Let Anyone Take a Job Anywhere: My Opening Statement for IQ2
By Bryan Caplan
“Let anyone take a job anywhere.” Given current policy, it sounds radical. But notice: The resolution does NOT say “Let anyone become a citizen anywhere,” “Let anyone collect government benefits anywhere,” or “Let anyone vote anywhere.” The resolution says that no matter where you’re born, it should be legal for you to accept a job offer from a willing employer. The resolution parallels “Let any woman take a job anywhere,” “Let any Jew take a job anywhere,” or “Let any black take a job anywhere.” The resolution is not a request for charity or a demand for government help. It simply asks the world’s governments to stop requiring discrimination against foreign workers.
Most pro-immigration arguments focus on high-skilled, high-tech workers. I outsource this topic to my partner, Vivek Wadhwa. I’m going to focus on the vast majority of would-be immigrants who aren’t high-skilled or high-tech: Haitian shoeshines, Nigerian waiters, Mexican gardeners, Bangladeshi farmers.
Why on earth shouldn’t we require discrimination against such foreigners? The same reason we shouldn’t require discrimination against women, Jews, or blacks: They’re fellow human beings and they count. Suppose the world’s governments made it illegal for Ron to work anywhere but Haiti. Would such laws be morally acceptable?
Mandatory discrimination against foreigners is especially awful because most of the world’s workers would earn vastly more in the First World than they do at home. Moving from Haiti to Miami increases wages about 20 times. That’s not +20%; it’s +2000%.
You could object that we’re not obliged to help total strangers, but allowing people to accept a job is not charity. It’s minimal decency. If Kathleen gets a job, and I don’t slash her car tires on her first day of work, I’m not a “humanitarian.” I’m not starting the Save Kathleen Newland Fund. I’m merely leaving Kathleen alone.
Sometimes, tragically, leaving others alone has enormous costs. If someone has bubonic plague, a quarantine is the lesser evil; left free to roam, he could kill millions. Would open borders wreck comparable harm on our economy? No. Every scholarly estimate of the economic effects of open borders finds ENORMOUS benefits. Economist Michael Clemens, the world’s top expert on the topic, finds that a free global labor market would roughly DOUBLE global production.
How?! Imagine a billion farmers stuck in Antarctica. What would happen if we let them move to places where their labor’s more productive? They‘d obviously be better off, but so would every consumer of food on earth. Economically speaking, Haiti and Bangladesh are like Antarctica; they’re countries where workers only realize a sliver of their full potential. What’s the best job you could get in Bangladesh?
But wouldn’t open borders hurt American workers? Some. Take me. I’m a native-born college professor. Thanks to a massive immigration loophole, virtually any Ph.D. in the world can legally compete with me in the U.S. labor market. As a result, about half of all U.S. research professors are foreign-born. This has slashed my wages and career prospects. An immigrant probably occupies the office I’M supposed to have at Harvard.
Is my sad story a good argument for immigration restrictions? Sure! Oh wait, NO. Professorial immigration is bad for me, but it’s good for consumers of education. If you’re glad you didn’t pay even more for college, thank an immigrant. The same goes for every occupation. Immigration of waiters is bad for native-born waiters, but good for diners. Immigration of gardeners is bad for native-born gardeners, but good for home-owners.
How can we judge the overall effect? Keep both eyes on PRODUCTION. When global production doubles, your standard of living is VERY likely to rise. This isn’t trickle-down economics; it’s Niagara Falls economics.
What about the endless non-economic complaints aboutimmigration? Here’s a rule: For any complaint you have, there is a cheaper and more humane remedy than mandatory discrimination against foreigners.
Immigrants abuse the welfare state? LET THEM WORK, but not collect benefits.
Immigrants damage the environment? LET THEM WORK, but tax their pollution.
Immigrants vote the wrong way? LET THEM WORK, but not vote.
Immigrants hurt low-skilled Americans? LET THEM WORK, but charge them an admission fee or surtax, then use the funds to compensate low-skilled natives.
If you think these remedies are unfair, they’re certainly LESS unfair than turning honest workers into criminals.
Let anyone take a job anywhere. It is the right way to treat your fellow human beings. It will transform the world for the better. And it will cost us less than nothing.