Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Humanity of Open Borders

Don Bordeaux posted this article about immigration at Café Hayek today. He points various very true statement: immigration is good for the US economy, people have a great deal more (on average) than people of times of immense immigration so there is little reason to believe there’s not enough to go around and there are unavoidable restrictions to immigration (like finding a place to live and transportation costs) that guarantee it won’t be a chaotic surge.

But it’s around here he stumbles. He asks you to consider California to illustrate the last point.

It is completely open to people from Mississippi. California’s median household income is a whopping 54% higher than is Mississippi’s. Californians enjoy environmental and social amenities – beautiful beaches, snow-capped mountains, fabulous weather, big and exciting cities, professional sports franchises – that Mississippians lack. And yet, despite being free to move to California en masse, Mississippians don’t do so. Nor do West Virginians, or Arkansans, or Alabamians.

Okay Don but there’re some things that Mississippians lack that most immigrants do not: a tyrannical government trying to kill them or a devastating economic that’s starving them or both. Of course Mississippi isn’t emptying to fill California; moving sucks. And if you don’t have a pressing reason to leave (like you need to go or you die), then it’s not an accurate analogy.

This doesn’t speak to the logic of immigration law, but to their lack of humanity. Immigration is not only good for the economy, it’s not only something the US can “absorb,” it’s also the right thing to do. People, through no fault of their own, are born into repressive, nightmarish conditions. To turn them away because they seek to rid themselves of such poverty is exactly what libertarians are often accused of being: heartless. Classic liberalism isn’t just about freedom and progress; it’s about dignity and compassion.

1 comment:

Chris said...

David, like I said in my article this past summer. While there are outstanding moral arguements that merit having an open border (such as those you presented here), aren't there also reasons to limit immigration in light of the fact that we live in a country with a "mixed economy" (i.e. - an economy where services such as health-care are provided by the state, etc.) and thus increased immigration might create a net drain (at least in the short term) for the economy. While, I do not propose that these arguements necessarily outweigh the arguements you've presented, I do think that they need to be taken account of. And like I said in my article, perhaps it is best that these problems (too much government interference into the market) be taken care of first before we permit full immigration, and until then permit immigration for those who we know will have some capability of contributing to the government system of services.

I know its not a pretty picture, but it *must* be considered because to allow unmittigated immigration in an economy even as great comparitively as the US is to the rest of the world, is a recipe for decay (at least right now.)