As regular readers here know, immigration is an issue that even people who are libertarians with a strong hostility to state barriers to movement disagree about. The nub of the issue can be expressed thus: immigration+welfare state+weak indigenous culture = social discord. Or: immigration+free market capitalism+strong sense of civil society = strong, dynamic country.
Over at the CATO think tank in Washington DC, a number of writers, such as Bryan Caplan, Daniel Griswold, Richard K Vedder and Joel Kotkin argue that immigration, particularly without the distortions and false incentives of a big welfare state, is a force for good and an expression of the desire of people to better their condition not just materially, but in other ways, and that believers in liberty ought to be on their side. In as much as immigration, legal or otherwise, causes certain costs, then there are ways of dealing with this other than a simple blanket ban, which is what some people, mostly, but not exclusively on the right, are calling for.
This is an impressive collection of essays and provides a bit of a counterweight to cultural pessimists, some of whom, ironically, are immigrants themselves.
Another good thing about this collection of essays is that with the exception of Caplan, I had not heard about any of these authors before, so I was pleased to find a large assembly of such insightful writers to follow in the future.
Here is a paragraph from one of the essays, by Joshua C. Hall, Benjamin J. VanMetre, and Richard K. Vedder:
When examining these various views on immigration it’s important not to fall subject to the all too common misperception that one’s immigrant status dictates one’s position in the debate, viewing immigrants as pro-immigration and nonimmigrants as anti-immigration. This is clearly not the case as Brimelow (1999), Hoppe (1998) and Borjas (1999) are some of the most prominent skeptics of immigration and are immigrants themselves – anti-immigrant immigrants.
In fact, the anti-immigrant immigrant is not a new phenomenon. It stems from the growing instinct for individuals to think that their generation is the Great Generation and that those who follow are somehow inferior. So it goes with immigration. One can speculate that the individuals who arrived on the Mayflower lamented newcomers arriving to Massachusetts on subsequent boats in the 1620s as lacking the motivation, the ingenuity, or some other positive attribute allegedly possessed in abundance by those arriving earlier.
In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin lamented the allegedly deleterious effects of new German arrivals to Philadelphia by disparagingly speaking of how Pennsylvania was being “Germanized.”
In the mid-19th century, the great American inventor Samuel F. B. Morse denounced new arrivals from Ireland and spoke of the dangers to America arising from the Roman Catholic faith of the newcomers. A half-century later, Woodrow Wilson pronounced that new arrivals from Italy and eastern Europe were of an inferior stock compared with those coming earlier from the northwestern part of the same continent. So it is not surprising when Borjas (1999) and Brimelow (1999) lament the arrivals to America after 1965 as inferior to those coming in the 1950s or early 1960s. The question that ultimately arises then is, if conventional political ideology does not explain differences in opinion on immigration then what does?
I should add that these essays have a strongly American flavour, but some if not all of the arguments the authors make apply to certain other countries as well.