How Would Our Founding Fathers Have Dealt With Immigration Reform and Chinese Spying?

How Would Our Founding Fathers Have Dealt With Immigration Reform and Chinese Spying?

Alex Hamilton 1With an immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate but stalled in the House of Representatives, the prospects for a comprehensive updating of America’s immigration policies look increasingly dim. Meanwhile, allegations abound that the Chinese government is condoning the piracy of American intellectual property, and conducting its own cyber espionage on U.S. military programs. What do these two issues have in common? Both have important implications for America’s position in the world, and both were discussed by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton more than 200 years ago.

If the U.S. hopes to compete economically with its fellow industrialized democracies and with rising powers such as China, it will need as many of the world’s most skilled workers as it can get, and until the American education system begins to turn out more of them, immigration will likely have to provide the rest. In the same vein, the U.S. will put itself at a competitive disadvantage if it allows theft of its’ companies’ intellectual property (a process believed to currently cost the U.S. economy about $300 billion per year, the majority of it lost to Chinese activity).

It will unnecessarily accept the loss of large sums of money, money that might otherwise be paying benefits to the U.S. in the form of tax revenue, investments in new technologies, and the hiring of new employees. Taking a page from Hamilton’s book can help Americans expand their educated and skilled workforce while maximizing the benefits reaped from the modern world economy.212px-Thomas_Jefferson_3x4

For a Founding Father often described as a conservative (see here, for example), Hamilton (himself an immigrant to the American colonies from the Caribbean island of Nevis) was much more enthusiastic about immigration than was Thomas Jefferson, his ideological arch-rival.

Whereas Hamilton’s encouragement of the immigration of skilled workers went hand in hand with his policy of promoting American industry, Jefferson, an opponent of industrialization and urbanization, feared that large-scale immigration would dilute civic virtue in America, by filling it with persons who may not share Americans’ (or at least Jefferson’s) agrarian idealism.

Jefferson wrote contemptuously of Hamilton and his allies, a supposed conspiracy of economic and governmental elites, that “they all live in cities” (quote from Founding Brothers, by Joseph J. Ellis), and that Americans should shun immigrants “as we do persons infected with disease” (quote from Land of Promise, by Michael Lind).

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