Tag Archives: right to invite

Immigration Restrictionists – Why Not Eugenics?

I’m a pro-natalist.  I’m in favor of people being born.  Be careful when you think to yourself, “that’s a silly thing to be specifically in favor of; isn’t everyone?”  Because I assure you, not everyone is.  There are plenty of Malthusians out there, whether they’re consciously aware of it or not.  There are people who believe in eugenics; people who think the world would honestly be better if we revoked reproduction privileges from those with low IQ’s, criminal histories, certain racial or ethnic backgrounds, genetic defects, etc.  And if the idea of forcibly spaying and neutering everyone with a wheelchair, a below-average IQ, the wrong skin color, or any other factor appalls you – then breathe a sigh of relief: You have a conscience.

Sadly however, this belief is not universal.  I’m not sure it’s even a majority belief (I hope it is, but the cynic in me says that if you really asked all seven billion people, most would come up with a certain class of people that they’d rather not see more of).  But there is a specific category of person, with a specific category of belief that I want to address here.  That is:  People who do not believe that we should limit births based on any factor, but who are restrictionists when it comes to immigration policy.

In a way, birth is a form of immigration.  Someone is moving from the generic “somewhere else” to the here and now.  The place you occupy and call your home is getting a new occupant.  But obviously there are many differences between a newborn in America and an immigrant in America, for example (by no means do I intend to say that these concerns are limited to America – I use that country solely as an example).  The newborn is going to use vastly more social resources.  The newborn is statistically more likely to be a criminal.  The newborn is less likely to join the labor force, and infinitely less likely to do so within the next ten years.  On the other hand, most newborns immediately have a private support network (albeit one that will rely heavily on public services).

Newborns have lots of other differences from immigrants, of course – they look like natives, they sound like natives, and they’ll probably share native cultural beliefs and social norms.  These are all reasons that other natives will like them more, but they’re not reasons why they would be more beneficial to the country than immigrants, so we’re going to ignore those for now.

Other than the instinctual reasons for liking a newborn more than an immigrant, is the only real benefit that a newborn offers over an immigrant as a choice for “new addition to the country’s population” that they have a private support network of mostly self-sufficient people (at least, as self-sufficient as anyone gets in a modern first-world country)?  If that’s the case, it seems like the immigration issue is pretty easy to solve.  If the one and only criteria that potential immigrants needed to meet before coming in was to find a voluntary supporter, it seems like we’d have plenty of immigration!

Let’s do a thought experiment.  Let’s pretend that current citizens of America can invite immigrants in using only the same criteria by which they can have children.  Any two people could invite an immigrant in – and the same two people could invite in as many immigrants as they wanted.  They would not have to be able to support those immigrants, though socially speaking there would be pressure to do so.  If you decided two years later that you didn’t like your immigrant, you couldn’t send him or her back, any more than you can “send back” a baby; though you could in theory put yours up for adoption.  Since immigrants can generally take care of themselves, this seems like less of an issue for immigrants than it does for children, so that’s an extra point in favor of immigrants.  You could be irresponsible and invite too many immigrants in the same way that you can be irresponsible and have too many children; but since immigrants can work and are far less dependent on their caregivers than children are, it seems like this is far less of an issue – score another point for the immigrant.

You don’t need to submit to a background check to have a child, so you wouldn’t need one to invite in an immigrant.  The child obviously doesn’t have a background to check, while the immigrant might – but given the respective crime rates, it seems like it would make more sense to check potential parental backgrounds to weed out potential criminals than to do the same with immigrant backgrounds.  Since we don’t do the former, it’s hard to make a moral case for the latter.

Of course, children can’t vote for at least 18 years, so immigrants wouldn’t be able to, either – fair enough (and as a keyhole solution, this has already been suggested).

For those whose restrictionist attitude stems from the fear that immigrants might eventually “take over” the country due to sheer numbers – well remember, that’s guaranteed with children.  If immigrants were brought into this country by a parental figure, the same as children, you’d have the same opportunity to influence them.  It might even make people of competing political or cultural outlooks compete to have MORE immigrants, for the same reason you want to have more kids in that circumstance:  If you think your culture is so great, you want to pass on that culture to the next generation in larger numbers than the “other people” – whoever they are in your eyes.

So there you have it.  Regardless of what opinions you hold about birth and immigration respectively, there’s very little non-instinctual reason to restrict immigration more than birth, relatively.

