This is a most interesting interview. It was conducted by email and not by voice over Internet radio so there is only a transcript and nothing to listen to. Burns is quite an interesting fellow. He is a progressive person who nevertheless has been writing for the Hard Right Nativist and immigration restrictionist VDare website for a long time. I have a low opinion of Vdare due to their conservative ideology which I do not support at all, but I admit that they do have some interesting articles.
This Burns fellow seems to be a good example of what the Alt Left ideally should be about.
Up with the Alt Left!
Randall Burns is a graduate of the University of Chicago Department of Economics where his professors included Maynard Krueger and Arcadius Kahan. He worked for years in the tech industry and helped with the early database integration of what eventually became the world’s most popular credit card fraud detection system. He was the DBA supporting a team of auditors working on the investigation of convicted felon Bill Griffin, former CEO of a major insurance company.
He was a volunteer for the 1976 Carter campaign. In 1990, he published Rx for the Environment and the Economy in the Oregon Peaceworker, which proposed a revenue neutral tax shift to pollution taxes. An initiative advocating similar policies will be on the ballot in 2016 in Washington State. In 2004, he helped write the Kucinich Campaign’s statement on guest worker visas. His articles on Vdare can be found here: Randall Burns – VDARE.com
The tech industry and the impact of H1-B Visas.
Ted Cruz on H1-B Visas.
Donald Trump, his economic views, and why Randall prefers the old wealth-tax Trump.
Will Trump Renounce His (Legal) Use Of Indentured Immigrant Cheap Labor?
Bernie Sanders, his stance on immigration and Guest Worker Visas.
The minimum wage, immigration, and why it should be adjusted for cost of living on a regional basis.
The Guaranteed Minimum Income.
The Pollution Tax and how to implement it without encouraging outsourcing.
The progressive case against mass immigration, and why it’s difficult to get the Left on board.
Faux corporate progressives.
The Georgist economic philosophy.
The affects of immigration on real estate.
The European migrant crisis
How US foreign and economic policy contributes to mass immigration.
This show is brought to you by Robert Stark’s Artwork.
Transcript of interview:
1. Can you talk about your background in the tech industry and whether that influenced your stance against the H-1B visas?
Randall Burns: I worked in the tech industry pretty steadily from 1981 to 2001. At that point I found that even with a very solid resume it was hard to find jobs that it would actually pay for me to accept. In 2000 I had worked at an HP group run by an Indian GM and saw the creation of entire projects where a major consideration was getting as many visas for friends and family as humanly possible. After 2001, my savings got rapidly depleted, but I was able to stabilize my situation.
2. The tech oligarchs such as Zuckerberg argue that there is a labor shortage in the industry and foreign labor is needed, when in reality many Americans and have been laid off and replaced with H-1B visa holders who work for lower wages. Can you point to some specific examples and data to back that up?
Randall Burns: I would suggest reading my article The Jobs Crunch. As far as billionaires: I would count on them to say whatever might make them money to say. Truthfulness is not a major selective criteria in creating a billion-dollar fortune.
3. You wrote about how Ted Cruz introduced a bill with Jeff Sessions to limit H-1B Visas by imposing a minimum income limit. But a while back he voted for a bill to dramatically increase foreign visas. Do you think Trump’s campaign is primarily responsible for pressuring other candidates to change their stance? I have noticed that mainstream conservative sites such as Breitbart have been addressing this issue, while in the past it was delegated to sites such as Vdare.
Randall Burns: Politicians as a group are enormously risk-averse. Nobody wants to be the first to try a particular tactic. Cruz at this point has a war chest and can focus on either getting the nomination or putting himself in position to be Trump’s running mate. Since Cruz is 44, VP is a great position to advance his career (I have read that Cruz may want a SCOTUS appointment as part of a deal).
The corporate media in general hates immigration issues because the rich make money from immigration, and ultimately the media’s business is selling advertising to corporations owned largely by the very wealthy.
4. Bernie Sanders has been skeptical of H1-B visas. However he also came out in favor of amnesty for illegal immigrants. My overall take on Sanders is that he is not controlled by corporate interests like Hillary but supports amnesty for personal ideological reasons. What’s your overall take on Bernie Sanders and his immigration stance?
