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Week of: February 18, 2001

Should the U.S. Have a Cover Charge?

by F.R. Duplantier

"When we import more poor people, we end up with more poverty."

"Immigrants have accounted for a substantial portion of labor-force growth in the United States and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future," comments Alan Reynolds of the Hudson Institute. The quality of the American labor force, he concludes, "will depend on the skills, talents, and education of the immigrants we admit." Most permanent immigrants, however, "are not admitted on the basis of any evidence of employability, savings, or even minimal English language skills."

In a recent issue of American Outlook, published bimonthly by the Hudson Institute, Reynolds concedes that some "highly skilled foreigners whose work is in heavy demand may be lucky enough to get temporary visas, but we routinely import huge numbers of poor people with little schooling or skills. Importing hundreds of thousands of undereducated poor people every year obviously dilutes the nation's average skill level, productivity, and real wages," he observes. "Yet U.S. scholars continually fret over poverty, illiteracy, and education-based 'income gaps' without so much as mentioning the obvious role of immigration policies. . . ."

Reynolds recommends establishing "priorities that distinguish between prospective immigrants on the basis of their probable ability to participate constructively in the society and economy. One simple criterion should take precedence over all others," he suggests; "prospective immigrants must be required to demonstrate that they are likely to be able to support themselves and their dependents. Relevant evidence could include having a multi-year employment contract in the United States; proof of a marketable skill or craft, including experience; educational credentials; and evidence of adequate savings." Reynolds says "prospective immigrants should provide the sort of information routinely demanded when applying for a job or mortgage."

In addition to establishing reasonable criteria for the admission of immigrants, Reynolds also recommends a modest entrance fee as a way of controlling demand. "When it comes to rationing nearly everything else of value in this country, the United States relies on the price system," he remarks. "When it comes to rationing the incredibly valuable right to live in the United States, however, every rationing technique except the price system is used." Reynolds argues that a modest immigration fee "would significantly shorten the waiting lists by weeding out those applicants with weak, uncertain motivation."

I don't know about this entrance-fee concept. I don't think I like the idea of the United States having a cover charge. A two-drink minimum doesn't seem like the right approach either, but maybe we could borrow another cue from nightclub management and establish a maximum capacity. Then, when we reach the limit, the latecomers will just have to wait until somebody leaves and a spot opens up for them. Ideally, for every ambitious, hardworking immigrant who comes in, we'd want to export at least one self-pitying, native-born idler. Start with self-avowed socialists, then gradually expand the pool of deportees to include other likeminded felons, academics, and politicians -- not necessarily in that order. Open immigration could be an extraordinarily popular policy among all fair-minded Americans, provided it were linked to open emigration.


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