Caplan On Immigration
By David Henderson
He laid out the arguments beautifully and in the right order, starting with the moral presumption against consigning people by force to a horrible life, and then considering whether there are any prudential considerations that overcome this presumption. He goes through all the standard ones and presents the research results. Bottom line: no. Moreover, he points out, even if you don’t buy these arguments totally, there are way more humane methods of handling the problems: residency requirements, English proficiency tests, fees for immigrating, etc. A real tour de force. And if you don’t have time to watch the whole 70-minute talk plus 10-minute Q&A, make sure you look at his Powerpoint slides. They’re chalk full of information. What you’ll miss, though, is Bryan’s personality and warmth.
I will take issue with two things. First, he labels the potential arguments against open immigration as “excuses.” I’ve talked to many foes of immigration–some of them are my friends–and I don’t think they’re mainly making excuses. I think they’re making arguments: they’re poor arguments, as Bryan shows, but they’re not excuses.
Second, in the Q&A, a questioner raises the issue of the minimum wage: would you have to get rid of the minimum wage if you allowed open immigration? Bryan answers correctly that it would help. But then he makes two errors. First, he says that if we didn’t get rid of the minimum wage, legal immigrants would just get black-market jobs. That’s true, but incomplete. Precisely because they would now be legal, they could comfortably go to a wage board in their state and complain after the fact and get back pay. An employer, looking forward to that outcome, would not hire them. I pointed out here that ironically, the way the minimum wage law is enforced is what gives illegal immigrants (who would no longer be illegal under Bryan’s preferred policy) an advantage in the competition for jobs. Illegal immigrants can credibly commit not to turning in a minimum wage violating employer. Legal immigrants can’t credibly commit. Bryan’s other error is to suggest that enforcing a minimum for native-born people but not for immigrants would help the native-born. No way. Would United Airlines want a pricing restriction that doesn’t let it cut fares but lets Southwest do so?
These are small wrinkles, though, in an awesome speech.
Personal note: When Bryan discussed what people would be willing to pay to immigrate, I thought of my own situation as an immigrant in the 1970s. I’ll tell one part of that story soon.