Peter Brimelow writes: Congressman Ron Paul was small, bent, and serious to the point of humorlessness when we met with him in an office building foyer in New Hampshire last month. We asked him if he was enjoying himself and he looked at us as if he thought we'd gone mad. But lots of Americans, including many VDARE.COM readers, are enjoying Paul's campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, not least because it raises real philosophical issues, notably the relationship between libertarianism and immigration. On the evidence of this interview, Paul is a paleolibertarian in the www.lewrockwell.com mode. He accepts the need for an institutional framework for liberty, notably the nation-state. He is intensely critical of illegal immigration and birthright citizenship. He is much less focused on legal immigration (although obviously intrigued by the idea of guestworkers) and not at all on the H1-b visa issue, although many of his supporters are software engineers. We also discussed gold and exchange rates because, after years laboring in the vineyard of financial journalism, I felt like it.
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Please start by summarizing your position on immigration.
Well, I start off with saying that it's a big problem. I don't like to get involved with the Federal Government very much, but I do think it is a federal responsibility to protect our borders. This mess has come about for various reasons. One, the laws aren't enforced. Another, the welfare state. We have a need for workers in this country because our welfare system literally encourages people not to work. Therefore, a lot of jobs go begging. This is an incentive for immigrants to come in and take those jobs.
It is compounded because of federal mandates on the states to provide free medical care—that's literally bankrupting the hospitals in Texas—and free education.
So my main point is to get rid of incentives that cause people to break the law—entitlements as well as the promise of amnesty, citizenship.
I also want to revisit the whole idea of birthright citizenship. I don't think many countries have that. I don't think it was the intention of the Fourteenth Amendment. I personally think it could be fixed by legislation. But some people argue otherwise, so I've covered myself by introducing a constitutional amendment.
How would legislation work?
It would define citizenship. Individuals that just stepped over the border illegally would not be technically "under the jurisdiction of the United States". [i.e. not "subject to the jurisdiction thereof," in the words of the Fourteenth Amendment] That's illegal entry, so they don't deserve this privilege.
What is your view on legal immigration?
I think it depends on our economy. If we have a healthy economy, I think we could be very generous on work programs. People come in, fulfill their role and go back home.
I'm not worried about legal immigration. I think we would even have more if we had a healthy economy.
But in the meantime, we want to stop the illegals. And that's why I don't think our border guards should be sent to Iraq, like we've done. I think we need more border guards. But to have the money and the personnel, we have to bring our troops home from Iraq.
Is the economy healthy enough right now?
No. I don't think so. I think the economy is going downhill. People are feeling pinched—in the middle, much more pinched than the government is willing to admit. Their standard of living is going down. I saw a clip on TV the other day about somebody who was about to lose their house, they couldn't pay their mortgage .There're millions of people involved, people are very uncertain about this housing market. That can't be separated from concern about illegals.
How many illegal immigrants do you think there are in the country now?
All I can go by is those predictions they put in the paper. It used to be 3-4 million, then it went to 7-8 million. Now it's 11-12 million! Does anybody know?
Bear Stearns made an estimate about three years ago that there were 20 million in the country. [The Underground Labor Force Is Rising To The Surface, Robert Justich and Betty Ng, CFA January 3, 2005(PDF)] What would you do with them?
I think when you know where they are, and you know they're illegal, they should be sent back. Especially if they're caught in a crime.
I think you have to be realistic. I mean, having an army to go around the country to round them up and put them in trucks and haul them out, that's not feasible. But certainly if they're signing up for a benefit, they should be sent back home, instead of given the benefit.
You'd like to restore the presumption against being a public charge?
Right. Or if they're caught in a criminal act—rather than sending them through the court system and spending all that money and then putting them up in prison, we can get them shipped out pretty fast. Unless they are a very violent criminal.
You have a long record of being a serious libertarian. You must have libertarians who are annoyed with you on this.
I imagine there are some, because there are some who are literally don't believe in any borders! Totally free immigration! I've never taken that position.
Because I believe in national sovereignty.
You think there's a role for the nation-state?
Sure. Sure. Otherwise, the vacuum is filled with international government. We won't have a national government, we'll have a United Nations government—and we already do, we have a WTO [World Trade Organization] government. But the problems we're talking about, I want them to be solved by the U.S. congress and the President. I don't want the WTO settling this dispute.
I really haven't had much grief from the hard-core libertarians. Some who might disagree with me are not very antagonistic because they know it's a big problem and that the lack of the free market is compounding that problem.
Has your thinking on immigration changed over the years?
