Maybe businesses should take a pledge?

Marketplace Staff Apr 28, 2006


KAI RYSSDAL: More than anything else, those protests Monday are meant to keep the heat on Congress. The Senate hasn’t been able to agree on a plan. And the House has it’s own thoughts about what to do. But the questions are the same for everyone. Should we send illegal aliens back? Or should we offer undocumented workers amnesty. And a chance to become citizens? Commentator Ben Barber says we’re looking at this the wrong way.

BEN BARBER: Maybe the right question about immigration is who pays. For the wall. For health and school for immigrant kids. For what it takes to treat immigrants like humans, even if they don’t have papers.

Right now it’s us, the American taxpayers who pay the bills for the schools and emergency rooms. It’s us who make up taxes that immigrants don’t pay for those services that make their lives here possible.

Truth is, the real beneficiaries of immigration, legal or otherwise, ought to be paying the costs. That would be the companies that get illegal workers to do low-wage work for big-time profits. Only it’s us that make the profits possible. Because it’s us who pay the social costs.

The dirty little secret of our private-market sector is capitalism has a socialist heart. Companies take the profits, but they spread the invisible social costs across the backs of American taxpayers.

It’s an old capitalist habit in democracies: socialize risk, privatize profit. Let the taxpayers take care of all the invisible infrastructure, what economists call “externalities,” but keep the profits for the shareholders.

Since most of us don’t even recognize corporate socialism, we don’t blame the companies, we blame the immigrants.

“See what’s it’s costing us for you to work here!” we say. “Go home!”

But it’s not the immigrants who are getting the free ride — they’re just answering the siren call of a job. It’s the legal businesses who draw the “illegal aliens” across the border and then wait for America to pay the price tag.

When the wall came down on the Soviet border, state socialism died. Wouldn’t it be an irony if we put a wall up on the Mexican border because corporate socialism has been reborn here in the USA?

KAI RYSSDAL: Ben Barber teaches at the University of Maryland. He also runs the non-profit Democracy Collaborative.

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