Down In The Valley

Victor Davis Hanson, a native of California’s Central Valley, recently spent a few days exploring the area by bicycle and automobile to see how it had been affected by decades of political, economic, and demographic transformation. He summarizes his gloomy findings in a substantial essay at the National Review website.

His article begins:

The last three weeks I have traveled about, taking the pulse of the more forgotten areas of central California. I wanted to witness, even if superficially, what is happening to a state that has the highest sales and income taxes, the most lavish entitlements, the near-worst public schools (based on federal test scores), and the largest number of illegal aliens in the nation, along with an overregulated private sector, a stagnant and shrinking manufacturing base, and an elite environmental ethos that restricts commerce and productivity without curbing consumption.

During this unscientific experiment, three times a week I rode a bike on a 20-mile trip over various rural roads in southwestern Fresno County. I also drove my car over to the coast to work, on various routes through towns like San Joaquin, Mendota, and Firebaugh. And near my home I have been driving, shopping, and touring by intent the rather segregated and impoverished areas of Caruthers, Fowler, Laton, Orange Cove, Parlier, and Selma. My own farmhouse is now in an area of abject poverty and almost no ethnic diversity; the closest elementary school (my alma mater, two miles away) is 94 percent Hispanic and 1 percent white, and well below federal testing norms in math and English.

Here are some general observations about what I saw (other than that the rural roads of California are fast turning into rubble, poorly maintained and reverting to what I remember seeing long ago in the rural South). First, remember that these areas are the ground zero, so to speak, of 20 years of illegal immigration. There has been a general depression in farming — to such an extent that the 20- to-100-acre tree and vine farmer, the erstwhile backbone of the old rural California, for all practical purposes has ceased to exist.

On the western side of the Central Valley, the effects of arbitrary cutoffs in federal irrigation water have idled tens of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land, leaving thousands unemployed. Manufacturing plants in the towns in these areas — which used to make harvesters, hydraulic lifts, trailers, food-processing equipment — have largely shut down; their production has been shipped off overseas or south of the border. Agriculture itself — from almonds to raisins — has increasingly become corporatized and mechanized, cutting by half the number of farm workers needed. So unemployment runs somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.

Many of the rural trailer-house compounds I saw appear to the naked eye no different from what I have seen in the Third World. There is a Caribbean look to the junked cars, electric wires crisscrossing between various outbuildings, plastic tarps substituting for replacement shingles, lean-tos cobbled together as auxiliary housing, pit bulls unleashed, and geese, goats, and chickens roaming around the yards. The public hears about all sorts of tough California regulations that stymie business — rigid zoning laws, strict building codes, constant inspections — but apparently none of that applies out here.

The signs are not auspicious for this formerly thriving agricultural and industrial powerhouse. Read the whole thing here.

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17 Comments

  1. Kevin Kim says

    Like, totally!

    No, seriously. Gag me with a spoon.

    Seriously seriously: that is pretty sad. But if we can’t boot all the illegals out, then how do we make them into productive members of the surrounding economy? Is there some sort of civil service program that individual states could develop, i.e., programs tailored to the region? Something that would give these workers (1) meaningful skills (labor, language, etc.), (2) an appreciation of the history of the country in which they’ve chosen to reside, (3) a sense of pride, duty, and loyalty, and (4) motivation to stay and not funnel money (etc.) across the border and back to the motherland?

    I think that rounding everyone up and kicking them back over the line is impossible. We need solutions that involve these people and make good use of them. Not in an evil way, of course; I don’t view them as chattel or pawns; to the contrary, I see them as potential fellow citizens.

    But still: they should be made useful in a way that (1) reflects the fact that they chose to come here illegally and are paying a price for that choice, but that (2) also recognizes their strong desire to be here, and assures them that their hope of finding a better life through hard work — a value we still preach — isn’t in vain.

    Posted December 15, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Kevin,

    Please forgive me, my friend; I know you have a heart of gold. But:

    Is there some sort of civil service program that individual states could develop, i.e., programs tailored to the region?

    Ah, there’s the answer. An enormously expensive new government program, with a brand-new government agency to run it! Just the thing for California to do with all that extra cash they have spilling out of the public coffers onto the streets.

    Something that would give these workers (1) meaningful skills (labor, language, etc.), (2) an appreciation of the history of the country in which they’ve chosen to reside, (3) a sense of pride, duty, and loyalty, and (4) motivation to stay and not funnel money (etc.) across the border and back to the motherland?

