Libertarian Ignorance: Hispanic Panic

Part of the reason why I have great difficulty in associating myself with big "L" libertarians is that they often hold views that fly in the face of logic or critical thought. For purposes of ideological consistency or maintenance of faulty yet tempting premises, libertarians are prone to make arguments that are simply wrong. One such argument was raised on the EconLog blog (one of my top three favorite blogs). Put simply, it states that the demographic shift that will occur with the arrival of Hispanic immigrants (and the births of the children of established immigrants) will create a one-party system that consistently favors the Democratic Party; the resulting lack of political competition will result in a detrimental expansion of state power. While I agree with the latter statement, the first is blatantly incorrect. Here are two refutations of the argument that touch on important issues: one from the Volokh Conspiracy and the other from EconLog.

My argument is very simple, the premise that Hispanics will vote en masse to support Democratic politicians is flawed. I have four arguments: two cultural and the other two economic.

First, Hispanic culture (of course, recognizing that such a philosophical concept is neither universal nor fundamentally definable) is opposed to many aspects of the Democratic platform. Hispanics (especially Latinos--those from the Americas) are a deeply spiritual people. One could write a book about how Anglo and Continental European scholars misinterpret this strain of thought in Iberian influenced societies. While Hispanics are often characterized as superstitious and idolaters (both hangovers of Black Legend and anti-Catholic propaganda), the large place that spirituality occupies in the Latin soul is due to an obsession with mystery and the role of the abstract/imaginary in a material existence. Don Quixote most eloquently expressed this sentiment and it continues today in the literature of Magical Realism. Needless to say, many of the unflappably secular sections of the Democratic Party are unsettling to Hispanics. They are willing to vote Democrat so long as Republicans explicitly present themselves as the party of Protestant Christianity. On the other hand, Democrats ought to be commended for their tolerance of the unique religious and spiritual views held by Hispanics; I am skeptical that this will last, however, because the tolerance amongst party elites stems more from a condescending acceptance of different cultures rather than a genuine interest in Latino spirituality.

Furthermore, Hispanic culture is rooted in the family, and therefore any political party that does not recognize the family as a vital unit in political life will lose their long term support. Please keep in mind that I do not mean to suggest the conception of the family as it is envisioned by Anglo, Protestant males. Latin families are...well...weird and complicated to the eyes of those not familiar with the culture. As a first generation American, I have been blessed and cursed to see this firsthand, from both sides. To put it in anglicized terms, the Hispanic family is a balance of collectivism and individuality (whereas Americans tend to put a strong emphasis on the individuality). As a result, I tend to think of my family both in terms of a single unit and its individual components. We can survive apart, for a little while, but need each other to be at our strongest. It is very similar to military organizations--most likely because Spain the nation was forged through 800 years of war. Digression aside, there is a powerful temptation among progressives to denounce traditional structures as vessels that hold back the development of humanity. I believe most Latinos would tell you that it is the blood, sweat, and many many tears of their family that is the foundation of their strength, so to condemn it would be akin to undermine one's very own existence. The Democratic Party, if it indeed becomes complacent, will risk alienating many Latinos by casting opponents of abortion and sexual preference equality as fundamentalist loons forever mired in the past. While most Latinos tend to be progressive with regards to abortion and sexuality, they do have much in common with those who are more uniformly traditionalist. A contributing factor to Hispanic support for Bush was the strident rhetoric that lambasted supporters of traditional families as backwards. While Democrats like to think that they were attacking the "traditional" a lot of their arguments were logically consistent with assaults on the concept of "family" as well.

Where Hispanics (especially immigrants) truly differ from the platform of the Democratic Party is in their political economy preferences. Many chose to come to the United States to escape the tyranny of destructive state power. Whether it be Castro on the left or Pinochet on the right, the Latin American dictator achieved his ends through total control of the state apparatus. For this reason, Latinos are more opposed to an engorged state than those Americans who are descended from Anglo or Continental European ancestors. The Democratic Party in the election of 2008 did a good job in terms of restraining the rhetoric of using the state to "correct" the "mistakes" of the economy; however, there is a real danger that truly incompetent statists like Barney Frank will set more and more of the agenda of the party. That the President has supported the bail-outs of many non-viable businesses (especially those on Wall Street) is also reminiscent of the incompetence and heavy-handedness of the state. No Latino parent wants her child to be saddled with the debts of incompetent cronies who wield too much state power; this is especially the case when the Hispanic is vilified as the drain on the state. I can assure you, just as my Latin brothers and sisters would, that the medical bills of illegal immigrants pale in comparison to the endless streams of money given to institutions that all of those in government have deemed "too big to fail." Latinos cannot be expected to tolerate this hypocrisy for long.

Hispanics are a remarkably entrepreneurial ethnic group. The reason we are not considered so by others is that we specialize in the informal economy. When a trustworthy (and trust in remarkably undervalued in business dealings) carpenter is needed to repair a home, a Latino can always find a cousin's friend's brother who knows a thing or two about working with wood. When a student group needed a piece translated into Spanish, my sister passed along a request to my mother who translated the material for free. These sorts of transactions do not fall on the national accounting books, but they are an equally vital part of the economy. Therefore, to claim that the Hispanic bloc has any love for the welfare state is quite frankly nuts. Why would you delegate a service to the government when you are more than capable to secure a cheaper and equally efficient one through your own efforts? Such is the mentality of many Hispanics, though there is one glaring exception--health care. Latinos are often pilloried as welfare drains because our cousins who are here illegal consume our medical services. The reality is that good health care is not something that an informal economy can provide (though it does try--notice the prevalence of yerberias in Latin neighborhoods). Many Hispanics support some form of universal health care coverage--they view it as a meager concession given what they have given back to their communities through their hard work. The Democrats have taken the lead in pushing for universal coverage, though "universal coverage" does not necessarily imply "state provided." In fact, if the Republicans can offer a more market-based alternative that isn't also a big concession to interest groups, I am sure a lot more votes would swing their way.

Of course, I am making many assumptions myself, though my observations lead me to believe they are more correct than the typical line given by libertarians. The one assumption I am most unsure of is that the Republican Party can in any way modify their platform in a way that doesn't alienate Hispanics. Most of us are here legally, though it is difficult not to sympathize with the illegals who are hated for many reasons that could easily apply to us. One thing a Latino will not tolerate is bigotry towards her race. So long as the political discourse on all sides of the spectrum operates from such premises you will find a diminished willingness to vote on principle rather than pure self-interest. So while it may suck to be libertarian, it is worse to be Hispanic in our current political climate. And it really blows to be both!


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