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.

Nathan Smith is an assistant professor of economics at Fresno Pacific University. He did his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University and has also worked for the World Bank. Smith proposed Don’t Restrict Immigration, Tax It, one of the more comprehensive keyhole solution proposals to address concerns surrounding open borders.

See also:

Page about Nathan Smith on Open Borders
All blog posts by Nathan Smith

6 thoughts on “The Right to Invite”

  1. I like the phrase, “right to Invite” very much. In fact I wish I had thought to use it. My anti immigration friends inevitably say,” the aliens have no right to be here in my country” to which I respond, what about my right to want them here. But “Right to Invite” captures the idea much better. The phrase captures the simple freedom to extend a gracious invitation. Inviting is a civilized and logical activity . You invite who you choose, but do not try to restrict me from also inviting.

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