Immigration, Libertarianism, and Democracy
By Arnold Kling
A reader asks,
Bryan Caplan’s new book (which I look forward to) says voters are irrational. Do you think they would be more or less rational in a society with high migration rates?
I am reading Amy Chua’s World on Fire, which says (p. 6-7),
In societies with a market-dominant ethnic minority, markets and democracy favor not just different people, or different classes, but different ethnic groups. Markets concentrate wealth, often spectacular wealth, in the hands of the market-dominant minority, while democracy increases the political power of the impoverished majority. In these circumstances the pursuit of free market democracy becomes an engine of potentially catastrophic ethnonationalism…This confrontation is playing out in country after country today, from Indonesia to Sierra Leone, from Zimbabwe to Venezuela, from Russia to the Middle East.
Voters may be at their worst when they vote on the basis of ethnic loyalty. To the extent that Hispanic immigration produces a sizable bloc of voters that responds purely to pro-Hispanic demagoguery, then my guess is that immigration will reduce voter rationality in the U.S.
My reader writes,
it strikes me that if you have free migration and a high turnover
of people in a society or nation, society becomes an open-access
resource, and you will end up with a kind of tragedy of the commons
decision making which puts too much store on the short-term.
…In this way of thinking, migration controls are simply property rights over a resource held in common.
As a libertarian, I think that freedom of immigration is an important check on tyranny. If you cannot move, then government has almost unlimited power over you.
It is true that if we allow open immigration, then I could become surrounded by people who have a different culture, and their culture may not respect liberty. I tend to think, however, that on average immigrants to the United States appreciate liberty and free markets more than the native population.
UPDATE: Bill Whittle has a relevant essay. He writes,
The biggest losers in our inability to control illegal immigration are the legal immigrants. What benefit do these honest people gain from playing by the rules?
He argues in game-theoretic terms that the cultural foundation of civil society is tit-for-tat behavior.