Amnesty, Chumponomics, and the rule of law

The first time I wrote about Chumponomics, a rural homeowner in Tennessee lost his house in a fire after refusing to pay the modest fee for fire protection from a nearby city fire department.  The idea behind this system was that maintaining a regular fire department through the usual means of local tax assessment was impractical for the sparsely populated area, so the residents of the area paid city firefighters to cover their needs.  The fee wasn’t a tax extracted by force; it was a voluntary fee, and if you didn’t pay it, you weren’t entitled to call that city fire department for help.  Most people paid it, but a few decided to challenge the system and refuse to pony up, on the theory that the firemen weren’t going to sit idly by and watch their homes burn down if there was an emergency.


As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened, and a huge controversy erupted.  Many observers thought it was totally unreasonable to allow a cheapskate’s house to burn down, but tolerating such free riders made fools of those who did the right thing and paid the fee.  The entire system was predicated on the assumption that a large number of chumps would pay into the system, while others abused it without serious consequence.  A common “middle ground” suggestion was to answer the call if a freeloader fell victim to a fire, but then charge hefty penalties.  Besides the difficulty of actually collecting those penalties, the problem with such an approach is that many people would conclude it made more sense to skip paying the fee, rolling the dice and hoping they wouldn’t have a fire, with the odds stacked heavily in their favor.  The entire system would collapse if too many people decided to take their chances, defeating the original goal of charging a very reasonable amount to provide everyone with fire protection.

Unsurprisingly, people across the political spectrum use incidents like these to argue the merits of mandatory taxes for government benefits, versus more libertarian plans that charge voluntary fees in exchange for competitive services.  I was struck by how many other examples of Chumponomics I began seeing all around us, including systems based on compulsory taxation, since so many people are exempt from paying those taxes, or pay them at a far lower rate.  The key feature of a Chumponomic system is the assumption that dupes will voluntarily shoulder most of the cost, while freeloaders collect benefits.

Prior to ObamaCare, it was argued that America’s medical system preyed on chumps, because people without insurance could traipse into hospitals and enjoy free health care services.  Solving this “free rider” problem was one of the major objectives of ObamaCare – hence the individual mandate requiring that everyone purchase health insurance.  As things worked out, the free-rider issue was never as serious as ObamaCare boosters claimed – it was a problem, but not on a scale that would justify the incredible expense of ObamaCare to resolve, and things didn’t actually get better once the Affordable Care Act went fully into effect.  One must always be wary of politicians who promise to resolve chump situations with socialist redistribution, because all that does is conceal the unfairness, and make it culturally unacceptable for the people getting shafted to complain about it.


Amnesty, on the other hand, is a fantastic example of Chumponomics writ large.  Many critics of Obama’s amnesty power grab, and all previous efforts to waive immigration offenses for border violators, have wondered how legal immigrants must feel.  They not only get to see cheaters bumped to the head of the line, they get to watch the cheaters celebrated as “dreamers,” the very backbone of the American Dream… exalted above legal immigrants and native-born citizens by political necessity, because it is vital for the public to perceive illegal immigrants as ineffably wise and noble people who richly deserve the free citizenship they are about to receive.  In order to swallow the wanton celebration of lawbreaking, it is necessary for the public to be convinced that the law being discarded was immoral and unjust.

Which makes fools of the people who actually bothered to obey those laws, doesn’t it?  It’s even worse than the sour grapes many of us imagine.  The problem isn’t just people who worked hard for citizenship grinding their teeth as Emperor Obama decrees that it should be given away for free to his preferred constituents.  The problem is that a large number of people are stuck grinding their way through the legal immigration process right now.

It takes years to complete the process of legal immigration, and the financial burden is considerable.  The nominal application fee of $465 is just a drop in the bucket compared to the expenses incurred while the process is completed – a point often raised in the past by illegal-alien activists who claim the financial burden of immigrating correctly  was unreasonable.  For example, the following comes from a January 2014 UK Guardian article about Obama’s previous amnesty order, the DACA program:

Cost has been one of the top reasons why people eligible for DACA delay their application, says Sarah Hooker, policy analyst at Migration Policy Institute. The $465 application fee, while minuscule to most middle-class Americans, has played a large role in preventing young undocumented immigrants from applying for work permits. According to a recent MPI report, 35% of those eligible for DACA live in families with incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level. That means a family of five lives on annual income of $27,570 or less.

“For many of the undocumented youths, paying for [college] is already a struggle, let alone a burdensome fee that can be used to pay for their rent, food and books,” says Ivy Teng Lei, an activist who came to the US from China when she was seven-years-old and used her savings to cover the cost of her DACA application. “The $465 fee is an application fee, but a lot of the documents required in the application also lead to an accrual of additional fees – such as school transcripts, records from officials, photos, mailing. These definitely add up.”

The DACA fee means undocumented families with more than one eligible child are unlikely to be able to apply for all their children together. Most families prioritize paying for a child old enough to work, says Hooker.

