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DFP Bill #3: Cutting Sales Tax Exemptions… and Tax on Food and Clothing!

Dakota Free Press
Legislative Proposals

The Dakota Free Press readers poll revealed a keen interest in tax reform. So let’s take a stab at making our state sales tax simpler by removing a lot of the exemptions we offer.

The state leaves $990 million in tax expenditures on the table, mostly in the form of sales tax exemptions. For the third DFP legislative proposal, I leave the tax expenditures for government purchases, civic and nonprofit association events, and library copying intact but give the rest of the exemptions the axe, adding around $800 million to state coffers.

In exchange, I propose eliminating the sales tax on food and clothing. I invite the Legislative Research Council to run its own fiscal impact analysis, but by mashing some stats together, I figure giving up the food and clothing tax costs us about $170 million. The net fiscal impact of this bill should be to put about $630 million more in the state general fund, an amount equivalent to 42% of the general fund spending recommended by Governor Daugaard in FY2017.

Money like that creates three possibilities:

  1. Go back through the exemptions this bill repeals and choose some to keep on the basis of benefits for certain industries and institutions.
  2. Provide additional tax relief by lowering the state sales tax on all goods from 4% to a level that would maintain current revenues.
  3. Find something to do with all that money (remember: expanding Medicaid and raising teacher pay to Blue Ribbon levels takes $132 million, leaving nearly half a billion to invest in other priorities).

Dakota Free Press Bill #3: Repealing $800 Million in Tax Expenditures and Repealing Sales Tax on Food and Clothing 

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to eliminate most tax expenditures in exchange for eliminating the tax on food and clothing.


Section 1: That § 10-43-510-44-410-44-810-45-3.410-45-510-45-5.210-45-5.510-45-710-45-7.110-45-9.110-45-11.110-45-12.110-45-12.410-45-12.510-45-12.610-45-12.710-45-13.110-45-13.510-45-1410-45-14.210-45-14.4, 10-45-14.610-45-14.910-45-14.10, 10-45-14.11, 10-45-14.1210-45-1510-45-1610-45-16.110-45-16.210-45-16.310-45-1810-45-18.110-45-18.210-45-18.310-45-18.410-45-18.510-45-18.610-45-1910-45-19.110-45-20.510-45-20.610-45-27.210-45-29.110-45-6810-45-8410-45-9010-45-9210-45-9310-45-9410-45-9610-45-11010-46-2.110-46-2.510-46-310-46-510-46-6.210-46-9.110-46-9.210-46-9.310-46-9.510-46-9.610-46-1610-46-16.110-46-16.210-46-16.410-46-16.510-46-16.610-46-1710-46-17.210-46-17.310-46-17.510-46-5610-46-6310-46-68, and 10-50-18 be repealed.

Section 2: That chapter 10-45 be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:

There is imposed a tax of zero percent on the gross receipts from the sale of food as defined in § 10-45-1 and clothing.

Amendments? Complaints? Fears that cutting these sales tax exemptions will crush business? Fire away… and remember, if you don’t like this bill, we have two more reader-inspired tax reform bills coming!


  1. Paul Seamans 2016-01-10 23:46

    I think the only way to handle sales tax exemptions is to remove all of them and then have people explain why they should have an exemption in order to have it reinstated.

    A couple of years ago they had a summer study to figure what exemptions should be removed. The summer study came up with only two that should be eliminated.

  2. C Brechtelsbauer 2016-01-11 08:06

    Thanks for making untaxing groceries a top priority in any tax change consideration. I am quite adamant that the second priority, after food, should be heat.
    Taking tax off clothing would benefit low-income people extremely little, compared to the benefit to the wealthy. But there is a much narrower range of spending on food or heat. You can buy used clothing, but you cannot buy used food or used heat. Taxes on food and utilities are probably the most regressive taxes we have.

  3. David Bergan 2016-01-11 09:48

    Excellent analysis, C.B. I had always assumed that we needed to exempt clothing, but the amount of sales tax that the poor pay annually on clothing is probably minuscule, and (as you pointed out) controllable. Haute-couture does not need a tax exemption.

    Would “heat” include electricity? Heat for businesses or just residences? Home-based businesses?

