Jenna Dougherty, Period 7, Honorbound
There are many who believe that the game-changing, life-making opportunities are found not in their own country, but beyond their borders—in America. This belief can be found today in the hearts of many people looking for new beginnings and work opportunities. Unfortunately, Americans’ view on immigration has become extremely negative because of an imperfect understanding of abundance and scarcity. The reasoning of many people is explored by Frédéric Bastiat in Economic Sophisms, which questions the belief that people have in the importance of scarcity.
Birthright citizenship is a particularly controversial issue regarding immigration, for many believe that condoning birthright citizenship will encourage illegal immigrants to migrate to the United States with the intention of having “anchor babies” to legitimize their presence and bypass the process of legal immigration. Any action taken to increase the immigrant population in the U.S. is criticized, for people have come to believe that immigrants are taking opportunities that would otherwise be given to Americans. Critics also claim that this practice devalues the privilege of American citizenship by giving it as a reward to illegal behavior. A national poll taken in 2010 indicated that Americans were fairly evenly divided over this controversial question, for there are many viewpoints to consider when approaching this delicate issue.
Those against birthright citizenship claim that it gives extra incentive to illegally immigrate and, in doing so, undesirably increases population growth by attracting more illegal immigrants and anchoring their families in the U.S. However, those supporting birthright citizenship claim that the majority of the unauthorized population in the U.S. is comprised of moral, hard-working people who come to the U.S. to find work and should be supported in having children and building a life in our country. Their devotion to this belief is also shown in saying that history exhibits welcoming immigrants increasing our population and giving America its diverse identity. While supporters use words describing undocumented immigrants in a positive light, critics refer to them as “border-crossers” as if they were invaders coming to this country merely to cross the lines set by our government and disregard our nation’s laws. Those in opposition are most likely influenced by the widespread fear of overproduction, or abundance.
Bastiat explores the theory of scarcity to try and locate the origin of the illusion that abundance is dangerous and scarcity advantageous in the eyes of many Americans. With the rise and fall of certain ethnicities immigrating into the U.S., the group of people at the center of this dispute changes, but the issue of abundance in regard to the work force remains prevalent. There are many factors involved in the opposition of immigration, and this fear of abundance plays a role in one of the main immigration reservations: people are afraid that immigrants will take their jobs. The reasoning has become that if there are more people willing to perform the same tasks for less money, no jobs will be left for Americans. Bastiat makes clear that a man’s work will sell at a higher price, or he will be paid more, if there is a shortage of the type of commodity produced by his labor. This same thinking applies to workers themselves, for the fewer workers there are, the greater the scarcity; therefore, workers will be paid more for their labor, as it becomes a scarce commodity. This leads people to believe that scarcity enriches them, which is not coherent with the process of allowing an abundance of people into the country.
Bastiat goes on to claim that these preconceived ideas about scarcity are false, for people forget to think of themselves as both producers and consumers. Producers may not be paid as much when there are an abundance of workers, but consumers do not have to pay as much when this yields an abundance of products. This is the way in which the system balances itself out, for when people earn less money, they will also have less money to spend on abundant products that are sold more cheaply. This pattern of society supports his theory of abundance, which works in accordance to the concept of exchange. Man is not a solitary animal, which is how the theory of scarcity originated; if a man worked only for himself and consumed only what he produced, there would be no question that abundance is better. The only reason scarcity seems advantageous is because people forget that labor is an end rather than a means. This basic logic can also be applied to immigration, for if there are more workers, than there are more products to be sold at a cheaper price. The point of working is to earn money to pay for products, but if the products are cheaper, then there is no reason to worry about making less money.
This is a simplified view of the issue of birthright citizenship, or any other practice that causes an increase in immigrants in the U.S., but it shows flawed reasoning behind this opposition to immigration. The fear that immigrants will cause the economic system to turn against Americans is founded in the theory of scarcity, which does not have a plausible foundation. This is not to say that other factors should not be considered regarding immigration, but those opposed because of the fear that they will take over the work force is unwarranted. Immigrants should not be denied the opportunity to better their lives and provide for their families because people have forgotten the fact that a job is merely the means to and end that is not in jeopardy.
The antisocial desires of all producers are also discussed in Economic Sophisms, as this is another byproduct of the theory of scarcity. The occupation of a physician is discussed, for though this job has honorable intentions and benefits society, people still need to be sick in order for his services to be valuable. The secret desires of every producer, which includes most people, are not beneficial to society. This selfish mindset is what leaves immigration in a negative light, for people remain focused on their own wants rather than the good of society as a whole. Bastiat concludes that if people readjust their mindset to include their role as a consumer, their self-interest would fall perfectly in line with that of the public interest. This is true because a consumer wants an abundance of products, and therefore an abundance of workers to make them. The plight of the immigrants should no longer be caused by the selfish desires of people as producers, for everyone is a consumer that would appreciate the fruits of their labor.
The United States is nothing without the people that come together to unite under one flag, and in doing so shape the government and future of the country. The identity of the United States is found in the diverse people that call this nation home. The diversity is a product of decades of immigration and migration—two natural things that have significantly contributed to the formation of this country, and are now in question. The people of this nation come from all different countries and backgrounds, displaying the pride of the U.S. in bringing people together to unite under one flag. This belief has suddenly changed, not because the practice has been deemed unacceptable, but simply because the circumstances have changed. Allowing the American people to shape their own country lies in the foundation of the United States, which is why every individual must take the time to consider the issues at hand, particularly those contribute to the formation of the American population itself. Fear and selfish desire should not prevent immigrants from coming to the U.S. to better their lives and work for an honest living. The theory of scarcity is not beneficial to the American population, which is why immigration, an opponent of scarcity, should be viewed in a positive light.
“Birthright Citizenship.” Issues & Controversies. Facts On File News Services, 1 Nov. 2010. Web. 8 Mar. 2013.
“Immigration.” Issues & Controversies On File: n. pag. Issues & Controversies. Facts On File News Services, 29 Sept. 1995. Web. 8 Mar. 2013.
Bastiat, Frédéric. “Abundance & Scarcity.” Economic Sophisms. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1964. N. pag. Print.
Warner, Judith Ann. “Birthright Citizenship: In Opposition to Birthright Citizenship .” American Government. ABC-CLIO,2013. Web. 8 Mar. 2013.