Protectionism By Any Other Name Still Smells As Bad

One of the more confusing things to me about many self-proclaimed market supporters is their opposition to open borders immigration.  They often use the same arguments they themselves reject when protectionists use them arguing against free trade.  This is no coincidence; there is no difference between limiting the free-flow of goods in a nation and limiting the free-flow of people.  Immigration restrictions are merely protectionists by another name.

Let’s start by looking at this from a strictly economic view.  There are four main economic resources: land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurial ability.  A growing economy utilizes the resources in their most efficient manner (in other words, producing as much output as possible given the resources available).  Likewise, an economy grows when its resources are increased.  Immigration is a resource (labor).  Opening borders allows for the resource (labor) to flow to where it would be most productive or useful.  Many self-proclaimed market supporters understand this when it comes to free trade, but seem to forget this simple lesson when it comes to immigration.

Now let’s look at this from a moral view.  The United States is, by far, the wealthiest nation in the world.  Even our poorest residents live better than 80% of the world.  Many people throughout the world, and even the First World, do not have the opportunities afforded to Americans.  Many live in crushing poverty or oppression, violence, hunger, or disease zones.  These people can improve their lives and their families’ lives simply by crossing an invisible line.  Just as a person might leave Detroit to seek opportunities in New York City, so do these immigrants leave their homes and seek opportunities in America.  The US government, or those acting in its name, have no more right to stop people from coming over the border than the mayor of New York to stop people from coming from Detroit.

Let’s take a look at some of the arguments immigration protectionists use and explore a little why they are foolish or incorrect.

1) “Immigrants are violent!  They increase the crime rate!”

Nope.  Nothing more than a stereotype unsupported by evidence.

2) “They’re just coming here to take our jobs!” (Aka: The South Park Defense).

This argument depends solely on the fallacy that the economy is a fixed pie, that there are only so many jobs and for one person to get a job, another must lose his.  A dynamic, growing economy is anything but fixed.  As immigrants come into the country, they also bring with them new skills, opportunities, and can help diversify the economy.  In short, they will help create jobs, not destroy them.

3) “They’re all welfare queens!”

This argument is a direct contradiction to #2, and yet I’ve heard the same people make the same arguments, often within a sentence or two of each other.  But that’s not why this one is wrong.  This one is just foolish right on its face.  There are many countries with far more generous welfare systems than the US and many of those countries are the ones those immigrants are fleeing.  Besides, if they were really so lazy, why would they trek thousands of miles, risk imprisonment, rape, violence, hatred, and potentially death, just to get free stuff?  Doesn’t make sense.

4) “They’re going to vote so our country becomes like their loser country!”

Aside from the fact this is simply not true, it relies on two other major assumptions: 1) that the immigrants will become voting citizens and 2) they all hold the same political views.  Both of these assumptions are laughable on their face.  What’s also foolish about this argument is that it assumes these people are smart enough to flee a bad situation, but then dumb enough to recreate it.  As an aside, it seems like a pretty shitty reason to deny someone the right to improve their life just because they might hold a different opinion than you.

5) “Our welfare state can’t handle it!”

This is a popular argument and made by some very intelligent people, including Milton Friedman.  However, it is not an argument against immigration, but rather against big government.  Besides, as I mentioned above, a dynamic economy is growing.  These immigrants bring with them opportunities and help expand the pie.  Some may end up on welfare, sure, but overall they help grow the economy and can actually reduce the number of people on welfare by creating jobs.  it should also be noted this argument is also used by trade protectionists against free trade and the same people who reject this as a protectionist argument use it against immigration.  The flawed thought process doesn’t change.

6) “People who seek to do us harm would exploit it!”

This is one of the stronger arguments against open borders.  There may be some who seek to exploit open borders, but I still reject this argument for the same reason I reject gun control arguments because “someone bad might take advantage of it,”: freedom doesn’t become eliminated because one might abuse it.  (By the way, this is also an argument protectionists use to hinder trade that immigration restrictionists reject).

There are many other argument against immigration, but I’ve chosen to highlight just a few.  People far smarter than I have argued for open borders.  This is just my contribution to the cause of freedom.

4 thoughts on “Protectionism By Any Other Name Still Smells As Bad

  1. Carefully crafted with many disingenuous statements, especially regarding the welfare aspect. But, hey, it is your right to be wrong as you enjoy the wondrous benefits of LBJ’s Great Society – which people smarter than you and I, approved of most enthusiastically, and the upcoming benefits of Net Neutrality – which people smarter than you and I, supported most enthusiastically, and the benefits of Obamacare – which people smarter than you and I, also supported most enthusiastically.

    Yes indeed, open borders because none of the Latin illegals access the USA welfare system at all, no sir, we know that it never happens that while Mr. Garcia is out trimming lawns, Mrs Garcia is down at the welfare office applying for her subsidies, and they can do this because they are in the shadows where no one knows what the left hand is doing while the right hand is working. And, at the end of the day when Mr. Garica did not make enough to pay an income tax, by scamming the child credit provision he manages to rake in $30,000 a year from the suckers who out of the shadows and dealing honestly.

    It is really amusing that you claim the moral high ground here, when you know damn well your dream of open borders is a dream of sticking your hand in my pocket to pay for it. And, yes smarter people than you and I, also know this.

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  2. Jon,
    I couldn’t agree more; I’ve been making the same argument for 30+ years. As you pointed out, labor is but one aspect of the economy. No Capitalist would begin to argue that restrictions on capital make us “better.” While we can’t import any land, we can import financial capital, entrepreneurial capital, intellectual capital and managerial capital. By doing so we are able to bring better/less costly goods and services to market, improving the quality of our lives and making us all wealthier. Going further, the intellectual capital that is captured here can be used by individuals wholly disconnected from their initial purposes – it raises our intellectual foundation – allowing even greater economic benefit. By way of example; Henry Ford put the production line in motion, today no one thinks twice about using in processes entirely unrelated to the assembly of automobiles An argument to restrict the free flow of labor because it is not an unmitigated good is no different than an argument against free speech because someone’s feelings could be hurt.
    Ignore Vidyohs; he is so focused on the mote in open borders immigration’s eye that he is unable to see the beam in his own.

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  3. Jon

    Thanks for the excellent article. I frequently make the argument elsewhere, to no apparent effect, that it’s not immigrants that are a problem, but the welfare state. It’s never clear to me why people who are born on one side of an invisible line are more entitled to money taken from my pocket against my will than those born on the other side of that line.

    People are, in fact, the greatest resource. One would think more, not fewer of them would be desirable.

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  4. “It’s never clear to me why people who are born on one side of an invisible line are more entitled to money taken from my pocket against my will than those born on the other side of that line.”
    Ron,
    I am so stealing this!
    Bob Smith

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