Bryan Caplan  

Tourists Welcome

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Almost everyone wants to heavily restrict immigration.  Foreigners will take our jobs, go on welfare, poison our culture, and vote for socialism.  But there's one kind of foreigner almost every country welcomes: tourists.  Sure, locals gripe about their cluelessness and clownishness.  But almost no one wants to shoo tourists away.

Yes, visas and other regulations on tourism are well-established.  Their chief rationale, however, is to prevent tourists from mutating into immigrants.  From the State Department:
The required presumption under U.S. law is that every visitor visa applicant is an intending immigrant until they demonstrate otherwise. Therefore, applicants for visitor visas must overcome this presumption by demonstrating:

• That the purpose of their trip is to enter the United States temporarily for business or pleasure;
• That they plan to remain for a specific, limited period;
• Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the United States;
• That they have a residence outside the United States as well as other binding ties that will ensure their departure from the U.S. at the end of the visit.
Requiring "evidence of funds to cover expenses" seems designed to prevent tourists from going on welfare or begging in the streets.  All the other requirements, though, ultimately reflect a single goal: preventing foreigners from getting U.S. jobs.  As long as they run around spending money on hotels, restaurants, and Disneyland, great!  But we don't want them to take jobs and start producing stuff for us.

The populist view, as you're well-aware, is that immigrant workers are "taking jobs" that rightfully belong to natives.  But you could just as easily accuse tourists of "taking stuff" - hotel rooms, restaurant meals, Disneyland tickets - that rightfully belong to natives.  Selling stuff to foreigners is mutually beneficial?  Then why isn't producing stuff for natives mutually beneficial, too?

To explain this odd double standard, I once again accuse misanthropy.  We readily welcome foreign money.  Money, after all, can be exchanged for goods and services.  But foreign people?  Of what possible use are they?  Just think of all the bad things a person might conceivably do or be.  Shudder. 

An economist might claim that the very fact that an immigrant lands a paying job is a strong sign that they're useful to somebody.  He could even insist that immigration drastically raises foreigners' wages by drastically raising their productivity.  But that's just market fundamentalism.  Move along, nothing to see here...



COMMENTS (20 to date)
Massimo writes:

Immigrants taking private sector jobs is generally mutually beneficial. I completely agree with Caplan on that. That is an anti-immigration argument I disagree with. I don't agree with all the other points he tunes out or glosses over. Caplan claims his eyes are open, but he really tunes out all the good anti-immigration points. He argues the easy points that even anti-immigration people like me agree with.

Tom Davies writes:

@massimo You don't mention those points either? Bryan has covered a lot of objections in the past. If you said what yours are odds are I could find you a link.

Pajser writes:

I advocate tourism as part of the planned economy regulated to maximize satisfaction of human needs with given limited resources, and essentially the same approach I have for open borders.

I'm not sure that Caplan's ideas are authentic. I guess in 1970's he would advice South Koreans to close the borders for 80 millions of young Chinese.

Brad writes:

If you feel compelled, you can protest the government's anti-immigration behavior by hiring an illegal immigrant. I do. I pay them to mow my grass and occasionally feed me. Will it matter? No, but I enjoy being the occasional scofflaw.

Art Carden writes:

Excellent point. We went to Disney World last summer, and it's clear the lines were longer and the hotels were more expensive because of FOREIGN tourists.

Jody writes:

Selling stuff to foreigners is mutually beneficial? Then why isn't producing stuff for natives mutually beneficial, too.

The point is immigrants have far more externalities than tourists.

James writes:

These posts always draw a lot of comments from opponents of unrestricted immigration but their argument is always that unrestricted immigration is bad because of the predicted negative impact on citizens, with no accounting for the positive impact on the immigrant.

Is there anyone willing to argue that unrestricted immigration would do more harm than good when taking into account the impact on all parties, including the immigrants themselves?

Matt H writes:

James, It has been determined by experts that if you killed yourself total utility will rise. I understand you want to stay alive, but you are just arguing from your own utility, think of the benefits to society.