    Kind regards,

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-11 10:06

    Haute couture? Show me one person in South Dakota dressed in haute couture. Show me one construction worker on a job site today wearing haute couture. Show me one teacher wearing haute couture.

  5. bearcreekbat 2016-01-11 11:16

    C.B.makes an excellent point about heat

  6. David Bergan 2016-01-11 11:23

    Hi Cory,

    Come visit the numerous and growing clothing boutiques in Sioux Falls. There are many stores that cater exclusively to wealthy women. Do you think they need a sales-tax exemption? Or maybe the exemption be based on the clothing article’s price?

    Kind regards,

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-11 11:33

    I’m open to that conversation, CB and DB, and to the amendment from clothing to heat. Is there any way to define essential clothing versus luxury clothing?

  8. Kathy Tyler 2016-01-11 11:42

    I like Paul’s idea…remove all exemptions for a year or maybe six months; exempt food, and then start from scratch. THAT would be an interesting discussion!

  9. Porter Lansing 2016-01-11 12:35

    anecdote: When I moved to CO as a twenty-something it was a fond surprise that food wasn’t taxed. It really helped during that last week of the month before payday. Beer, wine and liquor off-sale aren’t taxed here either. (Those of us with German heritage love that.) lol

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-12 06:51

    Or Kathy, how about taking exemptions a totally different direction:

    Consider that the federal poverty level for individuals is $11,770. Take that number as a proxy for the amount of money every person must spend on basics to survive. Multiply that amount by 4%: $470.80. That’s the amount an individual would pay in sales tax on that poverty-level amount of spending each year.

    Perhaps the state could replace all of the current sales tax exemptions with a simple personal exemption for every resident of the state. At the end of every fiscal year, the state would a check for $470.80 to every resident of South Dakota, as a refund of their first $11,770 of spending on groceries and other necessities.

    Sales tax refunds for residents: I’ll bet that would put an extra spin on the RV-voter debate. :-)

  11. David Bergan 2016-01-12 07:22

    That was the angle Neal Boortz’s fair tax took. 0 exemptions, and give citizens a “pre-bate” to offset the regressive aspects of the tax.

    Illegal immigrants, not being citizens, would not get a pre-bate… so it would be regressive for them.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-12 07:31

    Neal Boortz’s “fair” tax is misnamed—it’s still a regressive tax, imposing greater practical burdens on the poor than the rich. To consider a flat tax acceptable, I need to see some sort of first-dollar rebate to offset that regressivity.

  13. David Bergan 2016-01-12 08:05

    Hi Cory,

    I don’t disagree. I’m not advocating for the FairTax, nor a flat (income) tax… not sure where that tangent came from. I was just tracing where I first heard of the pre-bate to offset a consumption tax’s regression, and noting whom it would hurt the most.

    But your reply did make me wonder, in what social structure do the poor not have greater practical burdens than the rich? It seems like “money” alleviates “practical burdens”… in which case “> money” would always equate to “< practical burdens".

    Kind regards,

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-12 09:01

    The poor will always be with us, and being poor will always be harder than being rich. But we don’t need to make that burden worse by passing bad tax policy.

  15. David Bergan 2016-01-12 10:24

    Total agreement with your last post. Back on point: do you favor a state sales tax refund (aka pre-bate) that is regressive toward poor illegal immigrants or a state sales tax with exemptions on food and/or heat and/or thrift-shop clothes?

    Kind regards,

  16. bearcreekbat 2016-01-12 10:35

    David, I sense you are concerned about unintentionally harming immigrants. If so, I agree with you.

    I disagree with calling any immigrant “illegal.” Indeed, many immigrants are simply without the required paperwork, which is not a crime. And even those immigrants who have committed a crime are no more “illegals” than a citizen who has committed a crime. The term is used to denigrate and harm these folks by creating a label that draws the ire of people looking for someone (usually of color or the wrong religion) to blame their own bad circumstances on. Please don’t give that term credibility by using it.

  17. Paladn 2016-01-12 10:59

    When you discuss potential reductions to sales tax and replacement with some sort of an income tax, are you suggesting a gross income tax?

