Art Carden  

Immigrants and Their Motivations

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People fear that immigrants will compromise American culture and vote enthusiastically for policies that restrict our freedoms. Laying aside the fact that immigration restrictions are already a massive encroachment upon my freedom--why should I be prevented from hiring anyone I please at terms we find mutually satisfactory?--I'm unconvinced that immigrants represent a threat to the Republic.

For an extreme case, consider Cuba. The migration flow is almost entirely in one direction: people are looking to escape Cuban tyranny, poverty, and stagnation. I suspect that most immigrants from Mexico, Africa, and Asia have more in common with Cuban immigrants than they have with nefarious invaders looking to impose their political institutions on us. Cuba might be a special case, but my sense is that this is a difference in degree rather than kind. Even if they are coming here and burdening our welfare system, preventing them from getting here isn't a free lunch. "Border security" requires real resources, and preventing me from trucking and bartering with anyone who will deal with me is an encroachment on my freedom that rivals (or equals, or exceeds) what I would have to pay in extra taxes.

Do I fear that immigrants will destroy our culture and lay waste to our freedoms? No, I don't. We're doing a good enough job of that on our own.


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COMMENTS (16 to date)
JLV writes:

FYI, the US was back up to 12th place in the 2013 rankings. Behind paragons of freedom like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Surely "laying waste" is, uh, what's the word? Hyperbole?

Steve Johnson writes:

How about hiring a convicted murderer? You should be able to hire anyone, right?

Therefore, we must empty all prisons.

BennyB writes:

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Eric Falkenstein writes:

We aren't the best, therefore we can't be worse? They were saying that in Russia circa 1918.

MingoV writes:

I certainly agree that we're doing a great job of mucking-up our nation, but open borders would accelerate that process. Most immigrants would come from Mexico. We know from long experience that the vast majority of Mexican immigrants are left-wingers. If you don't like what's happening with the federal government now, then you shouldn't support open borders.

I support much more immigration from Asia. We've had good experience with Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Indian immigrants, and those immigrants generally aren't left-wingers.

Alex Nowrasteh writes:

Here is economic freedom and immigration:

http://www.cato.org/blog/immigration-does-not-decrease-economic-freedom

Richard A. writes:

Generally speaking, it's the poorly educated immigrants and their descendants that support lefty politicians. Educated immigrants tend to have more normal political beliefs.

Bill Poster writes:

A counterexample from the UK, where I live. Over the last decade or so, we have had something not too dissimilar to open borders. I personally am in favour on natural rights grounds (the majority disagree) but I do not pretend it is costless from a cultural and institutional perspective.

In more free countries, there are always those who use their freedom to try and reduce others'. Many migrants are motivated by narrow monetary considerations, rather than admiration for a freer way of life. They are 'the poor' rather than those 'yearning to be free'. Even those who are attracted to freedom for themselves do not necessarily desire those freedoms for, for example, women, minorities or homosexuals.

Voting fraud, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, sexual grooming of young girls. All are serious problems in the UK now, and all are largely or disproportionately problems in immigrant communities.

I reiterate: I believe open borders are every human's right. But to pretend it is a costless choice only aids our opponents.

chipotle writes:

I'm agnostic and deeply ambivalent about the immigration issue. But I think the open borders proponents (Bryan Caplan in particular) do a terrible job in taking their opponents concerns seriously. (In return, their opponents make flabbier, less serious arguments and thus we have a downward spiral.)

This post is an excellent example. It is simple and easy to read and polite but that is the best that I can say about it.

Here's one central part of the immigration problem. There's an entire part of the labor market that's virtually exclusively reserved for illegals. Specifically, illegal labor is hired at sub-minimum wage (or sub-regulatory standard) condition. This labor is preferred to native labor because it allows the employer to (a)minimize costs thereby (b)inflating profits and (c)eliminate the possibility of lawsuit from an employment lawyer. (Would an illegal immigrant really want to get deported by getting the law involved?)

So there's a black-to-gray market in employment that is completely closed off to American citizens.

Then, of course, there are all sorts of laws (e.g. occupancy laws) that inflate costs for law-abiding citizens but are not a problem for the willing law-breakers who violate immigration laws.

What's the response of open-borders libertarians? Ignore these problems; cheerlead for scofflaws; heap mockery upon anyone who professes to care about the plight of workers born in the US, as they are racist/nationalist/economic illiterates whose fidelity to law is evidence of a combination of stupidity and conformity.

This strategy is part of what engenders such profound disgust from the adversaries of illegal and/or increased immigration.

