29 October 2014

Amnesty Will Lead to Financial, Social, and Political Harm

Stephen Kershnar
Amnesty and Democrats
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 26, 2014

The election less than a week away is about two issues: amnesty for illegal aliens and Obamacare. The U.S. is at a tipping point on whether or not it will become more socialist than capitalist and whether Constitutional protections will largely fade away. Amnesty will tip us in the wrong direction on both issues.

A vote for Democrat candidates is a vote for amnesty in that almost every Democratic politician (see, for example, Martha Robertson) either has or will support some type of amnesty. The same is true of the many Republicans in name only, but they are more vulnerable to pressure from the Republican base.

Consider an analogy. A community lives in a rural part of Montana and, on average, they are reasonably happy, financially successful, and have strong families and community ties. In short, their town works well for them. The mayor plans to invite people from a variety of third world countries who are poorer, less educated, less intelligent, and less committed to family values. If this happens, taxes will go way up and the town’s poor people will face stiffer competition for jobs and lower wages. The community ties will weaken as people become less interested in communal life and increasingly distrustful of their neighbors. The townspeople should fire the mayor and his cronies and escort them to the door. The American people should do the same. 

The flood of illegal aliens (75% are Latino and 59% come from Mexico) is a bad deal. Compared to current Americans, illegal aliens are poorer, less educated, less intelligent, and less committed to family values. What’s more, these conditions are likely to persist for several generations. None of the comparative claims is controversial.

Consider poverty. According to a 2012 study by Center for Immigration Studies, 30% of illegal aliens and their US-born children live in poverty, more than double the rate of other Americans. Consider education. According to a 2013 study by the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector and Jason Richwine, the typical illegal alien has a 10th grade education. Consider intelligence. There is little debate that illegal aliens have lower IQs and that this will persist for at least another generation. The debate focuses on what explains the gap and whether it will disappear with time. Most likely it won’t, but even if it will, this is still a problem for a while. 

Consider family values. Writing in City Journal in 2007, Heather Mac Donald points out that 45% of children born to Hispanic women are out-of-wedlock. Only black women do so with greater frequently. My assumption is that those who have children out of wedlock are, on average, less committed to family values than those who do not. 

The reason for the economic problems with amnestying illegal aliens, according to Rector and Richwine, is that the U.S. government massively redistributes wealth. They point out that well-educated households tend to pay far more in taxes than they get in benefits (specifically, direct and means-tested benefits, education, and population-based services). For example, in 2010, they note that, on average, the average college-educated household (head of household has a college degree) received, $24,839 in government benefits and paid $54,089 in taxes. They thus put in $29,250 more than they took out. 

Other households, Rector and Richwine point out, get far more in benefits than they pay in taxes. The government has to pay for these households by taking money from more successful households or by borrowing it (national debt is now $18 trillion). For example, in 2010, they note, households headed by people without a high school degree received, on average, $46,582 in government benefits and paid out $11,469 in taxes. They thus took out $35,113 more than they put in.

Rector and Richwine argue that the difference between those putting money in and those taking it out matters here because the typical illegal alien has only a 10th-grade education, half of illegal-alien households are headed by an individual with less than a high school degree, and another 25% are headed by an individual with only a high school degree. That is, illegal aliens will take far more out than they’ll put in.

In addition to being bad for taxpayers, the flood of low-skill illegal aliens is bad for the American poor. The estimates here vary. The dean of immigration economics, Harvard University’s George Borjas, in a 2005 study, found that Mexican immigration significantly reduced high school drop-outs (immigrants’ competitors) wages both in the short and long run. Some other economists, although not all, found a similar pattern. 

Current Americans will likely lose out socially as well as economically because Hispanic immigrants are dissimilar to them. Friendships are surprisingly homogeneous. Writing in the Washington Post, Joel Achenbach points out that friends are as genetically close to us as fourth cousins. Marriages are more likely to be successful when the couple is similar. Harvard professor Robert Putnam argues that people in diverse communities have weaker community ties. Specifically, they tend to withdraw from collective life, distrust their neighbors (regardless of the color of their skin), withdraw from even close friends, expect the worst from their community and its leaders, volunteer less, give less to charity, and work on community projects less often.

There is some evidence that Barack Obama is gearing up for a massive executive amnesty. He’s already taken the first step. When Obama asked Congress to exempt certain illegal aliens (particularly children) in his proposed Dream Act, Congress refused to do it. Obama merely proceeded as if the Act had been passed and ordered immigration enforcement agencies to act as if it were in effect.

More recently, roughly 70% of immigrant families the Obama administration had released into the U.S. following the recent surge from Central America never showed up weeks later for follow-up appointments. Also, the Obama administration has supposedly been telling activist groups that after the election it will implement amnesty via executive order.

One can see why Obama and Democrats would welcome amnesty. The recent class of immigrants votes very differently than do natives, especially those of European ancestry. 71% of Hispanics voted for Obama and, on one poll, 75% support bigger government. Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner points out that were the Obama-Romney election to have occurred with the 1980 electorate, Romney would have easily won. The Senate amnesty program would have legalized more than 30 million immigrants, enough to shove the country far to the left.