  18. Porter Lansing 2016-01-12 11:18

    Oye, oye señor Bat. Using denigrating terms is a solid symptom of low self-esteem. Somehow the mind of many conservatives takes solace in the scale in which they perceive to be doing better than minorities and the poor. e.g. “My life may suck and I may have never made a success of myself because I went to the bar and drank my money away but I’m still not letting them damn (fill in the blank) get anything I don’t qualify for. I don’t care if their kids are hungry.”

  19. David Bergan 2016-01-12 11:57

    Hi BCB,

    Yes, I am expressing my concern for illegal immigrants in the situation Cory proposed (sales tax refund) and I’m definitely not being pejorative in using the term “illegal immigrant”. For this situation there is a substantive difference in the regressive-ness of the tax between an illegal immigrant and a legal one, and that’s why the adjective “illegal” was a part of my posts.

    My brother-in-law is a legal immigrant, a citizen of the US and South Dakota. He would get a sales tax refund… and so the situation would not be any more regressive for him than you or me. But an immigrant who doesn’t have the paperwork, won’t get the refund, and is stuck paying taxes on food, clothing, and heat.

    Who’s ok with that?

    Kind regards,

  20. bearcreekbat 2016-01-12 12:47

    Thanks David, I am not okay with that either – each immigrant who pays sales tax ought to qualify for the refund without regard to documentation. Your description of the immigrant in your second paragraph is much more respectful and beneficial than using the term “illegal.”

    I appreciate that you mean no harm by using the term “illegal.” My point is that use of such a term to describe someone causes harm, whether intended or not. Otherwise, I think we are on the exact same wavelength.

  21. David Bergan 2016-01-12 12:57

    Point taken. I hadn’t given any thought to the adverse connotations of using term “illegal”. “Undocumented” would work just as well.

    Kind regards,

  22. Porter Lansing 2016-01-12 13:30

    From personal experience with my “New American” friends in the food business, I can verify that you don’t need to have all your paperwork in order to pay income taxes and then (if you’ve paid too much) get a refund. Here are some highlights of the rule and a link.
    -Do undocumented immigrants have to pay income taxes in the United States?
    Yes. It can be a crime to work in the U.S. and not pay taxes on your income. You must pay taxes on income earned from employment in the U.S. even if you are not lawfully in the U.S.
    -Why should I file taxes?
    Filing taxes is required if you work in the U.S. By filing your taxes you may be eligible for refunds of the taxes that are withheld from your paycheck.
    -Filing taxes can help with an immigration case. For example, filing your taxes is evidence that you are a person with good moral character. Showing good moral character is important when applying to become a U.S. citizen and for other types of immigration cases.
    -Many undocumented immigrants cannot get an SSN. Undocumented immigrants can file an income tax return by applying for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (“ITIN”).
    -Am I eligible for the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit if I have an ITIN?
    No. If you use an ITIN to file your income taxes, you are not eligible for the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (“EITC”). To claim the EITC, you must have a valid SSN.

  23. Porter Lansing 2016-01-12 13:40

    And, the follow up question. No, it’s not the worker’s choice whether he/she want to pay income taxes. It’s the bosses necessity. Otherwise the boss is paying workers under the table and is subject to big problems if they get audited. And, almost all restaurants get audited … often. My experience is unlike Republicans, the undocumente workers feel no anger about paying taxes and are proud to contribute to their new country. Even if they only plan to be here until things get better back home.

  24. bearcreekbat 2016-01-12 13:47

    Excellent comments Porter – thanks!

    David, “undocumented” seems a great improvement over “illegal.” I think I like Porter’s “New Americans” even better!

  25. Porter Lansing 2016-01-12 14:18

    You’re welcome, Bear
    I don’t take much umbrage to y’all up there not knowing much more than here say about “New Americans” and it’s normal for conservatives to hate things they don’t know much about. Heck, there are lots of city people that hate farmers because they keep the women from going to town and force them to have sex against their will. I know it happens but it’s no more the norm than some of the things I here about my Mexican friends.

  26. Douglas Wiken 2016-01-12 18:35

    So, it is OK and politically correct to give illegal aliens a less descriptive term, but also OK to label anybody who disagrees with your PC humbug as a “hater”.

    We are being fed a truckload of “diversity” crap. Anybody working with aliens, legal or illegal, who can’t speak English and who haven’t a clue of American customs and legality are a large burden on all kinds of systems. The diversity we get with spicy foods does not in any way make up for the waste illegal aliens put on systems.

