Victor Davis Hanson on "Bankrupt California"
By David Henderson
“Bostonian,” one of the commenters on my previous post on immigration quoted from an article by my Hoover colleague, Victor Davis Hanson. So I read the whole thing. There’s a lot of meaty content, good and weak, in his article, “Bankrupt California,” and so in a later post, I’ll comment on other parts.
But for now, let me get to Hanson’s point about immigration because that’s why Bostonian quoted it. Here’s what Hanson wrote:
California has built the nation’s largest prison system, but there is no room left in either state or county facilities for an increasing number of dangerous felons. The same day last week that I emptied my wallet for gas, my 15-hp ag irrigation pump simply quit during the night. Nocturnal copper-wire thieves had come into the vineyard and yanked out the electrical conduit. That’s the third theft of pump wire I’ve had this year — and it costs $1,500 each time to repair the damage. I’m told that Mexican national gangs go down to Los Angeles with their stolen copper to sell it to mobile recyclers. No one calls the sheriff any more. Instead, we swap stories about protective wire cages, spikes, cameras, lights, and booby traps.
It’s a veritable war these days in rural central California — as copper-wire thieves, gangs, drug lords, and fencers run amuck in a bankrupt state that can no longer afford to keep its felons incarcerated. President Obama soars with talk of amnesty and the DREAM Act. But if we are going to waive federal statutes for each illegal alien who we feel may some day become a neurosurgeon or an experimental chemist, can’t we at least enforce the law against those not in school and up to no good in the here and now, like the two sitting in my driveway phoning directions for local thieves to yank out copper wire?
Notice, though, that Hansen is writing in the context of laws that he presumably favors more than I do. I’ve been advocating open borders. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Hanson has been advocating restricting immigration, I think. Which set of views–mine or his–do the current laws come closer to? The President Obama he criticizes is the same one who has been strongly anti-illegal-immigrant. Obama has deported more illegal immigrants per month than Bush II and way more than Clinton. And look at the results. Hanson isn’t happy with them. Nor should he be.
But my advocating more open immigration in no way means that I’m against enforcing laws against theft. And notice something else. Hanson puts “drug lords” in the same category as thieves. They’re pretty different: one is producing and selling something that others value and the other is stealing from people. So if Hanson wants to get serious about getting criminals in prison, he needs to get serious about what should be defined as crimes. The fewer drug dealers there are in prison, the more room there is for thieves and violent criminals. Hanson could counter, correctly, that many “drug lords” are violent criminals too. But that’s because of the drug laws. “Alcohol lords” in the 1920s were often violent; that’s because of Prohibition. When Prohibition ended, violence in the liquor industry also ended. So if Hanson wants to get serious about reducing theft, he needs to consider what his and my Hoover colleague, Joe McNamara, and previous Hoover colleague, Milton Friedman, have been advocating: end the drug war.
If Hanson has been advocating ending the drug war, I apologize in advance to him. But I have never seen him advocate that. His style is more to play “ain’t it awful:” to make a wish list of everything he wants to reduce or get rid of and not systematically consider tough tradeoffs between things on the list.