Doug, Doug, Doug

As a long-time advocate of open immigration, I’m as annoyed as anyone by Douglas Bruce’s comments about the “5,000 more illiterate peasants in the state of Colorado” should Marsha Looper’s guest-worker bill pass. While I have not read the details of the bill in question, I support the general idea. I first met Looper before she joined the legislature when she was working for property rights, and I respect her all the more for sponsoring such a bill.

However, The Denver Post is having a bit more fun with this than is necessary. Jessica Fender’s article, which also includes a link to the video recording of Bruce’s comments, carries the headline, “Bruce barred from speaking after ‘illiterate’ remark.” Fine. But, for a time on Monday night, the Post’s web page blared, “Bruce calls Mexicans ‘illiterate’.” That claim is not accurate.

It’s obviously not true that workers from Mexico are illiterate as a group, though I suppose a fraction of them are. I suspect that migrant workers are less-well educated than average citizens of both Mexico and the U.S. I’ve also met Mexicans — both in Mexico and in the U.S. — who are a lot smarter and better educated than either Bruce or me. Moreover, I suspect that a greater fraction of immigrants from Mexico are literate in two languages relative to the native U.S. population. However, while, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, 99 percent of the U.S. population is literate, only 91 percent of the Mexican population is so.

But Bruce’s main problem is not that he’s wrong in claiming that mostly-literate people are illiterate, but that suggesting that literacy is relevant to the issue. Even if it were the case that all 5,000 new immigrants would be illiterate, that would not justify a vote against the bill. U.S. employers have a right to hire willing workers, and people have a right to seek work, whether or not the employees are literate.

I knew as soon as Bruce kicked the photographer on his first day on the job that he had set himself up as a story. He now has a reputation that he’ll never be able to shake. And the Post is more than happy to report all of Bruce’s zaniness, because the Post has a long-standing antipathy to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which Bruce was instrumental in promoting. The Post loves the idea of making Bruce the poster-boy for TABOR. Which means that Bruce has done more than tarnish his own reputation; he has made it harder for advocates of restrained taxation to make their case over the noise.

The fact that various conservatives simultaneously claim to back TABOR and oppose immigration shows only that they don’t understand what economic liberty is all about. Not only do I welcome peaceable, productive Mexicans to the U.S., but I want them to bear the lowest tax burden possible.

Biddle Defends Open Immigration

Craig Biddle, editor of The Objective Standard, has written a persuasive defense of open immigration. Biddle explains:

Open immigration means that anyone is free to enter and reside in America — providing that he enters at a designated checkpoint and passes an objective screening process, the purpose of which is to keep out criminals, enemies of America, and people with certain kinds of contagious diseases. Such a policy is not only politically right; it is morally right.

Biddle basis his central argument on the principle of individual rights. Consistent with their right to live, pursue their happiness, and act on their own judgment, people have a right to move to a new region, and the residents of that region have the right to voluntarily employ and otherwise associate with the immigrants. After explaining this central argument in detail and illustrating it with examples, Biddle then goes on to answer seven particular objections. He explains why each objection to open immigration either implies a violation of people’s rights or, when properly understood, actually supports the policy of open immigration.

I would add only two points to Biddle’s analysis.

First, in his discussion of jobs and wage rates (the third objection that he considers), Biddle rightly emphasizes the moral point that forbidding free association of employers and employees violates the rights of both. However, Biddle might have offered a brief economic analysis here to the effect that free markets, including free migration, ultimately enables a nation’s residents to create the most wealth. Economics shows, for instance, that a free economy can accommodate any number of workers, and that real wages depend foremost upon production and can expand even if monetary wages remain flat or go down. Liberty in employment is moral, and, because it is moral, it is practical; any rational producer in a region stands ultimately to benefit from open immigration in the context of free markets.

Second, in answering the objection about culture (the second objection), Biddle doesn’t directly counter one important variant of the objection. Biddle rightly rejects the racial argument out of hand, and he strongly counters objections about language and lifestyles. Yet some critics will invoke a fourth variant of the general objection.