    It makes no sense to force honest people through years of legal hassle to become citizens and allow open borders for un-educated and under-educated or anti-American terrorism plans to illegally enter the US.

    Don’t underestimate Trump’s finding sore nerves in the population in regard to borderless borders and illegal aliens. Also, law enforcement is finding that first generation Moslems may be actually thankful for finding the US as a refuge, but their children turn out to be supporters of ISIS and terrorism. They hate the rest of us because we aren’t jumping at the opportunity to treat women as dogs and aren’t excited about Shari law and lopping off the hands of pickpockets and stoning female adulterers…or even alleged adulterers.

  27. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-12 21:47

    David, interesting concern! Indeed, a rebate—collecting money, then sending it back—is less efficient than simply not collecting that money in the first place. I would prefer exemptions for basics to a cumulative exemption provided in the form of periodic, after-the-fact rebate checks.

  28. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-12 21:50

    Paladn, the state income tax I propose includes this section: “Taxable income is defined as the each taxpayer’s total income, as reported on the taxpayer’s federal tax return, minus the South Dakota income tax exemption.” Do you call that a gross income tax or something else?

  29. bearcreekbat 2016-01-13 09:47

    Douglas, you are educated enough to know that using the term “illegal” when describing an immigrant is not in any way a “descriptive” term. Indeed, many immigrants without papers have committed no crime whatsoever, they simply did not comply with a civil regulatory requirement. “mere unlawful presence in the country is not a crime. It is a violation of federal immigration law to remain in the country without legal authorization, but this violation is punishable by civil penalties, not criminal.”

    And for those immigrants who have actually committed a crime, how is it descriptive to label them “illegal” when you don’t label citizens who commit crimes “illegal” citizens, or “illegal” South Dakotans?

    No, Douglas, using the term “illegal” to describe an immigrant is no more descriptive than using the “N” word to describe a black person, or using the “C” word to describe a female you don’t like. The term is a mean spirited word aimed only creating bad feelings about whoever you label it with. It is a version of bullying. You are a much better person than that. Please stop using and defending language designed only to create hostility and hatred toward our fellow human beings.

  30. Porter Lansing 2016-01-13 10:51

    @Wiken … Politically correct and political correctness are terms embraced by bigots to shield themselves from valid criticism. Correct is correct no matter what word you preface it with.

  31. Douglas Wiken 2016-01-13 20:40

    Political correctness in relation to illegal aliens is like a curtain between your eyes and reality. The failure to control borders dumps a huge unnecessary federal mandate on local and state governments to pay for services for non-citizens. They are as illegal as it is illegal to break into a business and steal property or food.

    Political correctness is a sign of the kind of tribal thinking that stands in the way of rational discussion and is also a block to acceptance of real data and real science. You can label illegal aliens as pussycats or whatever and they will remain as illegal aliens.

    There is also a huge element of hypocrisy in objecting to “illegal aliens” as an inappropriate term and then promptly label somebody who disagrees with that nonsense as a bigot or hater. Killing the messenger is an old debate trick, but it is not much in the way of rational thinking.

  32. Porter Lansing 2016-01-13 20:54

    I don’t know what you are, Wiken but I know that what you’re saying is bigoted.

  33. Douglas Wiken 2016-01-13 21:23

    Stuff it Lansing.

  34. Porter Lansing 2016-01-13 21:28

    We had this exact conversation about this exact same subject less than a year ago. That you don’t remember it shows me that you spend a lot of time thinking about yourself. And that you didn’t learn a thing about the truth about “New Americans”. Also, that there’s no reason to invest in doing it again.

  35. Douglas Wiken 2016-01-13 21:34

    Never safe to make assumptions about people you don’t know.

  36. bearcreekbat 2016-01-14 12:04

    Douglas, I did not call you a bigot or a hater. I said that using such language to hurt other people is a form of bullying.

    Regardless, folks who use such terms as the N-word, the C-word and “illegal” to describe another human being fall into two groups: (1) Those folks who are unaware of how much such language hurts another; and (2) Those who are aware that use of such language denigrates and harms another. How would you describe someone in the second category?

