Bryan Caplan  

Trump's Immigration Policies: My Default Reaction

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Vox voxplains leaked drafts of Trump's executive orders on immigration.  Reading the fine print, it's not as bad as I'd expect, but of course this is only the beginning.  The Vox analysis seems careful, except for this:

Libertarians sometimes suggest "building a wall around the welfare state" instead of the country -- restricting access to public benefits to US citizens. This executive order proposes that President Trump, who's already building a wall around the country, build one around the welfare state as well.

Legal immigrants currently get access to some public benefits in some circumstances. But the federal government can bar someone from coming to the US, or from becoming a permanent resident, if there's any evidence he or she will become a "public charge."

When libertarians like me or Alex Nowrasteh advocate building a "wall around the welfare state," we absolutely do not mean "exclude foreigners likely to use public benefits."  We mean "admit them, but don't give them public benefits."  Trump's order does precisely the opposite, and it's rather unfair to hint that libertarians provide any intellectual inspiration for what he's doing.

Looking forward, the short-run best case scenario for immigration is that Trump writes a vast number of largely symbolic and easily evaded orders to create the impression of nativist activism.  The bad scenario is that he makes repeal of the Glorious Lasting Accidental Liberalization of 1965 one of his top three legislative priorities.  Why?  Because this would probably lock in sharply lower immigration for a generation or more.  The 1965 act liberalized immigration by accident, and the awesome results have never been popular.  If it were repealed, I seriously doubt the Democrats would dare to reinstate it the next time they regain power.  But frankly, Trump seems too mercurial and myopic to care about fundamentals, so I only give this scenario a one-in-three chance.

In the social media age, observers tend to equate silence with approval, or at least disinterest.  At least in my case, you shouldn't.  By default, please assume I think all of Trump's immigration policies are terrible.  But I won't be blogging about the latest immigration news unless I can also provide some novel analysis - or someone proposes a bet.


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Twitter: Bryan Caplan @bryan_caplan




COMMENTS (11 to date)
Arthur writes:

Vox paraphrases libertarians as "restricting access to public benefits to US citizens." You state "We mean 'admit them, but don't give them public benefits.'"

I don't see the distinction.

Paul Kennedy writes:

"I don't see the distinction"
Arthur,
I think Bryan's comment is in response to the second paragraph of the quotation from Vox:

But the federal government can bar someone from coming to the US, or from becoming a permanent resident, if there's any evidence he or she will become a "public charge."
Whereas Bryan is saying: admit them, but don't give them public benefits.

Does that make sense?

Arthur writes:

Yes, but Yglesias isn't attributing that to libertarians; hence the clause "instead of the country." The purpose of the paragraph seems to be to show the distinction between the two ideas.

It's worth elaborating on, but Caplan's being needlessly sensitive here.

Brian W writes:
"admit them, but don't give them public benefits."

The difference here is that Trump promised not to let people die sick in the streets for lack of money when medicine could save them. It's a difficult concept for libertarians, I know.

Trump also promised that we and our posterity would have a country, not just a free trade zone. And that's why Bryan by default finds Trump's policies terrible.

[nick changed--final initial added--with user permission for clarity--Econlib Ed.]

Jon Murphy writes:

@Brian:

The difference here is that Trump promised not to let people die sick in the streets for lack of money when medicine could save them.

These executive orders suggest the opposite. If someone is likely to receive any benefits, they'd be denied, which means if they are sick they'd "die in the streets" of their own country. So he is letting people die; just not visibly.

It's a difficult concept for libertarians, I know.

"Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all...It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain."

-Frederic Bastiat

James writes:

Brian,

In a very short comment you made two incorrect statements as to what libertarians understand and why they have the positions they have.

Caplan has been clear as to the actual reasons he opposes Trump's immigration ideas and the one you attribute to him is not among them. Jon Murphy addressed the other error.

I have to ask, did you believe what you wrote?

Brian W writes:

Jas:

In a very short comment you made two incorrect statements as to what libertarians understand

Caplan proposed denying welfare benefits to the sick that he wants to invite into our land. That is an orthodox libertarian position.

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/09/tea-party-debate-audience-cheered-idea-of-letting-uninsured-patients-die/

Caplan has made it clear that he has a bubble and therefore believes that he doesn't need a country. And because of that, open borders seems worthwhile to him for the benefit to commerce. The dissolution of national bonds and shared responsibilities counts for nothing.

My comment is in no way unfair. It is Caplan's border policy that is ludicrous.

N. Joseph Potts writes:

In the past, I've heard/read Caplan refuse the libertarian label. Here, he wears it. I wouldn't otherwise presume to Caplan's knowledge or wisdom, but I also underwent a couple of years' thought before donning the uniform.

But I have, today, and in spades. I don't approve of tax-funded benefits for ANYONE. Sorting out "us" from "them" would be unnecessary in my scheme, at least for the government.

Each of us could do it (or not) as we saw fit.

RL Styne writes:

So how do you respond when proponents of Trump's policy argue that "extreme vetting" is necessary given the skyrocketing violent crime in places like Germany and Sweden due to the influx of refugees? Realistic proposals preferred.

Hazel Meade writes:

Reading the fine print, it's not as bad as I'd expect, but of course this is only the beginning.

You spoke too soon.

Hazel Meade writes:

The dissolution of national bonds and shared responsibilities counts for nothing.

If those "shared bonds" entail inflicting harm upon innocent people of other nationalities you can count me out.

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