Over at EconLog, Bryan Caplan has an interesting post on the opportunity costs of immigration restrictions. Given that today is St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday made possible (as mentioned by another EconLog blogger Emily Skarbek) by immigration, I thought I’d expand the conversation into another area of opportunity cost.
Immigration control is very expensive: border patrols, a regulatory state to enforce hiring practices, deportation trials, jails, etc etc. Enforcement is not cost-less. And immigrants are, for the most part, peaceful people who just want to improve their lives. For every tax dollar spent prosecuting peaceful people, for preventing the freedom of association, that is one less dollar in the hands of an individual. For every worker involved in the regulatory state restricting freedom of contact, that is one less worker making something productive or desirable. For every brain spent devising new ways to prevent (or circumvent) immigration, it is one less brain inventing something to improve our lives.
In short, I argue that immigration reform makes us poorer, just as most government interventions in the market do. These are resources that go toward preventing peaceful people from interacting with each other that could have gone to more productive use elsewhere. It’s essentially the Broken Window Fallacy, but applied to culture. The seen effects are the “protection” of native culture from foreigners. The unseen is the lost goods and services those people would have brought and those generated by those currently absorbed in the regulatory state.