Monday, February 16, 2009

Regarding The Issue Of Immigration

Thomas Friedman points us towards a unique panacea to our economies woes:

"All you need to do is grant visas to two million Indians, Chinese and Koreans,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express newspaper. “We will buy up all the subprime homes. We will work 18 hours a day to pay for them. We will immediately improve your savings rate — no Indian bank today has more than 2 percent nonperforming loans because not paying your mortgage is considered shameful here. And we will start new companies to create our own jobs and jobs for more Americans."

I'm particularly opposed to what I have identified to be a distinctly anti-immigration strain in the North American conservative movement. The situation is particularly bad in the United States where, under current immigration laws, many of the great "Americans" of the past century would have been turned away at the border before achieving their fortunes or fame.

A truly moral immigration policy must be an open one, which is not to say an unregulated one. A strict screening process is an absolute necessity in order to prevent the enemies of the West, the criminal element, and individuals who have certain contagious diseases from entering the country. This is the only way to consistently apply the idea that every human being is free to act on their own rational judgment so long as they do not violate the individual rights of others.

The choice to immigrate to Canada or the United States does not directly violate anybody's rights. To deny non-criminal individuals access to our country is to employ state coercion for the wrong ends, since there can be no rational justification for the initiation of force against another human being. As a policy, then, restricted immigration violates the rights of both potential immigrants and the citizens who would like to associate with those immigrants, whether through friendship or commerce.

In the comments section of the Friedman article, Maxime Rainville parodies a typical argument against open immigration that we're hearing more and more often in these trying economic times:

Instead of worrying about creating jobs for people from abroad, Senator X should worry about creating jobs for Americans first. Americans are already suffering because of the current crisis and shouldn't have to compete with cheap labor imported from foreign countries. This is the same laissez-faire attitude that got us into this mess. Government must devote its energy to creating millions of new green collar, high paying, unionized jobs. That's what's best for America. Why does Senator X want to destroy America?

We hear this very same tune being sung by certain Canadian conservatives as well. The argument assumes, however, the profoundly statist premise that citizens have a "right" to employment and, what's more, that the government should be permitted to use force to keep competition from foreign countries from crossing the border.

But no such right to employment exists. The basic principles of liberty oblige us to consistently recognize the right of any individual to form a contract with any other individual. As such, an employer is perfectly justified in both hiring foreigners and firing native Canadians.

Another typical argument against open immigration is demonstrated by commenter Glen:

Out of those 2 million immigrants that claim they are going to work 18 hours a day, I wonder where exactly that might be, and how many of these 2 million will just come here to collect welfare or unemployment insurance.

The idea that immigrants come to our country merely to collect welfare cheques - besides being largely untrue - is not an argument against open immigration but an argument against the welfare state. This kind of reasoning is tantamount to the suggestion that, because of the immorality of our welfare state, moral individuals should be barred from entering it. This is both absurd and indefensible.

Regarding Friedman's proposal, however, I cannot claim to be altogether convinced that an open immigration policy holds the key to restoring our financial health. The reason that we are currently experiencing one of the worst recessions in the past century can be summarized in two simple and familiar words: government intervention. Accordingly, the key to our health moving forward will be found only in massive deregulation and a commitment to the principles capitalism. It is crucial to note, however, that these principles of capitalism demand an open immigration policy as well.

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