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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Immigration Reform: Revive the Bracero Program?
Created by John Eipper on 10/26/15 1:25 PM

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Immigration Reform: Revive the Bracero Program? (Hall Gardner, -France, 10/26/15 1:25 pm)

I am writing in strong support of John E's proposal "opportunity visa" following the excellent discussion of the Bracero program and on immigrant spending by Richard Hankock and Timothy Brown.

Another factor to consider is how much of the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been put into the IRS "earnings suspense file" by undocumented immigrants can be put into such an "opportunity visa" program and into the US Social Security system in general.

http://seniorsleague.org/2013/growth-of-the-social-security-earnings-suspense-file-points-to-the-rising-potential-cost-of-unauthorized-work-to-social-security-2/

The other side of the coin is the billions of dollars of remittances that undocumented immigrants in the US send back to their countries and that help float the economies of Central America and even Mexico to a certain extent. What would happen to these countries if the flow of these funds were significantly reduced?

I discussed these issues, and those of the drug war presently ravaging the region, in Chapter 9 of my book Averting Global War (Palgrave Macmillan 2010) which is available in paperback. In many ways, the situation with the drug wars and the immigration crisis is much worse five years after I wrote that book. In my view, the failure to soon implement sound immigration and drug policies will lead to increased American xenophobia on the domestic side and will augment dangerous steps toward American isolationism on the international side---as the US will increasingly find itself drawn into hemispheric affairs and crises in Central America and Mexico, if not in Latin America in general.

And I thank Roman Zhovtulya for putting up my WAIS conference talk on the web; the sound is excellent, even if I was too close to the screen! And I thank John for posting the academic version of my speech, "From World War I to Today: Comparative Hegemonic Rivalries and the Disintegration of Global Order."

http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=99588&objectTypeId=79717&topicId=18

JE comments:  My pleasure, Hall!  And you will go down in WAIS history as the first person to present at one of our conferences from a different continent.  It was almost as good as having you with us, except you missed out on the Sunday-afternoon finger sandwiches. 

Here's the link to the entire video program of WAIS '15:

http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=99464&objectTypeId=79688&topicId=182


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  • How Big is the Labor Black Market? (Timothy Brown, USA 10/27/15 3:50 PM)
    In response to Hall Gardner (26 October), based on rough calculations, the Black Market in labor runs about $400 billion a year and the Black Market in narcotics about $450 b. per year. But those are just two money flows. One of the oddest, at least to me, is that the US taxpayer also spends at least another $400 b. or so a year to fight the so-called "Drug War," even though we have about 67,000 "pharmacies" legally licensed to market "drugs" that can be as addictive and injurious as the illegal ones. One big difference being that they have to collect sales taxes, while the drug cartels do not.

    As regards flows of remittances, per the IMF, the worldwide value of remittances in 2011 was US$483 billion, with some $350 billion going to developing countries, 10% or so from the US. (http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/basics/remitt.htm then remittance statistics.) Per the OECD, global foreign development assistance in 2012 in current USDs totaled $126.7 billion, of which 32% was from the US. Planned US foreign aid in FY 2016 is $33.7 billion.


    http://www.globalissues.org/article/35/foreign-aid-development-assistance#2013aidrebounds . And http://beta.foreignassistance.gov/


    Big numbers, yes. But one key question is how much bang per buck reaches those most in need, the poor. In my personal experience running two AID programs (admittedly as dated as I am), only about 10-15% of US foreign aid reaches the poor in developing countries. The rest is spent on overhead. Whereas, 85-90% of remittances sent home by persons working here reaches their families. What does this mean?


    We of the rich world have been preaching that we have a moral obligation to help poorer countries develop and been putting billions of dollars where our mouths are via foreign assistance programs run by us--and wasting 90% of it, as my AID colleagues repeatedly said in private, but never in public. Foreign aid is a process by which "the poor in rich countries send money to the rich in poor countries." So, using the stats above, my conclusion is that foreign aid is a bust that makes us feel good about ourselves but has never developed a single country, while 90% of remittances reach the poor abroad and anger us because "foreigners" are stealing our money so we need to seal our borders.


    My own suggestion is that we stop standing reality on its head and harness remittances by foreign labor to bottom-up development while abolish almost all of our top-down foreign aid programs. It's a solution that, were it not for partisan politics, should make conservatives happy because we could get rid of foreign aid, one of their favorite "bete noirs," while simultaneously making liberals happy by "helping poor countries develop," one of their favorite mantras. But I suppose that would require their working together for the common good. So all I can do is dream.