“For a lot of people, $465 is unattainable in itself. If you were to eliminate the cost barrier to DACA, the application numbers would increase,” says Krsna Avila, legal services manager at Educators for Fair Consideration, who has previously worked with Maldonado on her DACA application. While for some families the decision comes down to choosing between children, for others it comes down to their financial priorities. “They are asking themselves, ‘Am I going to spend it on that or on rent?’” he says.


There have been many interviews over the years with legal immigrants who complained about the time and expense of completing the process.  Here’s a 2011 USA Today profile of an eminently qualified aspiring immigrant who was still plugging away after 11 years in queue:

Pablo Pilco has met Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

He studied philosophy, psychology and mass communications in Peru, his native land. And when the Catholic TV network EWTN, based in Irondale, Ala., asked him to produce their Spanish-language programming, he felt called to do so.

“It’s just part of my life,” he said. “That is the reason they called me. They knew my work as a religious producer in Latin America.”

To do that work, Pilco started the legal immigration process in 2000. After a visa renewal, a change of status, one rejection for permanent status and an application his lawyers says is an inch-and-a-half thick, Pilco received permanent legal status Oct. 17 — 11 years after receiving his first, temporary work visa.

The processing time was surprising in part because he falls under skilled worker classifications that the immigration system typically favors

“I am very well-educated. I speak four languages, and I am very skilled in my work,” Pilco said. “In Peru, I was in a very good position. It is not like I came into this country (on my own). They called me into this country for my expertise.”

The article goes on to explain that Mr. Pilco might not have reached the halfway point of his quest for legal U.S. citizenship:

Take a man from the Philippines with brother who holds U.S. citizenship. If he wants to immigrate but has no advanced degrees or special skills, the man could have his brother file a petition for an F4 visa, capped at 65,000 a year. The family will have to wait for a number to be assigned to the case before the visa application can be processed.

That wait is currently 23 years. According to the monthly Visa Bulletin published by theU.S. State Department, F4 visa applications filed in the Philippines before Aug. 22, 1988, are now being processed. If the family is from Mexico, the wait time is 15 years; wait times in China and India are now at 11 years.

“You can wait six years, 15 years or 20 years to come on a family visa,” said President Tamar Jacoby of ImmigrationWorks USA, a coalition of pro-immigration business groups. “For a young, able-bodied man to look for work, he’d apply when he’s 18 and come when he’s 40.”


To Barack Obama, these people are fools.  All they had to do was skip out on their temporary visas, or walk across the border, and wait for him to bestow amnesty upon them.  What could he say to someone who’s still struggling through a decade of paperwork today, after giving away what they’ve worked so hard to achieve?  It’s even worse than that, because a sizable number of people begin the legal immigration process every day.  There are people who began that process the day after they watched Obama hold an amnesty festival in Las Vegas.

“Immigration reform” has always been a very broad term.  Some reform advocates wanted to streamline the lengthy process and make it more affordable, perhaps combined with an increase on the annual immigration caps.  Those are reforms most Americans could get behind.  Many native-born citizens don’t realize how complex the process has become.  But the same concept of “immigration reform” is also deployed as cover to reward lawbreaking, by people with ideological opposition to the legal protection of citizenship.  Every reasonable-sounding proposal to reform legal immigration seems to include some poison pill for discarding immigration law completely, at least for certain groups.  We ended up getting the poison pill stuffed down our throats by the despotic executive, in a move that makes the more reasonable sort of immigration reform harder to achieve.

There are currently about a million legal immigrants to the United States every year, a number most people seem to greatly underestimate.  That’s a lot of chumps.  Should they all disregard our immigration laws and insist on the same deal as Obama’s preferred imported constituency – instant legal residence and work permits, at negligible cost?  Shouldn’t people who recently completed the legal immigration process, and those currently making their way through it, demand a refund of all the money they spent on what Obama has decreed others should be given for free?  If that happens, our system would collapse completely, so the rules of Chumponomics must remain in effect: suckers play by the rules, and get fleeced for the money and obedience necessary to keep things running.


Never underestimate the value of obedience as a commodity.  Few governments have enough law-enforcement resources available to maintain the rule of law in the face of near-universal contempt.  This is, ironically, one of the arguments advanced by Obama and other amnesty proponents: they claim we must stop trying to enforce immigration law, because it’s impossible to deport 11 million lawbreakers.  I notice the difficulty of achieving near-perfect enforcement, and the incredible cost of making the attempt, doesn’t stop the Left from writing and enforcing countless other regulations.  Obama explicitly made that argument when asked over the weekend if a future President could use his dictatorial powers to reform tax law by fiat.

When it’s a law liberals like, no amount of iron-fisted control is too much, no level of inconvenience to Americans of good will is too great, and no enforcement expense is too high.  When it’s a law they don’t like, why, we shouldn’t even try to enforce it… not even when those who bear the burden of enforcement aren’t even citizens of the United States.  Obama’s corrupt vision of government is Chumponomics all the way down.  The whole mess only works because some people foolishly cooperate with an overbearing system and cover its expenses, while others are endlessly indulged.


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