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Monday, April 24, 2006

Immigration as Religion

The USSR, requiem in pace, required internal passports. If you wished to travel from one city to another, one state to another, one region to another, your papers had to be in order. Capitalists long derided this backwards approach to the government-controlled economy.

The US has never had internal passports for cities, for states or for regions. It is unusual precisely in its freedom of movement. Indeed, the interstate commerce clause in the Constitution forbids any tax to be assessed on goods that move between states. This is rightly seen as a major factor in American economic success.

Similarly, while America has certainly had no small history of protectionism, American protectionism is not seen in a positive light. Most economists agree: anything that impedes trade is a problem.

America has long believed the world should be made safe for democracy. It has likewise long believed capitalism is the beating heart of the economic system. Thus, making the world safe for democracy means making the world safe for capitalism.

But here’s a puzzler: if the whole world were converted to democracy and capitalism, would anyone need a passport? If so, why? How is travel between London and New York different from travel between Los Angeles and New York or Honolulu and New York? Sure, there are different cultures in each city, but there were different cultures between Moscow and St. Petersburg, between St. Petersburg and Kiev. So what is the point of a passport?

A passport is a tariff. It restricts the free exchange of persons in much the same way that a tariff restricts the free exchange of goods. Just as immigration controls could be considered tariffs on human persons, tariffs might be considered a kind of immigration quota for inanimate objects.

When we view passports and immigration in this light, a lot of things become rather puzzling. For instance, while I am neither an ardent capitalist nor an advocate of world government, it’s hard to see why ardent capitalists would be opposed to world government.

If capitalists are interested in the free movement of resources for the purposes of strengthening economic ties, then what greater resource is there besides the human persons who create those resources to begin with? Goods create culture precisely because people create goods. Goods express human ideas and are as stabilizing or destabilizing as the people who created them. If one should be freely exchanged, why not the other?

As we have noted above, a tariff is merely a way to restrict the movement of that which is under tariff. Why would a capitalist ask for tariffs on goods to be abolished but insist that tariffs on workers be strengthened?

The short answer is most capitalists don’t. The lax enforcement of immigration laws is the business world’s answer to the protectionist insanity which is immigration law. But logical consistency on this point is in short supply. For instance, it is easy to find such sterling economists as Thomas Sowell write against illegal immigration and against legal tariffs.

Tariffs and Religion

It is well known that individual Christian religions have different communion policies, and these policies change according to clear rules. For instance, some Christians understand that the act of receiving communion causes communion. At the same time, it is a sign that the communicant accepts all that the body of believers accept. For such Christians, communion policies are strict. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, for instance, do not allow any but professed, baptized, catechized believers who are in a state of grace to receive.

But in many other Christian faiths, communion is simply seen as an ordinance – something God commanded for no particularly obvious reason. For them, Christians commune not as a statement of belief or a sign, much less a cause, of communion. Rather, it is done because God told us we should, period. Such Christians admit nearly anyone who comes forward to receive. You need not be of that particular faith or of the Christian faith or even of any faith at all – you can receive communion simply by showing up.

It is ironic that the faith with one of the strictest policies on divine communion has one of the most lenient understandings of the interpersonal communion we call immigration.

As Rachel Zoll, the AP’s religion writer, points out, “St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who publicly said in 2004 he would refuse to give Holy Communion to Kerry, was among many church leaders who organized recent rallies in favor of giving undocumented workers a chance at citizenship. Burke noted that American Catholics were immigrants themselves, and that by welcoming migrants, ‘we obey the command of Our Lord, who tells us that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Christ Himself.’ ”

Catholics tend to view immigration and emigration as a natural right that exists independent of the laws of any particular country. Catholics point to the numerous emigrations and immigrations made by the Holy Family, and the itinerant wanderings of every apostle and most of the saints as a demonstration that the movement of peoples should not be restricted without very good reason.

Protestantism, on the other hand, the group of religions with the most lenient communion policies, tends to be the strictest towards population movement. Indeed, as we saw at the beginning of the article, the people who believed least in God – socialist atheists – were the ones with the most strongly enforced immigration policy.

Communion policies, whether this concerns policies about inanimate objects (the communion of goods), immigration (the communion of saints) or the Lord’s Supper (communion with God Himself), are based in what is deemed crucial, ‘cross-driven.’ Unlike other faiths, Catholics worry about creating and maintaining a culture of life that images God’s own life. For us, the only passport that matters is the One we receive on the tongue each Sunday, the One who is the passport to heaven.

1 comment:

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