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Matt Yglesias' crazy libertarian immigration plan would harm hundreds of millions of people

Over at Slate, Matt Yglesias continues to offer crazy, libertarians-influenced immigration ideas. His latest idea thinks big: what he's proposing would harm hundreds of millions - perhaps billions - of people around the world.

As I was reading his post ( peekURL.com/z3eft2b ), I kept waiting for some sort of punchline, some sort of recognition that there might just be downsides to his plan. I have to admit I laughed when I got to the end and there was no punchline, no recognition that things wouldn't go as planned, no recognition that he would make things worse for untold numbers of people rather than making things better.

Here's an excerpt, followed by what Yglesias can't figure out or dare not mention (bolding added):

think about some problems we're said to face today:

- Inadequate supply of workers with certain specialized skills.

- Inadequate demand for U.S.-made goods and services.

- Endemic malgovernment and lack of democracy in many countries.

- Funding problems for the popular and successful Social Security system.

- Growing anxiety about America's ability to retain a strategic advantage vis-a-vis China.

These are problems that could be relatively easily ameliorated through better immigration policy. You start with the literally billions of people in the world suffering from malgovernment either in the form of lack of democracy (Russia, China), endemic corruption (India), poor macroeconomic management (Japan), rampant rent-seeking (Italy, Mexico), or lack of state capacity to perform basic governance functions (most of Africa). Throw in the people who might like to escape oppressive local cultural norms (Saudi Arabia), 75 percent top marginal tax rates (France), risky geopolitics (Taiwan), and you're looking at a huge bloc of people. Many of these folks will nonetheless find good reasons to not want to move to the United States. But there are 640 million people around the world who say they'd like to permanently relocate to another country, of whom 150 million say the U.S. is their first choice. Throw in some folks who'd accept the U.S. as a second-best alternative or who might be interested in some temporary work here and you've got a huge pool of potential recruits.

...That's help on the supply side that becomes help on the demand side. Two demand side things happen when someone moves to the United States. One is that since their income rises, their volume of consumption rises. The other is that even in today's global economy, you're going to buy many more US-made goods and services if you live in Dallas or Denver rather than Dalian or Djibouti or Dominica.

So we're addressing the problem of global poverty and misgovernment, we're correcting supply-side flaws in the American economy and we're bolstering economy-wide demand... ...But what's more, the supply of people who'd like to move to the United States to take advantage of living in one of the richest and best-governed countries ever to exist far exceeds the quantity of people who'll realistically be let in. That means we can easily structure the terms of entry so as to bolster the fiscal position of the United States. We could, for example, simply auction the visas or else tweak tax liability and benefit eligibility to have the same impact... ...There are probably a lot of very nice Salvadoran great-grandmas out there who despite being fine people are at this point too old to be making meaningful economic contributions. But the default assumption should be that if an able-bodied, law-abiding person wants to move here to get a job that'd be mutually beneficial... ...The United States of America is a much better-than-average place to live. Lots of people would like to move here. Taking advantage of that fact has, historically, been far and away the biggest contributor to American national greatness. We should do it again.

There are many things very wrong with the above, but the most important is that Yglesias' plan isn't "addressing the problem of global poverty and misgovernment", he would make it far worse.

To see why, let's imagine that many of the most capable people in Pakistan moved here. Would that help poverty and governmental functions in Pakistan? No, it would make it even worse: that country would be left with less human capital, fewer of the people it needs to reform. What they'd be left with is a population even more susceptible to demagogues, and since they have nuclear weapons that would not be a good thing at all. Likewise with Russia and other countries. For a tangible, relatively near example of the braindrain that Yglesias wholeheartedly-albeit-unwittingly supports, look no further than Haiti. Would depriving Haiti - or countries in Africa - of even more doctors and scientists help their poverty situation? Of course not: it would make it even worse.

The only questions are just how many would be harmed by Yglesias' plan, and why he can't figure these things out for himself. Or, is it that he can figure them out, but he doesn't dare mention them for some reason? Is he outsourcing articles like this to Will Wilkinson? Or, is he just trying to fill a Slate-mandated quota of some kind, but sending a secret message by proposing crazy ideas?

Whatever the case, his ideas would make things worse for very large numbers of people around the world.

And, that includes hundreds of millions in the U.S. He'd turn U.S. citizenship into a commodity to be bought and sold, a dream of many libertarians that shows just how little loyalty they have to their countries. Like other libertarians, he thinks of people as just economic units and of their contributions - negative and positive - in purely fiscal terms. See people vs workers for an explanation of why that's wrong. Yglesias also engages in the immigration tradition fallacy, see that link for the details.

Please take a moment and write @MattYglesias with your thoughts. Even better, search for those he converses with and tweet them this post (use the short link below).

Fri, 10/05/2012 - 11:57 · Importance: 4