Bush Worker Plan Betrays American Ideals
by Sheldon Richman, January 9, 2003
In proposing a temporary worker program, President Bush
promised to reassess "the standard of knowledge in the current
citizenship test. [because we] must ensure that new citizens know.the
ideals that have shaped our history."
Maybe he should also look at the standard of knowledge for
presidents. If we use the test indicated by Bush - knowledge of the
ideals that have shaped our history - he would have to be dismissed
from office. All the current aspirants would have to be barred also.
The evidence for this is to be found in Bush's proposal
for allowing "illegal aliens," or "undocumented workers," to take jobs
in the United States. This may appear to be a blow for freedom, which
is certainly an American ideal that once shaped our history, but it
really has nothing to do with freedom. Instead, Bush's plan is
consistent with government control of the labor market and therefore
of free enterprise and individual liberty.
Bush's own statement about the program indicates that
freedom is not on his mind. He said: "New immigration laws should
serve the economic needs of our country." The country is a big place
with many diverse people. It doesn't have a single set of "economic
needs." If an employer wants to hire someone who has no official
papers, he must need that person's services. But a labor union
official may object. Whose need is included among "the economic needs
of our country"? Why should the government decide?
Bush went on: "If an American employer is offering a job
that American citizens are not willing to take, we ought to welcome
into our country a person who will fill that job." Why the
qualification that Americans have to be unwilling to take the job? If
freedom was a founding ideal of this country, why isn't the employer's
freedom to hire whomever he wishes honored?
The rule that no American can want the job before it is
offered to a foreign worker would require the government to exercise
awesome power over the labor market. As Bush said, "Employers who
extend job offers must first make every reasonable effort to find an
American worker for the job at hand." And guess who'll help? "Our
government will develop a quick and simple system for employers to
search for American workers.. There must be strong workplace
enforcement with tough penalties . for any employer violating these
What a can of worms this will turn out to be! In any
dispute between an employer and the government over whether an effort
to find an American was "reasonable," who do you think will prevail?
This is another case of non-objective law: you won't know you've
violated it until after the indictment and conviction.
Under the plan, employers "must report to the government
the temporary workers they hire, and who leave their employ, so that
we can keep track of people in the program." Does this sound like
private enterprise to you?
Guest workers will be permitted to hold their jobs for
three years. "This program expects temporary workers to return
permanently to their home countries after their period of work in the
United States has expired. And there should be financial incentives
for them to do so," Bush said. What if an employer needs a worker
beyond that time? Do you ever get the feeling that people in
government are control freaks? No wonder free enterprise is constantly
being undercut: it leaves too little for government to do.
And what's this about financial incentives to make sure
the workers leave the country? Must the taxpayers be looted for this
purpose? Bush said something about tax-free savings for the workers
and credit in their home-country social security programs for time
worked here. But you can bet this plan will cost us taxpayers money.
If people took principles seriously, opposition to Bush's
plan would arise from across the political spectrum. Advocates of
freedom of association and champions of private enterprise would
object in unison. That's because the foundation of free-market
capitalism is freedom of association, which in turn is based on
individual liberty. Bush's plan may be convenient for political
purposes, but it has nothing to do with liberty.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom
Foundation, author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare
State, and editor of Ideas on Liberty magazine. Send him email.