Thursday, January 10, 2008

On the border

I'm tired of the immigration debate. I'm tired of the job market in the U.S. being treated as a zero-sum game, I'm tired of nonsense about border walls and ending birthright citizenship, I'm tired of arguments tying immigration to the decline of the welfare state, and most of all, I'm tired of seeing people who are supposedly in favor of more freedom advocating all those positions.

Much of this can be traced back to one position taken by Milton Friedman. Whenever given the chance, Friedman commented on America's immigration system and noted that open immigration is incompatible with a welfare state because of the financial problems created by such a system. Since Friedman was a Nobel prize-winning economist and generally advanced the cause of liberty, many people consider this as a good position to take on the matter.

However, the problem with the position is that it does not make sense. Open immigration is perfectly compatible with a welfare state: everyone who enters receives a tax identification number/SSN/mark-of-the-beast, and they pay taxes on their earnings. Money is being paid into the system and is being used to fund welfare programs. Of course, the amount paid out ought not to exceed the amount paid in, but that's a problem regardless of immigration.

Even viewing the argument as opposed to illegal immigration, it still does not make sense. If fears of illegal immigrants bankrupting the system are driving opposition to immigration, then the solution is to give amnesty to those present, give them a number, and get them paying into the system. Future immigrants can be given a number as they enter, and most likely would enter through liberalized laws to avoid the creation of non-paying illegals.

Now, that's simply from a monetary point of view, and realistically, fears of illegals breaking the system are unfounded and even backwards. From a freedom point of view, though, it should not matter what happens to the finances. Liberalized immigration laws would increase freedom for millions, and for people concerned with freedom, that ought to be the goal regardless of the welfare state.

The Friedman position is problematic because it conditions one increase in freedom on the reduction of government power in another arena. This does not appear to be a good idea, and it appears especially ridiculous for libertarians. Conditioning freer immigration on reductions in welfare makes as much sense as claiming that one cannot fight for civil liberties until the War in Iraq is ended or that high tobacco taxes and seat belt laws are fine until the welfare state is decreased. An increase in freedom is a good thing, and arguing that freedom should only be increased when it can be done perfectly is foolishness.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home