Home country policy replication

See also political externalities and dysfunctional immigrant culture

Home country policy replication is a postulated direction in which the political externalities of migration might run. The claim is that migrants would be highly likely to try to vote for policies similar to those they saw in their home country, because they want to replicate the features of their home country that they are used to. On this view, the policies in the migrant’s source country (home country) are predictors of the policies the migrant supports. Causation might also run from culture: the policies implemented in the home country, as well as the policies supported by the migrant, might both be the result of a common ideological culture.

The home country policy replication theory is a priori theoretically plausible but there are two main counterarguments:

  • The very fact that migrants chose to move out is evidence that they were dissatisfied with some aspect of their home country. However, a counterargument to the counterargument applies: the dissatisfaction may be specific to a few aspects and they may still wish to replicate their home country in other aspects, perhaps even in aspects that are connected to the things they don’t like in non-obvious ways. For instance, people may move due to bad economic circumstances, but may still support bad economic policies because they have wrong beliefs about what policies engender prosperity, and attribute the home country’s failure to causes other than economic policy.
  • There is significant political apathy and status quo bias. People are unlikely to want to make radical changes to circumstances in the country they moved to. Also, a critical mass of people would be needed to make such changes. Most migrants, particularly low-skilled ones, are apathetic to the politics in the countries they move to.

Bryan Caplan addresses this issue in his Cato Journal piece:

If people have a generic tendency to prefer what already exists, admitting them to a more libertarian society effectively makes them more libertarian: “Liberty is what you already have here. Fine, let’s stick with that.” Immigrants from Bismarckian Germany and Czarist Russia came from extremely authoritarian societies, but when they arrived in the United States, they made little effort to recreate their homelands. Instead, they accepted their new society as it was. Migration may not change people’s fundamental philosophy, but it doesn’t have to. If human beings accept the status quo and the status quo happens to be liberty, liberty wins by default.

The opposite holds, naturally, when people move to more statist societies. If people have status quo bias, statist societies effectively make people more statist. But if libertarians are right about the connection between freedom and prosperity, status quo bias is our friend. Migrants will flow from statist countries to freer countries and
become less statist in the process—subtly moving global public opinion in a libertarian direction.

My point is not that status quo bias completely negates the effect of country of origin on political opinions. My point, rather, is that status quo bias makes the political externality of immigration less negative than it appears. Immigrants from statist countries may lean statist, but few yearn to remake their new homeland’s policies in the image of their mother country’s. “People who come here will see the wonders of liberty with their own eyes” may well be wishful thinking. But “People who come here will largely accept our status quo as long as it more or less works” is realism.

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