    Yes, and let’s give them retractable wings, X-ray vision, and a fondness for Wodehouse while we’re at it.

    I think that rounding everyone up and kicking them back over the line is impossible.

    Impossible? Why? As Derb has suggested, we can do it in the summer, when we can use all the school-buses. Think of the jobs a big government project like that would create.

    Posted December 15, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Permalink
  3. Kevin Kim says

    Well, I wasn’t suggesting a big-government program at all, hence my reference to making it local — locally tailored and locally run. I apologize if I made things unclear by referring to a “civil service program” in the singular.

    As for buses and forced exoduses… Derb is too busy snorting coke to understand how unrealistic that idea is. I’d rather have my version of unreality than his, if that’s really where he stands.

    My solution at least has the virtue of turning a minus into a plus. Far from viewing illegals as a burden — and I’d agree that they are burdensome, in many ways, especially in terms of medical care — I’d prefer to view them as a potential resource. Obviously, securing the borders to stanch the influx would be a good idea (how to do this without making it another “enormously expensive new government program”?), but the sheer number of illegals currently in the country can’t be dealt with in so simplistic a manner as forced exodus.

    Let me use an unpleasant and insultingly dehumanizing metaphor for the impossibility of rounding everyone up and shipping them all out: can you keep your own domicile reliably and permanently pest-free? No mice, rats, flies, skeeters, or silverfish? No roaches, gnats, centipedes, millipedes, woodlice, or bedbugs (ahem)? The metaphor works if we see the illegals in such terms: as an infestation and nothing more. They’ll inhabit the cracks and we’ll never be rid of them. We’ll round up a few of them and toss them over the fence, and they’ll crawl right back inside.

    To be sure, I’m not going to feel any moral outrage if we do end up rounding up illegals and deporting them. They are, after all, illegal. My concerns are purely practical, and practically speaking, illegals are not going away unless we can truly create an ironclad border spanning the Mexican frontier, the vertical coasts, and Canada. I just don’t see that happening unless everyone gets behind the effort. And how likely is that? That very unlikelihood is itself a real, practical problem that can’t be dismantled, but can be circumvented.

    I think it’s better to approach the situation with an aikido-like philosophy: when the illegals come in, we grab them and say, “Welcome to your indenture, future citizen!” A four-year stint in the military might be good for starters. That way, we don’t have to violate the commandment to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” In the meantime, we work on turning the torrent of illegals into a trickle.

    To me, an intelligent solution to the problem of illegal immigration has to involve a recognition of reality. The reality is that illegals are going to keep trying to come in, and we’ll never be able to completely halt the influx. At the same time, the reality is that there is a difference between a clean house and a slovenly one. Neither is ever totally pest-free, but controls can be put in place to maintain a greater, rather than a lesser, level of order (in fact, I think you advocated something like this re: the Muslim immigrant situation some time ago). In other words, border control — minimizing the flow — is vital.

    But the reality is also that these are people, not merely pests, and since they’re here, we may as well get them contributing to the economy and bolstering our robustness. Why toss all that manpower back? I know that, in some circles, distinctions are made between “good” and “bad” types of immigrants to have, but this country is so big that there ought to be room for every sort of immigrant. Those who come legally should, by rights, have a free choice in what future they make for themselves. Those who come illegally should be bound to assimilationist strictures that indenture them to their new home before allowing them the possibility of becoming citizens.

    No matter what path we choose, even if it’s Derbyshirean busing, it’s going to cost a hell of a lot of money and time and effort.

    Sorry if I’m rambling. It’s late.

    Posted December 16, 2010 at 12:33 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Well, I wasn’t suggesting a big-government program at all, hence my reference to making it local — locally tailored and locally run. I apologize if I made things unclear by referring to a “civil service program” in the singular.

    How local? Town to town? Every penurious local government is now going to take money out of its budget, or tax its residents further, for a training and social rehabilitation program for its poorly assimilated illegal immigrants? Renting buses has to be cheaper.

    As for buses and forced exoduses… Derb is too busy snorting coke to understand how unrealistic that idea is. I’d rather have my version of unreality than his, if that’s really where he stands.

    My solution at least has the virtue of turning a minus into a plus. Far from viewing illegals as a burden — and I’d agree that they are burdensome, in many ways, especially in terms of medical care — I’d prefer to view them as a potential resource.