Randall Burns: Sanders grew up as a Jew in Brooklyn and is thinking about immigration in a way that rather characterisitic of Jewish politicians. In the case of H-1B’s, the effects of job destruction are just too great for him to deny, so his Leftism takes over.
Bernie learned enough Economics at U of Chicago from Norm Thomas’ former running mate and Research Director Maynard Krueger to not be as ignorant of the topic as many liberals focused on social issues are. Bernie knows he is walking a tightrope. His relative lack of direct exposure to many working class rural White communities means he simply does not realize just how high the tightrope is and how hard the landing is.
I think immigration will become a very hard issue for Sanders if the race is Trump or Cruz vs. Sanders. My heartfelt advice is to read my articles carefully and ask me for help, which I would give.
5. You helped Dennis Kucinich write his platform statement on guest worker visas. Please explain more about that.
Randall Burns: In 2004, I wanted to do something political around the H-1B issue. Kucinich, like Nader, had always been sensitive to the issue of H-1B expansion. I volunteered on his campaign and wound up moderating the Economics section of the volunteer online forum. What that largely meant was when folks had a question on economics, I would try to find a relevant source for them.
On the guest worker visa issue, I volunteered for the job and nobody else really wanted it. The experience was eye-opening. Dennis was under intense political pressure to tone things down, and it took a bunch of revisions to create something acceptable.
Dennis Kucinich is a man of enormous courage and willingness to sacrifice for causes he believes in. We have differences on the issue of economic theory, but I would never question his integrity.
6. You have proposed a revenue-neutral tax shift to pollution taxes. Please explain more about that and how it would be implemented.
Randall Burns: In college, one of my professors encouraged me to read some original sources on Classical Economics, which is why I read Mill and George. The idea of pollution taxes were already being talked about then. In 1990 I wrote an article about a revenue-neutral tax shift which is one of the earlier such proposals. I got frustrated because at the time it was very, very hard to talk to environmental groups about these issues.
Pollution taxes have now been actually implemented, but not nearly as aggressively as I think they should be. One piece that is missing is folks do not appreciate how much the tax system and pollution combine to obscure the true economic impact of pollution.
Creation of basic pollution taxes is easy. The trick is get the costs just right. Aggressive use of pollution taxes is a tricky economic planning problem.
7. How do you address concerns that a pollution tax would encourage outsourcing of manufacturing jobs or create a barrier to bringing back those jobs from overseas?
Randall Burns: Any environmental regulation or tax can have the outsourcing effects you describe unless it is accompanied by careful regulation of imports from countries that do not have similar regulations or an imputation of the tax amount foreign producers should pay. I think the second option is easier to do.
8. Obviously from a progressive standpoint, mass immigration is a disaster for workers and the environment. I’m sure you have gotten a lot of slack from fellow progressive for writing for Vdare. Why do you think the Left is so hostile towards immigration control? They are totally oblivious to the fact that they are useful idiots for the corporate elite.
Randall Burns: I have had a mixed reception among progressives. I think Dennis Kucinich liked me and recognized my sincerity. Some of the other volunteers were very suspicious of me and my volunteer activities at VDARE.com.
What folks miss is that folks like Appalachian coal miners were at one point a major part of the FDR New Deal Coalition. When rural whites bolted from the New Deal Coalition, it was reactively treated kind of like treason. Just for your information, I submitted The Jobs Crunch to every major Left publication and it was turned down by all of them. I came to the conclusion that most of those folks are either frauds or fools.
I actually know one of the board members of Mother Jones from U of Chicago. She is wife of Hyatt CEO Nick Pritzker. I like Sue, but her issues are not mine.
A lot of faux progressives are really just ethnocentric chauvinists. They hate White people who speak with a drawl (though they will make exceptions for attractive women). They also depend on corporate money just as much as conservative groups and lack the imagination to think what a world with real political, media and economic democracy might look like.
