Monday, October 4, 2010

Boffles on Immigration

Having lived in several countries and being of cosmopolitan tastes, having once been married to a French tennis star, and having always thought interracial coupling was rather a good idea, I am inclined to a liberal stance on immigration. I was thus pleased to hear economist Bryan Caplan's spirited defense of an open immigration policy. His podcast with Russ Roberts is available here:

http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2010/10/caplan_on_immig.html

Rather than recapitulate Caplan's argument entire, I'll limit myself to a couple of his more interesting observations. Against the common argument that immigrants are a drain on social welfare programs, Caplan notes that we must first distinguish between government provisions that amount to public goods and those whose price tag increases with the number of beneficiaries. National defense is the quintessential public good. The US need not pay for additional nuclear weapons in order to defend an increased population. Indeed, a higher population merely broadens the tax base through which such programs are funded. The same logic applies to the per-person burden imposed by US government debt. Even when we turn to social welfare provisions like welfare, medicaid, medicare and social security, the proportion of these expenditures directed to the poor, as compared with the elderly, is small. Moreover, as immigrants tend to come in their prime working years, their taxes contribute to the care of the elderly while other governments have paid for their schooling. The benefits of this education are reaped by the recipient nation.

(As an aside, readers who bemoan American debt levels may be interested in this data:

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2186rank.html

These figures do not include consumer debt).

If you are among those disturbed by the anti-immigration outcries of your more provincially-minded brethren, give them your pity and don't be overly troubled. It's correlated with generations. I doubt whether individuals change their views too often. But societies do, as some perspectives die with their proponents.

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