Immigration restrictions as affirmative action

In a blog post titled Immigration restrictions as affirmative action, Bryan Caplan shows that the criticism of affirmative action as non-meritocratic applies with substantially greater force to immigration restrictions. An excerpt is below:

One of my closest conservative friends is chronically angry about (a) immigration and (b) affirmative action. The irony is that the immigration restrictions he so passionately favors are affirmative action – for native-born workers.

Advocates of standard affirmative action see the low percentage of minorities that employers would hire in a free market. They hastily infer that employers’ bad motives are reason why minorities fare poorly. And they respond by bullying employers to hire more minorities – and scoffing at non-minorities who object that they’re being treated unfairly.

Advocates of immigration restrictions, similarly, see the low percentage of natives that employers would hire in a free market. They hastily infer that employers’ bad motives are the reason why natives fare poorly. And they respond by bullying employers to hire more natives – and scoffing at foreigners who object that they’re being treated unfairly.

The key difference, of course, is that immigration restrictions are vastly harsher than standard affirmative action policies. The dream of standard affirmative action policies is proportionality: If blacks are 13% of the population, blacks should have 13% of every job in the country. The dream of immigration restrictions, in contrast, is total exclusion: If natives are 5% of the world population, natives should have 100% of every job in the country. Neither policy achieves these dreams, but the severity of the enforcement matches the magnitude of the desired social engineering.

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