    JE comments: Tim Brown talks a lot of sense. Policymakers--why aren't more of you reading WAIS?

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    • War on Drugs; Foreign Aid (Tor Guimaraes, USA 10/30/15 6:46 PM)
      Wow! Timothy Brown (27 October) is right on the money regarding some issues dead serious to American survival as a great nation: Our "war on drugs" and welfare to foreign nations. Also I love the expression "Foreign aid is a process by which the poor in rich countries send money to the rich in poor countries." It is clever and absolutely true. Congratulations to Tim on a great post.

      To me these problems are specific illustrations of how over the last few decades our government has managed to waste trillions of dollars through our "foreign relations" by legally stealing the money from US taxpayers and giving it to the "right people." Rest assured behind every apparently stupid government replacement, nation-building, wars for whatever false excuses, some private interests (oil companies, weapons manufacturers, big farmers, beneficiaries from NAFTA, TPP, etc.) have been or will be making a lot of profits and financing many elections.


      JE comments: Today's historic bombshell: US ground troops in Syria. We need to discuss this.

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    • Remittances and "Bottom-Up" Development; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 11/05/15 4:54 AM)

      Gary Moore writes:



      How does Timothy Brown (27 October) propose to harness remittances by foreign labor
      to bottom-up development? Doesn't he say that the remitters themselves
      are already doing that--contributing concretely to their hometown economies?


      Would he have us take some of their remittance money away from them so
      we can channel it more wisely? Aside from individually, a large number of
      Clubes de Oriundos (HTAs, or Hometown Associations) in Mexican immigrant
      communities inside the United States are already pooling portions of their
      remittances to fund joint development projects in their hometowns in Mexico,
      such as road-building. There have been some impressive results. And yes, the
      spoilsport experts nonetheless point out that, while productive and inspiring,
      these efforts form only a drop in the bucket as to changing Mexico's basic dilemmas.


      http://www.pbs.org/pov/thesixthsection/special_mexican.php



      https://clas.uchicago.edu/sites/clas.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/BadaMHRNAC.pdf


      I've probably missed something in Timothy's argument. He recommends using
      immigrant remittances to replace foreign aid. Maybe I'll grasp this once he explains
      how he will do this without taking the remittances away from the remitters, and
      how the new procedures would spur development that the remittances aren't already
      spurring anyway.


      JE comments:  If I may summarize Tim Brown's proposal, it is to set up mandatory savings accounts for guest workers.  The money would be returned upon the worker's return to his or her home country.  By bringing up the HTAs, Gary Moore reminds us that a significant amount of "bottom-up" development is already taking place.


      Tim explained his plan back in May.  One concern popped into my head:  how would you keep the cartels from victimizing the newly returned guest workers?


      https://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=93535&objectTypeId=77961&topicId=127


       

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      • Mandated Savings Account for Guest Workers? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 11/08/15 4:38 PM)
        Ric Mauricio writes:

        I found Timothy Brown's proposal for mandatory savings accounts for guest workers in the US to be quite an intriguing concept. (See, most recently, Gary Moore, 5 November.)


        In retail, it is not just enough to sell product at an acceptable margin, but to turn over that product as quickly as possible, to generate volume to accelerate profit growth. The concept is not unlike the Eighth Wonder of the world: compounding. Compounding at a daily rate produces astoundingly superior results than compounding annually.


        The only beneficiaries of the mandatory savings accounts would be the banks, since they would pay the guest worker an annual .1% interest, while lending it out at a 3.5% to 12% interest rate, many times over (compounding). To me, this is akin to transferring the "cartel" from foreign soil to American soil.


        There seems to be a prevailing attitude that the government will take care of you. Should we ask the Native American Indian how that worked out? Should we ask our current Social Security recipients, who will receive no COLA increase this year (due to no inflation as calculated by the heavily manipulated chained CPI calculation), and in some cases, will experience an increase in Medicare premiums, how that worked out?


        Recently, the government unveiled the MyRA, a low cost IRA alternative that will invest in US Savings Bonds. Let's see, it pays around 2%, while real inflation (caused by the creation of new money; note that I did not say "printing," new money is mostly digital, oh, like bitcoin) is between 2% to 10%, depending upon what expenses one is looking at. It helps the US government, who has just issued you a digital IOU in exchange for your digital dollars, but it certainly does not help the MyRA investor. Oh, yes, the government is certainly looking out for your best interest.


