Child refugees versus Child Illegal Immigrants

Tom-of-the-coast-of-Maine-2It is a long way from Honduras to the US border in Texas:  approximately 1,200 miles.  It is also a hard journey, fraught with danger from bandits, child traffickers, unprincipled coyotes (smugglers), rugged terrain, desert heat, lack of food and water and one that cannot help be marked by the sense of dread that chills the heart of any child alone in the dark of night in a strange place.  What would prompt a child as young as 4 or 5 (some toddlers are reported) to undertake such a journey?  What would prompt a parent to either send his/her child off on such a trip?  Why would these children risk their lives?  Are they just migrating or are they fleeing.  If fleeing, what are they fleeing from?  Are they simply looking for a better life or are they “gone in search of refuge (safety) as the French root of our English word “refugee” implies?  Perhaps these guys are frightening them? gangs 2

Many of the children making their way from central America and especially

I think I would like to flee the murder capital of the world!

I think I would like to flee the murder capital of the world!

Honduras are fleeing the violence that surrounds them everywhere.  Both the United Nations and other Human Rights groups report that Honduras is one of the most violent countries on earth and that young children are at particular risk.  The Guardian reports that the murder rate in Tegucigalpa, Honduras 90.4/100,000–the highest in the world.  Other Central American countries from which children are fleeing en masse are not much better.

Honduras is a violent place.

Honduras is a violent place.

Children are fleeing alone without parents because both they and their parents are afraid.  The administration of George W. Bush recognized that these children fleeing from countries not contiguous with the U.S. were different from those entering the country undocumented from Mexico.  In 2008 President Bush signed the William Willberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act. This statue required that unaccompanied minors who entered the U.S. from a non-contiguous Central American nation needed to be afforded a hearing to ensure that they were not the victims of child trafficking.  If a child was found to be at risk, he/she was to be resettled rather than deported.

Since the passage of that law in 2008, the number of unaccompanied children fleeing to the U.S. has risen sharply because these children could not be immediately deported, needed to be given a hearing–which typically took years to be completed during which time they could melt into general American society–and were from to time found to be at risk in their home country and granted asylum.

In short, because of a change in our law, Central American children and their parents saw the long arduous and dangerous trek to America to be one way of living a safe life free from the violence that threatened these children daily.  This influx of children at risk is not the result of anything President Obama has done or not done on immigration.

This crisis is the result of the brutality and neglect of those governments/societies in Central American who have failed to nurture and protect their precious children Honduras_childrenforcing them to face death in order to flee death and reach a better level of safety in the U.S.. Even our gun incident ravished schools, pale in comparison to the violence that surrounds and oppresses these young people.

Normal planned and managed immigration is one thing, and we could certainly do a much better job at that. But, responding to the cry of children, fleeing sex traffickers bandits and neighborhood gangs is quite another. Perhaps an embrace and some sort of sanctuary are called for while the conditions under which these children would otherwise live are addressed more directly by the offending countries with the assistance of their neighbors and richer nations like our own.

What are these young Honduran boys learning?

What are these young Honduran boys learning?

Again this situation is not about immigration.  This situation is about children fleeing for their lives and how you and I will respond to them in their time of need. 

And Inequality for All?

Tom-of-the-coast-of-Maine-2Yesterday morning a conservative/libertarian friend of mine posted the following quote from F.A. Hayek on his Facebook page.  His post got me thinking about the notions of equality and inequality in US society and how some misguided notions about equality may in fact be major contributors to the ever widening income and political gaps of recent years.

Hayek

In this quote Professor Hayek is clearly playing with the words “equally” and “equal” and  suggesting that while it is possible to treat everyone the same way (equally) it is not really possible to actually make then the same (equal).  On the surface, this seems like an innocent enough and quite accurate claim.  Human beings come in all sizes, shapes, colors, degrees of athletic prowess and levels of intelligence and it is not possible or even desirable to make them all the same by any natural, governmental or miraculous means.

Hayek is not arguing against the possibility of homogenizing the human race.  He is rather making a point about economics and saying that the economic system or the market can be arranged to treat everybody equally but that it can not and probably should not seek to equalize the economic outcomes derived by people as they engage the economic system.  He is saying that the in the free market, citizens who are treated equally will have different economic outcomes resulting from the choices they make, they effort they expend and simply the luck of the economic draw.

From a political and economic point of view Hayek is arguing that governmental and economic systems can be created that treat people equally but that the outcomes of this equal treatment are likely to vary considerably and that attempts to equalize these outcomes by redistributive or other means will not only fail in the long run but will also remove the economic incentive to create, innovate, manufacture and otherwise take financial risk.  Hayek, like Milton Friedman and former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, believed that those who benefited unequally from relatively unregulated commerce would be guided by “enlightened self-interest” and checked by “market forces” in such a way that, although a degree of economic inequality would exist in society, that inequality would never grow to a point where it became unhealthy for society as a whole.  In fact, this school of economists would argue that some inequality was a kind of requirement for the generation of the capital needed for all to prosper even those who benefited least from these inequities.  In short, the rich could get richer and the poor less poor–a net plus for both groups.

Over time the gaps between different economic strata, if Hayek et al are correct, should remain relatively stable or even shrink somewhat.  Inequality should not grow.  These economists would further argue that  as inequality diminishes or remains relatively stable, via the natural mechanisms of market forces and enlightened self-interest, more people, through hard work and perseverance, would be able to move upward from one economic strata to another or at a minimum not take a precipitous slide down the economic ladder.

Following this line of thinking, we are supposed to conclude that although free market capitalism is not a perfect system in the sense of benefiting all equally, it is the best and most efficient alternative available and that attempts to engineer more equitable outcomes by the imposition of government regulations, procedures, tax policies and social programs will only have deleterious affects on both the self-correcting and economically animating forces of that free market.

The line of thinking I have been summarizing is the line of thinking that under-girds the seemingly self-evident quotation from Hayek posted by my friend who is, somewhat wryly, suggesting that there is something foolish and naive about any view that suggests that it is possible for a society to structure itself to achieve greater economic equality without at the same time sentencing itself to an overall economic decline.

However, the data of the last thirty years which corresponds with an easing of governmental regulation on the free market has not produced  a diminishment or stabilization of income inequality but rather the opposite.  The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting relatively poorer.

inequality 2

A recent survey of Americans’ perception of how wealth is distributed in the US reveals just how off the mark many people’s perception of the situation is.

inequality-page25_actualdistribwithlegend

This trend in disparity should prompt us to question the economic arguments of Hayek, Friedman and Greenspan.  The gap between rich and poor is growing and this growth in wealth at the top is not lifting the entire economy. Rather we have only recently recovered from a disastrous recession and are only improving at a modest rate. The free market failed to self-regulate and enlightened self-interest seems not to have shed very much real light on our economic circumstances at all.  Rapacious greed seems to have taken over from enlightenment and eaten away at our sense of interdependence and social solidarity. As the economic gaps widen, a kind of every person for themselves attitude overtakes many, political polarization increases and a cynical darkness covers the land.

I would therefore like to co-opt and alter Hayek’s sentiments quoted above:

There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally, attempting to make them equal and allowing economic inequality to increase to the point where it fragments the fabric of civil society.