Bryan Caplan  

Rosen and Responsibility

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I was on the Mike Rosen show on Monday. Overall, he was a sympathetic host, until we got to the subject of... you guessed it... immigration. Unlike most opponents of immigration, though, he was quite explicit about his core principle: In Rosen's view, we should do whatever is best for Americans, and completely ignore the welfare of foreigners.

At least that's what he said. I assume that Rosen would oppose mass extermination of foreigners if it happened to be in our material interest. Perhaps he would retreat to the weaker position that he also affirmed: That we are not responsible for foreigners' well-being.

This is a fine premise on which to base opposition to foreign aid, or sending troops to Darfur. But it's a flimsy foundation for immigration restrictions. Immigrants are not asking for charity; they are asking for the freedom to accept a job offer from a willing employer, rent an apartment from a willing landlord, and purchase goods from willing merchants. As I argued last year:

Suppose two men, John and Julio, are heading to a job interview. Julio tells John: "I need this job more than you do. Please drop out of the race so I get it." It's perfectly reasonable for John to... reply: "No. You're a stranger and I don't owe you anything."...

But suppose instead that John handcuffs Julio to a tree to prevent him from going to the interview. Julio says "Let me go. I deserve a shot at this job too." At this point, it's ludicrous for John to reply, "No. You're a stranger and I don't owe you anything." Julio isn't demanding help; he's just demanding that John leave him alone. And if John were to object, "You're not leaving me alone. That job is MINE, and you're trying to steal it from me!" we'd have to answer, "The job isn't yours. It's up to the owner of the business to decide who he wants to employ."

There is one way around this analogy: Embrace the socialist view that the government (or "the people as a whole") is the rightful owner of the entire country. Are there any conservative opponents of immigration willing to bite that bullet?


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COMMENTS (10 to date)

Conservatives are implicitly saying that the government owns the country, or at least the imaginary line we call a border.

Never the less I think conservatives main failure is in their worship of the law. As you show there are willing employers, landloards and merchants but since people didn't ask permission to cross the imaginary line they are criminals and must be stopped!

TGGP writes:

If we did not have birthright citizenship, a democracy, a welfare state, and steadily worsening social statistics for three generations of hispanics, I would completely agree with you. However, we do have all those things and the government is the only thing capable of keeping them out, given that vigilante groups that have attempted to prevent trespassing are not looked kindly on by that same government. I realize that you are an anarcho-capitalist and wish there were no government at all, but I don't think you'd agree that the government should simply stop giving its citizens the protection of law while still interfering in numerous other ways, resulting in what Sam Harris and Lew Rockwell have called "anarcho-tyranny".

winterspeak writes:

Come now Bryan, there is a much simpler way to get around the analogy.

Anyone who believes they should put Americans first (as you suggest Rosen does) could easily say that if an immigrant and a nonimmigrant were competing for a job, then a "put non-immigrants first" policy would support "handcuffing the immigrant to a tree" because it would reduce the competition for the job.

Would the non-immigrant company be worse of? Yes. But the non-immigrant job-seeker is better off. You can argue that the net benefit is positive because the improvement in the job-seeker's welfare is greater than the loss in the company's welfare. You don't have to be conservative, liberal, or anti-immigrant, to favor job-seekers and workers over corporations.

And you certainly don't have to be socialist to get around your analogy.

As a matter of fact, you can also get around the libertarian position on immigration and still be very free market by simply arguing that the negative externalities of recent immigrants compound as the number of immigrants increase (because a large immigrant populations slows assimilation, which reduces these negative externalities). This does not argue against no immigration, it simply argues for slowed immigration so that assimilation continues apace. You could also argue that this is better for the immigrant, since assimilating into a dominant culture will help them be more succesful in the long run.

Steve Sailer writes:

Quite right! As Che Guevara once said:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Oh, shoot, somebody else said that ...Never mind!

dcpi writes:

There is, of course, a quaint feature of human nature -- one that is non-economic -- that Bryan overlooks in the case of immigration. Simply put, individual human beings are to a greater or lesser extent tribal in their nature. That is just the way we are, have been and likely will ever be.

Those tribal loyalties mean that in some cases and in certain times, people will commit economically irrational acts out of loyalty to their own group. For example, I do not think even Bryan would agree to allow unfettered immigration of men in uniform from a country with which we are at war.

So, in the extreme case, the government has the right to cut off immigration (time of war for the common defense).

Now, a logical extension of this would be that the government has the right to control borders and know which people from which countries are attempting to gain access into the country.

That would further imply that allowing unfettered access without border control would lead to a less secure, or less defensible, country.

Perhaps we should be allowing many more immigrants -- I think that we should be -- but it is not too much to ask that those immigrants obtain a visa first. I would even go so far as to agree to borders that are so open as to allow in anyone who passes a background check (has not been tossed already by our government for crimes, is not a citizen of a nation at war with the U.S., etc). To perform this check, immigrants need to be above board.

Bryan: Should you be able to wander into China, set up shop and put down roots without the permission of the Chinese government which is the Chinese people's legitimate proxy? What if you have already been exiled from China once, do you believe you have a right to smuggle yourself back into Beijing?

Mr. Sailer, I fail to see where in there the founders said anything about keeping out mexicans.

thebastidge writes:

For the first time in a while, I felt motivated to comment (though I always enjoy reading here) but TGGP, Winterspeak,and dcpi have all made my points first.

8 writes:

If you believe in assimilation and open borders, how is it much different than foreign concessions? Would it be wrong for the U.S. to say to Mexico, 20% of your population has elected by their feet to live under our rule. We claim 20% of Mexican territory, we'll even take the poor western sections.

Why can't we take a chunk out of every country with millions of potential immigrants and create vibrant free economies so their people don't have to move thousands of miles and abandon their own culture?

Or people in Mexico and elsewhere should be able to vote as to which government they want to be ruled by, and if they vote for the U.S. (or some other foreign government), the U.S. rules whatever territory voted for membership, with the right of taxation. The people would not be American, but rather citizens of a hybrid nation. If they wanted us to leave, they could kick us out at any time.

George Penman writes:

I wrote, but have not sent, a note to Lou Dobbs in the form of a web page.

http://www.seconnecticut.com/to_lou_dobbs.htm

The US, being one of the most prosperous countries in the world, should be able to treat its poor better.

Laura M writes:

I agree with this article, Rosen and Responsibility. Immigrants come to America for freedom. They aren't hurting Americans in any way, more specifically taking jobs away from them. They are doing the jobs that Americans don't want or that Americans think they are too good to do that job in the first place. The employer obviously knows that they aren't offering that high of a wage, so they are going to hire whoever is better qualified and who the employer thinks will do the best job in the end.
I was recently at a horse show in North Carolina and I overheard the employer had to hire Mexican immigrants to get rid of the horse droppings/ clean the horse and horse stalls/ because they couldn't find any other workers to do it. Immigrants should be respected more because they are the ones doing the jobs Americans are passing up for no good reason.

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