Of course, there are those that don’t believe births should be restricted along any categorical lines, but do believe that overall restriction in terms of sheer quantity should happen.  Again, I’m a pro-natalist, so I don’t share this view.  But even if you do hold that view, that view isn’t analogous to the view most people have about immigration.  Most people who you’re likely to meet on the street have one of two opinions on immigration:  Either we should restrict it even more than we do now (even to the point of zero), or we should be increasing “high-skill” immigration while decreasing other kinds.  But statistically speaking, only a tiny fraction of American newborns will grow up to be the kind of people the “high-skill” immigration proponents want.  What’s the native birth rate of engineers compared to the total native birth rate?

But let’s say you actually hold comparable quantity-restriction views on both birth and immigration.  You don’t believe in restricting either by category, but you do believe in strict quantity limits on both.  There are a number of problems with this view.  First – what’s the optimal number?  A quota of any kind means that something other than spontaneous order is determining the number of births and/or immigrants, and that’s therefore pretty much guaranteed to be the wrong number.  Then of course are all the administrative difficulties – how do you parcel out the set number, given that the desired number will be higher?  Who gets to come and who doesn’t?   There’s almost no way to do a quantity restriction without also imposing a categorical one, except for some sort of “first come, first served” method that is very unlikely to be satisfactory.  We need only to look to China to see some of the negative effects of a quantity restriction on birth; like any prohibition of something nearly universally desired, the unintended consequences are severe.

Restrictions on immigration based on quantity have all the same problems as restrictions on birth rates based on quantity, and immigration restrictions based on category appear significantly less moral than birth restrictions based on the same.  Considering that we don’t restrict births in any way in America, it would seem difficult to build a moral or utilitarian case to restrict immigration.

Halfway measures towards open borders

Full-fledged open borders seems far off to the point of being utopian, but there are several principles/programs short of open borders that might be easier to achieve, and which would bring some of the benefits of full-fledged open borders while bringing it closer. These are a few:

1. The right to invite (see here). People benefit by being able to invite others, and this is something they might demand more of from their governments. It exists with fiance visas and family reunification visas. California growers lobby for the right to invite guest workers into the country. What if professional women agitated for the right to import maids and baby-sitters? What if the elderly agitated for the right to import drivers? Zuckerberg’s immigration advocacy group might be thought of as agitating for the right to invite high-tech workers on H1-B visas. An unlimited right to invite would be almost the same thing as open borders, but even if, say, every US citizen could sponsor a couple of guest visas per year, that would loosen things up a lot.

2. The right to emigrate. Rich countries should feel a lot guiltier than they do about the fact that their immigration policies make them complicit in some of the world’s worst regimes by not giving people a way out. If the world took human rights seriously, one of our top priorities would have to be the worldwide establishment of a right to emigrateif one’s home country provides very inadequate freedoms or economic opportunities. That is, rich countries would seek to make sure that everyone had somewhere half-decent that they could go. IMPALA may help with this, by making it possible to quantify the extent to which probably billions of people are imprisoned in destitute and/or unfree countries today. The pursuit of a global right to emigrate might involve using aid money to incentivize some countries to become haven or refuge countries, while other rich countries did their part by providing this aid money. By the way, this needn’t be done out of altruism. It might be in the geopolitical interests of the United States or Europe to ensure that Russian young men of an age to serve in the army have some place to run away to, or to facilitate the voluntary depopulation of Iran. Emigres might even provide a useful pool of volunteers for a Foreign Legion eager to liberate Iran with American guns and air support, but without American boots on the ground.

3. The rights of the “larger body.” I picked up the phrase “larger body” from C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves; it means that the experience of being an incarnate being extend beyond the actual organism under our control to include many objects of our natural loves, including wives, husbands, children, parents, brothers, sisters, pets and other animals, and friends. US immigration policy, which to some extent accommodates family reunification motives, gives some de facto recognition to the rights of the larger body, but what is missing is a definite legal and moral doctrine that the state cannot justly separate families or close friends, and must accommodate the needs of this important aspect of human nature. This falls short of open borders since, of course, not every aspiring immigrant is part of the “larger body” of any US citizen. It is different from the “right to invite,” above, because I mean by the right to invite, not a fundamental human right, but a positive right which governments would establish to please or pander to citizens rather than from a sense of inexorable duty.