        My guess that with HTAs at work, that guest worker remittances are a healthy adjunct to foreign aid. It is truly teaching guest workers how to fish, rather than just giving them the fish.


        JE comments:  The "empowerment accounts" would face some PR challenges certainly, especially with immigrants inclined to distrust government programs.  I hope Tim Brown will fine tune his proposal in a future post.  What kind of interest should be paid on these accounts?  I would say at least the rate of a Treasury note.



         

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        • Mandated Savings Account for US Guest Workers? (Timothy Brown, USA 11/09/15 4:20 PM)
          I very much appreciate the thoughtful and constructive comments of my colleagues on my immigration proposal. (See, most recently, Ric Mauricio, 8 November.)

          Perhaps some further clarifications of my admittedly rather terse explanation of some of its parts will help move the discussion along. Just to address Ric's concern that private banks, not workers, would benefit from the 10% of income savings aspect. Having, over the decades, done a bit of financial analyses of banking systems of Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, he may find it reassuring that three key parts of my proposal are specifically designed to favor the workers by maximizing both the short-term security and long-term value of the worker's savings into USG-controlled dollar accounts.


          One more immediate benefits for the workers would be to reduce the cost of remitting funds to their countries from today's average of 7.8% (per the World Bank) to zero by adding a system of guest worker remittances to our already existing decades-long systems of sending US dollar checks to Social Security, veteran and other overseas beneficiaries of USG programs via our consular offices abroad. This would extend to guest workers an immediate monetary benefit. It would also greatly improve the security of their transfers by assuring that they go directly to their families. As for the management of their 10% savings, these would be deposited in US government-controlled dollar accounts, not simply in local banks to be used as the banks see fit and, over time, their end dollar value would be compounded. Today, each country has its own currency that floats against the US dollar. While nominal interest rates in local currencies may seem high, real rates rarely exceed dollar rates. Even at low US Treasury rates, the compound interest that worker accounts would earn could be expected to increase the value of their savings by a compounded rate far above what they would earn by any other licit means.


          (More later. The dinner bell just rang!)


          JE comments: My dinner bell has rung, too! This post from Tim Brown actually came in last night, but I'm behind on my WAIS editing.  Más vale tarde que nunca, Tim!


          I hope Tim can clarify his claim about interest rates.  I've always thought that "real" interest rates in most of the developing world far exceed US levels.  I just found a dollar-based mortgage offer for Mexican properties, which requires a 35% down payment and charges 8% on a 20-year mortgage.  This would be considered usurious in the United States.

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          • Interest Rates in Latin America (Timothy Brown, USA 11/10/15 4:52 AM)
            To answer John E's questions of 9 November, I have bought property in Costa Rica, but not in Mexico. But 8%/20 years seems fairly reasonable if the borrower has a USD income. But, if like most Mexicans their income is in Mexican pesos (MXN), then, since in just the last six months the peso to USD has devalued from around 15 to 17 to the dollar (about 13%), the borrower's real versus nominal cost of the mortgage would have been about 34%. (8% + 26%)

            If, on the other hand, the buyer had been a beneficiary of the mandatory 10% savings system I've suggested and also sent, let's say, 30% of his $1,000 per month salary ($300 USD per month) to his family in Mexico, his family's peso income from his remittance would have gone from 4,500 MXD to 5,100 MXD per month.


            Had the worker been in the US for 11 months per year, their mandatory "saving" would have been $1,000 USD per year (think IRAs or other pension systems) that would be earning an average of 3% per year for 20 years and the MXD continued to decline at historical levels, their dollar savings would have grown to $30,000+ and their MXN value would easily have doubled.


            Incidentally, I hate math.


            JE comments: As Barbie used to say prior to her Liberation, "Math class is tough!"


            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NO0cvqT1tAE


            The more Tim Brown explains his savings plan, the more I'm impressed.  It would, however, require the oversight of an enormous new bureaucracy.  Wouldn't these administrative costs have to come from the workers themselves?


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            • Mandated Savings Account for Guest Workers? Administrative Costs (Timothy Brown, USA 11/11/15 3:56 AM)
              John Eipper asked a question about the costs of administering the guest worker savings account system I've suggested. Interestingly, I understand that a proposal already before the Congress would increase the H visa (temporary workers and their families) including, H agricultural worker visas, a measure that would address one major piece of the proposal.

