Francis A. Walker
By David Henderson
In his excellent post on Francis Walker’s 1896 piece attacking open borders, Bryan didn’t mention just who Francis Walker was. I’m sure Bryan knows, but it might help other readers to know. Walker was not just some nativist rube or even just a popular columnist. Although he was pretty clearly a nativist, he was the quintessential establishment economist. He got his reputation as a young officer during the Civil War and went from there to a high level in the federal government. He became an economist and was, in fact, the first president of the American Economics Association. Indeed a medal given to economists for lifetime achievement is named after him.
We libertarians often play “ain’t it awful” about the state of intellectual discussion today. But finding out about this piece by one of the leading economists of his day over a century ago puts that in perspective for me. I can’t think of a leading economist who is as hostile to immigration today as Walker was then.
Side note: In part of Walker’s article that Bryan didn’t quote, Walker refers to the Civil War as “the slaveholders’ rebellion.” Had Walker simply called it the “slavery defenders’ rebellion,” I would not have had a problem. But had it been a rebellion only by slaveholders, who were a small percent of the population, it would have been much easier to suppress. Why do I call attention to this? Because it just shows that one universal, whether now or in 1896, seems to be that people in debates often misstate issues for effect.