Consider two workers. One is an immigrant farmworker. He left his family and country behind, and is struggling with a new language and a new culture in the hopes of building a better life, one that is not available in his home country.
The other worker remains in the country where he grew up. Although his prospects for earning are less, he wants to stay with his family, his own culture and language. Instead of migrating, he wants to share what he produces with American consumers through trade.
For the environmental left, the first person is warmly embraced, but the second is treated as an enemy.
In contrast, the free market and respect for voluntary exchange between people, no matter where they live, is at the heart of the Washington Policy Center’s environmental approach. It is better for people, and better for the environment.
Legal immigration is positive for Washington state and for our farmers. This year, the Washington Farm Labor Association analyzed the benefits of H-2A visa workers on Washington’s economy. It found that even after immigrants sent money home, the benefit to Washington state was about $5,000 per worker.
Immigration is critical to our agricultural prosperity. Washington is one of the nation’s largest producers of apples and pears and these workers ensure produce gets to market. As we noted in a recent study, 51 percent of farms reported economic damage due to labor problems, including a shortage of workers.
Immigrants also embrace the American Dream. I ran a charity that worked with farmworkers and was constantly inspired by their commitment to hard work and prosperity. At a time when some Americans denigrate that ideal, these workers embody it.
Trade is equally important for Washington’s economy. Unfortunately, some people want to block trade, harming our economy and opportunities for the poor in other countries.
Take, for example, this comment: “NAFTA has had a devastating impact on workers in our country.” These are the words of Washington environmental activists at their recent conference in Olympia. The data, quite simply, show otherwise.
Washington’s farmers, Microsoft programmers and electric vehicle part manufacturers all prosper because we can share our products and creativity with the world. In exchange, we receive the benefit of goods from every culture and corner of the globe.
This is obviously good for Washington’s economy. It is also good for people in developing countries and for the environment.
Trade protectionism harms the poorest across the globe. Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus notes, “Protectionism is built up in each nation in the name of the poor, but its real beneficiaries are the rich and clever people who know how to manipulate the system.” Those who oppose trade claim to care about the poor, but trade barriers are more often used as weapons against the poor.
Trade also helps the environment. Environmental activists point to China’s spending on “green” technologies. Ironically, they also attack the prosperity-creating free-trade policies that allowed the Chinese to make those investments. The more prosperous a country becomes, the better its environmental record.
The environmental left is quick to tell you they care about immigrants. A worker or small entrepreneur who stays in their own country, however, is denigrated. Their decision to stay with their family and culture is not respected by those who attack free trade, blocking their opportunity to prosper in a way they choose. They respect immigration only when immigrants give everything up to live by the left’s rules. That is not compassion. It is coercion.
Legal immigration and trade are not merely a benefit to Washington state – creating jobs and economic prosperity. They also help the environment, by allowing us to use our resources efficiently and generate the prosperity that is critical to a clean environment. Perhaps most of all, allowing people to work and trade together in a way that is mutually beneficial is more moral than the coercive approach of the left.
Trade, within our borders or across them, benefits our economy, helps the environment and is respectful of people who understand the American Dream of a better life is a universal dream.
Todd Myers is the environmental director for the Washington Policy Center.