Saturday, May 26, 2007


Like the minimum wage, illegal immigration, another of the day’s hot topics, has an intimate link to the inefficiencies of our economics. If an economy’s main purpose is to optimize the survival and attainment of happiness in a population through coordination of human labor in the creation and distribution of goods and services, then we should expect people to favor more effective economies than the ones they find themselves in.

At least in the case of Mexican immigration into the United States, the flow seems to be going the other way; because Mexicans are actually about three percent HAPPIER than citizens of the United States. The statistical correlation between consumption (ecological footprint) and happiness, coupled with our anomalously high consumption, may explain this. We appear to be much happier, because our per capita consumption is between three and four times theirs. Also, like us, they don’t realize that our consumption is unsustainable (we are in what physicists call a condition of unstable equilibrium, the equivalent of balancing on a pin and very likely to fall), so they assume they are coming to a better life.

The thing that will push us off our perch, and possibly drive immigration in the correct direction, is related to the fundamental economic law of supply and demand. Price, the value we place on a good or service, is proportional to the ratio of demand to supply. Our main supply of energy, which drives the entire economy, is literally drying up while demand continues to climb; leading to an inexorable increase in the price of everything. This worldwide phenomenon will be felt especially hard here since we are consuming so much more than our fair share due to the rampant waste we have built into our variant of capitalism. Those countries like Mexico which are already adapted to lower use of resources are the most likely to survive, and perhaps even thrive, at least until the development and adoption of alternative energy sources and production methods that are not environmentally destructive.

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