Henderson vs. Woodruff on Immigration
I very much enjoyed reading David Henderson’s article, “Tear Down These Walls,” in the June 2012 issue of The Freeman. However, I think he misses the point. It is not that borders separate individuals, but that they separate systems. When you have borders between North and South Korea, East and West Germany, or Mexico and the United States, there are stark differences on one side or the other. The border between the United States and Canada has lesser differences. Rather than have everyone come to our system that we have fought for and developed, I think it would make more sense to have others improve their systems. Just about everyone in the world would like to come to America; however, we must have some systematic way of allowing immigration or we will face consequences we can’t even begin to imagine. Those countries that have been adjacent to countries with famine or civil war can attest to that. I do believe we need a well-thought-out plan for immigration, or a way to change the systems in other countries.
I had very limited space to reply and so within that limit, here’s what I wrote:
I’m glad you enjoyed my article. Borders separate individuals and economic systems. Like you, I would like governments in various countries to improve their systems. But unlike you, I’m not at ease with the idea of making hundreds of millions of people wait until their governments do improve. They may well wait forever. Your two examples of North and South Korea and East and West Germany are telling. If I were in South Korea today, I would welcome those who escape from that North Korean hellhole. If I had been in West Germany before 1989, I would have welcomed East Germans who escaped from their totalitarian masters. But it appears that you would have had them arrested and sent back. Or are you saying that you would welcome them too? If so, what are we disagreeing about? Or look back at an earlier time in history. Most American readers of this publication probably descend from people who came to the United States in the nineteenth century or later. Many of them immigrated to escape bad governments elsewhere. I would have welcomed them. What would you have done?
Mr. Woodruff replied by e-mail. Although I was disappointed that he did not answer the questions I asked of him, he seems to have moved him a little in my direction. He wrote [and generously gave me permission to quote him]:
In your response to my letter to the editor on your article in the June 2012 Freeman, I think we are basically on the same page; however I think we may differ on the execution of the concept. I’m not sure how we would absorb hundreds of millions of people. We already have procedures to allow people who are persecuted by their governments to immigrate, Cuba being one example. We allow reasonable quotas to immigrate from all around the world every year and I would be in favor of increasing the numbers if we could absorb them without doing damage to our own country. Because of the changes we are experiencing here in America, many people may be leaving this country to live elsewhere. I would like to see the whole world more free.
Mr. Woodruff and I disagree about whether the existing quota is reasonable. Also, I think he is unaware of the growing literature on the huge net benefits to the United States from substantial increases in immigration.