Rosen and Responsibility
By Bryan Caplan
I was on the Mike Rosen show on Monday. Overall, he was a sympathetic host, until we got to the subject of… you guessed it… immigration. Unlike most opponents of immigration, though, he was quite explicit about his core principle: In Rosen’s view, we should do whatever is best for Americans, and completely ignore the welfare of foreigners.
At least that’s what he said. I assume that Rosen would oppose mass extermination of foreigners if it happened to be in our material interest. Perhaps he would retreat to the weaker position that he also affirmed: That we are not responsible for foreigners’ well-being.
This is a fine premise on which to base opposition to foreign aid, or sending troops to Darfur. But it’s a flimsy foundation for immigration restrictions. Immigrants are not asking for charity; they are asking for the freedom to accept a job offer from a willing employer, rent an apartment from a willing landlord, and purchase goods from willing merchants. As I argued last year:
Suppose two men, John and Julio, are heading to a job interview. Julio tells John: “I need this job more than you do. Please drop out of the race so I get it.” It’s perfectly reasonable for John to… reply: “No. You’re a stranger and I don’t owe you anything.”…
But suppose instead that John handcuffs Julio to a tree to prevent him from going to the interview. Julio says “Let me go. I deserve a shot at this job too.” At this point, it’s ludicrous for John to reply, “No. You’re a stranger and I don’t owe you anything.” Julio isn’t demanding help; he’s just demanding that John leave him alone. And if John were to object, “You’re not leaving me alone. That job is MINE, and you’re trying to steal it from me!” we’d have to answer, “The job isn’t yours. It’s up to the owner of the business to decide who he wants to employ.”
There is one way around this analogy: Embrace the socialist view that the government (or “the people as a whole”) is the rightful owner of the entire country. Are there any conservative opponents of immigration willing to bite that bullet?