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I’m an unabashed fan of Reason’s Nick Gillespie, but that doesn’t mean he’s always right. In a video released earlier today, he bats exactly .500, making an extremely persuasive case in favor of open trade… and a deeply flawed one regarding open immigration. Take a look for yourself:
There are two specific passages I’d like to address:
Gillespie: …Republicans routinely complain that the government can’t deliver the mail or educate children, but they’re convinced that government bureaucrats can perfectly adjust the mix of foreign workers in the vast and complicated American economy.
Yes, but the same United States government is also entrusted with our national defense, something Gillespie does not dispute. The question shouldn’t be whether the federal government can “perfectly adjust the mix of foreign workers” but whether it has constitutional authority to do so (it does) and whether its policies toward that authority are intelligent and wise (they are not).
Speaking of which, Gillespie goes on to say:
Yet even economists who are critical of immigrants with low skills recognize that they don’t take jobs from native workers. Instead, they head to the places where the economy is booming and employers are desperate for extra bodies. And they stop coming or go back home when the work dries up, especially if they know they’ll be able to cross borders safely and legally.
Gillespie isn’t so much wrong here as he is missing so much that his conclusion can’t follow (much like global warming alarmists are correct that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but wrong to try to end the discussion there). Consider how the following complicate the matter beyond recognition:
- US labor and welfare laws artificially raise the price of American labor over that of illegal immigrants, especially those willing to work in an under-the-table, cash economy. The combination likely has a lot to do with the strange circumstance Gillespie notes where we have low-skilled labor shortages and record-high domestic joblessness.
- Free-market economics is only one reason immigrants wish to come to the United States. The standard of living available here — or in similar countries — is different in kind from that available in much of the world. As such, a lot of people are motivated to come here because they (understandably) want to escape the poverty or violence of their native countries. Their priorities are (again, understandably) not necessarily ours.
- Our immigration and naturalization laws incentivize the wrong things. Chain immigration allows people to immigrate based less on their desire (or ability) to work than on whether or not they have family, loosely defined, already in legal residence. Birthright citizenship further obfuscates the matter. Unmarried, childless immigrants are likely to move back and forth across the border to follow jobs, but the same is not true of those with families, especially families born in the United States. People are often reluctant to move small distances (say from one school district to another) for the sake of continuity of their kids’ education and social life. How much more so if we’re talking about moving to another country to which your child has never been and of which he or she is not a citizen?
I wish all those who want to make a better life for their families well, and I sympathize with those who want to build a better life here. I’ll even say that we all should hope and work for a day when immigration anywhere is easy and legal for those who wish to work productively and peaceably, and become integrated members of their chosen society.
To get there, however, we first need to make our immigration laws sane, fight for free trade — which, interestingly, should reduce the demand to immigrate by making other countries more worth living in — and roll back the welfare state. Those policies are in our interest and, over the long term, the rest of the world’s.Published in