4. Citizens’ right to interact with, hire, sell to, rent apartments to, illegal immigrants. When citizens have to check the papers of potential employees, contractors, tenants, customers, or whatever, that’s inconvenient, and also a little scary, since presumably some punishment awaits if they make a mistake. The defense of a small businessman’s right to hire without verifying papers, or better yet without papers at all, or the landlord’s right to lease a house without papers, would ease the way for immigration, too. For that matter, I would insist that the state acts unjustly if it refuses to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, because its authority to police the roads can properly be exercised as a means to the safety of motorists and pedestrians, which is not jeopardized by an illegal immigrant as such being on the road, but, on the contrary, is jeopardized when illegal immigrants can’t get driver’s licenses and so, if they feel it necessary to take the risk or driving for economic or personal reasons anyway, will be under particular temptations to hit-and-run if they get in an accident. If an illegal immigrant hits a pedestrian, then runs instead of helping, because if he helps he’s afraid he’ll be deported and never see his family again, and the pedestrian dies, the illegal immigrant is probably to blame, but the state is certainly culpable in the pedestrian’s death for gross negligence in its duty justly to police the streets. Establishing this principle would help the open borders cause.

5. International migration negotiations. On the analogy of international trade negotiations, meaning that one state agrees to admit the citizens of another state in return for like privilege being granted to its own citizens. For example, what if the US and the EU made an agreement whereby Europeans could migrate to the US and work freely, and Americans could do the same in Europe. I would anticipate large gains on both sides, as Americans would benefit culturally from access to Europe’s treasury of ancient, beautiful cities, while Europeans would benefit economically from access to America’s relatively more prosperous and dynamic economy. The politics of such a deal would be very different from those of allowing mass immigration from developing countries. Once the precedent was set, it could spread.

A Voice for Immigrants – Could it be Dan Mitchell?

I’m a big fan of Dan Mitchell. We agree on 95% of political issues (and since I’ve never met anyone who agrees with me 100%, that’s a high mark), he’s got a great sense of humor (both in the sense that he’s funny, and in the sense that he appreciates humor and can laugh at himself), and he’s clearly a man who isn’t afraid to be open about his beliefs, even unpopular ones. But while these are all great qualities in a person, none of them are the thing I like best about him.

The thing I like best about Dan Mitchell is that he’s tireless.

You see, Mitchell has a solid, consistent belief structure, and he’s been advocating for policy based on that structure for a long time. And while every once in a while he gets a win, it can often seem like people fighting for human rights and liberty are taking ten steps back for every one step forward. That kind of record would demoralize most people, but Dan Mitchell has been fighting that fight for years and years, and hasn’t given up yet. That’s why I admire him.

It’s also why I’m writing this. Dan Mitchell’s most recent “Question of the Week” was on the subject of immigration. Immigration reform might be the single policy issue about which I’m the most passionate, and if I could convince a tireless crusader like Dan Mitchell to add the plight of the would-be American Immigrant to his mental checklist of injustices to fight, I think I could go to sleep knowing I’d done many people around the world a huge service. So with that said, while I’d like many people to read this, it’s primarily addressed to Dan Mitchell. I’m going to lay out three reasons why I think he should support a policy of radically increased immigration allowance, or even open borders. In an ideal world I’d convince him – but at worst, hopefully I’ll give him a little extra evidence in favor of that position.

Reason #1: If Immigration Is Mostly Good With Some Bad, It’s Actually Easy To Eliminate Just The Bad

Dan Mitchell is a reasonable person. In his Question of the Week post, he says:

By the way, a senior staffer on Capitol Hill floated to me the idea of a new status that enables illegals to stay in the country, but bars them from citizenship unless they get in line and follow the rules. I’m definitely not familiar with the fault lines on these issues, but perhaps that could be a good compromise.

This is only a very small, single example of a “keyhole solution” – a solution specifically tailored to the problem at hand. To most people, the only three options that come to mind regarding immigration are “allow all of it,” “allow none of it,” or “allow some of it.” But those aren’t the only ways of addressing the issue. It’s very possible to get just the “good parts” of immigration, in the same way that if you like the taste of soda but don’t want the sugar you can have diet soda. Let’s discuss the possibilities of “diet immigration” by discussing what could be considered the “bad parts” of immigration, and how we can eliminate them while still allowing immigration itself.

