I like the “idea” of being an American. Not in a belonging sense but in an entirely self-interested sense. I suppose I should say that I like living in America. In America I can pursue my personal objectives in mostly unfettered fashion. In America I can travel freely from border to border and, with mild inconvenience, beyond. From America I have access to much of the goods and services the rest of the world has to offer. In America I can practice whatever religion I choose, or I can choose to practice no religion. In America I can own my own property without, for the most part, fear that government can arbitrarily take it from me. In America I am free to express myself in virtually whatever mode I choose. In America I can love whomever my heart desires.
Words cannot do justice to my love of liberty. And, in my wildest dreams, I would not restrict the freedom of others who would avail themselves of the opportunity to build better lives for themselves and their families—the opportunity bestowed upon me by the happenstance of my birthplace.
Mine is not the popularly shared view. Many of my friends and neighbors, “progressives” and “conservatives” alike, while highly valuing their own liberty, support/promote a set of laws that limit the freedoms of other human beings. Laws that restrict the ability of people born in other lands to come to America. Restrictions that were not imposed on the ancestors of those who today promote and impose such restrictions.
I love how, virtually without exception, the champions of closed borders (of restricting others freedoms) begin every speech or essay with the feebly-empathetic declaration that he/she descends from immigrants. For example, here’s a snippet from an article by A.M. Fantini, the editor-in-chief of the European Conservative and, ironically, the secretary general of the Hayek Institute in Vienna, Austria titled “The U.S. Shouldn’t Relax Restrictions”.
Stories of the search for a homeland abound in most families’ personal histories. As the child (and grandchild) of immigrants to the United States, I’m familiar with the poignant reasons people have for leaving their native lands. It is never easy. And as debate over the Senate’s immigration overhaul bill intensifies, it’s important to acknowledge these universal themes.
He goes on to suggest that the ideology of open borders is a threat to individual freedom, justice and property rights:
Indeed, some of the best arguments against open borders have been expressed by Austro-libertarians like John Hospers and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Simply put, some considerations are more important than cheap labor, economic efficiency, and financial gains—principles like individual freedom, justice, and property rights. The ideology of open borders is a threat to these principles.
Throughout history, political communities have thrived so long as a majority of their members accepted certain principles—and the shared values that uphold them. This is necessary to “weave” a social fabric, develop intricate networks of trust, and forge common, unifying bonds. In the United States, learning about the political, philosophical, and moral foundations of the American experiment in liberty and self-government used to be essential for generations of immigrants. No longer.
Mr. Fantini seems to understand the economic benefits to be gained by an open border policy. Ironically, it’s the misconceptions around the economics of immigration that generally embolden today’s restrictionists. His concern is that the granting of individual freedom, justice, and property rights to “foreigners” would somehow threaten the American foundation of individual freedom, justice, and property rights.
I have a fundamental problem with the notion that an ideology of freedom can somehow threaten the principles of freedom. I would in fact argue precisely the opposite. I would argue that a nation that would forcibly restrict any individual’s freedom to move and live freely within its borders possesses not, not nearly, the foundation Fantini speaks of.
The American experiment in liberty has been a marvelous success. And make no mistake, the vast majority of folks who yet today risk life and limb to cross “our” borders need no lessons on the “political, philosophical, and moral foundations of the American experiment”—they passionately embrace them. It troubles me that too many Americans do not…
My good friend Bill recently solicited my feedback on the following presentation (which has, along with the present political debate, inspired me to explore the subject beyond my simple devotion to freedom. I.e., the economics of it). With his permission, my response follows the video:
Consider this just a slice of what I believe to be a convincing counter-argument to the gentleman’s gum ball routine.
To begin with, speaking for myself, while I haven’t been to this point much of a student of the empirical evidence surrounding the modern economics of immigration, having a number of clients who make their living in agriculture I can sympathize with their case for open borders. Last year during a review with a local raisin farmer he complained that he couldn’t find the labor to pick the crop (very sad given California’s unemployment rate and welfare rolls). If this keeps up he said he’ll bite the bullet and go mechanical.
And of course you know me to be a rabid advocate for free trade—unilateral free trade even. So, as you would suspect, that thinking applies to the importation of labor as well.
I confess as well that I have a strong moral objection to the sort of closed border policy the gentleman in the video advocates. For one, if I desire to invite in any number of folks for whatever reasons I deem appropriate—after they perhaps undergo screening for infectious diseases and criminal background checks—I, a free American citizen, the ancestor of Spanish immigrants, strongly object to any law that would restrict my ability to do so. And if any number of immigrants—subjecting themselves to the aforementioned screening—desire to come to this country and make lives for themselves and bless us with the labor our economy presently demands (think of the case of my raisin farming client), and save our social security system (we need more FICA taxpayers in the worst way) and support local businesses in the process, I believe it is morally wrong and economically foolish to keep them from doing so.
Below is an excerpt from an interview with the British economist who wrote Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them [I haven’t read it] (think in terms of the gum ball guy’s claim that motivated folks do better for their countries when they stay there):
The economic case for open borders is as compelling as the moral one. No government, except perhaps North Korea’s, would dream of trying to ban the movement of goods and services across borders; trying to ban the movement of most people who produce goods and services is equally self-defeating. When it comes to the domestic economy, politicians and policymakers are forever urging people to be more mobile, and to move to where the jobs are. But if it is a good thing for people to move from Kentucky to California in search of a better job, why is it so terrible for people to move from Mexico to the U.S. to work?
We tend to think it’s fine that foreign financiers cluster together in New York, I.T. specialists in Silicon Valley, and actors in Hollywood, while American bankers ply their trade in London, Hong Kong, and China; surely the same logic should apply to Mexican construction workers, Filipino care workers, and Congolese cleaners coming to the U.S. After all, they are all simply service providers plying their trade abroad.
From a global perspective, freer migration could bring huge economic gains. When workers from poor countries move to rich ones, they can make use of the advanced economies’ superior capital, technologies, and institutions, making these economies much more productive. Economists calculate that removing immigration controls could more than double the size of the world economy. Even a small relaxation of immigration controls would yield disproportionately big gains.
From an ethical point of view, it seems hard to argue against a policy that would do so much to help people poorer than ourselves. A Rand study of recent immigrants to the U.S. finds that the typical immigrant ends up $20,000 per year better off. And it’s not just the migrants themselves who gain — it’s their countries of origin, too. Already, migrants born in poor countries and working in rich ones send home much more — some $200 billion a year officially, perhaps another $400 billion informally — than the miserly $100 billion that Western governments give in aid. These remittances are not wasted on weapons or siphoned off into Swiss bank accounts; they go straight into the pockets of local people. They pay for food, clean water, and medicines. They enable children to stay in school, fund small businesses, and benefit the local economy. What’s more, when migrants return home, they bring with them new skills, new ideas, and the money to start new businesses that can provide a huge boost to the local economy. For example, Africa’s first Internet cafés were started by migrants returning from Europe.
And keep in mind Bill that the currency those folks send home is the U.S. dollar. Which means that the practice of sending that money into their countries of origin generates huge business for U.S. exporters [and expands the global pool of investors in U.S. assets].
Okay, I guess I’m getting a little carried away. So I’ll calm down here and leave you with a link to a 5 minute video interview [featured below] with the author the book Let Them In: The Case For Open Borders [I haven’t read it]…
Have a great weekend my friend!
P.s. Would you have any objection to me referencing our discussion in a future blog post, should I someday decide to royally tick off a large number of my readers?