    And if you are like most of us you may have driven over the speed limit at some time or rolled through a stop sign or violated some administrative civil rule. Does that make you just as much of an “illegal” as those people you label as “illegals?”

  37. Douglas Wiken 2016-01-14 12:22

    I once worked in Highway safety, so I very rarely speed and I know the geometry in coming to a complete stop rather than rolling through an intersection with an on-coming vehicle staying invisible behind a car window frame part. I have had the crap scared out of me when I have stopped completely and only then seen a speeding vehicle right in front of me. In any case, even those who routinely violated minor traffic laws are not in anyway themselves illegal. I have heard the terms “Illegal aliens” and just last night “Illegal immigrants” on reputable news broadcasts.

    I view much of the claims of denigration from name calling mostly excuses for failure rather than reasons to excel to demonstrate the wrongness of the label. The term “illegal” is nothing at all like the letter words which effectively attack races or gender. They relate to behavior which has nothing necessarily related to race. Those who spend time attacking words describing behavior as racism implicitly themselves are only demonstrating racism by associating such behavior with a particular race.

  38. bearcreekbat 2016-01-14 14:00

    Douglas, perhaps I cannot persuade you to stop calling people “illegals,” but from your comments I noticed that you have not disputed my assertion that the term denigrates a whole group of our fellow humans, whether they have committed any crime or not. You have not argued that use of the term makes some Hispanic child feel good about himself or herself, or that it somehow makes an immigrant feel welcome in our country.

    Perhaps we can agree then, that using such language hurts others, and disagree whether this is the right thing for each of to do.

  39. Porter Lansing 2016-01-14 14:27

    Wiken…How do you have validity to determine the level of insult to another’s race? Illegal is everything like the “n” and “c” words if Mexican people decide it is. Not you, living where there essentially aren’t any “New Americans”.

  40. David Bergan 2016-01-14 19:36

    BCB or Porter:

    I’m 100% with both of you that we shouldn’t use offensive language.

    However, I’m curious what you think would be the ideal policy of our national borders? Should anyone who wants be able to come to America permanently? Get rid of citizenship, green cards, and visas? Should we even check passports?

    How about customs? If any human can come into the country, without hassles, how about any animal, plant, gun, or vehicle?

    I’m not trying to be antagonistic, but if we’re calling undocumented immigrants New Americans, I’m just wondering if there’s any reason to have a border. That’s fine if there isn’t… I’m simply curious if you draw a line anywhere on what can and can’t come into our country.

    Kind regards,

  41. Porter Lansing 2016-01-15 09:23

    Mr. Bergman,
    Nice to talk with you. I can tell by your post that you (and so many Republicans) think there is a problem with unwanted border crossers. There are now more going south than north and the need for workers (to do the jobs Americans find unattractive) in USA now far exceeds the supply. Show me the hoards of terrorists invading our country? They only exist in the board room of FoxNews as they try to scare you, in order to get viewers.

  42. BIll DIthmer 2016-01-15 09:33

    I will never pc.

    The Blindman

  43. David Bergan 2016-01-15 09:57

    Hi Porter,

    I’m not […] claiming that there is a problem with unwanted border crossings. I don’t watch FoxNews.

    I simply would like to know what you think the ideal border policy would be.

    Kind regards,

  44. Porter Lansing 2016-01-15 11:33

    The current border policy is completely adequate. However, the current immigration policy could certainly be loosened. Our birth rate is dwindling and if more immigrants aren’t welcomed we may face the crisis that Europe now faces. Once we’re desperate for workers we won’t be as able to be inspective.

  45. bearcreekbat 2016-01-15 11:59

    David, I lean toward the same type of open borders between Mexico and Canada we have between our states. I can go to Minnesota, California or any other state and my SD driver’s license or ID, or license plate tag, makes it clear where I came from if I engage in conduct that brings me into contact with authorities.

    Just as I wouldn’t worry about transporting animals, plants, weapons, or vehicles between states, I wouldn’t worry about trying to use the border, or border patrol officials, to intercept such items on our borders. If the item is outlawed in the USA or a state, then it would be subject to confiscation and the owner who transported it should be prosecuted.