              On the costs of the proposed program, we already have in place a visa processing system that handled almost ten million non-immigrant visas in 2014, including H2s and 4s (agricultural workers and accompanying non-working family members) and Border crossing cards. Of these, perhaps 200,000+ were H2s or H4s. We already have well over 150 US Foreign Service consuls in place in Mexico and northern Central America to handle today's visa load. So adding another 200,000 or so to their load might require (and here I'm making a vaguely informed guess) assigning another 100 or so to manage the visa application flow. Additional immigration personnel would also have to be put in place, as would the number of officials that manage petitions in the US. But, at the same time, it should reduce the flow of undocumenteds and the burden they generate elsewhere in the system.


              A related additional expense would be incurred to manage the flow of remittances to families and the 10% going to "pension" savings. And this would require additional personnel and other costs, mostly at Treasury. But, again, this should not put much of a strain on a system that already manages such programs as Social Security, Veterans' pensions, Internal Revenue, foreign commerce and other programs.


              An aside story. During my years as a Border Research Fellow in New Mexico, there was a great deal of pressure from regional businesses to open an additional INS border crossing. But the cost estimates for doing so, on which their campaign was based, were extremely low because they had not taken into account the real costs of such a crossing. When I explained that it requires 7-10 employees to man one position 24/7/365, they were shocked. But, it would be manned by just one INS agent at a time! Yes, if you don't mind it being open only a maximum of 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and being closed whenever the agent needs to take a break to clean the building, clean the toilet (they will need one, you know), brew a cup of coffee or just get off their feet for a few minutes. Oh, and that doesn't take into account annual vacations, training stints, sick days, the time needed for someone to processing attendance records, pay checks, and the like, and on and on. When you take all this into account and add in long-term costs (sooner or later they will retire, for example, and get pensions), you're looking at several million dollars a year, not just one person's salary.


              JE comments:  Rodolfo Neirotti (next) is impressed with Tim's proposal, but raises the question:  how can we draw policymakers' attention to the rarefied atmosphere of WAIS discussion?


              A hearty Veterans/Armistice Day congratulations to Tim Brown and WAISer veterans around the world.  Thank you, on behalf of all, for your service.


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              • Mandated Savings Accounts for Guest Workers? Administrative Costs; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 11/12/15 6:17 AM)
                Ric Mauricio writes:


                Tim Brown (11 November) correctly hit the nail on the head, as did John E's question on who will pay for the administration of the "GuestIA" (Guest Worker Investment Account). It will cost money; whether that is a little or a lot is anyone's guess. And my guess is that the American people will foot the bill.


                My take on the GuestIA comes from another angle and one must understand, I come from the investment side of the discussion spectrum. Tim proposes that the account not be administered by the banks, who will benefit from paying low interest rates while compounding the return on their liabilities (deposits are carried on the books as liabilities) by lending at 3% to 12% many times over. Rather, if I read interpret correctly, it will be administered by the US Government and invested in US Government paper (like savings bonds). This is akin to the new myRA. Currently this account pays 1.47%. But unlike the banks, these funds will be spent by the US Government, not invested in income-producing assets, thus eliminating any compounding possible with those funds. At least, with the banks administering the funds, the banks will benefit and those who borrow, investors and homeowners, will benefit. With the government-administered investments, the only ones benefiting are government workers, who produce no profits whatsoever.


                Now Tim's comparison of what would happen to these funds should they be transferred to families in Mexico, shows that because of the depreciation of the Mexican peso to the US dollar, the Mexicans would be less better off then they would be is true, but only if the Mexican guest worker continues to hold the currency. Mind you, the guest worker would be more likely use the funds to feed his family, thus ensuring that her/his wife/husband and children would enjoy a quality of life greater than if he/she could not transfer most of their earnings to their family. The purchase of goods and services in Mexico further accelerates the growth of the Mexican economy, thus raising the quality of life for most Mexicans. Again, a compounding effect of every dollar sent back to Mexico. This to me is a much more fruitful way of handling money.


                I propose that instead of having the US Government attempt to take care of our guest workers, that we instead encourage them to take their earnings and spend it or invest it in their local economies. Let us not try to micromanage the world, but let the world manage itself. Vietnam is asserting itself as a economic (and very capitalistic, though still centrally managed) nation, and hopefully soon, with its latest democratic elections, Myanmar will join the list of developing nations.


                I quote the 2007 Formula One World Champion, Kimi Raikkonen, "Leave me alone, I know what I'm doing." Let our guest workers decide what to do with their earnings. They may make errors in judgment, but hopefully, they will learn; but they need to be encouraged, like your children, to do things on their own. This will encourage dynamic economic growth rather than having the US Government waste their money on non-productive spending.