    Leaving aside the tendency for disaggregation and cultural deliquescence that is so clearly on display in Hanson’s article — the school in the town where he lives is now 94% Hispanic — the question is: how productive is the resource? Spending money to hit a huge oilfield just under the soil is a paying proposition; drilling the same in the deep ocean is less so, oil shale less so, and so on. At some point the extraction costs outweigh the return.

    Obviously, securing the borders to stanch the influx would be a good idea…

    We certainly agree here.

    (how to do this without making it another “enormously expensive new government program”?)

    We can’t. But securing the borders is arguably the very first duty of government.

    …but the sheer number of illegals currently in the country can’t be dealt with in so simplistic a manner as forced exodus.

    Not in its entirety, no. But we should transport the ones we can (as you point out below). Again, we work a productive vein until the costs exceed the benefits.

    Let me use an unpleasant and insultingly dehumanizing metaphor for the impossibility of rounding everyone up and shipping them all out: can you keep your own domicile reliably and permanently pest-free? No mice, rats, flies, skeeters, or silverfish? No roaches, gnats, centipedes, millipedes, woodlice, or bedbugs (ahem)? The metaphor works if we see the illegals in such terms: as an infestation and nothing more. They’ll inhabit the cracks and we’ll never be rid of them. We’ll round up a few of them and toss them over the fence, and they’ll crawl right back inside.

    Completely pest-free? No. But I do what I can, and the results are very different than if I did nothing, or invited them in, or declared “sanctuary cupboards” where they could snack and mate without fear of inteference.

    To be sure, I’m not going to feel any moral outrage if we do end up rounding up illegals and deporting them. They are, after all, illegal. My concerns are purely practical, and practically speaking, illegals are not going away unless we can truly create an ironclad border spanning the Mexican frontier, the vertical coasts, and Canada.

    Well, out of that list, I know where I’d concentrate our attention.

    I just don’t see that happening unless everyone gets behind the effort. And how likely is that?

    Perhaps change is in the air. It won’t happen unless people speak up.

    That very unlikelihood is itself a real, practical problem that can’t be dismantled, but can be circumvented.

    I think it’s better to approach the situation with an aikido-like philosophy: when the illegals come in, we grab them and say, “Welcome to your indenture, future citizen!” A four-year stint in the military might be good for starters.

    That way, we don’t have to violate the commandment to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…”

    That’s not a commandment, it’s a poem — whose author was herself, by the way, an ardent Jewish racial separatist.

    In the meantime, we work on turning the torrent of illegals into a trickle.

    I agree, of course.

    To me, an intelligent solution to the problem of illegal immigration has to involve a recognition of reality.

    Yes, certainly, as does any intelligent solution to any problem! But “reality” in this case appears to be strongly observer-dependent.

    The reality is that illegals are going to keep trying to come in, and we’ll never be able to completely halt the influx. At the same time, the reality is that there is a difference between a clean house and a slovenly one. Neither is ever totally pest-free, but controls can be put in place to maintain a greater, rather than a lesser, level of order (in fact, I think you advocated something like this re: the Muslim immigrant situation some time ago). In other words, border control — minimizing the flow — is vital.

    The more I read, the more I think you and I are in good agreement, as long as you are willing to acknowledge that we must draw the line on ambitious programs according to costs and benefits, and that the costs and benefits will be seen very differently by different interest groups.

    But the reality is also that these are people, not merely pests, and since they’re here, we may as well get them contributing to the economy and bolstering our robustness. Why toss all that manpower back?

    Well, so the rest of America doesn’t end up like the Central Valley?

    I know that, in some circles, distinctions are made between “good” and “bad” types of immigrants to have, but this country is so big that there ought to be room for every sort of immigrant.

    Like violent Mexican druglords and Somali Muslim fundamentalists? Here I think you are off your rocker. We should be as selective as we can. Surely there is a useful distinction to be made, say, between talented English-speaking engineers and illiterate Central American migrants.

    Those who come legally should, by rights, have a free choice in what future they make for themselves.

    Absolutely agreed, although we might have a care about whom we select to come here legally in the first place.

    Those who come illegally should be bound to assimilationist strictures that indenture them to their new home before allowing them the possibility of becoming citizens.

    Or better yet, sent packing.

    No matter what path we choose, even if it’s Derbyshirean busing, it’s going to cost a hell of a lot of money and time and effort.