9. Do you have any hope for change on immigration coming from the Left? One thing I would like to see is an alternative “Centrist” movement combining the best aspects of the Buchananite Right and Naderite Left. However most people are caught up in the Left-Right divide. For example, Trump supporters and Sanders supporters bash each other as fascists or communists instead of focusing on opposing the Establishment.
Randall Burns: The big corruption we see in US politics is in the Center, not the Left or the Right. If money is taken out of politics and media control democratized, the Center would gradually be redefined. I think taking money out of politics would also gradually reduce the ideological fighting between those two camps that are fanned by corporate media.
We already have Thom Hartmann as a major figure on the Left who has questioned the wisdom of loosely regulated immigration. The thing is the Left of today is largely oblivious to economic issues – and most of those who are focused on economic issues have not had an original thought since FDR plagiarized the 1932 Kruger/Thomas Platform as the “New Deal.”
When the Left starts doing real, original economics again, they will need to address immigration. What conservatives can do is take a harder line around the excesses of the wealthy than folks like Clinton are doing to force the Left to get their act together.
10. Donald Trump in the past called for taxing the ultra-rich and getting rid of tax breaks for hedge funds. However his new tax plan calls for cutting taxes on the top income bracket. It’s important to point out that Trump is speaking out against outsourcing which enriches the elite by looting the middle class. What’s your overall take on Donald Trump’s economic policies?
Randall Burns: I do not think Trump is a deep economic thinker. In his personal life, I do not think Trump thinks much about money at all. They guy would have a much bigger net worth had he simply invested his inheritance in an index fund. What I think Trump cares about is building stuff he likes and taking care of the people that have been with him a long time. My guess is if Trump is elected, it will be a huge win for major real estate developers, and big chunks of other wealthy groups will take a serious haircut.
If elected, I think Trump will try hard not to mess with Social Security. Trump’s flat asset taxation has some perverse effects because it will not touch the uber-rich but would seriously sting the lower portion of the 1%. The thing is nobody visible has read my article showing why asset taxation needs to be highly progressive.
If elected, I think Trump will get serious around infrastructure. One big problem is I think Trump is environmentally naive. The guy doesn’t believe global warming is real even though Lloyd’s does. It doesn’t occur to him that his flood insurance rates are highly governmentally subsidized (and what a huge liability that is for the federal government).
I think Trump’s stand on trade is decent. I would like to see him embrace Buffet’s import certificates idea. Trump also needs to consider just what should replace deficit spending by the US as a stimulus for the global economy. If he doesn’t, there would be serious long-term problems.
11. What are your thoughts on Trump’ past use of foreign visas? Do you think Trump is a genuine populist or just an opportunist?
Randall Burns: Trump’s operation is big enough that he may not have known what was going on. He was careless in not addressing the issue up front. Howard Hughes once had an issue around lavish entertainment of military brass. He simply said he was playing by the rules laid out for him and would happily play by new rules if the authorities made new rules.
Trump can say something similar on this issue. That said: I do not think Trump is really an immigration restriction advocate. The material on his site is largely from Jeff Sessions (who is). I think Trump may not have even read the stuff carefully. Trump has said he would like to increase immigration. However, he is a law and order zealot who dislikes illegal immigration and immigration-facilitated crime.
12. As an economic progressive, do you agree with Milton Friedman’s assertion that you cannot have open immigration and a welfare state?
Randall Burns: There may be some exceptions to this rule. Public schools and hospitals existed when the US still had open immigration. I think part of the key is the resource base a country has. A second factor is whether there are selective criteria for immigrants. Even when the US had few formal regulations, there were quite a few informal regulations.
That said, recent US immigration policy is endangering the US safety net, and the faux progressives have been oblivious to the reintroduction of indentured servitude that has gone along with this.
If the US creates a major economic boom (say by Planetary Resources and similar companies seriously taking off), there might be room for substantially expanding selective immigration. Until then, we will continue to have big problems with mass immigration until they cannot be denied credibly.
13.What are your thoughts on the Georgist economic philosophy? What are some examples of Georgist solutions to economic problems?
Henry George is the greatest economic journalist in history. No other economic author has had the kinds of sales he has had without active governmental promotion. George did a good job of making J. S. Mill’s thoughts more accessible, and he contributed to areas Mill did not (technology prizes is one area).
