Guns or Butter

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.

3 thoughts on “Guns or Butter

  1. 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.

    Jon, I would go further. Not only are the “seen” effects of the protection, but what most people are unable to see are any clear benefits. Here in the Fort Worth/Dallas area we’ve long had a higher percentage of Hispanics than elsewhere, but apart from restaurants, they still seem to have less societal impact than their numbers would seem to suggest.

    Furthermore, in the past two hundred years or so, no one was coming here to blow themselves up in the name of Allah. While I know that the statistical likelihood is less than that of being struck by lightning, our 24/7 cable news would make it appear otherwise to the culture at large.

    And as much as I agree with your reasoning, until these two problems are addressed and resolved to the satisfaction of a large majority of citizens there will be a diminished and diminishing call for more non-European immigrants.

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    • My response is simply to look at the statistics.

      It’s very difficult to change people’s fear-based opinions. It’s a long, slow slog. This is just my small contribution to the forward movement.

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  2. Jon,
    I encourage you on your “long slow slog.” I have been making the argument for 40 years that people who leave their homes, families and communities to come here – when they often don’t speak our language, do so out of ambition. They bring with them their talents and skills and a willingness to work hard to make a better life for themselves and their families. Consequently, all parties, in general, are better off. At the end of the day, no matter if it’s wheat or steel or microchips or textiles or cars or labor, it’s still Free Trade; the real world manifestation of comparative advantage. The more our political leaders understand this the better of we will be.
    Again; don’t give up the fight!

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