While cruising around Facebook this morning, I came across this argument against immigration by one Jasen Tenney:
Illegal immigration is down over 50% with Trump and now to get legal immigration way down. Glad to see them go. Since these people are so good for an economy they can make their own crappy home country a better place to live.
Jasen’s argument is somewhat typical of many man-in-the-street arguments against illegal immigration (and immigration in general). If immigration is good for the US, if specifically, these people are really a net benefit to the country) and not, as President Trump said infamously, criminals, rapists, and drug dealers, why don’t they stay in their own country and make it a better place?
The economist’s response to this question is simple: institutions matter. Institutions like rule of law, secure property rights, impartial judiciary, individual rights, etc (in other words, classically liberal institutions) go a long way in producing economic growth.
A person is more likely to flourish, and help others flourish, in an area with institutions that encourage economic growth than s/he is in an area that discourages or predates upon economic growth. Why produce in an area where property rights are insecure (eg, roving bandits can just steal your stuff, or government can appropriate anything at will)? Even the best producer may not produce anything under such circumstances. But, under a different institutional structure, s/he may thrive.
To return to Jasen’s question that motivated this post: why can’t these immigrants simply return to their “crappy” home country and make it a better place? Quite possibly, because the institutional arrangements necessary to make the country a better place do not exist (or are sufficiently weaker compared to the country the immigrant was headed to)!