I try to understand it better. I think it is a difficult issue. There's probably only one Republican running for the presidency right now who says "No more immigrants!" I don't think America is like that at all. I don't agree with that. But I don't believe in illegal immigration. So in many ways, I'm pretty moderate and mainstream. I'm not radical either way. I don't want to put tanks and shoot illegal immigrants as they come over, that's one extreme. The other is totally open borders—just let them flow in.
What's your understanding of what President Bush has been doing?
Oh, well, I don't think he cares about national sovereignty. Not in a serious way. Today [VDARE.COM note: this interview took place August 21] he's meeting with the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Canada and they're talking about promoting the North American Union.
You take that seriously?
Well, they're meeting today!
If you look at the Security and Prosperity Partnership's website, it says this is not an attempt to merge—
Well, that's what they said about the European Union! No, I think it's very real. We've already changes our laws directed by the WTO. And NAFTA rules overrule state and federal laws. So why should we listen to what they're telling us?
Most people didn't even know—matter of fact, I didn't even know—about the meeting in April 2005 [VDARE.COM note: at which the SPP was first agreed]. But that was pretty specific. And there's a little bit of funding here and there to fund a NAFTA highway.
Of course, they'd like to write us off as just a bunch of conspiracy theorists. But to me, conspiracy just means you're just conspiring or planning. I conspire and plan all the time. And they conspire and plan all the time.
What would you make of the argument that in order to be in favor of free trade you ought to be in favor of free immigration?
Well, I guess there's a little bit to that, but I don't think it's an absolute. Trade is different from people coming in, especially when they get benefits and when they come in illegally. I guess you can say it's an ideal that you could work toward.
We've done pretty well with Canada over the years.
How do you mean?
Well, I've lived on the Canadian border—it's almost like going into another American state. I think the racial component and the economic discrepancy south of the border make it much different living in Texas than living in Michigan.
The freer the people are, the healthier the economy, the more tolerant the people become and the more open the borders would become—like the Canadian border. But as our economy shrinks, people get more concerned about their well-being, they blame people for it. It's a lot easier to blame poor people who come over the border than it is to blame Canadians from the north.
I think if we hadn't gone in the wrong direction, it would have gotten even easier to go back and forth to Canada. But now it's becoming more difficult.
I mean just think of it—what is it, 5,000 miles? Nobody can find the boundaries. I think it's fantastic!
But the U.S. and Canada are two very similar societies.
Yeah, that's a difference too. But if we didn't keep drifting toward what Mexico is doing, becoming more socialistic, the problem would be lessened.
At the moment, legal immigration is largely driven by "family reunification", which means that an immigrant who is here can sponsor a wide range of relatives. Is that something you want to take a look at?
Once again, I don't see that it's a great danger except under today's circumstances.
Well, it's the reason legal immigrant skill levels degrade over time. They're not being selected on the basis of skills, they're being selected on the basis of relationships.
I think we need to do both. It was a good principle to say that when immigrants come in, they're on their own. They better have a sponsor. You either have a job or you have a family; you're not going on the dole.
That's not what happens now, of course.
No. It isn't. That's bad.
But you don't have a proposal do deal with that right now.
Not specifically. I'm more interested in stopping illegal immigration, stopping subsidizing illegal immigration and trying to straighten up the economy.
What about Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court Ruling that the children of illegals have to be educated in public schools?
I don't like that. I would remove all federal mandates. I would turn it back to the states.
What do you think of the H1-B program?
I've supported that because it's legal. I know some people say they don't follow the law….
The argument is that it's a form of corporate subsidy—powerful interest groups have arranged to break down their workers' wages by bringing in temporary workers.
Well, the market always works to put pressure on the businessman to spend the least amount of money to provide product. So what some may call a corporate subsidy is also a subsidy to the consumer. The consumer is the one protected in the free market. The object of labor is to push wages up as high as possible. The object of business is to get the most efficient labor at the best price. In the free market, that works out. But the problem is we have too much welfare and we have a currency that's losing value.
If you're President, various interest groups are going to come to you and say, there's a shortage of nurses or teachers or (goodness!) possibly journalists; therefore we have to have these temporary work programs to bring in labor in this area. If the labor is organized, it's going to say to you, look, the problem isn't that there's a shortage, the problem is business doesn't want to pay higher wages. What will you do?
Well, whatever we do will be legal. Congress has to have a say, they have to pass a law, and the President has to decide to sign it or not.
And I would lean in the direction of saying, if there is indeed a shortage, and this is a legal process, this shouldn't be threatening to us.
How would you determine that there was a shortage?
