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.