  46. Porter Lansing 2016-01-15 12:23

    That’s excellent, Bear. After reading your proposal I’m changing mine. I support open borders, also. Living in USA isn’t the “winning lotto ticket” those on the right attempt to cling to and covet. It’s surely not the worst place on Earth but it’s certainly not the best, either. Who knows? An immigrant may be the one to make USA better. It’s happened many times before.

  47. Bill Fleming 2016-01-15 12:50

    What’s the country to country border policy in Europe?

  48. bearcreekbat 2016-01-15 12:53

    Thanks Porter. Now we can both be demonized by the folks who fear everyone that looks different from them or comes from a different community.

  49. Bill Fleming 2016-01-15 13:00

    Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. What’s wrong with that idea?

  50. mike from iowa 2016-01-15 13:06

    How does Trump figure to force Mexico to build a fence around Europe?

  51. David Bergan 2016-01-15 13:58

    Thanks for the thoughts, guys. Definitely an idea with merit.

    The most significant immediate impact I can think of treating US-Mexico the same way as SD-MN is that lots of drugs would flood into the US… not just narcotics, but prescription drugs that are cheaper in other countries.

    Not taking a position on that (other than the current War on Drugs is obviously a failure), just stating what comes to mind.

    Kind regards,

  52. Porter Lansing 2016-01-15 14:15

    Mr. Bergan … An open border policy doesn’t mean there won’t be customs agents and ICE agents along the border. You wouldn’t be able to walk across the desert into USA with any more ease than they do now (which needs to be tightened). An open border policy means that the quotas to legal immigration are lessened to almost zero.

  53. bearcreekbat 2016-01-15 14:21

    David, that is a good point, but how does it differ from prohibited drugs, including illegal prescriptions, that travel freely across our state lines? Why couldn’t we rely on our current law enforcement to address the matter just as we do when interstate activities are involved.

    And if the traffickers decided to travel on I-90 across SD they would likely get caught anyway, given the record of our own state DCI, Highway Patrol, and the federal DEA. I recall one case where the mules were explicitly told by the trafficker not to travel I-90 through our state, but to use the longer interstate route in North Dakota for just that reason. The mules disobeyed and were busted within a couple hours after entering SD territory.

  54. David Bergan 2016-01-15 15:45

    Hi Porter,

    I guess I misunderstood… I thought by “open border” we were likening the US-Mexico border to the one between SD-MN. Nobody checks my legal or illegal drugs at the border when I go to Worthington. My car doesn’t even stop.

    Kind regards,

  55. Porter Lansing 2016-01-15 16:58

    Mr. Bergan … That’s why I assumed you to be a Republican watcher of FoxNews. Open Borders is a term invented by Republicans and spewed by Fox to scare the unaware. They want people to believe that an open immigration policy would lead to chaos and they play on people’s fear of the unknown to advance their agenda. They do it with gun safety measures. They do it with Obamacare. They do it in the Middle East. They do it on every issue they champion. Fear is their biggest tool and ignorance is their biggest ally.

  56. bearcreekbat 2016-01-15 17:21

    mfi, the exercise of your constitutional right to remain silent and not answer questions is a two edged sword. You are protected to the extent the officer understands and respects your constitutional rights.

    If the officer does not understand or respect such rights, however, you are in serious danger of being hurt (or killed if black) or falsely charged with a made up offense. And since the officer has a much greater ability to control how the circumstances are presented to outside authorities (absent cell phone or other video evidence), your chance of a remedy for the violation of your rights is jeopardized.

  57. mike from iowa 2016-01-15 17:37

    I could get killed here by a falling meteorite or someone with a head cold and a bad attitude. But,I believe you are right and border patrol agents probably don’t exhibit a sense of humor.

  58. bearcreekbat 2016-01-16 11:59

    David, it appears Porter and I have different views on the border issue. While we agree that there should not be impediments to immigration, we differ on whether to police the borders. I take the view that the USA followed for over 100+ years, until around the 1920’s – there was no need for the federal government to patrol the north and south borders at all. And it wasn’t until the 1880’s that the US started legislating against immigrants by excluding the Chinese.

    I think we can satisfactorily deal with immigrants who commit crimes after crossing the border in the same way we deal with citizens who commit crimes after leaving one state and entering another. For those immigrants who simply want to come here to work, support their families, and find a better life – I believe we should welcome them with open arms.

