Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s devotion to Ayn Rand explains his hostility to family-sponsored immigration. It’s not just racism–the fear that one Guatemalan, Somali, or Syrian with a green card brings the nation one dam crack closer to the brown America of their suburban nightmares. No, it is not just a fear of a non-Nordic America, but also a positive desire for a Randian economic dystopia.
When my father’s parents arrived from Ireland in the early twentieth century, they came to places in the U.S. where they had family already. My grandmother and her sister came to Holyoke, Massachusetts, where an aunt lived, and my grandfather came to Butte, Montana, where a couple of older brothers already worked in the copper mines. Existing family connections eased the adjustment. They arrived knowing somebody already, somebody who had already established a web of social connections, a web into which the newcomer could be introduced. These connections could ease and quicken the transition to American life. Those connections could be trusted to help the immigrant find a good job or place to live. In the hand of a trusted guide in a territory already somewhat mapped, the risk of getting cheated was reduced, anxiety was lower, and the chance to thrive developed much more quickly. My grandparents didn’t stay in Holyoke and Butte, but those are the places that, with family help, they began to adjust comfortably to American life.
Of course, the rules were different back then and, for Northern Europeans, anyway, looser. But immigrants have, for centuries now, regularly come to places where they already have–in the wake of some bold ethnic pioneer–some family, community, or at least cultural connection–the Greek, Korean, Cuban, Filipino, or Ukrainian neighborhoods of our cities. Many immigrants, therefore, first find themselves, not as entirely isolated individuals, but as members of a community.
Back to Paul Ryan’s love of Ayn Rand. She hated the concept of community. She insisted upon individual isolation as a moral imperative. In her god-awful novel Atlas Shrugged, when she blows up the train, she makes a point of showing how everybody on it is in some way dependent on somebody else, and thus, they deserve no compassion; parasites, they deserve to die. The ideal community she imagines toward the end of the book has no families or institutions, only isolated individuals.
That is the sort of U. S. that Ryan wants immigrants to arrive in. (Actually, he’d like us all to live in that world, and he’s done his best to create it, but since so many of us love our families and communities, he can’t quite push us to a true Randian extreme. Immigrants, however, are vulnerable.) Economically, the immigrants should be absolutely free agents, with no ties to anything, certainly not to that heaviest anchor of all, a family. An immigrant’s desire to work should launch fluidly onto a labor market with the perfect fluidity of grain offered on a commodity exchange (and with the same ignorance of the job market that an individual soybean brings to the exchange; you’ve got to take whatever offer comes your way first, or else you’ll starve). Family or community might, of course, somewhat reduce the economic risks and asymmetries of information a new arrival might face, but that only shows the unmanly weakness of the old way of doing things, as opposed to the new chance-loving boldness of a Randian world.
Welcome to Paul Ryan’s and Ayn Rand’s America. Those people you loved at home? Forget them. They’re not coming to join you. We won’t let them follow you in. Here, we model life on the first few weeks of a microeconomics class, before we have to acknowledge or have to account for complications beyond the simplest issues of supply and demand for labor. You don’t get to call on anybody for help. No one calls you. You’re alone. An immigrant like you doesn’t deserve love.