Turning the Camera: The Political Externalities of the Status Quo
By Bryan Caplan
Imagine you live in a democracy surrounded by a hostile majority. The median voter wants to deprive you of the rights to (a) accept a job offer from a willing employer, or (b) rent an apartment from a willing landlord. Politicians eagerly oblige the median voter, so legally speaking, you’re an unperson.
Question for anyone who thinks that political externalities are a compelling reason to restrict immigration: Do you seriously believe that open borders would lead to such an outcome for you? An outcome anywhere in this ballpark? In all my years of arguing about immigration, I’ve never met an opponent paranoid enough to make such a claim. Even in South Africa, treatment of whites after apartheid is far better than treatment of blacks under apartheid.
Strangely, though, political externalities of this severity already exist. There are countries that vote to deprive most people of the rights to sell their labor and rent a place to live. In fact, this is the political equilibrium in every First World democracy.
When we discuss immigration, we shine a camera on the vast majority of the world’s population that cannot legally work or live in the First World and ask ourselves, “What might they do to us if they got the chance?” Imagine, for a moment, what the camera would show if they were pointing it at us? The new directors wouldn’t have to muse, “What’s the worse that could happen?” They could immediately start filming the status quo: A system where we tell virtually everyone born on the wrong side of the border, “You can’t legally work or live anywhere in this entire country.“
A true national egoist might claim vindication: “See! Political externalities are very real – and only immigration restrictions can guarantee our safety.” But if you oppose injustice, no matter who commits it, you should be very disturbed indeed. For most people on earth, our policies are worse than our worst nightmare. On any remotely plausible estimate of the political externalities of immigration, the people we target with our immigration laws are far more sinned against than sinning.