Freakonomics on Immigration
By David Henderson
Freakonomics has a nicely balanced treatment of the immigration controversy, highlighting the thinking of “open borders” advocate Alex Tabarrok, an economics professor at George Mason University and one of the two bloggers at marginalrevolution.com; Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, an economist who studies global migration; open borders critic Gene Callahan, an economics lecturer at St. Joseph’s College; and Casey Mulligan, an economics professor at the University of Chicago.
The post/podcast is titled Is Migration a Basic Human Right? It’s long, but worth reading.
The Freakanonomics style generally is not to make a sustained argument for something the way Econlog bloggers do, but to show various sides of an issue, without a whole lot of confrontation between the viewpoints, and let the readers/listeners choose. The upside of that style is that one doesn’t feel browbeaten to agree. The downside is that they miss chances to have one side answer the other.
So I’m going to fill in the latter gap, by responding to Gene Callahan.
Before I do, though, I want to disagree with one statement that Stephen J. Dubner makes in the broadcast. Dubner, in his interview of Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, states:
We should say, you are, admittedly, probably, the No. 1 poster girl for immigration to the United States. We were pretty lucky to get you.
I don’t think we were lucky at all to get someone who told people in the Mideast this.
Now to Callahan’s point. Callahan, responding to Alex Tabarrok’s views, says:
Being that he’s a libertarian, he [Alex] has a belief in strong property rights. So, presumably, he doesn’t feel that Bill Gates, for instance, has to let my kids into his family, because Bill Gates’s kids have a lot of opportunities that my kids don’t. So, if we don’t have that principal in terms of property rights, why does it suddenly become mandatory in terms of nations?
In other words, Callahan is reasoning from property rights of individuals to an alleged property right of the U.S. government. It doesn’t work. Where did the government get this right to decide for us whether we can hire, rent to, or buy from an immigrant? Indeed, if government has the right to decide that Bill Gates doesn’t have the right to hire an immigrant to work in his house, couldn’t one just as cogently argue, invoking the property rights that Callahan wants to claim for the government, that the government does have the right to let Callahan’s kids into Bill Gates’s house despite Gates’s wishes? Why would one government assertion of a property right to control Gates’s actions be privileged (as the lawyers say) over a different government assertion of a property right to control Gates’s actions?