I just noticed that ethicist Jack Marshall has addressed the ethics of hiring illegal immigrants:
Are Restaurants That Hire Illegal Immigrants Ethical?
Sigh. I agree with a lot of what Jack Marshall has to say about ethics. For example, he’s dead-on to call out the Obama administration for this censorious nonsense. But when it comes to economics issues, especially having to do with employment, he gets into all kinds of muddled thinking, and it just pisses me off.
Here’s the setup:
The New York Times Diner’s Journal asks the question, invoking the images of the 2004 film “A Day Without a Mexican,” in which all of California’s Mexicans suddenly disappear and the state is thrust into a world with far fewer gardeners, nannies, fruit-pickers, maids, cooks, and dishwashers. The film is the high-water mark of the essentially unethical rationalization for illegal immigration that is one of the main culprits for America’s unconscionable tolerance of it–that without illegals, the economy and quality of life of Americans would break down.
I’ve never been a big fan of that argument myself. Illegal immigrants may do the work that Americans don’t want to do, but if they all left, it’s not like the work wouldn’t get done. Those jobs would just have to be filled by Americans. It’s inefficent, but it’s not an economic apocalypse.
Marshall puts his objection a little differently:
For decades, one of the chief arguments against eliminating slavery was that it would cripple the economy of the South: the 1848 documentary “A World Without Slaves” would have probably been very similar to the 2004 film, but grainier. Giving equal rights to women has devastated the quality of public schools, put men out of work, forced kids to grow up under the care of strangers, and made men to do a heck of a lot more housework. Well, too bad: it was still the right thing to do.
I’m not sure what slavery has to do with the voluntary employment of illegal immigrants, but Marshall is certainly right that fear of economic hardship does not justify slavery or unequal rights for women.
I should point out that the only way slavery ever seemed economically justified is because its advocates weren’t really including the welfare of the slaves in their calculations. I imagine pretty much the same is true for women’s equality. It’s easy to make benefit-cost arguments come out in your favor it you decide beforehand that certain people just don’t count.
Naturally; when you get used to an illegal or unethical short cut and they erect a wall to keep you out, you have to find another way, and until that becomes institutionalized, the change is inconvenient, disruptive, and probably expensive.
So if restaurants stopped exploiting illegal immigrants while encouraging dishonest conduct and warping national immigration and security policies for their own profit…, the same would be true…Assuming that the establishments would have to pay fair rather than exploitive wages to America citizens, sure: it will cost more. “At the end of the day, the customer is going to end up paying for it,” a chef and restaurateur told Diner’s Journal. “We’ll have to pay higher wages, more taxes and then we will have to charge more.”
Cry me a river. The fair price of a commodity or service is made up of the fair cost of its components.
So illegal immigrant wages are unfair and American wages are fair, therefore it is unethical to hire illegal immigrants because it’s unfair. I don’t see exchanging ethical for fair gets us anywhere.
Yup: a used car dealer whose cars are stolen will be able to sell his cars dirt cheap. Is that an argument for allowing theft?
Well, no, because he’s getting the cars from someone who did not agree to give them to him. This is different from the restaurant that pays low wages to the busboys because the busboys agreed to the wage. In one case, the original owners of the cars are forced to give them up, in the other case, the agreement is voluntary.
This is the part of Marshall’s argument that pisses me off so much. I think the concepts of choice and consent are the fundamental building blocks of any serious discussion about morality, ethics, law, or economics. Yet Marshall seems to be disregarding choice and consent completely, as if they have no ethical implications.
As near as I can tell, he says that paying someone an “unfair” amount of money in a consensual labor agreement is morally equivalent to stealing from them. In fact, he seems to suggest that similar to slavery. But by this argument, buying a car from somebody for an amount that is “unfairly” low is the moral equivalent of stealing the car, even though the original owner consented to the exchange.
Here it’s Marshall whose argument is paralleling that of the slavery apologists. They used to say that black people didn’t really want freedom–no matter what they said–because they were all simple dumb animals. Marshall is similarly implying that people who take low-paying jobs are too dumb to know better.