    I’ll bet we can get the use of those buses for a song. I imagine half the people in Arizona alone would lend us their RVs. It’ll be like Dunkirk in reverse. Also, money spent on removing illegals saves money being spent elsewhere on the type of programs you recommend for remediation of the “challenges” they present.

    Sorry if I’m rambling. It’s late.

    Your ramblings are always welcome.

    Posted December 16, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Hark… do I hear monocular footsteps approaching?

    Posted December 16, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink
  6. the one eyed man says

    It is not surprising to see a National Review writer report a situation through an ideological lens and then create a narrative to support his views. Hence one would not expect NRO to report that the California agricultural industry would barely exist without illegal labor, the contributions with the (legal) immigrants from Laos and Vietnam have made to the Central Valley, or the fact that California’s agricultural economy continues to grow. However, his report is littered with inaccuracies, such as the following:

    Paragraph one: The “environmental ethos” is not elite. It is long-standing and broad based, as illustrated by the recent overwhelming rejection of Prop 23, despite round-the-clock advertising paid for by the oil and gas industries.

    Paragraph three: The 20-100 acre farms are disappearing nationwide, in Vermont and Iowa as well as California. Agricultural economics today simply don’t support small farms any more.

    The paucity of small farms does not indicate a “general depression in farming.” California agriculture is doing fine, but the production has shifted to larger producers. Scale means a lot in agriculture, as it does in most industries.

    Paragraph four: Manufacturing has indeed left California for cheaper locations overseas, although again this is a national phenomenon and is hardly specific to the Golden State. Needless to say, Hanson doesn’t identify the solution, which would be to revert to a mercantilist economy which uses tariffs and other trade barriers to keep out more competitive foreign goods. I thought conservatives were in favor of small government, robust capitalism, and free trade. What is his suggestion here?

    The cutoff in federal water was not “arbitrary.” The Westlands was the last agricultural area to join the federal irrigation system which was built in the 1950’s. The terms dictated that in the event that the water supply was diminished, the newest participant would be the first to be cut off. So Westlands farmers had fifty years of subsidized federal water, but were the first to lose access now that the population depending on the water supply has grown dramatically, while the amount of rain falling from the sky remains the same. Again, Hanson identifies a problem without suggesting a solution. Should the federal government continue to provide Westlands farmers with a free lunch in perpetuity? Agriculture uses 80% of the water supply in California: should Los Angeles have restricted water use so Westlands farmers can grow almonds? He leaves the implication that a nitwit federal bureaucrat thoughtlessly deprived Westlands farmers of water, when the issues and implications are much more complex. Why bother with nuance when you can use innuendo instead?

    Hanson complains that farming has become corporatized, and large enterprises require fewer workers. This is true. Is there something wrong with productivity? Is his suggestion that the government use its power to punish larger enterprises to tilt the playing field towards the smaller players? Again, he identifies a problem without mentioning that its solution is government intervention intended to upset the mechanisms of the free market.

    And so forth and so on.

    Pieces like this one feed the confirmation bias of NRO readers, who are pre-disposed to believe that things are a mess, and the root causes are things like overactive governments, wack environmentalists, and illegal immigrants. However, any worthwhile analysis starts with facts, and not distortions and half-truths. Hanson is content to complain without any rigorous attention to facts or suggestions for a solution.

    Posted December 16, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Peter, while your points about water regulations are good ones, do you dispute that California, which teeters on the edge of total collapse with businesses fleeing at an accelerating pace (and not overseas, but in large part to more business-friendly states like Utah), is indeed a “mess” — or that the deterioration Hanson describes in the once-vital Central Valley, with its roads crumbling and it’s pauper’s shacks, is real? Hanson has lived right there in the Central Valley (not the prosperous Silicon Valley, where you are) for a very long time; he has seen it go from a thriving American community to a Third World hellhole. What’s your response to that?

    Also, you contradict yourself, and miss Hanson’s point: if corporate farming requires fewer and fewer workers, why do we need more and more illegal immigrants? Their presence is essentially yet another costly farm subsidy: the state and federal government, and the disintegrating native culture, bear the costs, just so that the agricultural producers can enjoy cheap labor.