Voters face the following issues: do they want amnesty and, if not, is this an important issue? If you answer no and yes, it becomes harder to vote for the Democrats. 

15 October 2014

Atonement Theory Does Not Work

Stephen Kershnar
Atonement Theory and Atheism
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 28, 2014

Today, religion is in retreat and atheism on the rise.

A Gallup poll found that, worldwide, 13% of people are atheists and another 23% are non-religious. People are leaving religion in droves. 9% fewer people see themselves as religious today (2012 poll) than did so seven years earlier. This is especially true for Jews. Less than 40% see themselves as religious.

Writing in The Christian Science Monitor, Rieke Havertz points out that in the U.S. religion is 
declining. The same Gallup poll found that one out of three Americans don’t consider themselves religious. The number who are religious has dropped sharply (73% to 60% in the last seven years) and atheists, while still rare, rose from 1 to 5%. This pattern will continue. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that young adults (people under age 30) are far less likely to be religiously affiliated than others.

One reason for people losing their religion is that religious doctrines don’t withstand scrutiny. One example of a flawed doctrine is Christianity’s atonement theory. The theory asserts that the suffering and death of Jesus explains why God forgives or pardons people for their sins. The Bible repeatedly asserts this. See, for example, 1 Peter 2:24 and 1 Peter 3:18. There are, roughly, four theories that explain how atonement works and none succeed. I should mention that some of the ideas for this column come from an outstanding colleague, Dale Tuggy, although he undoubtedly disagrees with this column.

One of the earliest theories (Ransom Theory) held that Jesus gave his own life as a sacrifice to buy mankind from Satan (that is, he paid ransom for them). See Mathew 20:28. Even if one believes Satan exists, St. Anselm demolished this argument by pointing out that it is nonsensical to see God as having a debt to him. In addition, God is powerful enough and morally permitted to limit Satan’s powers or make him a better person. Perhaps he could have made Satan’s heart grow three times larger, as happened to the Grinch. A related theory (Christus Victor) sees Jesus’ suffering and death as part of God’s defeat of Satan. Again, God could simply have taken away Satan’s powers.

St. Anselm and St. Aquinas adopted a second theory (satisfaction theory) that holds that human beings are so full of evil and sin that they owe a debt to God. The debt might be one of honor or justice. On this theory, the debt was paid off via Jesus’ suffering and death. The problem with this theory is that it is hard to see why human beings owe a debt to God. If they’ve injured each other, then it is to each other that debts are owed.

Even if the debt were owed to God, it is unclear why God wouldn’t merely forgive it. Creditors forgive debtors all the time. This is especially true when a creditor (for example, a father) loves the debtor (for example, a son). A loving deity would do so unless he wanted to teach his debtors a lesson and this is a different theory.

This theory makes even less sense if one believes in the trinity, that is, God exists in three people (three distinct people each wholly and entirely identical to God). If so, it is odd that God had to sacrifice himself to himself to pay off someone else’s debt. He could have just forgiven them in a straightforward manner.

A third theory, penal substitution, is a distinctly Protestant theory and was defended by Martin Luther and John Calvin. This theory holds that God punished Jesus, who didn’t sin, instead of punishing people who did. Again, it’s hard to see to why God has a right to punish people for what they do to each other. Murder, rape, and robbery victimize fellow human beings and it is they, or their loved ones, who have a right to punish the evildoer. Under some conditions, the state has a right to do so if the victims transferred their right to it. Even if God has such a right to punish sinners, he still can and should forgive or pardon them.

Even if he can’t pardon or forgive them, it is unjust for God to severely punish one person for what another did. For example, Ted Bundy raped and killed innocent women. Justice doesn’t allow the state to torture and hang his mother. This is true even if she wants to be substituted in for her son.

This theory is plagued by additional problems. If one person’s suffering can satisfy the demands of justice ahead of time, then people’s sins are pre-paid and they may not punished or even given demerits for sinning in the future. The sins would have been paid for ahead of time similar to how some people used to have pre-paid phone cards.

In any case, Jesus’ suffering was finite and, on some accounts, people’s sins are infinite (which is why some deserve hell) and so, on this theory, Jesus didn’t suffer nearly enough.

If we assume the trinity is true, then God punishes himself in order to forgive or pardon others. Would it have made sense for the Central Park jogger who was beaten and raped to punish herself as a way of forgiving or pardoning her attacker? Obviously not.

A fourth theory asserts that Jesus’ suffering was a means of leading humanity to change itself morally and is associated with one of the most significant philosophers of the Middle Ages, Peter Abelard. Surely, there have to be better ways to teach people to love one other than to torture and kill an innocent.

Even if there weren’t, it is hard to see why this would be the right thing to do. If the best way to get human beings to love one another were to torture and kill Miley Cyrus, this still wouldn’t be okay. 

And if the trinity is true, God tortures himself in order to instruct others on loving their neighbor. This is just weird.