Laws and regulations are in place for a reason, and that reason is the general welfare of the nation’s legal citizens.
Laws are in place because legislatures pass them. We hope that they’re there for the general welfare, and it’s useful for civil order that we pretend to believe it’s true, but have you seen how laws are made? You think they’re really getting everything right?
I realize that many (most?) of Marshall’s clients are businesses, and he can’t very well advise them to break the law, but that doesn’t mean the laws themselves are ethical. I mean, we’re talking about the United States Congress and their state equivalents. Even if you believe, say, that minimum wage laws are a good idea and that there really is a fair wage, the current minimum wage is the result of a lot of political wheeling and dealing. The bills that established the wage rates are compromises, and they’ve been influenced by campaign contributions, trade-offs for other legislation, and vacation trips provided by lobbyists. This doesn’t sound like a process that could result in anything we might call ethical.
There are laws requiring legal procedures in immigration because of vital and undeniable social, economic, demographic, health, national security, labor, social service, educational, entitlement and law enforcement considerations.
Saying that immigration procedures have a “vital and undeniable” purpose is just begging the question. Most of those issues are clearly and undeniably open to argument.
My message to the restaurateur: your problems and the price of a steak do not stand up against all of this, not by a long-shot.
I wonder how Jack Marshall goes about finding restaurants that don’t hire illegal immigrants. Does he ask? If so, does he insist on a guaranty or ask to inspect the I-9 forms? By his own argument this is ethically required, otherwise he’d be feeding money into an enterprise that encourages illegal immigration.
Or maybe he doesn’t go to restaurants, in which case I wonder where and how he gets his food. I hear that the agricultural industry has a lot of illegal immigrants working in it.
Firing 1,000 illegal immigrants, and thus creating less incentive for other illegals to follow them as well as giving those already here a good reason to go home, does not counter-balance the 1000 Americans who get their jobs.
Er, but earlier he said that American workers would have to be paid more. Unless restaurant owners have additional funds that for some reason they just haven’t been using until now, they’re not going to be able to afford to pay for as many labor hours as the illegal workers were providing. They’re going to have to cut back. When something becomes more expensive, people generally buy less of it. Labor included.
They don’t counter-balance 500 Americans or 100 Americans or even one. One American who has a job is a net gain of one law-abiding citizen who should not be out of work because of an industry’s greedy exploitation of people who have no right to be here, even if that one lucky American’s job requires all 12 million illegal immigrants to lose theirs.
Jack Marshall seems like a nice guy on his web site, so I think we can assume he doesn’t mean this in a bigoted way. On the other hand, it’s easy to pretend to win arguments about public policy if you declare that some people just don’t count. Again, slave owners bolstered their economic arguments by ignoring (or using fictitious measures of) the welfare of slaves. Yes, if illegal immigrants aren’t worth a bucket of warm spit, then we can stop worrying about the issue.
On the other hand, Marshall is also complaining about “an industry’s greedy exploitation” in the same sentence. According to Marshall, restaurants are exploiting immigrants by offering them low-paying jobs, but if the restaurants offered them no job at all, that would be fine, and forcing them out of the country would be even better.
Aaaaaarrrrrgh! It make my head hurt that people–including smart people of good will–can believe things like this. I suspect that from Marshall’s point of view I’m only going to make things worse, but I have to point out that I get the same kind of argument whenever I argue that our current laws against prostition do more harm the good. Someone inevitably responds that prostitution exploits women, while completely ignoring the fact that jail isn’t good for women either.
If giving illegal immigrants a low wage is mean, isn’t forcing them out of the job and deporting them even worse?
So: are restaurants that hire illegal immigrants ethical?
Despite everything I’ve said, there are all kinds of ethical problems related to various employment taxes and insurance issues. These would all go away if our government just let people come here to work without the pig-headed quotas and waiting lists. But I’m not quite convinced that our government’s stupidity is enough to negate the ethical obligations of the restuarant owners and their employees.
On the other hand, it may just be making the best of a bad situation. In any case, when I go to a restaurant, the immigration status of the employees never even enters my mind.