Caplan on immigration

He loves it, obviously. Roissy described the view best as “cheap chalupas uber alles.

Anyway, here are his reasons why it’s ok to dislike democracy but still importing a new, less-libertarian people.

1. Open borders are an extremely important component of the free market and human liberty. The labor market is roughly 70% of the economy. Labor is the main product that most people around the world have to sell. Immigration restrictions massively distort this market, and deprive literally billions of people of the freedom to sell their labor to willing employers. So even if open borders made all other policies much less pro-market and pro-liberty, the (open borders + side effects thereof) package would almost certainly constitute a net gain for free markets and liberty.

I have no idea if this is true. Frankly, neither does the good professor. I think it’s dishonest (at best) to suggest that he knows that the scales of liberty balance in this manner. I think he’s almost certainly wrong, but at least I’m intellectually honest to say this question is impossible to answer with certainty. No one can be sure whether free immigration will enhance or detract from liberty.

My guess is that in our current society, with real life constraints, “open borders” will radically detract from liberty. First, we live in a welfare state. Second, “open borders” actually means allowing lots of uneducated Mexicans to immigrate to the US. Third, US politics are increasingly turning into a racial spoils system. The ideal libertarian version of “open borders,” this is not.

I’m willing to stipulate that in an ideal libertarian world the professor would be absolutely correct. We do not live in such a world. In a totally free society, no one would be more pro-immigration than me. In our current screwed-up, statist society, I think “open-borders” is a recipe for disaster.

2. The political effect of immigrants on markets and liberty is at worst modestly negative. The median American isn’t a libertarian, and the median immigrant isn’t a Stalinist. We’re talking about marginal disagreements between social democrats, nothing more. Immigrants’ low voter turnout and status quo bias further dilute immigrants’ negative political effect.

The “libertarian” policies that are electorally-viable in modern American would have been statist policies in the early years of libertarianism. How much longer can this go leftward shift continue before we need to rename libertarianism to stay intellectually honest?

Is this argument – that immigration will only make the country a little more statist – really the best that the professor can do?

3. Immigrants have overlooked positive effects for markets and liberty. Voters resent supporting outgroups; that’s a standard explanation for why ethnically diverse America has a smaller welfare state than, say, Denmark. So even if all immigrants want a bigger welfare state, their very presence reduces native support for redistribution. Immigrants are also markedly more pro-liberty and pro-market than natives in one vital respect: They favor more open borders.

Really? So if we compromise and get a little more statist then the next effect is that we’re likely to get even a little more statist in the future? Great! Libertarian society is sure to follow.

But in the final analysis, perhaps it’s best to respond to the political externalities question with another question: “If you favor markets and liberty, how can you oppose the deportation of the entire statist generation?” Native voters under 30 are more hostile to markets and liberty than immigrants ever were. Why not just kick them out?

WTF? Why are we talking about deporting citizens? This is why I have trouble arguing with pro-immigration types. This argument is ridiculous. Why does opposing immigration from poor, uneducated Mexicans mean that I should want to deport people under 30? I have no idea. This massive change of subject is evidence of how bad the professor’s case really is. Frankly, there might be conditions under which I’d favor exile, but let’s stop importing statists first.

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10 Responses to Caplan on immigration

  1. Carter says:

    New Zealand not letting China colonize it is a gross infrigement on free markets and liberty.

  2. Steve Johnson says:

    “Immigration restrictions massively distort this market, and deprive literally billions of people of the freedom to sell their labor to willing employers.”

    This premise isn’t even remotely true.

    Willing employers are free to hire people in other countries, they just then have to comply with the laws of that other country. The laws in that country aren’t sufficiently libertarian (for the professor’s taste)? Well, now there’s an interesting dilemma.

    Why do these democratic countries have laws that are so much worse for human liberty than the laws of our nation? Might it have something to do with the voters in these nations? If the median voter theorem is true, then importing these people will simply push this country away from liberty and towards the policies of the countries from which we are importing new citizens.

    How about this as a libertarian solution to the problem of lack of libertarian government in the third world? – we replace their governments with Hong Kong-like colonial administrations! Sounds like a big net increase in liberty!

  3. rightsaidfred says:

    Good post.

    I troll a couple lefty blogs that don’t deal much with immigration, but when I triangulate the discussion onto this topic, one guy exposes himself with a psycho-sexual fetish for people of color, someone who likes to see The Other get it on with his wife. What a shock to my tender sensibilities.

    Another site gives me the vibe that he “gets it”, but he sees it as Cortez burning his ships: he wants to see traditional America up against it, so traditional America will come up with a stronger, brighter future. This strikes me as burning the village to save it.

  4. […] Foseti – “Caplan on Immigration” […]

  5. Tschafer says:

    Caplan has become a buffoon in the last few years. It’s a waste of electrons and time to even bother refuting his alleged “positions”. The guy is practically self-refuting, anyway…

  6. mike says:

    “Immigrants are also markedly more pro-liberty and pro-market than natives in one vital respect: They favor more open borders.”

    This is the kind of thing that is so profoundly dumb it could only have been written by a very intelligent person.

  7. mike says:

    to clarify:

    Open borders are good because they bring in immigrants who are in favor of open borders, which are good!

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