Borjas, Ideology, and #ForeignLivesMatter
By Bryan Caplan
Shikha Dalmia and George Borjas’ immigration debate in Reason manages to be intriguing and aggravating at the same time. For me, the highlights are when Borjas leaves technical economics and lays his ideological cards on the table. Borjas is in blockquotes, I’m not.
My research was never motivated or influenced by
what I thought about individual liberty or the rights of people to live
anywhere they want. My personal experience with Communist
indoctrination when I was 10 and 11 years old left me very wary of
thinking about anything in ideological terms.
Most victims of Communism, in my experience, take away lessons like, “Human rights matters,” “Government should respect individual liberty,” “The fact that government does something doesn’t make it right,” “Forbidding emigration is monstrous,” or just “Socialism is evil.” Borjas, in contrast, takes away the lesson that “Ideology is bad.” Which is simply bizarre. Castro ruined Borjas’ native Cuba because his ideology was totalitarian. If Castro’s ideology had been pro-market and pro-freedom, Cuba would be a great place today – and Borjas might be at the University of Havana writing books to keep immigrants out of Cuba instead.
In any case, you can’t not have an ideology. Borjas finally reveals his in his closing sentence:
When push comes to shove, I will side with policies that improve the well-being of the American worker.
This is no less “ideological” than siding with policies with improve the well-being of whites, women, Germans, or the international proletariat. And like all of these ideologies, Borjas’ is subject to devastating counter-examples. Like: Suppose enslaving the whole population of Cuba would improve the well-being of the American worker. When “push comes to shove,” would you favor that?
I’m confident that Borjas, a self-styled pragmatist, would reply, “Of course not. Yes, #ForeignLivesMatter somewhat.” But this concession/hashtag has a life of its own. Borjas has long claimed that existing immigration greatly helps foreigners with roughly zero net effect on Americans. So if he grants that #ForeignLivesMatter, he should enthusiastically bless the immigration that’s already occurred. And while his pragmatism would restrain him from endorsing anything like open borders, Borjas has every reason to advocate gradual deregulation of migration until American workers seriously start hurting.