Presentation on theme: "Immigration Restrictions: A Solution in Search of a Problem Bryan Caplan Dep’t of Economics George Mason University."— Presentation transcript:
Immigration Restrictions: A Solution in Search of a Problem Bryan Caplan Dep’t of Economics George Mason University
Immigration Restrictions Seem Bad on the Surface Imagine the U.S. denied you re-entry from Haiti. This seems wrong. You’re not a murderer or a thief, and life in Haiti has obvious downsides: Poverty, death, oppression, isolation. The downsides would still be bad if you were stuck in Haiti with all your friends and family. Maybe worse.
Is There an Excuse? These thought experiments don’t prove that immigration restrictions are wrong. Many things that seem wrong on the surface are morally justified. –Ex: Surgery Still, the thought experiments establish a presumption against immigration restrictions. Proponents have to show that the evils of immigration overcome the presumption against restriction – AND that there’s no more humane or cheaper way to handle these problems. “Lisa, I only lied because it was the easiest way to get what I wanted.” (Bart fails to overcome the presumption against lying).
Leading Excuses Immigration restrictions… protect Americans from poverty caused by low-wage competition. protect American taxpayers from welfare- state exploitation. protect American culture. protect American liberty.
Protecting Americans from Poverty? Simple story: A billion people live on $1/day or less. They’d love to move here. If they did, American wages would plummet. Story has many holes: –Low-skill wages are likely to fall, but most Americans aren’t low-skill. –Estimates this wage effect are small. Even Borjas claims just a 4.8% reduction in native drop-outs’ wages from decades of immigration. –There are offsetting benefits for American employers, investors, consumers, and land-owners. What would happen to LA real estate prices if every Mexican immigrant went home? –Borjas’ estimates assume native and immigrant labor are identical, but they’re not. When Peri and Ottavanio adjust for this, they find that 1990- 2004 immigration raised native wages! Only drop-outs lost. –Under open borders, low-skill wages would fall and rents would rise long before a billion people showed up. Even if the complaint were true, there’s clearly a much cheaper and more humane alternative: Freely admit immigrants, but charge them an admission fee or surtax. Then use the money to compensate native workers.
Protecting Taxpayers? Simple story: The American welfare state pays more for idleness than many countries pay for work. So immigrants come to abuse the system. Even Milton Friedman said, “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state." Was he right? Key fact about the U.S. welfare state: Most of the money goes to the old, not the poor. New immigrants tend to be young. Julian Simon and others calculate that the average immigrant is a net tax-payer. –Absurd? Remember – much gov’t spending is non-rival. Immigrants help spread the cost of national defense, debt service, etc. –Further result: Illegal immigrants are a great deal for taxpayers. People who pay taxes on fake SS#s are pure profit for the Treasury. –Others aren’t as optimistic as Simon, but almost no serious researcher finds a big negative fiscal effect of immigration. Even if the complaint were true, there’s clearly a much cheaper and more humane alternative: Freely admit immigrants, but make them ineligible for benefits.
Protecting American Culture? Another complaint: Immigrants are destroying American culture. They won’t learn English, fit in, etc. Obvious problem: Even Huntington, who fears cultural effects, admits that over 90% of second-generation Mexicans speak fluent English. Deeper problem: America’s cultural centers (CA, NY) have high immigration, and its cultural wastelands (ND, SD, AK, AL, MT, WV) have low immigration! Is this causal? At least for food, clearly yes. Even if the complaint were true, there are much cheaper and more humane alternatives: Admit anyone who passes an English fluency exam, cultural literacy test, etc.
Protecting American Liberty? The most popular excuse among libertarians: Immigrants come from statist countries, and will eagerly vote to ruin our country, too. At minimum, the problem’s greatly over-stated. –Non-natives have low turnout, even controlling for other factors. –Liberty benefits from status quo bias and natives’ political slack. –Most importantly, immigrants reduce natives’ support for the welfare state because people don’t like helping out-groups. The net effect is probably to shrink the welfare state. Even if the complaint were true, there is a much cheaper and more humane alternative: Freely admit immigrants to work and live, but not to vote. What about terrorism? Coyotes already smuggle people into the U.S. for a few thousand dollars, so any serious terrorists who want to enter the U.S. are already here. Fortunately, that number has been roughly zero for nine years.
The Verdict Standard arguments fail to overcome the presumption against immigration restrictions. The problems restrictions purport to solve are, at best, grossly exaggerated. Even if you disagree, there are certainly cheaper and more humane alternatives: entry fees, surtaxes, welfare eligibility requirements, fluency tests, cultural literacy tests, voting restrictions, etc. The only halfway decent case against immediate open borders: “The Precautionary Principle.” So far, so good; but who knows what will happen if immigration drastically increases? “You’re breathing my air!” (The ultimate argument for immigration restrictions).
The Verdict, con’t The Precautionary Principle might sound good if you’re safe in the First World. “I’m fine; why take any chances?” But it shows callous indifference for the rights of everyone who’s not so lucky. So do all the other excuses for immigration restrictions we considered. As philosopher Michael Huemer observes in “Is There a Right to Immigrate?,” almost no one would consider any a good reason to condemn a fellow American to Haiti. Imagine telling a countryman: –You can’t come home because you’d depress our wages a little. –You can’t come home because you might collect welfare. –You can’t come home because you sully our culture. –You can’t come home because you vote the wrong way. The last is libertarians’ favorite (or least un-favorite). But young Americans now seem far more statist on average than immigrants. Do any libertarians favor deporting everyone under 30 to “save American liberty”? Even in the worst-case scenario, immigrants are far more sinned against than sinning. What’s the worst they could do to us? And look at what we already do to them.