The objection runs as follows: the United States is built on and sustained by a set of cultural traditions involving limited government and personal responsibility. These cultural traditions are what keep America strong (economically and otherwise), and letting too many people move in who lack these traditions threatens to undermine the American way of life. Limited immigration is fine (by this objection), but it must be restricted so that new immigrants absorb American traditions rather than impose the traditions of their homelands. Basically, the fear is that the government of the United States will start to look more and more like the government of Mexico, with increasing levels of welfare, unemployment, and political corruption. Various regions of Europe, to take another example, are struggling with Muslim immigrants who do not always assimilate to the culture of their new homes.

Biddle implicitly replies to this objection elsewhere in his essay.

One important point that Biddle raises against the objection is that immigrants are not, on the whole, interested in living under the political traditions of their homeland; that’s why they moved. Immigrants tend to be independent, hard-working, and industrious, and they tend to be at least as likely as native-born Americans to support the institutions of liberty. (Writing from personal experience, some of the truest Americans I’ve ever met are immigrants.)

Biddle also points out that restrictions on immigration, along with the welfare state, are the greatest barriers to attracting industrious immigrants. The restrictions keep out many of the best potential immigrants, while the welfare state attracts some of the least-industrious ones. The solution to this problem is not to restrict immigration, but to repeal the policies that have created the problem.

What about the problem of immigrants trying to import, say, sharia law? Biddle point out that objective, rights-protecting laws should be fully enforced by a government “with a monopoly on the use of physical force in a given geographic area,” which means that rights-violating policies and actions should be prohibited. Biddle also makes the more general point that free markets tend to encourage immigrants to participate in the broader economy and thus the broader culture. (In addition, Biddle notes, the issue of immigration is separable from the issue of citizenship.)

Biddle also suggests a central contradiction with the objection about cultural traditions: you can’t support the American traditions of free markets and industriousness by actively undermining those traditions by imposing rights-violating anti-immigration policies. The best way to promote good American institutions, both at home and abroad, is to fully achieve them at home. Immigration restrictions send the message, “America is so devoted to free markets that its policies prohibit free markets in labor.” In fact, immigration restrictions actively violate and tear down the best American traditions. You can’t support free markets and industriousness by prohibiting free markets and barring entry to industrious people.

I want to add a couple of points specific to the conservative motivation for this objection about culture.

Conservatives hold that beliefs and values gain force primarily when they are inculcated by society at large and passed down from parents to children within families. There is an element of truth to this; many people never develop the independence required to think through their ideas and reach their own conclusions. Instead, many people passively pick up the ideas expressed by those around them. However, individuals always remain free to question the ideas with which they are surrounded. As Biddle explains in his essay:

People, including immigrants and would-be immigrants, have free will; they choose to think or not to think, to act on reason or to act on feelings, to respect individual rights or to violate them. A person’s choice to respect or violate individual rights is not dictated by his national origin or his race or his language, but by his philosophy, which can be either rational or irrational, depending on whether or not he chooses to think.

The conservative objection about culture is actually a variant of collectivism, for it presumes that an individual’s ideas are determined by the surrounding society. In fact, individuals have the ability to think for themselves, and many immigrants do so.

By seeking to impose immigration restrictions, conservatives do not in fact promote the American traditions of free markets and personal responsibility. Such conservatives actually promote the traditions of statism and collectivism.

For many conservatives, the objection about culture assumes a more political form: Hispanic voters tend to vote for Democrats over Republicans. Yet if Republicans actually stood for free markets and industriousness, they would seek to repeal restrictions on immigration (as well as welfare support for immigrants), and thereby win the political support of many immigrants.

Biddle’s essay effectively answers every serious objection to open immigration, though Biddle addresses the objection about cultural traditions indirectly. Biddle’s essay serves as a blue-print in immigration policy for those who actually want to foster what is best about America.