I have to say that in every area where George deviated from Mill’s work, there are problems. Mill wanted to focus taxation on future increases of real estate values. George wanted to also expropriate existing values. That deviation by George made it much harder to get Mill’s ideas more widely utilized.
Mill is kind of the missing link between Libertarianism and Liberal Democracy. High-end taxation in the US is largely something that came of the writings of George (even if the implementation got messed up). The congressman that wrote some of the first progressive income tax legislation was in fact a Georgist.
If you look at things like how Hong Kong funds their transit system by creative use of eminent domain, that is something that evolved from Mill’s ideas pretty clearly. China has high taxes on both real estate and capital gains from sale of real estate – that is from Mill/George (via Sun Yat Sen).
Pollution taxes are a variant on George/Mills thinking. Proportional election systems were largely inspired by Mill. Mill and George did not create the cult of personality that Marx did, but their influence is pretty enduring even if credit is not widely given. George had a lot of respect for LaSalle, the founder of the SPD which eventually got largely taken over by Marxists, but if you look at the actual SPD policies that have stuck they owe a lot more to LaSalle than George. Marxists have a horrible habit of not giving proper credit to original thinkers.
14. What are your thoughts on raising the minimum wage? Would raising it discourage mass low-skilled immigration?
Randall Burns: I support a higher minimum wage if only because most folks want it. My main desire though is that:
a) the minimum wage be adjusted for local cost of living (which would mean a $19.30/hour minimum wage in Manhattan at the present base level).
b) the minimum wage for non-citizens by substantially higher than the effective minimum wage in every locale and that the minimum wage for non-citizens in ever major occupation category be substantially higher than the median wage in that occupation and experience level.
Failure to adjust the minimum wage by local cost of living means employers in places like New York City or Los Angeles do not have to provide living conditions similar to what employers in low-rent areas do. This is a major factor in the reasons why places like NYC have a high proportion of immigrants.
I do not think increasing the minimum wage is the right solution for rural poverty. I would rather see a guaranteed income or a significant increase of the EITC for that purpose. I think a minimum wage can be used very aggressively in major urban areas with high real estate prices because much of the cost of a higher minimum wage comes by restricting appreciation of commercial real estate.
My casual observation is that raising the minimum wage can raise consumer costs in area that may have negative effects from those costs (Iowa City, IA and Vancouver WA have similar living costs, but the minimum wage and stuff like fast food is higher in Vancouver than Iowa City). I am very hesitant to do anything to raise costs for middle class workers in this situation where things are getting worse for a big chunk of such folks. Raising the minimum wage may have issues around encouraging urban sprawl, but it is still a redistributive policy that has broad political support.
15. Those on the Right often come to the defense of the rich, while those on the Left defend illegal immigration. You have proposed making the rich pay for crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Can you reconcile both sides by making the connection that the rich are the biggest benefactors of mass immigration?
Randall Burns: Both major parties have specific “pet” upper middle class groups. Neither major party will really take on the uber-rich. Poll data documents the wealthy support mass immigration. We no longer have an economically-oriented Left in the United States that is truly active. The odd thing here is that Left icons like Chavez, Randolph, McCarthy and Jordan were all quite suspect of high immigration levels. The real power behind high immigration levels has been more oligarchs wanting to use the Left (i.e. like the Kennedy family) than anything else.
16. What would you say is the main cause of income inequality in America? Immigration, free trade, tax policies, or the banking system?
Randall Burns: We live in a world with enormous and growing inequality. It takes substantial effort for any country to contain that inequality. Clearly limited, selective immigration is compatible with limiting economic inequality in a specific country. Another major factor is that with the global resource base under present resource constraints and present technologies, it is not feasible to deliver a US or EU standard of living globally.
Companies like Planetary Resources (an asteroid mining company) might play a role in changing those resource constraints. Space-based solar is another potentially important factor.
The fact the US no longer has inventors and engineers in positions of political leadership is a major problem. A bunch of attorneys cannot maintain the nation let alone improve it.
