David R. Henderson  

Notes from My Tea Party Talk

The Monetary Policy Debate... Aphorism of the Day...

Last Thursday I gave a talk to the Tea Party Patriots of Monterey County. I had not had much connection with local tea partiers since the speech I had given at their July 4 event in 2009. My talk was titled, "The Case Against Obama's Big Government" and I told the organizer up-front that I would criticize not just Obama's big-government domestic policies but also his big-government foreign policy, in particular, the major wars he has kept the United States in. My plan was to build a case against his policies and then point out how almost all his policies are follow-ons to Bush's bad policies. That's what I did and it worked. "Barack Obama," I said, "is George Bush on steroids." That got a few laughs and a lot of vigorous nodding of heads.

I had one disappointment and three pleasant surprises. The disappointment was that they opened the proceedings with the Pledge of Allegiance. Once that happens, the stage is set for thinking only within the nationalist box.

The three pleasant surprises were:

1. Turnout. I was told that because Jon Coupal, the head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, had 80 attendees at his July talk, I should expect fewer. The actual head count for my talk: 93.

2. War. When I'm about to say something that I think a lot of people in the audience will disagree with, I usually preface it with words to the effect, "I'm about to propose something that many of you might disagree with. I would just ask you to keep an open mind and hear me out." I did that and then proposed that the U.S. government end the wars it's involved in and pull out of Korea, Japan, Europe, etc. The response: about 20 people broke into applause. I should add that I had, at the start, asked for a showing of hands of people who had never attended a Tea Party event and about 35 people had raised their hands. Part of the draw might have been other talks I've given locally, my regular interviews on KION 1460 "Mornings with Mark (Carbonaro)", and my frequent letters to the editor of the local paper.

3. Immigration. I figured I had an audience that was very hostile to open immigration and so, when I went to present that issue, I prefaced it the same way I did the war issue. I made the point Bryan Caplan made in a recent post about how the world economy's real GDP would more than double if all barriers to the movement of labor were eliminated. I also pointed out that not only would the immigrants gain but also many of them would gain, quoting my friend Pat Parker, who had said, years earlier, "You should have 2 servants and I should have 8." I proposed liberalizing immigration gradually to see what happens and said:

Let's have a huge permanent guest worker program. You can come in and stay forever but you can't qualify for citizenship for 20 years and you can't receive welfare, food stamps, social security, or government schooling unless you're a citizen.

My pleasant surprise was that about 20 of them broke into applause. I then added, "And of course you wouldn't be able to vote without being a citizen. I didn't get to vote until 7 years after I became a permanent resident and voting was a huge disappointment anyway. I didn't affect a single outcome."

COMMENTS (17 to date)
Richard A. writes:

A typical feature of guest worker programs is that the foreign workers are indentured to their sponsoring employers. This to me is very close to slavery.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Richard A.,
What I was proposing, and I think my audience understood, was that people would be free to work anywhere. I gave my own case as an example, saying that I would gladly have saved all the legal hassles, price of a lawyer, etc. to get that deal with a 20-year wait for citizenship.

ThomasL writes:


How do you propose to make restrictions credible? Eg, the USG may promise not to bail out failing financial institutions, but when it all goes sideways the promise isn't trustworthy.

I think something of the same sort comes in on the social services aspects of open immigration. I think there are at least some people on the margin that would be "open" to the idea, but are leery of the restrictions on welfare, schooling, etc. playing out as promised.

I think they have good reason to be skeptical as well, since I recently saw a TV show where some state office or other in CA was basically providing life coaches to illegal immigrants. It ended with an agent teaching an immigrant already getting state aid, state job training, and state housing how to get to the market and pick out and buy pasta... and then how to cook it.

Once you are paying to teaching immigrants how to cook their dinner, it opens the door to certain level of incredulity that the state could commit not to provide schools for their kids.

Matthias writes:

Any transcript/youtube video available? Your points sound good and I'd like to review them.

Shane writes:

David, I wonder what do you think of the Tea Party movement as a whole, considering David Campbell and Robert Putnam's argument recently that:

"...Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics."

They see the Tea Party movement more as a socially conservative movement than one concerned with small government. I'm not in the US and haven't had the chance to experience Tea Party events first hand so I don't know.

David R. Henderson writes:

Good question. I don't know the answer. Does anyone have an answer?
My impression is that there's a lot of diversity. Let's say that 65% of them are as Campbell and Putnam put it. Then I'm interested in working on the other 35% and persuading some of the 65%. Show me a little crack in the structure and I'll put in my crowbar.

PrometheeFeu writes:


I am an immigrant myself and as part of my immigration, I had to get a sponsor to sign a contract saying they would reimbursed the government if I got on welfare. (Being French, I'm pretty sure that if I wanted welfare, I would have stayed at home but anyways...) That could be flipped around. You could instead say that if the immigrant requests it they can get $X from their sponsor per month. That way, the government can credibly say: "We won't have to put these people on welfare since someone else has already agreed to pick up the tab if they need help."

