Monday, August 07, 2006

Northernmost County in Mississippi

I'm sure Reader_I_Am will enjoy the profile of Slower Delaware in this Weekly Standard thumbsucker. But it also brings up some important points in the immigration debate.

I'm a great Limbaugh fan," says the realtor Carlton Moore, trying in a very Sussex County way to temper the lèse-majesté that will follow, "but he's dead wrong saying we don't need 'em. We do need 'em. Saying that if chicken plants paid $20 an hour Americans would do the work . . . it's not that simple. I think sending them back would tear the economy apart." Mayor Wyatt agrees: "That's not gonna work."

Still, there is a can't-live-with-'em, can't-live-without-'em ambiguity about the way this immigration is transpiring that immigrants are the first to admit. "I understand why U.S. citizens feel terrible," says Andrade. "Everybody needs to stay under the law. The biggest problem is the border. It needs to be controlled. If you don't know who is living in your neighborhood, how tranquil can you be about your kids?"

And yet, as Friedrich von Hayek showed, markets work through millions of informal, word-of-mouth channels. Once we strip the problem down to its economic essentials, "getting serious about illegal immigration" means replacing a free system with one in which regulators determine how many immigrants America needs and gets. Of course, economic essentials are not everything. A country is a culture too, and a wide open labor market can break a culture's cohesion. Laws may need to be passed, and bureaucrats empowered, to protect it.

We should be aware of what we're doing, though. If the border is controlled--and if the book is thrown at all those Mam-speaking chicken workers with their phony IDs and their alcoholic binges and their unusually hard-working children--there will be a price to pay. There is not a demand in Georgetown for a certain quota of different-looking poor people. There is a demand for people from Tacaná who have two decades' experience in the peculiar Delaware economy of chicken, soybeans, and retirement homes, and two decades of ties to the community out of which that economy grows. It is not, in fact, certain that the economy of Sussex County could survive without them, for Delawareans have gotten too old and too rich to maintain it on their own. Those who maintain it for them are a conservative force, made necessary because, as Giuseppe di Lampedusa wrote in The Leopard, "If we want everything to stay the same, everything must change."