    Hanson concludes:

    California does not care whether one broke the law to arrive here or continues to break it by staying. It asks nothing of the illegal immigrant — no proficiency in English, no acquaintance with American history and values, no proof of income, no record of education or skills. It does provide all the public assistance that it can afford (and more that it borrows for), and apparently waives enforcement of most of California’s burdensome regulations and civic statutes that increasingly have plagued productive citizens to the point of driving them out. How odd that we overregulate those who are citizens and have capital to the point of banishing them from the state, but do not regulate those who are aliens and without capital to the point of encouraging millions more to follow in their footsteps.

    Is he wrong to point this out?

    Posted December 16, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Also, Peter: if you can leave ad hominem vitriol aside, this essay is hardly the polemic you make it out to be; Hanson is, for the most part, simply commenting on what he sees, and wondering what the causes are. For example:

    I don’t think I can remember another time when so many acres in the eastern part of the valley have gone out of production, even though farm prices have recently rebounded. Apparently it is simply not worth the gamble of investing $7,000 to $10,000 an acre in a new orchard or vineyard. What an anomaly — with suddenly soaring farm prices, still we have thousands of acres in the world’s richest agricultural belt, with available water on the east side of the valley and plentiful labor, gone idle or in disuse. Is credit frozen? Are there simply no more farmers? Are the schools so bad as to scare away potential agricultural entrepreneurs? Or are we all terrified by the national debt and uncertain future?

    Also, you write: “the California agricultural industry would barely exist without illegal labor”. Even assuming (strictly arguendo, of course) that you are right, isn’t there something seriously wrong when the survival of an entire industry depends on violation of the law?

    Posted December 16, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  9. the one eyed man says

    1) I think that it is hyperbolic to state that California “teeters on the edge of total collapse,” but I certainly agree that the state has deep and systemic problems. However, I think that it is caused by other factors, such as Prop 13, which sharply limited real estate tax revenue, forcing the state to rely on much more volatile income and business tax revenue. We have a proposition system where voters consistently vote for things they like (e.g., stem cell research) yet vote against funding to pay for them (or vote for bond issuance, which defers the cost to future years). Our state legislature would make Albany look like the model of probity. Perhaps most importantly, California is simply too big. It should be split up into three or four different states. It’s ungovernable in its current state.

    As for business: I’m not sure if they are “fleeing at an accelerating rate,” or indeed whether there is a net loss of businesses (i.e., whether the number of businesses which leave is smaller or greater than those which stay), but it is certainly cheaper to do business in a state like Utah or Idaho. The cost of labor, plant, and facilities are less. Also, we do have stricter environmental laws, but these are largely dictated by our topography. You may recall old photos taken from Mulholland Drive which show the LA basin covered by a thick layer of smog. We don’t have that any more (or at least to a much smaller extent). Not an issue for the Salt Lake City basin. There is a trade-off between establishing emissions standards – which undoubtedly make it more difficult to do business here – and living in a habitable and healthy environment. I choose clean air.

    I can’t speak to what roads and housing are like in the Central Valley, as I haven’t been there in years, except driving through on I-80 and I-5.

    I also question whether “we need more and more illegal immigrants” – for the past few years, the flow of illegal immigrants has declined nationally, although I don’t know whether or not this is the case for California – or whether the putative increase in illegal immigrants migrate to agriculture, as opposed to landscaping, working in hotels, or any other business which relies on cheap and unskilled labor.

    It is certainly not wrong for Hanson to point out that illegal immigrants are here illegally. My answer would be: get over it. There are worse things in the world than crossing a border to support your family, or escape a narco-state like Mexico. There are various proposals to identify those immigrants who are law-abiding and productive, and grant them a path to citizenship. Moreover, while Hanson is happy to enumerate all of the problems which are associated with illegal immigration, he ignores the other side of the ledger. California simply couldn’t exist without them, and the pain would go well beyond suburbanites being unable to hire maids and gardeners. Determining whether the presence of illegal immigrants is a net positive or a net negative requires data and analytical skills which are well beyond my grasp, and there are no painless or easy solutions here. However, I don’t think that they represent the bogey man which Hanson suggests, and meaningful solutions regarding what to do about them are beyond the scope of his essay.

    2) What ad hominem vitriol? I think Hansen is wrong on the facts and has a sloppy argument. I see the world differently than he does. However, I have nothing against him personally. After all, he rides a bike. Probably a wonderful human being.

    Posted December 16, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says

    Well, Peter, we approach as usual the limits of irreconcilable points of view, and could probably save a lot of electronic ink by leaving it there.

