal power to declare wars. Barack Obama ignored that Constitutional guarantee in Libya, and is set to begin another war while Congress is not even in session. If we continue to allow Presidents to attack small nations whenever they need a distracting headline, then they are no longer “Presidents”, and we are no longer a Republic.

The politicians who want to borrow (or print) more billions to pre-emptively attack Syria are the same politicians who used our foreign aid to pay for the Pakistani and North Korean nuclear weapons. Muslim nations receive five times more US foreign aid than Israel, and North Korea still gets our support for its hereditary dictator. The US has helped every dictator in the world since 1945, including Castro, Pol Pot, and Idi Amin. We also funded the Taliban both through direct foreign aid and via the Pakistani spy service… in fact, the GAO reports that the Taliban still receives at least $500 million a year in payoffs from US contractors in Afghanistan. If our foreign policy is supposed to get rid of dictators, maybe we should take them off our welfare rolls first.

From 1971-2001, USAID says that US foreign aid to Syria was $539 million. In recent years, US money has been funneled to the Assad regime through the UN. In June, the UN announced plans to spend 5.2 billion in aid to Syria in 2013, much of which would go through the regime. And there is always the inscrutable Federal Reserve, which since 1980 has “monetized” (i.e. paid off) billions of dollars worth of foreign bonds held by US banks, making accurate foreign aid totals impossible to obtain (probably even the US state department doesn’t know the amount). While much less than aid to Egypt or Pakistan, our taxes still gave the Syrian dictator dynasty enough support that they could afford to suppress their own nation’s economy to control dissent.

Militarily, the US has been allied with the Assads for decades. In 1991 Hafez al-Assad sent 14,500 soldiers and support personnel to attack Saddam Hussein in Desert Storm. In 2001 the Syrian secret police joined with US intelligence agencies in the War on Terror.

So the US has been supporting the vicious dictatorship for decades. Now, however, we are also supporting an Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist insurgency. So now we are paying for both sides of the war (as the GAO says that we have done in Afghanistan).

What if, instead of paying for both sides of various wars, we just kept all our money at home and left it in the US economy? Our military spending on offensive forces is nearly as much as all the other nations’ combined. What if we used some of that money for Swiss-style civil defense to protect our own children in the event of terrorist or WMD attack?

A United States that wasn’t involved in Middle Eastern, African, and Central Asian wars would be a more secure United States. Not only would we have fewer enemies, but we wouldn’t be bankrupt and vulnerable when there is an unavoidable conflict. Right now our debt is bigger than our GNP… we can’t even afford to pay for the last few wars we fought, let alone start new ones.

Thomas Jefferson warned against getting entangled in the wars of other nations. “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” But then Thomas Jefferson was a President, not an Emperor.