Bryan Caplan  

Let Anyone Take a Job Anywhere: My Closing Statement for IQ2

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It's hard to believe we're even debating "Let anyone take a job anywhere."  If someone said, "The law should prevent women from working," or "The law should prevent Jews from working," or "The law should prevent blacks from working," you wouldn't just disagree.  You'd be appalled.  You should be equally appalled when someone says, "The law should prevent foreigners from working."   Criminalizing the employment of women, Jews, blacks, or foreigners is doubly evil.  It denies the workers' basic human rights.  And it deprives the world of the full benefit of the workers' talent and ambition.

Open borders should be a bipartisan, bi-ideological cause. 

Conservatives should oppose immigration restrictions in the name of freedom, free markets, small government, the work ethic, meritocracy, and Horatio Alger himself. 

Liberals should oppose immigration restrictions in the name of equality, reducing poverty, equal opportunity, non-discrimination, social justice, and the global 99%. 

When the government forbids American farmers to hire Mexican farm workers, how can a conservative not see the oppressive hand of Big Government crushing the entrepreneurial spirit?  When the government forbids American restaurants to hire Haitian dishwashers, how can a liberal not see a heartless legal system diabolically promoting poverty and discrimination?

Please!  Let anyone take a job anywhere.  It is the right way to treat your fellow human beings.  It will transform the world for the better.  And it will cost us less than nothing.



COMMENTS (17 to date)
jsalvatier writes:

Stirring! But I already agreed.

Ross Levatter writes:

The only thing one might add to this is to point out past claims made about the dangers of allowing free, unimpeded employment for women, Jews, and blacks, and how not only did these scare stories not come to pass, but that we're all clearly better off today because we gave them their freedom.

Pajser writes:

From any leftist position the question is: what happens to those in the worst situation? Migration harms poor, source countries, including the poorest people in these countries. What happens to Tanzanian village if their only medical doctor emigrates to rich country? They die. Perhaps it is not good (moral) that Tanzania completely restricts emigration; but rich, target country can restrict immigration of young and active people without moral problem.

8 writes:

"we're all clearly better off today because we gave them their freedom."

Women aren't happier. If you toss in the whole pile of freedoms from the 60s, there's evidence that a substantial portion of the black community, much of the poorer white communities and many women well into the middle class, are worse off.

Enial Cattesi writes:

@8:

Care to share some of the evidence that people aren't better off today than in the 60s?

And while at it, please explain how more freedom contributed to their unhappiness.

This is an honest request. I keep on seeing people tossing up such claims, without any evidence.

JEff writes:

And when they don't get jobs?

Jacob A. Geller writes:

@JEff, it doesn't make sense to pass a law preventing someone from getting a job on the grounds that that person can't or won't get a job.

(J. S. Mill actually made a similar point about barring women from politics -- he said, if women are really not interested in politics, then it doesn't make sense to pass laws keeping them out of parliament or denying them the right to vote.)

Motoko writes:

@Enial,

I just googled "hapiness over time" and got this. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~blnchflr/papers/Wellbeingnew.pdf

I could get more examples, but I trust you can google. Also I'm not actually endorsing these papers, since I haven't read beyond the abstract. But they certainly look like evidence that we're not happier.

I think it's a lot easier to be happy in modern times than it was in the 60's because we have a lot more wealth and therefore self-determination to play with. So if you want to choose to be happy, it's pretty easy. Unfortunately I don't see most people making this choice.

People often remark that they could never give up Facebook, email, Netflix, etc, but it is prima facie absurd that any of these things are essential components of the human experience. People conflate perceived dependency with happiness. They're wrong. Getting addicted to cigarettes (probably) won't make you happy, etc.

I view modern culture as pursuing mainly cheap short term indulgences that have nothing to do with overall life goals or development of personal identity. It breeds a superficial and self interested adult who can never be a real friend and has no real friends. I'd be unhappy too.

A good test of what someone's priorities are is their willingness to share a significant portion of their resources. Time/money. If someone is happy to pick you up at the airport, or lend you $50, and it causes them 0 anxiety and they don't have to be bullied into it - "hey... we're friends right?" - this person is generally pretty happy and well adjusted.

