Unemployment explained

Why are people unemployed? Those business plans are illegal that would make hiring them profitable. In some cases there are solid laws against particular business plans; in others the accumulation of goofy regulation has made nominally legal business plans unprofitable. But the people are still here.

In the absence of welfare, it wouldn’t be possible (in the long run) to pay a worker less than a living wage. He wouldn’t live, and then there would be no worker. Before he even starved, he wouldn’t be able to buy gas to get to work. Before that, the lender would repossess his car. Welfare makes viable some business plans that rely on paying workers less than a living wage.

Similarly, it’s not so much that immigrants take jobs. For some time now there haven’t been “jobs” as fixed things. There are business plans (and they aren’t fixed.)

The workers available are one limitation on what business plans are viable. Maybe industrial-scale poultry production is only possible if a large number of recent immigrants are available to cut up chickens in the factory. Maybe some business plans only make sense if you can have a bunch of special visa holders living in a dorm and being bused in to their cubicles every morning.

So it’s not that immigrants take jobs. It’s that constant unrestricted immigration, and the assumption that it will continue forever, affect what business plans are viable.

Fair tax?

We should talk more about remittances sent from the U.S. to other countries, like when Pierre sends money back to his family in Quebec. When I buy stuff in a neighboring state, I am obliged to pay a tax to the state in which I live, to offset the loss of sales tax revenue. Maybe something like that is in order for remittances. Should people be able to shield their income from state sales tax by sending it across the border?


The eugenist “laid the foundations of his fortune in a very curious and poetical way, the nature of which I have never fully understood. It consisted in his walking about the street without a hat and going up to another man and saying, “Suppose I have two hundred whales out of the North Sea.” To which the other man replied, “And let us imagine that I am in possession of two thousand elephants’ tusks.” They then exchange, and the first man goes up to a third man and says, “Supposing me to have lately come into the possession of two thousand elephants’ tusks, would you, etc.?” If you play this game well, you become very rich; if you play it badly you have to kill yourself or try your luck at the Bar.” — Eugenics and Other Evils, by G.K. Chesterton

It works great as long as you never need to actually deliver the whales.

Four observations

  • No amount of gritty determination will get all of us into the upper half.
  • Sawing an inch off one end and nailing it onto the other does not make the board longer.
  • Some business plans are unsustainable in a democracy.
  • The funny thing about a cargo cult is, sometimes the planes come.

Externalizing the cost

Suppose immigrants from Somalia make the US a better place in the long term – more vibrancy, richer tapestry, spicier salad bowl, whatever, it works out in the long term.

First, we never get to the long term. After the Somalis it’ll be the Congolese, then the Uighurs, then, who knows? the Latvians, or the Hutus, the Mancunians, the Savoyards.

Second, the long term benefits accrue to the Somalis, and to the upper class. The short term costs are born by those racists at the bottom who can’t live in a gated community and send their child to private school.

It’s part of a larger pattern. The people in charge make policy regardless of what the rest of us want, externalizing the cost of that policy while capturing the benefit. Then they condemn us as bitter clingers, racists, and resentful older brothers.

Failed leaders

There is one strong, startling, outstanding thing about Eugenics, and that is its meanness. Wealth, and the social science supported by wealth, had tried an inhuman experiment. The experiment had entirely failed. They sought to make wealth accumulate–and they made men decay. Then, instead of confessing the error, and trying to restore the wealth, or attempting to repair the decay, they are trying to cover their first cruel experiment with a more cruel experiment. They put a poisonous plaster on a poisoned wound. Vilest of all, they actually quote the bewilderment produced among the poor by their first blunder as a reason for allowing them to blunder again. They are apparently ready to arrest all the opponents of their system as mad, merely because the system was maddening. Suppose a captain had collected volunteers in a hot, waste country by the assurance that he could lead them to water, and knew where to meet the rest of his regiment. Suppose he led them wrong, to a place where the regiment could not be for days, and there was no water. And suppose sunstroke struck them down on the sand man after man, and they kicked and danced and raved. And, when at last the regiment came, suppose the captain successfully concealed his mistake, because all his men had suffered too much from it to testify to its ever having occurred. What would you think of the gallant captain? It is pretty much what I think of this particular captain of industry. — Eugenics and Other Evils, by G.K. Chesterton, 1922