But still the libertarian cognoscenti refuse to take seriously the arguments against open borders. They substitute name-calling and triumphalism for sober analysis, civil engagement, and recognition of hard trade-offs.

It's a bad sign when even the debate is beyond repair.

Craig Howard writes:

And -- as always -- the good Libertarian completely ignores the direct costs to Americans in welfare, housing, schooling, and food. The current welfare-state makes open immigration extremely expensive and burdensome to citizens.

How is it possible for all the libertarian blogs who advocate open immigration to ignore the monetary costs? But they all do -- every time.

I am a conservative who leans strongly libertarian, but I can't help but notice that, though libertarians will ALWAYS point out the costs to the consumer of, say, trade protectionism, they ALWAYS ignore them when this topic comes up.

It's just incredibly odd.

Jagdish Kadvekar writes:

If Mr. Carden is a libertarian then his position is contrary to his ideology.

The libertarian project is to move towards private property. To give people more and more control and rights over their surroundings by making them proprietors and masters of their surroundings (houses, roads, schools etc.). The right to exclude is a fundamental right.

"Free borders" is a collectivist's idea since the person holding it assumes that no one "owns" the country. In reality, Americans own most parts of the country, and the libertarian would say, they ought to own all of it, including the roads, rivers, beaches, everything.

How does one decide whether to open the borders or not, according to Mr. Carden?
By the decree of politicians? If so, then we are giving them enormous power over us. We are saying that they own the country.
By referendum? If so, then 100% of Americans would have to agree.

"Free borders" is in its principle the same as Obamacare. It is not a libertarian's idea.

In addressing the question of immigration, the true libertarian would argue only for moving towards total private ownership. He will notice that once that happens, no border will be "free", but will be meticulously controlled by its owner.


Jagdish Kadvekar writes:

I must add imperatively: for those who do not know, the reasoning I adopted in my post is entirely due to Hans-Hermann Hoppe, one of the leading thinkers of the libertarian school.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

The argument that American political society will be devestated by immigrants is one that has been oft repeated, beginning in the late 1700's, the again in the 1800's, and again in the early 1900's, and has been continually falsified.

Measures of government cost of modern immigration generally misses the private benefits of immigrant workers in the economy. I know of many professional some who have a job because of the availability of recent immigrant nannies, for example. The taxes paid by the working native born women is far more than the government costs of the nannies. Add this to entire industries that depend on immigrant labor, again paying taxes on their profits.

I just had a Danish couple move into my rental property in the US, but then the husband's H1B visa had a problem and they got kicked out. So thanks to our idiotic immigration policy, I will be seeing several months of no rent, and the Federal and state governments will miss out on taxes on that money as well.

brendan writes:
Do I fear that immigrants will destroy our culture and lay waste to our freedoms? No, I don't. We're doing a good enough job of that on our own.

Absurd. These two things are incontrovertibly true:
1) Immigration dramatically improves the lives of 3rd world emigrants.
2) African, Arab, and Hispanic emigrants- in sufficient numbers- BLATANTLY are a threat to our culture, politics, and stability.

Denying either fact should get you mocked out of the debate.

ralph eggen writes:

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vikingvista writes:

The data appear to resoundingly refute the incessant off-the-cuff argument about immigrants being costly--in fact, immigrants result in greater economic growth than social cost.

But even if there was widespread acceptance of this canard about illegals consuming too many state resources, would that not be a good message from the standpoint of an anti-socialist? Maybe then Americans would hesitate to support socialist programs, so as to deprive "those people".

And ethnic groups associated with low wage illegal labor tend to vote against the political party most vocal about treating illegals as subhuman? I'm shocked. They must be socialists, because all good free marketeers support their persecutors, right? I suppose any Jew voting against Hitler in 1932 could only have been Communist or Stahlhelm--Nazi antisemitism couldn't possibly have played a role.

That being said, the economic benefits of low income illegal labor in the US may very well diminish if borders were made open so that those same workers became legal. Such workers would then be effectively banned from work by an assortment of cruel labor laws, not least of which is the ban on the lowest wage labor (aka minimum wage laws). Workers may very well be attracted to the US looking for work opportunity, as they are now, but arrive to find out that the laws only permit a trapped subsistence on government benefits, or a life of violent crime.

Currently, the black market for low wage labor in agriculture, construction, etc. is a quite peaceful one--not something that can be said for all black markets. Illegal labor in the US has been a very successful free market response to abusive government labor legislation. The goal shouldn't be freedom under the law, but simply freedom.

Open borders do not necessarily mean greater freedom, because in some things, citizens are less free than non-citizens. When a population has succeeded in making a mockery of bad laws, you need to think twice about trying to perfect the laws.

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