The Case Against Libertarian Hispanophobia
By Bryan Caplan
When libertarians (as well as economically literate conservatives) worry about immigration, they usually focus on its undesirable political consequences. As my co-blogger Arnold puts it:
The demographic picture, in which traditional Republican voting
groups are shrinking as a proportion of the electorate, means that the
Democrats have to worry less and less about alienating economic elites,
as long as they can maintain an identity politics that appeals to
Given this view, libertarians may have the basic economics right
when it comes to open borders. Other things equal, more immigration is
much better for the immigrants and somewhat better for the native
But other things are not equal. Taking into account the effect of
immigration on the political equilibrium, Steve Sailer may have it
1. The simplest libertarian political case against Hispanic immigration is that Hispanics are disproportionately Democratic. The obvious problem with this complaint is that – as the Clinton and Bush years illustrate – it’s not obvious that Republicans actually offer more free-market politics than Democrats do. Sure, Republican rhetoric is more libertarian, but Republican practice is at best only slightly better. Let’s not forget how readily Bush paved the way for everything Obama’s doing – or neglect Obama’s premeditated flip-flop on NAFTA. In contrast, Democratic foreign policy has been noticeably more libertarian than Republicans’ for decades – at least if you buy the standard non-interventionist line.
2. Arnold worries that Hispanics (plus other demographic shifts) will turn the U.S. into a one-party state. A more plausible prediction is merely that Republicans will modify their platforms and rhetoric to stay competitive. As far as I can tell, though, the main way that Republicans (like Bush and McCain) try to improve their Hispanic vote share is (a) supporting more liberal immigration policies, and (b) showing respect for and sensitivity to Hispanic culture. In the absence of some other change in Republicans’ positions, libertarians should be happy about these adjustments.
3. Well, maybe Republicans will also woo Hispanic voters by increasing support for the welfare state. I admit there’s some plausibility to this. However, there is an important countervailing mechanism: Ethnic heterogeneity reduces mainstream support for the welfare state. Ethnically homogeneous countries like Sweden tend to have large welfare states, because voters are happy to help people “like them.” Ethnically diverse countries like the U.S. have smaller welfare states, because voters aren’t so happy to help “the other.” As far as I know, no one has done a good job of estimating the net effect of immigration on support for the welfare state, but the answer is far from clear.
4. Almost 70% of American voters under the age of 30 voted for Obama. Why isn’t anyone calling for the deportation of America’s youth, or limits on fertility to raise our average age? The reason, presumably, is that people realize that this would be a grotesque over-reaction. Even if young voters are making America a little more socialist, the “cure” of mass exile is far worse than the disease. Libertarians should view arguments against Hispanic immigration in exactly the same way. Even if Steve Sailer were completely correct about the political consequences of Hispanic immigration, they’re a small evil compared to the massive injustice of immigration restrictions.
In fact, the moral imbalance is shocking. On the one hand, we have some libertarians fretting about the vague possibility that Hispanics might moderately increase the size of the welfare state. On the other hand, we have millions of Hispanics worrying that they might get deported back to the Third World, and tens of millions more languishing in dire poverty in their home countries when American employers would be happy to hire them. If anyone is “more sinned against than sinning,” it is the maligned Hispanic immigrant. Shouldn’t libertarians be standing up for him, instead of respectfully weighing flimsy excuses for his continued persecution?