How Much Liberty Will We Sacrifice to Preserve Liberty?
Long-time readers of EconLog will know that most of the common objections to increased immigration are simply wrong. For review, here’s Ben Powell’s explanation of how immigrants don’t wreck our economy, take our jobs, or depress wages.
Still, one of the most plausible objections to more immigration holds that immigrants are a threat to the political institutions of a free society. By admitting more immigrants, we admit people who don’t value liberty the way Americans do. The economic benefits of immigration are the Trojan Horse in which a quasi-socialist future is hidden. Or so the argument goes. It’s not one I buy, and I would be willing to bet–by holding my position in American equities–that more open immigration would not lead to the demise of the Republic. Even if that’s what we fear, on Friday, co-blogger Bryan Caplan detailed a number of statist policies that, by logic similar to immigration restrictions, would possibly lead to more libertarian policies.
And yet, as Bryan has pointed out, immigration restrictions are already an encroachment upon liberty. It isn’t at all clear to me why I should require your permission, or the government’s permission, to truck and barter with someone who was born on the other side of the line.
Let’s ignore that, though. “Securing our border” won’t be free, either in terms of liberty or money. My guess is that a lot of people who read EconLog agree that the War on Drugs has been a failure (if you disagree, here’s one of many articles in which I’ve argued for legalization). Why will a War on Commerce With Certain Kinds of People be different? Which additional taxes are we willing to pay in order to secure the border? What reductions in liberty are we willing to endure?
Economics deals with the unintended consequences of actions and policies. What lessons, then, can we learn from failures like the drug war that can inform immigration policy. Passing laws won’t change the fact that a lot of us wish to truck and barter with foreigners. Here, therefore, are a few questions:
1. What kinds of laws and regulations would be necessary to ensure that people don’t truck and barter with the wrong people?
2. What infrastructure would be necessary in order to enforce those laws and regulations?
3. How would those laws and regulations affect the business climate and the ease of living from day to day?
4. At what point would the reductions in liberty from securing the border outweigh the reductions in liberty from allowing in more immigrants?