So you have a policy that has tangible concentrated negative consequences in the short run, and diffuse benefits that are greater in the long run and you wonder why people don't support it? Lets throw in low probability catastrophic tail risk, immigration kills the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Why are open boarders advocates so willfully obtuse? So completely ignorant of human nature?


Jeff writes:
Is there anyone willing to argue that unrestricted immigration would do more harm than good when taking into account the impact on all parties, including the immigrants themselves?

I would not make that case, but my concern is primarily my own well being. I am not indifferent to the plight of non-WEIRDers, but re: immigration policy, as in all things, I look out for number one.

Dave writes:

James: "These posts always draw a lot of comments from opponents of unrestricted immigration but their argument is always that unrestricted immigration is bad because of the predicted negative impact on citizens, with no accounting for the positive impact on the immigrant."

Sheesh. This is a version of the anti-immigration argument, much mocked 'round these parts, that goes "You wouldn't let a homeless person sleep in your living room, would you?" Your argument suggests that everyone _would_ let in the homeless guy, because the positive impact on him would be huge. But people don't do that, and if you can see why, you will also see why your post is nonsense.

Jonathan Silber writes:

Should the American citizen rejoice not only when an alien spends his money here, but also when he takes the job of the citizen or, by his mere competition for it, depresses the wage it pays?

Should such a citizen be reminded by his friends and family and others who wish him well, that he feels disappointment or resentment over his plight only from ignorance, and that in fact he's never had it so good?

To characterize those who oppose unrestricted immigration to America as "anti-immigration" is to set up a straw man: few opponents of unrestricted immigration support a halt to any and all further immigration.

It's like saying of a student who will accept one roommate in his dorm room, or even two or three, but not ten or twenty or a hundred, that he is anti-roommate, and that if only he could get beyond his own ignorance and realize his true, proper interests, he'd realize that some of those many roommates, residing there over his objections, might very well do him a service.


LD Bottorff writes:

Unrestricted immigration? I'm fine with keeping terrorists and violent criminals out. I'm just not fine with keeping people out who want to work here.

Tom DeMeo writes:

"Is there anyone willing to argue that unrestricted immigration would do more harm than good when taking into account the impact on all parties, including the immigrants themselves?"

I would.

Everything depends on the rate of immigration. Most people, myself included, believe that immigration is beneficial to society, as long as the rates of immigration can be absorbed by the sending and receiving communities without causing more damage than it solves.

Reasonably stable streams of immigration would have a positive net impact. However, there are wars, political turmoil and natural disasters. These types of events would cause unstable streams of population movement, and that would cause violence, and even wars.

BC writes:

@Jonathan Silber: "Few opponents of unrestricted immigration support a halt to any and all further immigration."

Strangely, I once commented that even immigration opponents oppose only illegal immigration, not legal immigration. They jumped all over me to insist that, no, they opposed legal immigration too.

I would say, though, that no one favors unrestricted immigration. Open Borders advocates want markets to determine immigration limits, both total immigration levels and who the immigrants are. Anti-immigrationists want the Government to determine those things. In all the immigration debates, I still have yet to hear anti-immigrationists explain exactly why they think that Government is better at allocating housing and jobs than the marketplace.

The school dorm analogy is off. The Open Borders position is that each university should accept and provide housing to whichever students they want among the students that want to attend, and students should choose whichever university they want, among the universities that will accept them. The anti-immigrationist position is that the Government should just assign students to universities and dorms rather than letting the market decide.

J writes:

I don't personally know of many people who complain about being priced out of restaurants or hotels by tourists (though not many people stay in hotel rooms in their own city). When the Olympics or some huge event comes people do complain about being crowded out. I use to live in a city where that drew a lot of foreigners for a week, all of a sudden every restaurant had a line, only a mild inconvenience.

On the other hand, I don't think anyone disputes that immigrants productivity goes up, just that they depress the wages (price people out). This seems to be one of the largest objections.

