The Golden Age of Immigration
By Bryan Caplan
The Gilded Age was no libertarian paradise, and it certainly had far lower per-capita GDP than the modern world. Nevertheless, the Gilded Age was awesome in many important ways. Above all, as Goldin, Cameron, and Balarajan explain in Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future, the world was never closer to the principle and practice of open borders:
Despite the erection of selective barriers to Chinese immigration to Australia, the United States, and Canada in the mid- to late nineteenth century, advocates for open migration remained influential. In 1889, the International Emigration Conference defended the freedom of movement as a natural right: “We affirm the right of the individual to the fundamental liberty accorded to him by every civilized nation to come and go and dispose of his person and his destinies as he pleases.” International migration may have been fiercely contested from some corners and for some people during the late nineteenth century – particularly the Chinese, and also southern Europeans and Slavs – but an ideology of economic openness and liberalism prevailed overall.
Imagine – there was a time when elite opinion and public policy took free immigration seriously. All democracy did to tarnish this political miracle was scapegoat Asian immigrants, while leaving the doors open to not just Europe, but Latin America as well. Whatever its flaws, the Gilded Age was truly the Golden Age of Immigration. Libertarians – and anyone who cares about the genuinely poor – should give credit where credit is due.