You could also instate a variety of tests that one could pass. For instance, you can come in if you have one of the following: a sponsorship, a job, a certain amount of money. Ultimately I think the whole welfare issue will prevent open borders. But there are many improvements where instead of this weird, long and relatively opaque process to get a visa, you just need to show up at the border and as long as you follow some simple requirements (to show that you will not live in abject poverty or get welfare) you can come in. Maybe you could require immigrants to subscribe to an insurance policy which would ship them "back home" if they ever apply to welfare.

happyjuggler0 writes:

I think they have good reason to be skeptical as well, since I recently saw a TV show where some state office or other in CA was basically providing life coaches to illegal immigrants. It ended with an agent teaching an immigrant already getting state aid, state job training, and state housing how to get to the market and pick out and buy pasta... and then how to cook it.

I'd simply make it illegal for an immigrant to receive government (be it federal or otherwise) aid of types x, y and z...and any other letter imaginable. Deportation or imprisonment followed by deportation follows. Additionally I'd make it a felony for anyone, civilian or government employee, to aid and abet an immigrant in receiving x y or z etc.

Furthermore, I'd require proof of comprehensive health insurance to receive a visa of any sort, not just a green card. Want to visit the US on a tourist visa? No problem, just buy insurance coverage for the time of your stay.

Combine that with a 20 year residency for citizenship, automatic citizenship for being born in the USA (already the case by the way), along with flexible provisions similar to what PrometheeFeu suggested (e.g. starting a company with x employees, or posting a bond in lieu of some type of restriction, etc.).

Chris Koresko writes:

PrometheeFeu: You make some very interesting suggestion which I have never heard of before. Are these ideas well known in France?

Gian writes:

IS there full employment in America right now?
Then why make "huge permanent guest worker program"
a priority over things like deregulation and getting rid of Federal Depts of Education, Commerce and Energy?

And this "huge permanent guest worker program" would make America more like Saudi Arabia with two distinct classes. IS this what American Patriots ought to like?

Sandro writes:
you can't receive welfare, food stamps, social security, or government schooling unless you're a citizen.

And now you've just increased the crime rate. There's a very good reason why these services are needed by people at the bottom of the wealth scale. Look past your ideology to the evidence.

It's more expensive to beef up the police force to manage crime than it is to provide a safety net for the poor so they don't have to resort to crime to feed themselves.

Justin writes:

So your solution to the problem of Americans being unemployed is to ensure that Mexicans are also unemployed?

PrometheeFeu writes:

@Chris Koresko:

Thank you. During the year I spend waiting for my work permit, I put much thought into how the byzantine system I was facing could be made better.

But no. Right now the predominant ideas in France are:
1) Let's kick out all the brown people. (The one currently implemented)
2) Let's let in all the poor people and give them free everything.

It's a caricature obviously, but still a sad state of affairs.

ThomasL writes:

I don't know how well it would work, but perhaps an argument could be made for how much it would raise living standards for immigrants if only they could live here (cf, Caplan), and so we need to do just one thing to make that happen -- completely eradicate the welfare state first.

It would be an uphill battle for sure, but I wonder if the best argument against the welfare state to its proponents is how much harm it is doing poor immigrants whose lives would be better here, but are prevented from coming by the burdens the welfare state naturally entails.

The biggest hurdle I can see is that every proponent of the welfare state I've ever talked with had little patience for the concept of either limits or burdens. They were viewed as artificially induced corruptions, not natural and unavoidable features.

LarryDoffman writes:

It is a myth (perpetuated by the left) that Tea Party & Republicans are anti-immigration; The reality is that they only want to ensure that we don't have criminals coming across the border. Then again, anyone crossing the border illegally is a criminal by default.

More immigration will have positive effects long-term on the economy, and if not guaranteed welfare, the incentive is there to become a productive member of society. @Sandro is wrong about the increase in crime - that has never been the result looking back on history.

The left would rather demonize the Tea Party than listen to it's calls for fiscal responsibility, but then when you believe the fallacy that government can spend you out of recessions, clinging to the status quo is the path of least resistance.

PrometheeFeu writes:


You do have to admit though that some of the most prominent figures of the Tea Party are people like Bachman or Palin who are pretty rabidly anti-immigration.

Richard A. writes:


Has Palin even taken a position on immigration? During the Presidential election she took McCain's position. I have not heard Bachman attack current legal immigration. Republicans in the house who talk tough on illegal immigrants are preparing a bill to create an H-2c visa to replace the current H-2a visa. The difference -- H-2c will have watered down worker protections relative to H-2a.
Expect Democrats to fight this.

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