Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Consequences Work Both Ways

I’m not a big fan of protests in general, and most of the protests (and protesters) we’re seeing in support of immigration probably share a little too much in common with your union-produced garden-variety anti-capitalism Marxists than I’m comfortable with (I know, I know, I’m prejudging…but you know what I’m talking about). That said, I’m a supporter of immigration and think it should be expanded for both skilled and unskilled workers. We have a problem with illegal immigration largely because the legal process of immigrating is so difficult, time consuming, and expensive. Schemes to limit it are grounded in, mostly, racism and a misunderstanding of how markets work to create efficiencies that make us better off.

In a piece at Townhall.com, Thomas Sowell raises the point that there are potentially large (and arguably, negative) implications to open borders because of the cultural differences of some immigrants and how some of these will become ingrained in American society because people beget more people. He also cites the effects on the welfare state and public services with the influx of poor immigrants. I was surprised to see this coming from Sowell, who I believe leans strongly towards free markets and libertarian-style economic policies. He states:

"Some free-market advocates argue that the same principle which justifies free international trade in commodities should justify the free movement of people as well. But this ignores the fact that people have consequences that go far beyond the consequences of commodities."

My response to this statement touches on something familiar to many libertarians – the unforeseen effects of “doing something” about a perceived problem, which often creates other difficulties. If immigration causes some consequences beyond that of products, that also means that policies against immigration have consequences that go far beyond the consequences of commodities (such as tariffs, which are universally (and correctly) derided by free-market economists such as Thomas Sowell) And if we’re discussing principles, with which are more concerned about limiting freedom: people or products? With all due respect to the distinguished Mr. Sowell, I’m more comfortable limiting the liberty of a shirt than a person, although really, I don’t want to limit the liberty of either. Human beings should be able to live anywhere they can earn a living.


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