Well, I don't think it would be easy but if there's a need and immigrants can get a job, that means there's a shortage. If there was no shortage, they wouldn't have jobs. Obviously the companies can't fill some of these jobs and they're looking for people to fill them.
Well, the counter-argument is that they can't fill them at the price that they're offering.
That's right, but the market has to set the price. Set the product and set the price of labor.
But the argument of the displaced software engineers is that the government is colluding with the business owners to break down the price by importing temporary workers.
I don't think we should have minimum wages to protect the price of labor. I want the market to determine this. At the upper level as well.
It's really a question of defining the rules, isn't it? Is it fair for corporations to increase supply by bringing in temporary workers?
Which, means they're going to fill a need for a certain time at a certain price, by people who have come here voluntarily. Otherwise, you have to be anti-immigrant and I don't think our country is anti-immigrant. I think its anti-illegal immigrant. I think the problem you identify is occurring because we don't have a healthy free market economy and we reward people for not getting training and becoming the type of individual who might get a job in a software company.
But the question is, whose interests are you going to go with? The interests of the worker or the interests of capital?
A free market always goes with the interests of the consumer. Never the businessman and never labor. Everybody's a consumer, not everybody's a businessman.
Milton Friedman once told me that it was not possible to have free immigration and the welfare state—not possible to combine the two. You agree with that?
Maybe I read that somewhere! Maybe that's where I get my views! That's what I've been arguing here.
But that applies equally to legal immigration, you see. Because the taxpayer subsidies to legal immigrants from the welfare state are very high.
Yes, it is definitely imperfect when you have the welfare state. That's right. And corporations benefit from that too.
Which can be altered first: immigration or the welfare state?
Well, you work on both. The most important is the welfare state, but you can still beef up your borders and get rid of some incentives for illegals. The welfare state will disappear. But the odds are that it will disappear with a good deal of chaos because we're going to have a financial crisis and maybe it's already started. And then people are going to be struggling.
When our citizens see illegals using food stamps, they have to wait in line in the emergency rooms, they see illegals in our schools with bilingual education, then the resentment builds. And sometimes the resentment is out of proportion. It is my strong belief that if we had a truly free market, it would be so much healthier, that we would need a lot of people to come in and it could be done through temporary work programs. There wouldn't be this resentment and irritation. But it should be done legally. It shouldn't be done by rewarding anybody who breaks our laws.
I mean, the other people we like to blame for our problems is China. It's all China's fault! And yet we don't save money and we become dependent on them buying our goods. We become dependent on cheap labor that is encouraged by our system. So it's our economic climate and our lack of respect for our Constitution, our lack of respect and understanding of a free market that leads to our problems.
This is off-topic, but what do you think about China's pegged exchange rate?
Well it would be better if it was just determined by the market. But it's wrong for us to tell them what to do. Why should we badger them and say we want you to have a stronger yuan, which weakens our dollar.
Because that's how a fixed exchange rate-Bretton Woods-type system works, isn't it? You have to argue about exchange rates because there is no free market. To put it another way, how are you feeling about gold at the moment?
Gold? Well I think gold is real money, and I think ultimately real money wins out in the end. It too is being manipulated, just like all the other currencies.
You think the gold price is being manipulated?
By the central banks. When I first started watching gold in the 1950s and1960s, the central banks manipulated the gold price every single day. Because they dumped nearly 500 million ounces, two-thirds of our gold, at $35 an ounce, to try to pretend our dollar was stronger than it really was.
Now they do it in a more sophisticated manner. A lot of central banks have been involved in lending gold and moving it out of the market. I'm sure they're involved in the futures market. You see these prices, when common sense would tell you—well, you know—why isn't the price of gold going up? Then you see an announcement, oh, Italy's dumping 800 tons of gold—
It seems to me this brings up a lot of liability issues. If the authorities are involved in surreptitious intervention, there's lots of opportunity for insider trading.
Oh yeah, yeah—deceiving the public at the same time there are people making profits on this as well.
Nobody knows how much gold we have right now—whether they moved it or loaned it. Those are big issues we're in the dark on. We're in the dark on what our CIA does, we're in the dark about monetary manipulators. And it would be probably interesting to know exactly what the President's Working Group On Financial Markets says—what their conversations were with the central banks, what they said to China—because China has some similar interests to us. They don't want the dollar to crash either! They have to say stuff publicly for their people, and we say stuff publicly for our people.
And the real manipulators are talking behind the scenes.
Peter Brimelow is editor of VDARE.COM and author of the much-denounced Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster, (Random House - 1995) and The Worm in the Apple (HarperCollins - 2003)