Despite being put forth by world-class intellectuals, none of these theories work. This failure and ones like it are forcing religion into retreat. 

17 September 2014

Police, Heroism, and the Consequences of Mistaken Attitudes

Stephen Kershnar
The Consequences of Mistaken Attitudes about the Police
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 15. 2014

There are a trio of mistaken ideas about the police in the U.S. and these ideas result in bad policies.

Two mistaken ideas about the police are that it is an especially dangerous job and that there are far too few officers. As a result of the perceived danger and perilously thin blue line, the Fourth Amendment’s ban on searches without probable cause or a warrant has to be cut back. Also, because the police are outgunned and undermanned, there has to be an increasingly aggressive style of policing, the most extreme being military-style SWAT teams and no-knock raids. A third mistaken idea is that police officers are heroes in a way that truck drivers, farmers, and construction workers are not. As a result, any attempt to cut their benefits to the level of teachers and other government workers or their numbers is beyond the pale.  

First, the notion that a police officer is an especially dangerous job in part explains why police officers are, in some circumstances, allowed to search the cab of a car, an arrestee, pedestrians thought to have weapons, and so on without probable cause or a warrant. Officer safety was cited as a reason that police should be able to search an arrestee’s cell phone without a warrant. Fortunately, the Supreme Court didn’t buy it.  

Concern for officer safety also, in part, explains the growing militarization of the police. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Radley Balko points out that that Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams were relatively rare in the 1970’s and have become distressingly common. In 1975, he notes, there were only 500 such units. By the early 1980’s, 13% of mid-sized towns (between 25,000 and 50,000) had such teams, by 2005 80% did. Similarly, in the early 1980’s, SWAT teams conducted 3,000 raids a year, by 2005, they were doing 50,000 raids per year. Balko reports that over recent years, the Department of Homeland Security has handed out $35 billion in grants to police departments, much of it to purchase military gear. The Pentagon has also been doling out military equipment by the hundreds of millions.

It is hard to see what justifies this fast-growing militarization and related military tactics such as no-knock raids. The crime rate (including violent crime) is significantly lower than it was in the 1970’s. Nor are police outgunned. For example, only a tiny fraction of homicides in the U.S. are committed with military-grade weapons.

Contrary to one of the underlying justifications of these searches and militarization, being a police officer is not an especially dangerous job. According to 2013 Bureau of Labor statistics, farmers, truck drivers, pilots, roofers, construction workers, and power line workers face a greater chance of death at work and yet they don’t have a reputation for facing down death. When police officers do get killed, it is more often in a traffic-related accident than by a gun.  

Nor are the police undermanned. The rate of police officers per citizen is on the low side by worldwide standards. However, writing in The New York Times, Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev point out that the U.S. leads the world in protective service employees (police officers, private security guards, correction officers, members of the military, and so on). Many of these jobs supplement officers’ services.

This issue matters because protecting officers’ jobs in part explains why civil forfeiture proceedings (the lion’s share goes to local cops and prosecutors) against allegedly dirty money (not dirty people) have become big business. This also explains in part why traffic tickets and warrants related to them have become shockingly common in some parts of the country (for example, around Saint Louis, Missouri).

A related notion is that police are heroes in a way in which farmers, truck drivers, and construction workers are not and hence their numbers and benefits dare not be cut. A hero is someone who makes a great sacrifice to benefit others and whose effort is reasonable.

It is unclear that police officers make sacrifices that farmers, truck drivers, and construction workers don’t make. As mentioned above, those other jobs face a greater risk of death. Farmers make more money than do the police, truck drivers and construction workers make less, but the comparisons are hard to make because the police get generous retirement benefits that the others don’t. For example, writing in The New York Times, Joseph Berger points out that a New York City police officer is eligible to retire after 20 years and most do retire upon hitting that milestone. The retirement benefits start up right away and are paid out even when a former officer gets another full-time job. Farmers and construction workers can only dream of such a deal.   

Nor is it obvious that police officers are more motivated by altruism than are other workers. People tend to take jobs that fit their preferences. Being a police officer might involve higher pay and fewer hours than being a farmer, but more conflict and distasteful tasks (for example, handing out tickets). There is no one answer as to whether one set of job features is better than another, instead, this differs between people. Different preferences are what lead people to sort themselves out into different jobs.

Even the reasonable benefit condition is not obvious. While it is clear that deterring violence and property crime is good for society, locking up large numbers of people for victimless crimes such as drugs likely makes the American people worse off. For example, the U.S. leads the world in incarceration rate and total number of people incarcerated (it has 25% of the world’s prisoners). This is not good for a free people.   

The hero status has led in part to a hesitation to cut the number of positions or compensation for first responders (police and firefighters) in a way similar to how other government employees’ numbers and pay has been cut. Contaminating the discussion of these issues with the “hero” label certainly does not help.   

Like farmers, truck drivers, and construction workers, the police perform a valuable service. I doubt they want their job mythologized any more than they want their children to lose liberty because of the mythologies.