    But I will say this:

    First, as I mentioned above, when the survival of an entire state depends, as you seem to think it does, on systematic violation of the most fundamental laws of the land, something is seriously out of whack. Hiring illegals, by giving them wages and benefits that are so meager that they must turn to taxpayers for basic services, simply allows businesses to undercut a fair labor market by privatizing profits and socializing costs. If a business can’t stay in business except by breaking the law, it should go out of business.

    Second, by all appearances (particularly in light of governor-elect Brown’s recent budget conference), CA is indeed tottering under the colossal weight of its vast and ever-expanding obligations and entitlements (as is the federal government — but unlike the federal government, California can’t simply print money). Of course when it does collapse, it is going to have to be bailed out, and the ripple effects of that are not going to be pretty.

    Posted December 16, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
  11. Kevin Kim says

    “Like violent Mexican druglords and Somali Muslim fundamentalists? Here I think you are off your rocker. We should be as selective as we can. Surely there is a useful distinction to be made, say, between talented English-speaking engineers and illiterate Central American migrants.”

    It’s your blog, so you can complain to Pete about ad hominem while also calling me insane if you like, but I’d say that there’s room for the talented engineers and the illiterate migrants, both of whom represent untapped potential. Must an illiterate migrant remain forever in that state? Has he no potential to transcend his situation? Also, there’s this: after all that I’d said re: the need to secure borders, I’m nonplussed that you’d interpret my stance so uncharitably by characterizing it as heedlessly undiscriminating. Why assume that I wouldn’t want to keep the more poisonous elements (e.g., those drug lords and fundies) out? My preference would be for the people who come to this country to be the sort who want to perform some sort of honest labor, be it blue-collar or white-collar. Among those people, my overwhelming preference would be for the legal immigrants, and I’d want to funnel the illegals into programs that would make them productive (and get them paying taxes right away!).

    Maybe a watered-down Heinleinian model would work here: “Service brings citizenship.” The military is a structure that’s already in place; most of the border-hoppers are able-bodied men who’ve shown plenty of cleverness already. I’d say they’re ripe for military service.

    The guys who renovated our house were Koreans (here legally) with Latino underlings from places like Guatemala who had been in the States long enough to have picked up — ha ha — some Korean vocabulary. I didn’t check, but they often seemed of dubious legal status. I mention these workers because, even if they’re illegal, they’re busting their asses 12-14 hours a day. These are exactly the people who need to be brought officially into the country through some sort of program: they didn’t jump the border merely to loaf. Every single day, they prove their willingness to work inhuman hours for less-than-decent pay. In many cases, they’re escaping crappy situations in the motherland. Simply booting them out is the wrong thing to do.

    You’re right: I think we agree about many of the basics. Coming to the States and working here illegally is, in the final analysis, wrong, no matter how noble the motive. It simply shouldn’t happen. Citizens and the government should be ready and willing to enforce border security. In the meantime, though, there are millions of illegals to be dealt with here, and a campaign to bus them all out strikes me as insane. The most intelligent course of action is two-pronged: (1) we should absorb the illegals we have, not by offering some namby-pamby blanket amnesty but by making them earn the right to be on our soil, and (2) we should stop, to the extent possible, the continued influx of illegal immigrants. Eventually, prong (1) should wither away once prong (2) has been fully enacted and realized. (Whatever “fully” may mean.)

    So say I, anyway.

    Posted December 16, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink
  12. the one eyed man says

    I agree that things are out of whack when an industry the size of California agriculture has to rely on illegal labor. Anyone who would have created the industry tabula rasa would not have contemplated anything resembling what we’ve got.

    However, the provenance of the problem, as well as its implications for governance, is a lot less important than the practical question of what to do. I would support some kind of guest worker program so Latinos can get registered, work here seasonally, pay taxes, and so forth. I also support the Dream Act, so that illegal immigrants who serve in the military, stay out of trouble, and are otherwise productive residents can gain citizenship. Given the dysfunctional nature of our political system, I don’t expect meaningful immigration reform any time soon. Not surprisingly, I put the blame largely on the right wing. When you label any deviation from locking them up and sending them South as amnesty, and therefore off the table, you eliminate any reasonable solution to the problem.

