The Conservative Case for Open Immigration

06.24.18
Anthony Albright/Flickr
U.S. News /24 Jun 2018
06.24.18

The Conservative Case for Open Immigration

The Economic Argument

While the theory of capitalism has many problems (often displaced into the nebulous category of “externalities”), its defenders never fail to point to the advantages of free and open markets. For the most part they are correct. The mobility of capital and labor can produce amazing gains in social welfare. However, capital mobility without labor mobility is anything but a free and open market.

The extent to which capital can be easily exchanged or transferred gives the owner of capital an incredible amount of leverage when it comes to supplying labor. Furthermore, the use of digital technology by financial institutions has made capital exponentially more transferable, exchangeable, and translatable. As a result, capital will continue to increase in inverse proportion to labor mobility (such as an individual’s ability to move or buy a home). In liberal economics, this is considered reasonable, if one is willing to accept a race to the bottom scenario, where the lowest possible wages are tolerated for the sake of maximizing shareholder profit.

But in a economy where there are great barriers to labor mobility, such as a wall that must be violently maintained, the result of capital liquidity is not market efficiency. Capital then has a disproportionate effect on suppressing wages, pushing them far below the equilibrium wage rate. As a result, wages become so low that workers experience severe privations in health and education, causing business growth, in the long term, to actually shrink, contrary to the interest of the owners of capital. In other words, when wages are less than the equilibrium wage rate, the market has become inefficient due to “external” constraints, and workers no longer have the health to profitably reproduce their labor nor the skills in order to adequately perform it.

While the owners of capital believe it is in their interest to drive down wages as low as possible, they incorrectly assume that the market has freely adjusted for the demand of labor without external constraints. The border is a significant example of a constraint.

Rights-Based Argument

The State is only useful (if it all useful) to the extent that it protects the natural rights of an individual. Otherwise it is totalitarian, for the State is nothing more than a collection of individuals. For the State to discount an individual’s natural rights would be, by definition, a tyranny of the majority over the minority. But what are an individual’s “natural rights”? It’s a complicated question and a longstanding debate in philosophy and ethics. In order to even have a concept of rights, one must first make the initial assumption of individual freedom, for without a concept of freedom, a concept of individual rights is impossible. In other words, if freedom means anything, it means to be free from other people.

The fence along the U.S.-Mexico border just south of San Diego. (Tony Webster)

Freedom is often described as a negative right. Whereas a positive right is a right the State owes to an individual, a negative right is an individual’s freedom from an obligation to the State. Because the initial right of freedom is a prerequisite for natural rights, and because freedom is a negative right, then our natural rights must also be negative rights.

The ability to enter or leave a State is predicated on a negative right, at least to the extent that freedom and mobility are equated. With the exception of immigration between State borders, it is impossible to think of any example where a State grants negative rights to its citizens that it doesn’t de facto grant to every individual. This is because the initial assumption for negative rights is predicated on the right of freedom. Consequently, for the State to selectively grant negative rights discounts the concept of rights, instead promoting a tyranny of the majority over the minority.

The Pragmatic Argument

It would be impossible to calculate the wastefulness found in foreign aid and international assistance programs. Corporate bureaucracies and government red tape have failed to eliminate or even assuage poverty. Despite spectacular advances in technology, the problem remains as intractable as ever.

Opening borders would resolve generational poverty through simple market efficiencies that otherwise would have been mired in corporate government misspending. Even on the conservative end, economists predict that opening borders could more than double world GDP. Imagine owning a business, and all you need to do to double your profit is unlock the front door. Further, opening borders is a way to drastically reduce poverty without relying on the condescension of charity.

There is a strange belief among some that an open immigration policy would allow a flood of Third World refugees, whose mere presence would somehow pollute industrialized democracies. Despite the poorly veiled xenophobia behind such an idea, it is simply inaccurate. In order to move, one must pay to travel, an incredibly steep entrance cost for much of the world’s population. Most immigrants are motivated by economic factors, which indicates they have the intent of assimilating, at least enough to find and maintain a job. Immigrants fleeing geopolitical conflicts should generally be welcomed, especially if it would relieve the pressure of the conflict in their home country — any inconveniences at home that may result from open immigration must be morally weighed against the relief it would cause abroad.

Just as we no longer live in the time of kings and queens, so to will the era of state-tribalism end. Currently, our doors are shrouded in Kafka-esque bureaucracies and maintained through the barrel of a gun. How tragically unnecessary, when we could simply put up a sign that says, “Open for business.”

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