Monday, December 7, 2009

A Side Note on Immigration

I got wrapped up into a lengthy debate today on immigration at the blog of my friend and illustrious economist Bob Murphy.  I thought it was a good conversation, so I'm going to post of my comments and some other responses.

Bob's post and my thoughts are in response to a Cato Institute web video that included a question answer session with famous libertarian economist and blogger Tyler Cowen.  [He notes these comments here] His comments set off a firestorm of anger amongst some of the intellectual libertarians, but I'm not concerned with those issues.  Among them were some sharp rebukes of those who are anti-immigrant.  While I have no time for xenophobic anger or violence, I am becoming increasingly aware that the nativist argument is actually fairly sound.

Def. Nativist - someone who wants to maintain the purity of ones own culture.

Def. Minarchist - referring to minimal or very small government

I am pro-immigration. I believe in open borders. The best way to ensure freedom is to allow people to choose their government. Competition will shrink the size of the state.

However, I have seen noone make a good argument against nativism. Not that I subscribe to the argument, but I don't have a slam dunk reason against it.

My basic nativist argument is this:

You have a democratic minarchist state. The country flourishes economically. Millions of people around the world want to come and enjoy the economic benefits. The minarchist state opens its borders, letting in millions of hard working people who happen to be statists. The minarchist state slowly disappears as the statist immigrants become an increasing part of the voting population.

Blackadder adds:

The issue isn't whether every immigrant will be highly statist, but whether immigrants are likely to be more statist on average. That immigrants are likely to be more statist (and that this effect can last generations) is, I think, amply demonstrated by history.

Then Taylor:

"Is it also possible that these statists, once they arrive and are saturated by a non-statist society, will begin to adopt different principles, rather than the other way around?"

Then Me Again:

Sure, that's possible, but I lean towards Tyler Cowen's comment that culture is "sticky". Voting patterns amongst certain demographics tend to change very slowly over time.

While I am still not a nativist, I can understand their viewpoint.  I won't agree with bigotry anyone who disrespects immigrants as individuals, but for now, I can't really tear down the arguments as I have presented it.


Brian Phillips said...

The real issue isn't the principles held by the immigrants, but the principles held by the nation to which they immigrate.

Consider a group of rapid totalitarians immigrating to a nation that explicitly respects and protects individual rights. The totalitarians will not have the means to implement their ideas. They can't do it with ballots--individual rights prohibit anyone, including government, from initiating force. They can't do it with force, because they then become criminals who will be thrown in jail.

In short, if a nation respected and protected individual rights, the ideas of the immigrants are irrelevant.

Brian Shelley said...

I'll agree that our constitution and its delineation of rights has definitely slowed the growth of the state, I do think that immigration has had a small effect. Over the years the interpretation and enforcement of those rights has changed and been watered down.

In what way was our constitution inadequate to protect individual rights?

Brian Phillips said...

There were numerous aspects of the Constitution that actually violated individual rights. Slavery is the most obvious. The right to regulate commerce is another. We really need an amendment that prohibits laws that interfere with economic freedom.

But even a perfect document would not and could not stand up to philosophic corruption.

jbcobb said...

Isn't there a bigger issue here, addressed many times by Dr. Ron Paul, regarding the principles held by our republic? While the idea of open borders was sane in years gone by, we have mutated into a large centralized socialist state which provides incentives for illegal health care, money for the unemployed and under-employed, and a myriad of other social programs. As people flood in, to work or to live off our manna from hell, our governmental resources are sapped and budgets are placed under severe stress. This, of course, creates resentment of certain groups.

We should profess a desire for open trade and limited and reasonable immigration, but not until leviathan has been slain.

Brian Shelley said...


The money is often times exaggerated, but you have a valid point on resentment. It's not always the reality of injustice, but the perception.