Unlimited Immigration Would Be A Net Plus For America?

Over at the New York Times, a rather earnest fellow by the name of Philippe Legrain argues that the United States would benefit from unlimited immigration. Here’s an excerpt,

I think freedom of movement is one of the most basic human rights, as anyone who is denied it can confirm. It is abhorrent that the rich and the educated are allowed to circulate around the world more or less freely, while the poor are not — causing, in effect, a form of global apartheid. So I think the burden of proof lies with supporters of immigration controls to justify why they think letting people move freely would have such catastrophic consequences. And, frankly, I don’t think they can.

The economic case for open borders is as compelling as the moral one. No government, except perhaps North Korea’s, would dream of trying to ban the movement of goods and services across borders; trying to ban the movement of most people who produce goods and services is equally self-defeating. When it comes to the domestic economy, politicians and policymakers are forever urging people to be more mobile, and to move to where the jobs are. But if it is a good thing for people to move from Kentucky to California in search of a better job, why is it so terrible for people to move from Mexico to the U.S. to work?

We tend to think it’s fine that foreign financiers cluster together in New York, I.T. specialists in Silicon Valley, and actors in Hollywood, while American bankers ply their trade in London, Hong Kong, and China; surely the same logic should apply to Mexican construction workers, Filipino care workers, and Congolese cleaners coming to the U.S. After all, they are all simply service providers plying their trade abroad.

From a global perspective, freer migration could bring huge economic gains. When workers from poor countries move to rich ones, they can make use of the advanced economies’ superior capital, technologies, and institutions, making these economies much more productive. Economists calculate that removing immigration controls could more than double the size of the world economy. Even a small relaxation of immigration controls would yield disproportionately big gains.

From an ethical point of view, it seems hard to argue against a policy that would do so much to help people poorer than ourselves.

It’s surprising that Legrain isn’t a college professor, because usually it takes someone as brainy as a college professor to convince himself that something this obviously stupid is a good idea.

But, why can’t we just let anyone who wants to come to the US, come here?

Well, to begin with, as Milton Friedman once famously said, “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.”

Put another way, if people can make more money for doing nothing in the United States than they can working in their home country, then we incentivize people to come here and get on the dole.

Another rather obvious problem to anyone who takes their nose out of an economics textbook for five minutes is that people aren’t widgets. When they come to this country, they bring their values, their culture, and their habits with them.

For example, does anyone think that the United States could absorb, let’s say, 50-60 million foreigners in a few short years without causing major problems with our schools, prisons, roads and a vast number of other issues? Then there are the obvious security issues, the fact that our government can’t even handle paperwork on the comparatively small number of immigrants who come here now — you can go on and on with this.

If anything, we should be seriously considering reducing the number of foreigners we allow to come into this country until the government can get a handle on the paperwork involved, we get an exit visa system in place, and we change our immigration system to give preference to immigrants that are particularly well educated, more likely to be successful here, or are from Western nations.

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