  59. David Bergan 2016-01-16 17:24

    Hi BCB,

    Thanks for reassuring me that I’m not crazy. I thought I was responding to the “open borders” concept as presented in this thread, but Porter made it sound like I was twisting people’s words against common sense.

    The notion of treating international borders like interstate borders isn’t scary to me, I just want to explore the ramifications of that. I’m attracted to the idea that peaceful people should be free to move where they want to find a better life… but that is, of course, subject to the will of the people who already live there. (*ahem* usually) For example, I couldn’t travel to Norway, fall in love with it, and then just decide to reside there permanently. The Norwegians need to approve me. A good friend of mine lived there for almost 10 years, and was hoping for citizenship… but then his visa renewal was denied and he was sent back to Brookings. And he was no free-loader. He has graduate degrees and is a successful startup founder. We can’t make Norway take us. They have the right to operate like a country club.

    The Nordic countries are often ranked highest in human development or quality of life indices, and the people themselves living there acknowledge that it is in part due to their strict citizenship policies. Sweden is having an easier time staying Swedish, than France is staying French. With all the entitlements their governments give, freeloading hurts more… and with a less diverse culture, they have an easier time agreeing with each other and moving forward politically.

    Police-wise, the border between Norway and Sweden seems to be similar to our interstate borders… cars don’t usually stop. However, customs checks are in play (even if most car’s aren’t individually checked).

    Do we have a modern example of a developed country that has the kind of radical open borders you’re advocating? A country that would immediately accept any human for citizenship, and has no customs rules?

    Kind regards,

  60. bearcreekbat 2016-01-16 18:05

    David, thanks for an excellent comment. As long as we have countries there likely will be rules for both citizenship and customs. I am not aware of any modern country that immediately grants citizenship and has no customs rules, and I don’t advocate that for the USA.

    There seems a reasonable distinction between accepting all immigrants and granting citizenship without some sort of process to earn it. Likewise with customs – while I disagree with a border patrol policy to enforce our customs laws, I think it sufficient for state and federal law enforcement agencies to enforce customs laws just as they do all other criminal and administrative laws within our borders.

    As for Nordic countries, they generally have my admiration for their tendency implement humanist public policies, regardless of their immigration policies.

    As an aside, there is a great show on Netflix (I believe) where an American mafia informer is sent to Norway under the witness protection program. Everyone speaks only Norwegian, except the American who speaks English, and there are no subtitles! It is called “Lilyhammer” and is a hoot! You can usually figure out the tenor of the Norwegian dialogue even if you can’t understand it. It presents an interesting view of how regular Norwegians interact with an odd American immigrant.

  61. Porter Lansing 2016-01-16 18:41

    You two guys can call your concept “Eutopian Borders”. Predicting is always hard. Especially when it involves the future. :)

  62. David Bergan 2016-01-17 19:59

    Hi BCB,

    Thanks for the show recommendation. I caught the first episode last night… Netflix has created a number of good series.

    Yes, I suppose there are distinctions between border control policies, customs, and immigration. I was inferring that the term New Americans meant that as soon as one crossed the US-Mexico border, she was granted citizenship. Well, anyway, I get where you’re coming from on border control… what would the ideal citizenship process look like to you? Do we still have visas or green cards?

    Kind regards,

  63. bearcreekbat 2016-01-18 10:19

    David, you are welcome – glad you enjoyed it!

    I am no expert in the process to become a citizen, but what we have now seems to work, provided all immigrants have an opportunity to go that route if they choose. As for green cards or visas, I am unsure what useful purpose they would serve under an open borders policy that I describe, but if they are useful I would make them quickly available to any applicant.

    One of my underlying reasons for advocating for open borders and the above change is my optimistic belief that most people, immigrants included, are honest hard working folks who have no desire to harm anyone or commit a violent or property crime. It appears that this optimism about immigrants is supported by evidence that immigrants are less likely to commit such crimes than non-immigrants.

    Our entire current harsh and restricted immigration policy seems to be based on an irrational fear of immigrants. I don’t share that fear and don’t think it reasonable to waste public resources chasing down such a hyped up, but in reality, minimal threat.

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