Why Jon Stewart Should Read Peter Schuck

Conn Carroll
Posted: Aug 06, 2014 12:00 PM
Why Jon Stewart Should Read Peter Schuck

Professor Peter Schuck is a liberal. There is no doubt whatever about that. Not only has he always voted for Democrats for president, but he also served as a policy planning official in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Carter.

Schuck's continued faith in the ability of the federal government to solve problems is just one reason why every Democrat, and every Republican too, should read Schuck's new book, "Why Government Fails so Often."

"All Americans have a strong stake in understanding why government's failure are so endemic, and what might be done to improve matters," Schuck writes in the introduction. "For liberals, poor performance both discredits activist government and swallows up the precious resources needed to sustain and extend it."

One liberal in desperate need of Schuck's wisdom is The Daily Show's Jon Stewart. Just to pick one recent example of how Stewart could benefit from reading "Why Government Fails so Often," take a bit Stewart did Monday night on the relation between the current border crisis and President Obama's June 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

"Look look look. Obama's 2012 order, which is supposedly enabling these immigration consultants/coyotes to lie," Stewart reasons, "it clearly applied only to children who entered before 2007 and were present physically, still, in 2012. So there is no ambiguity. Where is the ambiguity?"

What Stewart fails to grasp is that all amnesty programs, whether it be Obama's DACA program, President Reagan's 1986 immigration amnesty, or the many amnesties administered by the IRS, all suffer from the same problem: they have zero credibility. Schuck explains in Chapter 6:

[F]or a policy to be effective, people must believe that the government will discharge today's commitments in the future (usually in the medium or long term), yet the demands of democratic legitimacy and accountability require government to respond to changed conditions in that future in ways the will impair its credibility. Economists Dani Rodrik and Richard Zeckhauser made this important point twenty-five years ago, providing a number of policy examples. The government may have good reasons to adopt an amnesty for tax evaders or undocumented immigrants, but unless it can persuade them that the amnesty is a one-time-policy, it simply encourages more people to evade taxes or come illegally in hopes of a future amnesty, which is precisely what has happened in both cases.

If Obama is unwilling to enforce current immigration law on DACA recipients today, why on earth should Central Americans believe a Democratic president will enforce current immigration law on them tomorrow?

The unilateral executive amnesty in question, DACA, is particularly not credible. Since Obama has declared that he can change immigration law unilaterally whenever he wants, immigrants everywhere have every reason to believe that he will someday expand DACA to include them.

In fact, not only do Democrats on Capitol Hill believe Obama has the power to grant legal status to anyone in the world he wants to at anytime, but the White House has been signaling for months that they plan to expand DACA's eligibility requirements.

Why wouldn't potential immigrants believe they could be part of Obama's next DACA expansion?

Immigration is a tough policy issue to tackle. But continuing to pretend we will deport people tomorrow when we are unwilling to deport them today is a failed policy path.