Open immigration?


Immigration is one issue that seems to separate groups who are otherwise political allies. For example, the ‘conservative’ right tends to dislike immigration. The ‘libertarian’ right tends to favour it. Immigration has typically not been favoured by the ‘blue-collar’ left but is favoured by the ‘intellectual’ left (or Chardonnay Socialists). Perhaps this is why it creates such ranker when debated.

As an example, last week, Jeremy Sammut from the (conservative) Centre for Independent Studies had an article in the Australian praising the pro-immigration stance of liberal politician George Brandis while attacking the Gillard government’s reaffirmation of multiculturalism. See here.

So perhaps it is not surprising that the best pro-immigration arguments I have heard come from Bryan Caplan of the (considered-right-wing) George Mason University. The podcast is available here at EconTalk.

Bryan argues for open immigration. In other words, for the US (which is where he is talking about) why not let anyone who wants to immigrate do so? I found his arguments interesting and persuasive – but, as someone who is pro-immigration, I am a friendly ear! He points out the history of open immigration in the US – and comments very briefly that a factor that stopped Australia growing to be a productive powerhouse like the US was our stricter immigration policies. His arguments cover moral and economic grounds – so I recommend a listen.

3 Responses to "Open immigration?"
  1. On a point of pedantry Stephen is not an American and cannot be expected to spell words like one.  Rancour.

  2. Open immigration is harder to sell than free trade but I think the case for it is at least as strong. Agree with most of the points Bryan made but I will add a couple more points:

    People in Australia, US, NZ, Canada etc. benefit from excellent political institutions which have evolved through centuries of trial and error. We’re reaping the benefits made from sacrifices/investments made by earlier generations while contributing a little extra but mainly maintaining the status quo through replacement investment. Iraq or Afghanistan or for that matter any other number of examples have shown we don’t really know how to replicate strong democratic institutions (even less than what we know about macroeconomics). If we hold as a principle that the political rights we take for granted should be universally shared then maybe we should also believe having open immigration is the easiest way to do that (as opposed to direct military intervention or through use of ’soft power’);
    There is a dichotomy in the way we treat domestic immigration and immigration from foreigners when they are essentially the same thing except in the latter the people immigrating are foreigners, i.e. we would probably be outraged if anyone imposed restrictions on movement between States or for that matter suburbs (if the right wasn’t already protected by the Constitution that is);
    While I’m firmly in favour of open immigration I think the economic and social effects of immigration are ambiguous;
    Political economy matters, e.g. people vote in their own ‘interests’ however that is defined. So realistically the idea of a universal free movement area across the globe is far fetched no matter how much I like to believe that outcome is preferable.

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