BucketofFried writes:

@Pajser

I'll take you at your word that the Marxist/Leftist critique focuses on "those in the worst situation." Yes, using your example the worst off would be in an even worse situation. However, doesn't this strike you as a "just-so" story? What's the likelihood of a Tanzanian doctor emigrating? He/she would probably not be admitted to practice medicine in the US given that the degree came from a third-world country. Assuming that he/she would immigrate any way, your hypothetical ignores the rest of the village migrating which is Bryan's primary focus - that everyone (low and high skill) should be allowed to immigrate.

Bjorn writes:

Is the a video of this debate?

Derek writes:

Bryan, I think a major contributor to losing the vote was that you did not spend enough time refuting Ron's incorrect claims that the vast majority, 60, 70, 80, 90 percent of "ordinary" Americans would see their wages decline significantly.

Steve Johnson writes:

Let anyone take a job anywhere.

This is an amazingly dishonest framing...

and you know it is.

The prohibition on foreigners taking up residence in a nation isn't a prohibition on them taking a job offer. It's a prohibition on them taking up residence.

You could equally say -

"Let anyone breathe anywhere" - You're not in favor of suffocating people are you?

"Let anyone eat anywhere" - what? You're in favor of prohibiting Haitians from eating? What kind of a monster are you?

If someone can't take up a job offer for some other reason it doesn't follow that you've done them some harm by preventing them from accepting a job offer. Otherwise you be prepared to empty the prisons of murderers - because you're not letting "anyone take a job anywhere" if you don't immediately let them out of prison if they can get a job.

Pajser writes:

BucketOfFried:

The leftist should care for those in the worst situation. It is the ideology ... solidarity, equality etc. Tanzanian medical doctor is only extreme example. In many, most (not all) of the countries - emigrants are better educated and probably more ambitious than average citizens. It is my experience, but it seems it is some kind of scientific consensus as well. It does not seem as artificial barrier: it is more likely that young Ph.D. will migrate from Greece to Luxemburg than his granny will do that. Hence, it seems that in many, most of the cases migration hurts

  • the poorest citizens in target-country and
  • the poorest citizens in source-country.
It sounds as a solid problem to me.

The Crimson Reach writes:

[Comment removed for rudeness. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Enial Cattesi writes:

@Motoko

A good test of what someone's priorities are is their willingness to share a significant portion of their resources. Time/money. If someone is happy to pick you up at the airport, or lend you $50, and it causes them 0 anxiety and they don't have to be bullied into it - "hey... we're friends right?" - this person is generally pretty happy and well adjusted.

A test of what? Should I understand that there is some law of nature that only a person willing to share his money/time (how much of that should he be willing to share?) is objectively/naturally happy?

People who complain that people are not happy usually mean that what makes the general public happy is not the stuff that should make them happy. Basically they are passing moral judgement.

Robert Bork used to say that Americans have it too good for their own good and at one time endorsed the idea of putting the Berlin wall back because the eastern block liked western pop music. It was an ugly patronizing attitude dressed in moral clothing.

Candide III writes:

@Enial

Now I am confused. Please tell me, does the statement "Criminalizing the employment of [...] foreigners is doubly evil. It denies the workers' basic human rights." express a moral judgement? If it doesn't, what does it express? If it does, upon what grounds do you condemn passing any moral judgement as invalid, as your sentence "Basically they are passing moral judgement." seems to indicate? Indeed, is this sentence itself not a moral judgement? If not, what is it?

[comment edited by commenter--Econlib Ed.]

Enial Cattesi writes:

@Candide III:

The comment was for the quote in the post.

But since you mentioned it:
"Criminalizing the employment of [...] foreigners is doubly evil. It denies the workers' basic human rights."
... does not express moral judgement, but:

People often remark that they could never give up Facebook, email, Netflix, etc, but it is prima facie absurd that any of these things are essential components of the human experience. People conflate perceived dependency with happiness. They're wrong. Getting addicted to cigarettes (probably) won't make you happy, etc.

... is castigating others for not agreeing with your tastes. By the reasoning expressed in that quote anything beyond eating (probably one or two very simple foods) and drinking (water) are not essential components to a happy human experience because any extra experience means an expression of individual tastes.

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