Economism and Immigration
By Bryan Caplan
In our immigration debate, Mark Krikorian heavily downplayed the relevance of economic arguments. Instead of focusing on immigration’s economic benefits, we should dwell on the damage immigration does to our national solidarity, culture, and politics. His reply to my post-debate questions underscores this point. Rather than challenge the astronomical estimates of the economic benefits of open borders, Mark repeats, “And immigration policy isn’t purely an economic
matter in any case.”
But if immigrants have such baleful non-economic effects, why don’t natives protect themselves by moving to low-immigration regions of the country? Mark suddenly sings a different tune: “Both natives and immigrants will go where the jobs are.”
Reconciling Mark’s two claims is not easy. If the non-economic effects of immigration are so important, why would natives primarily base their locational decisions on economic factors? Yes, you could say, “Public policy should be based on immigration’s non-economic effects, even though private choices largely ignore these effects.” But it’s a bizarre position. When people can escape genuine social ills by moving, they usually move.
The intellectually cleanest objection is that all the important harm of immigration happens at the national level, so moving to another part of the country is useless. But this is silly. Whatever you think about the overall effects of immigration, these effects are clearly far more pronounced in California, New York, and Texas than they are in West Virginia, North Dakota, and Nebraska.
What’s the logical inference? The absence of a native exodus to low-immigration states reveals some mixture of the following:
1. Natives don’t actually care that much about immigrants’ non-economic effects; their complaining is nationalist cheap talk driven by Social Desirability Bias.
2. The non-economic effects of immigration are neutral or good.
The beauty of locational decisions, moreover, is that you can make them unilaterally. If no one but anti-immigration activists appreciates the true value of unsullied American culture, they don’t have to change multicultural minds to find a better life for themselves. The activists only have to change their own addresses. So why don’t they? This is especially clear for activists who own homes in California, New York, or DC; they really can escape most of the horrors of immigration and miniaturize their mortgages in one fell swoop.
P.S. Good for you if you’re already asking yourself, “If libertarian policies are so great, why don’t people move to the freest states?” The quick answer is, “They do.“