Before immigration reform, remove roadblocks to free enterprise

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg claims the single biggest step America can take to promote innovation and economic growth is to fix our broken immigration system.

This is a mayor who bans private donations to food banks and regulates the size of beverage cups, so he’s not always aligned with mainstream thinking.

The thrust of the mayor’s argument, and that of many of those who agree with him, is that immigrants have a proud history of starting new businesses. Why, look at Andrew Carnegie’s career, they say. He started out as a poor Scottish immigrant but he created U.S. Steel.

Sure, look at Andrew Carnegie’s story, but while you’re looking, notice what’s missing: capital gains taxes, the EPA, the Endangered Species Act and a list of other safety and environmental rules and regulations longer than Paul Bunyan’s arm.

America’s changed. We now have far greater barriers to economic growth, and much more of an information economy.

A hundred years ago a high proportion of our workforce was employed in low-skilled manual labor, and a quarter of the adults had attended school for less than five years. An immigrant with scant education was not at a severe disadvantage.

Today, native-born Americans are far more likely to be educated, and workers in our country are far more likely to need that education to get a good job, yet a high percentage of our immigrants are relatively uneducated.

Mayor Bloomberg isn’t wrong about everything – our immigration system is broken. But it should be fixed by starting with genuinely securing our southern border, not because immigration reform is a supposed magic bullet to jumpstart economic growth and innovation.

There are better ways to accomplish that, among them:

• Reduce the cost of a key input nearly all businesses have – energy – by making responsible cheap energy a primary policy goal: Permit drilling on federal lands and offshore, build the Keystone pipeline, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, stop intentionally bankrupting coal plants and approve more nuclear reactors. President Obama’s philosophy of intentionally raising the cost of energy is an economic growth killer stronger than any immigration reform plan.

• Eliminate tax incentives and regulations that tie health insurance to employment, so projected increases in health-care costs or the threat of new health-care mandates on employers do not retard job growth.

• Adopt an incentive-based endangered species protection system that halts opportunity for environmental organizations to stop building projects through incessant lawsuits and does a better job protecting species, besides.

• Adopt a widespread school voucher program to help awaken the economic and entrepreneurship potential of kids stuck in failing public schools. Immigration policies designed to lure the best and the brightest from overseas can enhance America’s competitive advantage but they do nothing to unlock the potential of bright American kids stuck in poor schools.

• Raise the Social Security retirement age, as Social Security is insolvent and dealing with the problem will send a strong positive signal to the markets, helping economic growth – besides, good ideas come from workers who have been around the block a few times.

• Cut the size of government, leaving more capital to the private sector, the true engine of innovation.

• Cut the number of regulations, as they impede business start-ups, slow or reverse economic growth and intimidate entrepreneurs.

Stop crony capitalist practices that steer the greatest financial rewards to companies with the best lobbyists instead of allowing the marketplace to reward those firms providing the most innovative, highest-quality products and services.

Contact Ridenour, chairman of the National Center for Public Policy Research, at www.nationalcenter.org.