A First Rule for Immigration Policy

In response to this post on Addressism, my former student Sean writes: “I will be interested to see how you would consider drafting an immigration policy (assuming that we cannot simply open up all borders).”

Why assume that? At least, why not open up the borders to all who want to come here to work? It’s in our material interest to welcome all peaceful, productive people.

That’s not what Congress thinks, or at least not what Congress thinks will get them re-elected. According to a recent excellent Cato Intitute forum on “Fixing Guest Worker Visas” (I listened to the audio podcast available on iTunes), the Gang of Eight immigration bill’s 846 pages are loaded with restrictions on who may come to the U.S. to work and how long they may stay. There are different visas for students, agricultural workers, entrepreneurs, doctors, retirees, high-tech workers, and others, with limits on the numbers in each category. All 846 pages make me sad.

Even Rand Paul, who generally understands the benefits of freedom, writes that under his alternative plan,

Congress will vote every year on border security. If Congress votes that the border is not secure, elements of immigration reform will cease going forward and visa programs will be slowed.

Why slow something that is in our interest, based on a separate issue? (Peaceful, productive people are no security threat.) Does even Rand Paul not understand the basic economics of immigration?

Let me go on the record here: THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF IMMIGRATION POLICY SHOULD BE OPEN BORDERS FOR ALL PEACEFUL PEOPLE WHO WANT TO COME HERE TO WORK. Not only is this decent, considerate, and respectful of other people; it’s also to our major material benefit.

The basic economics is straightforward: The “the extended order of human cooperation”* is more productive when human beings—“the ultimate resource”**—are allowed to move than when they are prevented from moving. The price system, which free societies depend on to tell us where resources are most valuable, applies to the ultimate resource as much as to any other resource. Everyone lives better when steel and Styrofoam, oil and oranges, forklifts and fencing flow to where they are most useful. It’s the same with human talent and effort.

Where people can work for the highest pay is generally where their work has the greatest value to others. Let our brothers and sisters go! Let differential wage rates signal people where to use their labor and talent. If people move to where they are more productive, there will be more goods and services produced for everybody.

This is not to say that some Americans won’t lose  jobs to immigrants in the process. We’ll address this in a future post.

It’s not to say that immigrants should receive welfare or other government benefits. We’ll address this in another future post.

It is simply to say that opening our borders to immigrants who wish to come here to work would benefit all Americans. The first rule of immigration policy should be to let such people in. All of them.

*The term is F.A. Hayek’s, from The Fatal Conceit.

**The term is the title of a great book by the late Julian Simon.


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