At Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux posts his prepared remarks from a recent talk given in Atlanta. The whole thing is worth a read, especially if you want a quick summation of Econ 101.
However, I want to call attention to one point in particular, spoken by Don but also by my professor Walter Williams:
I here, at the last minute, add an eleventh point to the elemental case for free trade. I was reminded of this point just this morning by an e-mail from my great colleague Walter Williams. Walter asked me to remind you that countries don’t trade with each other; people trade with each other. China doesn’t trade with America. Individuals who reside on that part of the earth that we today call “China” choose to trade with other individuals who reside on that part of the earth that we today call “America” and who choose to trade with people in China. [original emphasis]
The concept that economics is just human action is vitally important to understanding. All too often, people will make the mistake of forgetting this vital, yet simple, fact. When people trade in goods, it is the owners of goods swapping. In other words, people. When people trade in labor, it is the owners of labor swapping. In other words, people.
I hear far too often from many people who are nominally free trade that we can’t have free trade of labor (that is, free movement of labor across borders, not just within) because labor is people and people can corrupt (or be corrupted). But this is no different than the false argument “demand analysis doesn’t apply to minimum wage because these people are workers not commodities!” Both statements are wrong. The owners of capital, people, are just as likely to subvert liberal values than laborers (who do you think calls for protectionist tariffs? Subsidies? Regulations?). In fact, I’d argue the owners of capital are more likely to subvert liberal values because they, unlike immigrants, can actually vote and participate in the political process.
Does increased immigration run the risk of importing people hostile to liberal culture (or creating a “Trump effect” backlash against liberalism by natives)? Yes. But that danger is not unique to immigration. It holds just as true for capital. Economics is human action.