Why Should We Restrict Immigration?
By Bryan Caplan
My piece sums up everything I’ve been saying about immigration since I joined the blog:
(a) Common-sense morality implies a presumption in favor of free migration.
(b) None of the main objections to free migration are remotely strong enough to rebut this presumption.
(c) Even I’m I’m wrong about (b), there are certainly cheaper and more humane remedies than forbidding migration.
Many libertarians would condemn [the American government’s treatment of immigrants] as “inexcusable.” I rest my argument on a weaker premise: whether or not the facts are “inexcusable,” they do require an excuse. On the surface, it seems wrong to prohibit voluntary exchange between natives and foreigners. Proponents of immigration restrictions have to show why, moral appearances notwithstanding, immigration restrictions are morally justified.
They fail to do so. Immigration restrictions are not necessary to protect American workers. Most Americans benefit from immigration, and the losers don’t lose much. Immigration restrictions are not necessary to protect American taxpayers. Researchers disagree about whether the fiscal effects of immigration are positive or negative, but they agree that the fiscal effects are small. Immigration restrictions are not necessary to protect American culture. Immigrants make our culture better–and their children learn fluent English. Immigration restrictions are not necessary to protect American liberty. Immigrants have low voter turnout and accept our political status quo by default. By increasing diversity, they undermine native support for the welfare state. And on one important issue–immigration itself–immigrants are much more pro-liberty than natives.
Even if all these empirical claims are wrong, though, immigration restrictions would remain morally impermissible. Why? Because there are cheaper and more humane solutions for each and every complaint. If immigrants hurt American workers, we can charge immigrants higher taxes or admission fees, and use the revenue to compensate the losers. If immigrants burden American taxpayers, we can make immigrants ineligible for benefits. If immigrants hurt American culture, we can impose tests of English fluency and cultural literacy. If immigrants hurt American liberty, we can refuse to give them the right to vote. Whatever your complaint happens to be, immigration restrictions are a needlessly draconian remedy.
This essay is me at my most persuasive. In the acknowledgments, I thank my dad, one of the most bitter opponents of immigration I know. If he were twenty years old, there’s a 50/50 chance “Why Should We Restrict Immigration?” would have changed his mind. At this point, sadly, I think my odds of success are more like 1%.
But I’ll send him a copy anyway.