By Jagdish Bhagwati Everyone knows that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But few know that even if it is broke, it still may not be wise to fix it. One could make matters worse. The well-meaning proponents of US immigration reform learnt this lesson the hard way: their efforts finally collapsed in the Senate on June 28 and the nation was left more polarised than ever. What went wrong? Part of the problem lay in some gratuitous mistakes. Congress and the Bush administration invited trouble by embracing euphemisms that both obfuscated the issues and prompted slugfests that further poisoned the atmospherics. Thus, the politicians had to call illegal immigrants “undocumented” when, in fact, their illegality was what really mattered. Then, the amnesty that was offered had to be called a “legalisation” process. The politically correct politician was being asked to “legalise” those who could not be called illegals. But the notion that, simply by misnaming a phenomenon, you could squash opposition was naive. President George W. Bush also joined in, arguing that the amnesty was not an amnesty because there were conditions attached to it. If the president, notorious for his verbal gaffes, had been on the wrong side of the issue, Democrats such as myself would have been skewering him for being linguistically challenged. So we had endless, acrimonious debates on whether the amnesty was really an amnesty. The remainder of this column can be read here (FT.com subscription required). Discussion from our guest economists is free.
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