Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Gumballs and Immigration

There is an old video making the internet rounds again that proves most people can be swayed be any argument if it: (a) uses colorful props, (b) reduces the amount of actual thinking the audience has to do, and (c) comes to a conclusion that makes the audience feel better about themselves.

In the video in question, Roy Beck tries to make the case that all LEGAL immigration should be ended by the United States. The way he presents his case is:

-He uses gumballs to help people wrap their minds around the huge numbers involved, (and to mask the immensity of the numbers at the same time.)

-He claims that the point of immigration policy is to end world poverty, and declares that to be an impossible task, so we should stop trying.

-He tries to make the case that immigration is actually hurting the poor in the rest of the world, by removing people that should be making a difference where they are.

Let’s begin with his flashy, colorful, gumball slight of hand that has everyone declaring him to be the most insightful man on immigration. Sure, visual aides are always a good idea when you tackle huge numbers. He lets us see the sheer immensity of the problem that poverty is in the world. It is astounding to think that one out of every three people in the world have to live on less than 2 dollars a day. That is a lot of people.

The problem is that his demonstration also diminishes the numbers being helped. He casually mentions (and uses a single gumball to represent) that one million people a year enter the US legally. If that is accurate, then since 1990, around 26 million people have been able to escape their circumstances in hope of better prospects. That is no small number.

An equivalent argument would be to claim that, compared to the sheer number of orphans in the world, a single life changed isn’t worth it so no one should ever adopt a child. This is the ridiculous reasoning of someone trying to justify a desire to not make an effort.

He also presents the whole complex issue of immigration as a straw man: “Some people say that mass immigration into the United States can help reduce world poverty.” Who? Has anyone ever claimed that we could solve world poverty by having all the poor people move to the US? That is a silly claim that is easily countered, but it doesn’t matter because it is a false argument.

Today a lot of people who are trying to escape to the US (and other western countries) are escaping war, genocide, and religious persecution. The United States is in no position to tell people they shouldn’t try to escape such circumstances. We were founded by people seeking religious freedom. And, our recent history offers no grounds for a holier than thou attitude. We similarly rejected millions of Jews trying to escape Europe in the 30s and 40s. What we are considering today may be just as shameful.

Finally, Mr. Beck gives his audience a reason to feel just fine if they give into fear, hatred and racism. It turns out, he claims, that we are doing all those poor people in the world a favor by rejecting refugee requests. The people who want to come to the US are clearly the “best of the best” so they will make their home countries a better place by staying there. Where is the data to back up such claims? Don’t think about that! Just look at these gumballs I am spilling on the ground dramatically!

And all of this from a guy who is making the argument that we should stop letting a mere one million people into the country every year. If the US were a town of 1,000 people, that would be the equivalent of 3 people moving into town every year. Meanwhile, that town would have 13 births and 7 deaths every year. So, actually, the town/country needs a large immigration rate if they want to see a healthy work-force growth.

Chew on that.

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