The New National ID: Just Say "No!"
"Yes, of course." Your prospective employer eyes you suspiciously. "But until you get this cleared up, I can't hire you. It would be a felony."
Thank heavens we live in a free country where nothing like this can happen. Except... Amidst all the shouting over the health care reform legislation, you might have missed another scheme being cooked up in Congress. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are co-sponsoring a bill to "fix" immigration problems by requiring each of us to obtain a biometric national ID. This legislation would make it a federal offense to hire someone without such a card. Without such a card, you do not have permission from the government to work. The sponsors of this bill promise that the government will not store private information. They also claim that the cards themselves will not contain personal private information (hard to understand, since that’s exactly what a biomarker is).
How should we regard this proposal? May I suggest "Orwellian"? Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that illegal immigration is a serious problem. Never mind that the harms of illegal immigration have been grossly overstated. Never mind that economic study after economic study after economic study after economic study after economic study finds that illegal immigration has on net a positive effect on the U.S. economy. Never mind that the actuaries who study our social security system find that illegal immigrants are helping to stave off its bankruptcy by contributing billions into the system, and collecting nothing. Despite all this, it’s clear that there are problems associated with illegal immigration, and it might be reasonable to get a handle on them. But not at the cost of our liberty.
Regardless of how we regard illegal immigration, a mandatory biometric national ID is a nightmarish way to address the problem, and has no place at all in a country of free people. Is there any reason at all to believe the sponsors that use of this ID would not be expanded, if it is put into place? Or that it would not be connected to national databases? It's impossible to believe this biometric ID wouldn't eventually be linked to the national databases already called for under REAL ID Act (passed in 2005, but not yet implemented owing to popular outrage), and mandated for all "federal purposes" such as opening a bank account, flying on commericial aircraft, entering a federal building, voting, or purchasing a firearm? The biometric ID would also be useful in enforcing the mandatory insurance requirement of our new health care legislation. For sponsors to claim this is just "a high-tech version of the Social Security card that citizens already have" is disingenuous at best. Without the ID, work is illegal. (I have yet to understand why it should ever be illegal for any person, regardless of citizenship, to do valuable work for another who is willing to pay them for it.) And with it, the power of the government to control our daily lives is greatly enhanced.
One also has to wonder what happens if the ID malfunctions, is lost, or is stolen. A citizen caught in these circumstances would be unable to work, until the government clears up the difficulty. Why would we expect the government to act more quickly on this than it does with, say, people mistakenly added to its database of terror suspects? The chance that the Schumer-Graham system will malfunction verges on certainty. The costs imposed on the victims will be enormous, and the incentives for the bureaucrats in charge to quickly rectify errors will be vanishingly small.
May heaven help us if this dangerous "fix" passes. It will take us that much farther down the road to serfdom, where we peasants must do whatever the Political Class tells us. It's certainly time to tell Congress "Hell no!" on this dreadful legislation.
An earlier version of this appeared on The Peasants Revolt.
originally appeared on the
Hillsdale-econ.com blog, a
new forum for the expression of economic ideas by professors Charles
Steele and Gary Wolfram of Hillsdale College.
Dr. Charles N. Steele is the Herman and Suzanne Dettwiler Chair in Economics and assistant professor at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. His publications include papers on the Soviet economy and economics of transition, economic growth, and institutional change. He received his Ph.D. in economics from New York University in 1997, and has subsequently taught economics at the graduate and undergraduate levels in the People’s Republic of China (China Agricultural University), the Russian Federation (Moscow State University), Ukraine (Economics Education and Research Consortium, National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy), and the United States (Montana State University). He has also worked as a private consultant in design and review of USDA crop insurance programs with Watts and Associates, Inc.
In addition to economics, Steele's interests include trail running, mountaineering, snowshoeing, and similar outdoor pursuits. He's completed 26 ultramarathons, ten triathlons, and is a nine times finisher of The United States' oldest 50 mile race, the Le Grizz Ultramarathon.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.