To avoid serious economic inequality in a world that is filling up you either need active government intervention (which can crash an economy if it isn’t done correctly) or steady technological advancement that increases the resource base. Basically marginal returns to capital/labor will decline at some point of development of a regional or global economy. We are facing a world where labor value worldwide is pretty low. You can replace the entire workforce in the US for a fraction of existing wages.
17. What are the effects of mass immigration on real estate markets?
Randall Burns: Obviously high population density is a major factor in real estate values, but so is governmental stability and the taxation and regulatory structure a location has. Singapore provides an example of high but fairly carefully selected immigration. I do not think the US even kept truly good statistics tracking how immigrants that meet various selective criteria perform according to a variety of criteria. Just collecting that data would be an important step towards more sensible decision making.
18. There is a debate about smart growth and development. Obviously growth is being driven by mass immigration. Do you see building denser within existing urban areas as an alternative to suburban sprawl?
Randall Burns: Obviously we have in the US at times had much denser cities than are typical today. Technology has influenced that change just by the mere availability of automobile technology that makes cities like LA possible. I would also argue than changes in US tax structure had something to do with these changes. When you look at buildings from the period before and after FDR, you can see that pretty obviously. After WW II there was a huge push to remove stuff like decorations and anything labor-intensive that was driven in part by direct and indirect tax costs.
19. While corporations and the rich have been the primary driving forces behind mass immigration in America, the migrant crisis in Europe is so disastrous it’s even having ill effects on the wealthy and business interests. In Europe do you see pathological altruism rather than economic greed as the primary motivator behind support for migrants?
Randall Burns: I would not use the term pathological altruism. The European Left are largely Marxists. They developed a party line and process years ago. It has been very, very hard for them to change key aspects of that ideological orientation. In Germany, the Greens were created because of the environmental inertia of the Socialist Party of Germany (or SPD). Folks are scared to death to do/say anything that will draw comparisons to the Nazi period.
20. I think it was Steve Sailer who coined the phrase “invade the world, invite the world.” How does our foreign policy effect immigration? I know a lot of Leftists say we have a moral obligation to take in refugees because we have such a horrible foreign policy.
Randall Burns: I am very critical of US foreign policy. Failure to create living conditions that are clearly and rapidly improving globally is contributing to mas immigration and the refugee crisis. Stuff like NAFTA cut a lot of folks loose in Mexico who wound up in the US.
When I was working construction jobs in Chicago, I met such people. I would agree the US has a moral obligation to help with the refugee situation. I think the best thing that can be done immediate is to fund emergency aid and major construction projects that would improve services and housing for refugees where they are or in countries that would take refugees and development funds or debt relief as a package.
Those same immigration rights that would be transferred to refugees could be auctioned on the open market to qualified purchasers (i.e. folks upon whom a reliable background check can be done and who have the ability to purchase insurance saying they will obey US law if they come here and insurance indeminfying any US victims of communicable diseases that are brought into the US because of immigration).
21. What are your thoughts on the US military’s foreign recruitment? Do you see historic parallels to Rome’s use of mercenaries to defend its empire?
Randall Burns: I think large-scale foreign recruitment has some serious dangers. Obviously, this is nothing new. The Revolutionary War included some high-level foreign military personnel involved at a important level. I had a great uncle who had been a Filipino Army Colonel who transferred to the US Army and kept his rank (this was rare). The thing is, I doubt a really good background check can be done on many of these foreign recruits. It is inherently a security problem. Risks are being taken to meet objectives not relevant to US security.
22.What are your thoughts on a basic guaranteed income? Will it became necessary due to globalization and automation?
I think the US needs to move towards a guaranteed income. I do not think this will happen all at once. The group that it might be easiest to start with are military veterans. That policy could be gradually extended to Peace Corps and Vista volunteers. I think one way a universal guaranteed income may be brought about is gradually creating enough options to get qualified that most of the population chooses one of them.
For example, I think that earning a PhD or MD in any discipline required for employment by government agencies might qualify. Providing caregiving services that reduce the need for long-term institutionalization might be another qualifying criteria. Automation is going to make this all worse, and the GAI is the simplest way to assure there is no real increase in poverty associated with automation.