Mises Wire

Open Letter on Immigration

Open Letter on Immigration

As noted on the notorious Liberty and Power blog (well, notorious for having banned me once, anyway, and for letting me back in; usually only Objectivists, Catonians, or other types of neocons ban me, cough-cough-PALMER-cough, cough-NOODLEFOOD-cough),

The Independent Institute has just released its Open Letter on Immigration to President Bush and Congress on the economics of immigration. The Open Letter on Immigration has been signed by 500+ American economists and other scholars, including five Nobel Laureates, plus more than 40 scholars from other countries.

As I noted on a previous L&P post about this:

I read the letter and I must say I am not sure what the point is. The letter appears not to specifically call for open borders or even increasing immigration quotas; it does not seem to oppose cracking down on immigration; I cannot tell what it is for, other than not "penalizing even poorer immigrants," whatever that means. The only substantive point I can read is that "we should promote policies, such as improving our education system, that enable Americans to be more productive with high-wage skills", which to me sounds like standard mainstream central planning and state-spending on and control of public education. Why would even a pro-immigration/pro-open borders libertarian sign this?

Apparently I was not the only one scratching their head about this letter. Aeon Skoble--the Skoble-ator (editor of Reason Papers) replied:

Actually, although I am what Stephan describes as a "pro-immigration/pro-open borders libertarian," I confess I had the same reaction he did -- to note that the letter doesn't actually advocate any specific policy. I kept waiting for something like "the undersigned call on the govt to ___ (or to stop____)" but it never came.

I was a bit surprised Higgs signed it, since he's so sound and great on so many things, and this didn't quite seem like his style. Higgs's reply was therefore interesting:

Although I had no part in drafting this letter, I am willing to maintain that one must understand its import, if any, in the context of the present immigration debate and the ongoing political actions with regard to immigration legislation. Viewed in context, the letter would seem to oppose many of the more vicious proposals now being considered.
One might also bear in mind that such letters are intended to be displayed somehow before the general public, to sway ordinary people in a certain direction. If a letter simply announced the anarcho-capitalist position on this or any other topic, it would not have any practical effect on the readers.
On the other hand, on the probably sound principle that 1,000 economists can't be right, one might wish to dismiss the letter on that ground alone.
I will say, in case anybody cares, that despite permitting my name to appear on the letter, it does not represent my own views accurately. I am not for (or against) open (or closed) borders; I am against borders and the organized criminal gangs who draw them in the dirt and then threaten with violence anyone who crosses the line. Of course, my ideal world is not about the erupt.

Several Misesians also signed the letter, including our own Bill Anderson, whom I greatly like and respect. In addition to the letter's vagueness and apparent pointlessness, someone else pointed out to me that the letter initially characterizes the debate on immigration as healthy and purports to be purely value-free and scientific, addressing only fundamental misconceptions about the economics of immigration that have cropped up in the debate. In this way, it avoids engagement with the cultural and especially the political aspects of the debate. And that is all well and good. But then the last few paragraphs are prescriptive and normative--as if to imply that the economic effects are the only ones worth considering, which, of course, is the flaw of narrow, Chicago-style economistic reasoning.

Some of my own substantive views on immigration can be found here.

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