Luddism in 21st Century USA

Some days back (on October 26) the Reason website posted an opinion piece by David Harsanyi titled “The Real Luddites.” Harsanyi compares the anti-capitalists of our age to Luddites. The article came to mind after a brief conversation about immigrants and jobs. Why? I’ll get to that.

In case you don’t know who the Luddites were, I’ll tell you. The short version: Back in the early 1800s, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and some people didn’t like it. They were concerned that all that technological innovation was going to steal all their jobs and leave them unemployed and unemployable and destitute. Some of those people met in secret and decided to start smashing things like mechanical looms and cotton mills and the like as a sort of protest. The long version: the Wikipedia page about the Luddites is at the other end of this link.

Ever since then, people who object to technology and/or scientific advancements are often called Luddites. And sometimes the label is applied when someone wants to paint someone else as anti-science. There are even neo-Luddites.

So what does this have to do with immigration? What was the concern of the Luddites? That their jobs were being stolen. What is one of the complaints about immigrants? That they’re stealing/going to steal jobs from Americans. What was the response of the Luddites? To try to stop the machines being used. What is the response of those who complain about immigrants stealing jobs? To try to stop people from immigrating. It is a Luddite mentality in the 21st century U.S. of A.

What is the proper response? Well, in my opinion, just as the Luddites were wrong to destroy machines, trying to clamp down on immigration (and make no mistake you “I’m only against illegal immigration” folks, the laws we have in place now do indeed clamp down on all immigration, unless the immigrants’ names are David and Victoria Beckham) is the wrong approach to dealing with immigration.

Again, no one is arguing for more illegal immigration. The argument is that legal immigration should be much easier than it currently is. And before you start on, the “I suppose you want to make murder legal too” argument, no, I do not. Murder is a violation of a person’s right to his life. Someone you don’t know and may never meet crossing the border to be put to work by someone else is not a violation of anyone’s right. So no, immigration is not comparable to murder. Or theft. Or most other crimes you might use as examples.

What we need is more just, less strict immigration policy. If someone born and raised in New York can travel 2500 miles to take a job in California, why should we stop someone who travels from Mexico to Arizona to get a job?

Anyway, in my opinion, trying to prevent the use of new technology that has made life better was wrong. And trying to prevent immigrants from coming here to get work and do things that elevate the economy, and us as well as them, is just as wrong. And from now on, I’ll call it what it is. Luddism.

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