One of Mitchell’s worries, shared by many free marketers, is political externalities: immigrants may vote for bad policies like increased taxation, wealth redistribution, and the like. But if you can craft an immigration law to any specifications you like (in particular, you have the leeway to keep people out completely and arbitrarily), you could easily craft a law that makes immigration and even permanent residency perfectly legal for anyone, but does not include citizenship. Then there’s no voting issue – the people can come, but they can’t drop a ballot in the box. Continue reading A Voice for Immigrants – Could it be Dan Mitchell?

The Right to Invite

I have often written about the right to migrate (or see here) but what about the right to invite? Foreigners aren’t the only ones who suffer by migration restrictions. Natives suffer from being blocked from interacting with foreigners. Recently, a choir I sing in was bereft of a brilliant accompanist when her visa expired. It would be interesting to know, if the government charged a fee to let her stay, how much could have been raised in donations to keep her. I really have no idea, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were $10,000 or more. Considerable effort was exerted in calling the congressman, talking to lawyers, and whatnot. But of course, there’s little we could do. I suspect that affluent Americans in the 19th century would have been astounded at the idea of a government blocking them from inviting whatever foreigners they want. They would have disdained to recognize as “free” any people so cowardly and supine that they tolerated a regime that interfered with such a basic amenity of a prosperous life as the ability to snap up foreign talent at will. Not to get too personal, but I have often considered emigrating so that foreign friends could come visit at will. I once took a job in Africa for a couple of months so that my then-fiancee (actually the story’s a little more complicated but never mind) from Russia could come to see me. And I might have been remarried a few years ago if a certain lady in St. Petersburg had been permitted to visit America. (Yes, there’s a fiancee visa, but she’d rather see the country first before taking the plunge.)

As I wrote back in 2006:

Democracy is a good system of government because the people who live under laws get to have a say in making them. In this sense, immigration restrictions are the limiting case of undemocratic law: the set of people who get to make them is the exact inverse of the set of people who may find themselves on the receiving end of them.

But while migrants’ rights are structurally unrepresented in democracies, the right to invite should, in principle, have a domestic constituency. There should be natives who want the right to invite, and for whom politicians’ willingness to supply it would be a factor in their voting decisions. Now, I’ve never heard of the right to invite being an issue in a political campaign in any democracy. You might conclude, then, that this right isn’t really that important to natives. But I think that would be a case of the rational voter fallacy which Bryan Caplan has debunked. People don’t really vote their self-interest, they vote for the common good as apprehended through the lens of lazy, feel-good ideologies. People wrongly believe, without having really thought about it, that it’s good for the government to be “sovereign” in the sense of “controlling our borders,” and they’d probably feel presumption saying, “The government has no right to deport, or keep out, our pianist / our cook / the best candidate for CEO / sorely needed programmers or scientists or engineers. Give us back our freedom! Give us back the right to invite!” But it might be possible to teach people to think that way.

I suppose I even believe in the right to invite, though I wouldn’t stress that in my own philosophy. I would say that people have a general right to self-ownership and natural mobility and not to be coerced; that coercion, always a bit suspect, can only be partly justified in the context of a social contract with a view to protecting rights; and that blocking peaceful migration is not a legitimate use of coercion. A foreigner does not need to be invited by a native in order to have the liberty to enter the territory of a country, such that no one may justly compel him to turn back. Still, if the right to invite were conceded liberally enough by rich-country governments, it could amount to almost the same thing.

And there might be a Tiebout mechanism to encourage the right to migrate. What’s a “Tiebout mechanism?” Well, Tiebout was the theorist who first developed the idea that “voting with the feet” could procure optimal supply of public goods. What I mean here is that governments could conceivably compete with one another by offering high-value individuals and companies the right to invite. Suppose Georgia, say, or Colombia, offered to, say, Google, or Apple, the right to set up labs and factories in their country and invite whomever they wanted to work there? I can easily imagine them building large gated communities there, with private airports, isolating themselves somewhat but paying Colombian or Georgian taxes and generating some positive spillovers, while moving much of their R&D there in order to take advantage of the ability to hire workers from anywhere in the world at will, rather than dealing with the wretched H1-B visa process. Could “the right to invite” become first a selling-point for countries trying to attract foreign investors, later a moral-cum-self-interested cause championed by rich-world voters? At any rate, it can’t hurt to coin the phrase.