Most importantly, I don't think unrestricted immigration is Pareto-efficient, the immigrants couldn't afford to pay enough (at their new higher paying jobs) to compensate me for my reduced value of labor.

Related question for Bryan: what happens to the per capita GDP of a developed country (i.e. the USA) for everyone, but excluding the new immigrant, when an unskilled immigrant moves to the country. I.e., do immigrants make citizens more productive? Is there any data on this?

Less related: can Uber drivers compensate NYC cabbies for the $1M it costs for a cabbie license there? $13B worth in total.

MingoV writes:

@Jason: "Is there anyone willing to argue that unrestricted immigration would do more harm than good when taking into account the impact on all parties, including the immigrants themselves?"

I've made the arguments at least three times on this site. Supporters of open immigration seem to believe it will be just like letting in 100,000 per year times some multiple. When we have 10,000,000 immigrants the first year, the story will be much different. Most of those millions will arrive with perhaps two changes of clothes and maybe $100 per family. Most will be Mexicans or Central Americans who trekked to Mexico. Most will not have a car. They will not have a job lined up. Many will not have family in or near border cities. These people will need food and shelter and medical care. Shelters will need to be built. Food will need to be provided. Clinics will need to be built and staffed. For those who find jobs or who can stay with family or friends in distant places, transportation must be provided. Most of these immigrants will have no better than a fifth grade education and will speak no English. They will need ESL. Their children will need schooling. The immigrants who find jobs will be paid minimum wage or less. (There are easy ways to do that without breaking any laws. Making workers buy uniforms at vastly inflated prices is one of them.) The ones who get jobs will pay no income taxes because of low incomes and deductions for spouses and children. Paying back all the taxpayer-funded expenses for these immigrants will take more than a generation.

Next comes the political issue. Many of us are libertarians. We comprise only a few percent of the US population. Almost every immigrant will become a left-winger. Open immigration dilutes our relative numbers and weakens our all-too-small influence. For us and republicans, open immigration is political suicide.

Jonathan Silber writes:

Almost every immigrant will become a left-winger. Open immigration dilutes our relative numbers and weakens our all-too-small influence. For us and republicans, open immigration is political suicide.

Right, and that's why leftists, here and abroad, push so hard for immigration, open borders, and amnesty.

Be that as it may, even if immigrants were one and all of them productive and not living at great expense to the tax-paying citizens, it would be no incontrovertible argument for open borders, or for unrestricted immigration, or for immigration by market forces: the country is not merely a place to produce and consume goods and services--it is not nothing more than a business or factory or grand bazaar; it is a home, to many millions, with all that implies, apart from productivity. And people have a right to decide who shall be welcome in their home and on what terms.

It's not only understandable, but also rational, to desire to keep certain people out of the country, while welcoming others; and to restrict the number of those who might be allowed to visit or settle in it.

It's not merely a question of the economics of the matter.

Theo writes:

Getting back to Brian's particular observation, which is about foreign tourists:

Interestingly enough, there is a rapidly growing online marketplace that matches "tourists" looking for accommodations and contacts with "hosts" looking for temporary workers.

That such a marketplace can flourish adds additional perspective to Brian's observation about a "double standard," in as much as these tourists are in fact taking jobs away from Americans.

Jacky writes:

I would like to draw your attention to conflicts between Hong Kongers and tourists from mainland China. I wouldn't say the whole city is against tourists, but at least a significant part of the population has negative feelings towards the influx of tourists from the north, not that I agree with them.

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1429558/locust-protest-urging-curbs-mainland-visitors-tarnished-city-say-top?page=all

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1444313/parody-protesters-march-urge-mainlanders-reignite-their-patriotism?page=all

http://www.scmp.com/comment/letters/article/1492243/problems-created-mainland-chinese-tourists-cannot-be-ignored

Floccina writes:

My how attitudes have changed:

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

The above is from the declaration of independence.

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