Detlev Hager and the law of unintended consequences
In a recent article I saw in The Economist on Alabama’s harsh new immigration law, I was interested – make that amused - to read all of the early arrests were not one of the little brown Central American variety who are the target of the law. No, instead of Diego Hernandez, one of Alabama’s finest nailed a German citizen named Detlev Hager, an employee of Mercedes Benz, which has a plant in Alabama. (Hager, by the way, was driving a rental Kia when he was arrested. Interesting, that, although not quite in the same league as the Toyota exec who showed up to a press conference to defend Toyota quality in an Audi.)
While no one can argue with the impartiality of the police officer’s handling of the violation – the law’s the law, ma’am – it is beyond reasonable doubt that no one, but no one, who was congratulating himself on the law’s enactment wanted an arrest made of a Mercedes Benz executive.
Nein, nein, a thousand times nein.
And just to reinforce that they’re in truly color blind mode, a week after Detlev was busted, the Alabama po-po nabbed a Japanese Honda employee for a similar license violation.
In both cases, it sounds as if those darned foreigners were, in fact, at fault for driving without their licenses on them. Still, this used to be the type of offense that got you a citation, not a trip to the hoosegow in plastic cuffs.
It’s not like either of these fellows did hard time, Cool Hand Luke style. Still, the Alabama bidness community is all fluffed up about the impact this all might have on their ability to attract overseas company to their state. Certainly, no one wants to see their employees get rousted. Or, worse, start to demand hazardous duty pay if they get posted to Alabama. Across the state, there was much editorial gnashing of teeth about whether foreign companies would decide that the home of the Crimson Tide is just too foreign for them. From a round up on NPR (drawn from Reuters):
The Tuscaloosa News writes: "Immigration law is costing Alabama jobs".
— The Birmingham News writes: "The arrest of a Mercedes manager under the immigration law shows the danger that exists for international companies looking to expand into Alabama".
The Birmingham News also spoke to business leaders across the state, who called the arrest an "embarrassment." Here's a bit of the conversation the paper had with one leader:
David Bronner, chief executive of the Retirement Systems of Alabama and a key player in luring new business to the state… said companies looking to invest in the U.S. are watching the controversy over the immigration law, and at the same time, Alabama's competitors are reminding those companies of the issue.
"We've used difficulties in other states to make sure those people come and look here," he said. "We've just used a hammer and we've hit ourselves over the head with it."
Others characterized the incidents as a “black eye” for the state, or evidence that Alabama is a “hostile and unsavory environment.”
For his part, Bronner is right. What goes around does have a nasty habit of coming around, and other states can and will use these events to do some Alabama bashing.
The St Louis Post-Dispatch, in inviting Mercedes Benz to expand in Missouri, editorialized:
"Our state has many advantages over Alabama. We are the Show-Me State, not the 'Show me your papers' state." (Reuters, found on the Bay Ledger News Zone.)
While the detention of Detlev Hager and the unnamed Honda employee are unlikely to have any immediate impact on foreign investment in Alabama, it’s events like this – especially when placed within the context of the harsh anti-immigrant law that was passed – that do tend to have a longer run impact. There are plenty of other states out there, let’s go.
Similarly, I can’t see bio-tech companies open up shop in states that dumb down their schools’ science curricula so that they downplay evolution. Or cool outfits like Google or Facebook setting up outposts in states where gay employees may not feel welcome.
Sometimes you do get what you legislate for, and it hits you in the pocketbook.
Meanwhile, back in Alabama, many Latino illegals have “self-deported”, and many legals have reportedly left as well. (This from The Economist article cited above.)
Farmers complain of rotting crops and building companies of rising costs, both because there are too few workers.
And a University of Alabama economist, Samuel Addy:
…estimates the law’s total cost – taking into account productivity declines, increased enforcement cost, and declines in aggregate consumer spending and tax revenues since so many workers have left – in the billions.
Are you happy now?
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