    If California is headed to default, it’s not reflected in investor perception, as measured by the price of muni bonds. Yes, the state is in dire fiscal straits, and we live in parlous times. However, the economy is picking up steam and real estate prices are starting to climb. We’ve gone through economic crises before, most recently in the 1980’s when the state economy was levered to the aerospace industry, which collapsed. We now have a much more diversified economy, with two vibrant industries (entertainment and technology) pulling things along. People still come here from all over the world because of the climate, the astounding physical beauty, and the entrepreneurial spirit. Let’s face it: with all of its problems, California is still the best place in the world to live. So while there is a lot of pain in the short term, I think the qualities which have made California the juggernaut it is will continue to propel us forward in the future.

    Posted December 16, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Permalink
  13. Malcolm says

    Kevin,

    Well, if I may clarify an important distinction here, that “off your rocker” remark was not a logically fallacious ad hominem attempt to discredit your argument, as in “the guy writes for National Review, so anything he says will be an ideologically motivated distortion of the facts”. All I meant was “Wow, when you say something like that it makes me think you have momentarily slipped a cog.”

    But I know very well you are not in fact off your rocker, and actually I think that perhaps the three of us are not all that far apart here. (And of course I realize you are not actually advocating the importation of drug goons and Muslim fanatics.) I’m glad to see you express so clearly the sentiment that “coming to the States and working here illegally is, in the final analysis, wrong, no matter how noble the motive. It simply shouldn’t happen. Citizens and the government should be ready and willing to enforce border security.”

    To show you how reasonable I am, too, I’ll say that I am no absolutist about rounding everyone up to be dragged across the border. There are many whom we should eject at any cost, but at some point an effort to remove everyone here illegally has to reach a point of diminishing returns.

    What we cannot do, however — and I know you agree with this too — is just to keep granting amnesties in various forms every few years (the latest such proposal being what Derbyshire puckishly calls the Democratic Reinforcements Entering America from Mexico act), while all along leaving the border deliberately unsecured, and permitting chain immigration that enables entire extended clans to settle right in once a single member gets a foothold.

    Agreeing with you also that many who are already here are decent, responsible, hardworking people, I could be persuaded to support some sort of one-time earned-amnesty program of the sort you suggest, but only — and here it seems we agree again — if it is coupled with a real effort to secure the border, and to severely tighten legal immigration policy as well.

    The second part of that deal, however, which I consider to be of critical importance, is completely at odds with the sentiment and agenda of the current administration, and of the radical multiculturalist Left generally, so I don’t think that such a compromise, made sincerely and in earnest, is possible. But if it were, I’d agree to it.

    You asked:

    Must an illiterate migrant remain forever in that state? Has he no potential to transcend his situation?

    Given that human potential varies, and is finite, can we at least put on the table that this is, in aggregate at least, an empirical question, and that to determine the answer experimentally by blithely importing millions of illiterate migrants might not be the wisest course? We can see first-hand what the places they come from are like; are these backward and dysfunctional sinkholes of penury and corruption the way they are solely because of something in the water, or the quality of the sunlight? Are the character, cultural essence, and destiny of a nation entirely independent of, and unaffected by, its human stock? President Obama just today announced his support for the UN’s initiative for the preservation of the uniqueness and individuality of the world’s cultures and peoples, after all, which seems to me to be something we here in English-speaking America — as well as the the Swedes and Danes and Britons and other European peoples — might be permitted to have an interest in too.

    Posted December 16, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Peter,

    I must give you full marks for cheery optimism. California’s decks are surely awash, but should she slip beneath the waves, as seems likely to me, it certainly won’t be because you lacked enthusiasm for the place, or confidence in its prospects.

    Here’s something we can agree on: as noted above, I also doubt that we’ll see reasonable immigration reform anytime soon. (We do differ diametrically about where to place the blame, but I’ll take common ground where I can find it.)

    You wrote that you would support a guest worker program of some sort, and so I have news that will gladden your heart: according to the USCIS website, we already have twenty.

    I really do hope you are right, and that California is not about to sink into economic, cultural, and demographic ruin. If the state’s economy does collapse, it will almost certainly drag the rest of nation’s economy down with it, or lead to the dissolution of the Union.

    To quote the Magic 8-ball, though: “Outlook not so good.”

    Posted December 16, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Permalink
  15. the one eyed man says

    Of course I’m optimistic! We won the World Series, didn’t we?

    Posted December 17, 2010 at 9:35 am | Permalink
  16. @Posted December 16, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    Well reasoned, abundantly congenial, and, best of all, correctly analysed, Malcolm. Kudos.

    Posted December 17, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  17. Malcolm says

    Thank you, Henry!

    Posted December 17, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink