Monday, August 25, 2014

Professor Jack Weinstein Wants You to Consider the Sale of Unaccompanied Minors

Professor Jack Weinstein

Philosophy professor Jack Weinstein of the University of North Dakota hosts a blog called PQED or Philosophical Questions Every Day. You may have seen his post on open-carry laws, which went viral over the summer.

Jack is a good friend. And a mighty fine bread maker. But I’m not sure what to make of his current proposal to solve the crisis of unaccompanied minors.

Jack writes:

"my proposal is as follows: when refugee children cross the Southern border, instead of meeting them with picket signs and shouting until they are sent home, let’s market them as live-in status symbols. Let’s encourage people to bid for the privilege of giving them a good home. Let’s sell them like we sell water and name brands, and give the foster parents the opportunity to boast about them on Facebook and at cocktail parties. Every kid will have a home and the host families will have a great deed to brag about. It’s a win-win situation."

Jack's post could be seen as an extension of the controversial paper by Elisabeth M. Landes and Richard A. Posner, The Economics of the Baby Shortage, 7 J. Legal Stud. 323 (1978), which considered how changes to the law might "make the existing market in babies for adoption operate more efficiently and more equitably."

While I can’t get behind Jack’s latest public policy recipe, I have to hand it to him for, once again, effectively playing the provocateur.


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Thanks for linking to the piece, Kit. It is much appreciated. Do you think they give “provocateur” carrying cards for one’s wallet?

Just to review, the blog entry started with the observation that Americans don’t seem to care about things unless they cost money. Even expensive adoption is prioritized over cheaper opportunities. The Evangelical right prioritizes adopting special-need Eastern-European children and the left focuses on international children of color.

Adopting both groups is an expensive and time consuming process, even though there are tons of young American nationals who need good homes. For both the left and the right, these expensive foreign children end up being status symbols, although as I point out in the blog entry, I think this is great for the kids, and calling them status symbols is not meant to belittle anyone. It is just a fact about the culture we live in.

My goal then is to figure out how to make Central and South American refugee children status symbols so that Americans will WANT them in this country and will WANT them in their homes. I suggest that the way to do this is to auction them off to the highest bidder. Once they become expensive, I suggest, everyone with means will want one. A comment I was urged to leave out of the blog by my wife was that maybe refugee children could be to 2014 what Beanie Babies and Coke Spoons were to the 1980s. She thought that comment was too crass.

So, the difficulty in reading my original piece is, how “Jonathan Swift” am I being? And the answer, truthfully, is that I don’t know. I think my critique of American materialism is accurate. I also think that it night work. But, of course, none of us like the idea of buying and selling people, even given the strict caveats I outline in the blog (making sure they are not exploited or enslaved, etc.).

Inherent in all of this are some philosophical concerns that I imagine your audience of Immigration Law Professors is quite familiar with. For one, we do commodity immigrants. We have quotas on how many poor we let in, but the select few with special skills, economic means, and sponsors can almost always get visas. This is commodification, although we don't call it that. We also don’t go, as a country, to retrieve the immigrants. They have to get here by their own means, purchase plane tickets, afford suitable clothes, pay first and last months’ rent for a lease, and get lawyers. (There are charities and NGOs to help refugees do all of this.) Again, people with money are valued more than people without. Recall the only half-joking claims on the internet that Justin Bieber should be deported because of his criminal antics and the realization that no matter what he does, he will never be kicked out of the country. Why? Because he is an industry.

(I don’t pretend to be an expert in any of this, so forgive me if I get the legal details wrong.)

It is curious that we associate commodification with the horrors of sex trafficking and indentured servitude, but not with the much more impactful light-of-day economic benefits. I think what you are reacting to in my blog is the association of selling to the highest bidder with the former, not that latter. It is understandable, of course, but I think it is too simplistic.

In the end, what I am asking is what we can do to get our culture to value immigrants and refugees as they are when they come to the states, not what they become in a few decades or a couple generations. I haven't found an answer yet, but given the capitalistic nature of the United States, I am pretty sure that whatever answer we come to will involve money and status. Maybe your readership can help guide me as I consider these deep and complex issues.

Posted by: Jack Weinstein | Aug 26, 2014 1:43:35 PM

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