Marketing Liberty to Immigrants
By Bryan Caplan
It’s possible that immigrants will vote to destroy the system
that attracted them, but unlikely. Immigrants come here because they
prefer life here to life at home. It wouldn’t take a marketing genius
to win them over to the cause of American liberty.
David Henderson responded:
My reaction to Bryan’s statement about how easy it would be to
convince people is like George Stigler’s reaction to a similar
statement by Adam Smith. Stigler quoted Smith’s famous passage:
I have never known much good done by those who affected
to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very
common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in
dissuading them from it.
Stigler commented, “I wonder what those very few words were.”
Similarly, I’d like to meet Bryan’s marketing non-genius.
First, let me clarify my position, then defend it. The original post was an opening statement in a hypothetical debate, so I tried to be brief. More detailed version:
I don’t claim that is would be easy to actually convert immigrants to libertarianism. My claim is more modest: It wouldn’t be that hard to persuade immigrants to be as libertarian as the median native-born American.
How would a mediocre marketing guru advise his clients to achieve this transformation? Since conservatives worry far more about immigrants’ political views than liberals, I’ll assume the clients come from the conservative movement. Here goes:
Step #1: Stop going out of your way to insult, demean, and dehumanize immigrants, legal or not. Given the way that conservatives now talk about immigrants, it’s amazing that immigrants don’t universally detest them.
Step #2: Praise immigrants for their many admirable traits: Their courage in coming to a new country, their determination to make a better life for themselves and their families, etc. Make them feel welcome and appreciated.
Step #3: Explain how America’s relatively libertarian policies foster and reward immigrants’ admirable traits. Contrast the system of free enterprise and initative immigrants have chosen to the systems of cronyism and something-for-nothing they’ve fled. Tell them the other side’s policies are gradually turning America into the kind of country that people want to leave.
Step #4: Stick up for immigrants when addressing the broader population. Public displays are more credible than private messages.
I’m the first to admit that my campaign could be improved. Like I said, this is what a mediocre marketer would advise. But it’s still light years ahead of current conservative rhetoric.
Admittedly, you’ve got to invest in this marketing campaign for a decade or so to see results. Conservatives will have to struggle to overcome the mistrust they’ve been cultivating. But if they want to win immigrants over to the cause of American liberty, this is how they’ll do it.
P.S. None of this assumes that immigrant voters are less irrational than native voters. As I argued here, irrationality makes good marketing more important, not less.