                And yes, to all Marines all over the world, "Semper fi!"


                JE comments: A convincing vote for Laissez-Faire, "Invisible Hand," or what have you, from Ric Mauricio.  Tim Brown's bottom-up proposal with government oversight is a hybrid approach.  Perhaps the ultimate "unknown" is philosophical:  can you force people to help themselves?

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                • More on Mandated Savings Accounts, and Medicare, for Guest Workers (Timothy Brown, USA 11/14/15 6:46 AM)
                  I very much appreciate Ric Mauricio's thoughtful comments of 12 November. And I agree with him about what would happen to guest worker savings were they, in effect, simply confiscated by the US Government, thrown into the general budgetary pool, and spent rather than saved, as we have long been doing with Social Security tax income. That's exactly why I suggest they be deposited in individualized dollar-denominated escrowed accounts in local banks abroad, not in a USG depositary. That way, much like mortgage escrow, they would then be on the overseas bank's books, increasing its reserves. This would both make the savings accounts safe and increase USD reserves countable both by the holding bank and host government, strengthening both.

                  As for the benefits to the worker. Today, per the World Bank, it costs 7.8% of the face value of a remittance to send money home. The cost to the USG today of sending the remittance for them, since we already do the same for Social Security, VA or other government pensions to beneficiaries abroad, would be minimal. Once entered into a USG system, the cost of cutting a check electronically is negligible. The additional cost of then pouching the checks to the nearest consulate and tracking their delivery, is also minimal. The cost of confirming that they reach the intended beneficiary abroad is a task American consuls or personnel already stationed abroad do for other recipients.


                  So what will have happened? One, the worker will have deposited 10% of their income in a personal long-term USD savings account they own that cannot be raided by either the bank or the USG and established a long-term pension fund to the benefit both of themselves in the long run and the local economy. The worker will have saved 7.8% or so on today's transaction costs of sending money home to family, while simultaneously reducing to near zero the risk of its being intercepted by anyone else. And, three, because the worker would only recuperate the 10% plus compound interest if and when they return to their country of origin to live permanently, they will have a very strong interest in doing just that rather than agitating for legal permanent residence in the US. In the interim, their families will have been better served and they will have maintained strong ties to their country of origin. And, the deposits of workers that chose not to return home would be forfeited to the USG.


                  I also suggest having the worker's Social Security retirement payments--and Medicare account--be payable only in their country of origin if and when they return permanently, or these, too, would be lost. This would do two things (at least!): increase greatly the incentives for their returning home and establish a new source of funding for their country of origin's health system. (We all are, after all, committed to helping less developed countries develop. Right?)


                  Incidentally, while I'm nattering on, today Medicare does not pay benefits abroad. I think we should seriously consider changing this. Today, US Veteran's medical benefits for disabilities are already covered in third countries, and more and more private health insurers are doing the same. When they do, both the beneficiary and the insurer benefit because of lower costs, and the local population benefits because their medical providers and health system earn more. That's why the volume of medical tourism is growing exponentially. Why not take advantage of reality?


                  PS: Remittances are a global reality that totaled more than $400 billion in 2013. And more were sent from Europe than the US. India ($70 b.), China ($60 b.) and the Philippines ($25.4 b.) were the three highest recipients. Mexico ($22.2 b.) was fourth. So I suspect most developed countries would be very interested in establishing a similar system.


                  JE comments:  I never would have thought of China as second in remittance receipts.  We think of that dynamic economy as a next exporter of wealth (loans and capital investment).


                  Tim Brown brings up the important subject of medical tourism.  We've never placed this topic under the WAIS microscope.  Has anybody gone on a medical "tour" abroad?  Cuba, I predict, will be a leading medical destination for (US) Americans within a few years.


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            • Mandated Savings Account for Guest Workers? (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 11/11/15 4:06 AM)
              Timothy Brown has interesting ideas about temporary workers in this country, and he is not the only one. In the past, I asked about finding a way of getting these ideas out of the WAIS microclimate. I am sure that some members may have connections with lawmakers than can explore the implementation.

              JE comments: Rodolfo Neirotti raises a (perhaps the) key question: how do you turn jaw, jaw into law, law? Tim Brown has many contacts in the Washington establishment--with lawmakers, diplomats, and NGOs. I hope he'll respond to Rodolfo.

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