Monday, August 30, 2004

Yearning to Work Freely

A couple of days ago I alluded to an article about the economic virtues of open immigration and promised a post explaining why. In response, Chris the Libertarian wrote in today’s society, open immigration is bad for the economy because the government provides so much for us.

There’s a lot of truth to that. Ceteris paribus, more immigrants—especially legal ones—means more consumption of roads, education, welfare and so on. But there are two things wrong with the argument. First, more people—immigrant or not—mean more consumption of government goods. Most American born go to college and a great deal of them go to state schools. The vast majority of “native Americans” go to public high schools. Most welfare recipients were born in this country. Most people on the roads are from one of the fifty states. Saying more immigrants are bad because they put stress on government goods is the same argument China uses to curtail reproductive rights. So I ask Chris this question: should we limit the number of kids families can have, too? What’s a good number? 2? 1? And since a poorer family is more likely to use government assistance than a wealthy family, should the wealthy family get to have more kids?

An astute observer will quickly point out that Americans contribute to the economy, too. It is our tax dollars that pay for all these programs. And that’s the second problem with the argument. In the real world, ceteris paribus rarely applies. Illegal immigrants work, too. They landscape, pick fruit and wash dishes. Legal ones often do more, such as start businesses that employ (usually) other immigrants. Chris mentioned that immigration is a big issue in Southern California—of that I have no doubt. But the reason is it is such a spot light concern is because everyone sees the Mexican man begging on the street or getting the welfare check—anti-immigration groups make sure of that. But people rarely see the immigrant that contributes to the economy; he’s too busy running a business.


Chris said...

Ok. Perhaps, I need to explain my position a little better. What I am arguing is that the *best* - not the politically feasible, but BEST - soultion would be to end all government benefits (public education, public roadways, public welfare, public etc.) and instead let these all become market goods, which they all can, arguements to public goods notwithstanding (which, I'd explain why I felt that these were all NOT public goods if I had more time.) So, with these all provided privately, we'd be able to let immigrants come and go as they please, so long as they have the permission of the property holder upon whose property they are entering. And, since every acre of land would be private anyways (ideally, again) there would be no need to have state enforced terms such as "illegal immigrant" or "alien resident", etc. Essentially this makes the term, "immigrant" non relevant since we are all immigrants when we move from one man's property to another; even without crossing state or national lines. Thus, finally this arguement sums to the point that free movement of labor in a world market is as effective and productive as free movements of capital that are implemented with free trade agreements. However, today, we do not have a society that will privatize these so-called public goods. So, with that fact in mind (that fact being that the costs of these goods are disbused throughout taxpayers as a whole) than certainly reducing or curtailing the number of people who use these benefits WITHOUT paying is in the best interests of the economy as a whole, after all without paying for these than there is a greater deteriation of these goods and those who use the benefits without paying receive a net gain while the rest of us subsidize their use. So, while David asks rhetorically whether I would suggest that my arguement validates reducing birth rates, clearly I would respond with a sound "no" because after all this "policy" is a clear violation of human rights. Now, I anticipate that the same might be said of my arguement insofar as it limits certain peoples rights to cross borders and improve their wellbeing. Yet what I am really suggesting is that while a policy of full privatization of "public goods" is not implementable in *today's* soceity; than the second best alternatives are to 1. - have as many people as are possible contribute to the costs of these goods (i.e. - granting amenesty or some other method of easing the transition from illegality to legality) or 2. - reduce the number of people who are using these goods in the first place (i.e. - drastically increasing border enforcement and suspect apprehension. While, I personally do not know which is the better choice (perhaps a combination of both), personally I would think #1 would be. I hope this further explains my position. If not, please by all means respond and I hope to open a further discussion of, what I believe is a very hotly contested issue in libertarian philosophy right now.

David said...


You offered two solutions to curb the free rider problem involved in immigration: make them all legal or keep them all out. I'm surprised that you would even consider that some combination of the two is appropriate. Setting aside the fact that a more open immigration policy would save billions in border patrols, you really have to ask yourself the tough question: Are you willing to say that because you're born to chains, you should be forced to live in them?

Libertarians values freedom from government. We recognize that it's not only humane for the enslaved to be let free but it's good for everyone else.

By the way, illegal immigrants rarely put stress on public goods. They can't get welfare, they have a hard time sending their children to the schools (unless they were lucky enough to be born in the country and don't have to work) and immigrants never crowd the roads. (Ever hear of someone trying to cross the Rio Grande in a Ford?)

I'll agree--we should get rid of these government programs--but even in light of the few goods illegals use, like public transportation, their contribution to society is wholeheartedly positive.

Chris said...

I suppose on some level you would be correct, David. Clearly, there is no joy in choosing between the lesser of two evils, since you are still choosing evil. Yet, the fact does remain that immigrants are still using public goods and *until* (and God hope that day will someday come) we can get rid of these "public goods" than we must do all that we can to minimize the damage that their use does to society. Also, I think you are clearly ignoring the amount of resources that immigration utilizes (though, I am most definitely willing to conceed that increased border enforcement would be even more costly.) So, perhaps, admitting my error is best than continuing down the wrong path. I *whole-heartedly* agree that being the victim of the wrong circumstances (i.e. - being born on the "wrong" side of a fence) should never limit a human being to being deprived of all of life's liberty, but God knows that we don't have that choice in today's world where arbitrary borders and politicians control so much of an individual's chances for success in this life. By all means, I agree that we should strive for a world without borders and perhaps the best way to do that is to do so by educating as many people as we can about the extraordinary powers of human ingenuity and progress that can be unleashed in a libertarian world; instead of trying to fend off the tide of government's imposition upon us. Again, I admit that none of my solutions are good solutions, and perhaps it is best that I propose a third solution and that is a policy of open borders and an education that will strive to remake society for the better so that we "attract" those people to our society who are willing to commit themselves to success and the work that is neccessary to acheive that success.