Alex Tabarrok is circulating an open letter to the President and Members of Congress reflecting the consensus opinion of economists on the costs and overall net benefits of immigration. In conjunction with the Independent Institute, Alex is seeking as many signatures as possible from economists and other social scientists.
For me, immigration has not been about costs and benefits, and how those costs and benefits may add up, and which way the balance might tip from the point of view of the people already “here.”
Our problem with “illegal aliens” or “undocumented workers” or _______ (fill in the blank with your choice of expression), seems to be like our problem with “illegitimate children” of a few years back. Up until maybe thirty or forty years ago, there was a social stigma associated with being an illegitimate child. Attitudes changed over time, and people increasingly understood that the child of unmarried parents was no less a child than any other. Whatever stigma should be attached to parents having children out of wedlock – and views here remain more divided – the consensus view has shifted to not blaming the child (who, obviously, was not responsible for the choices that brought about the issue).
In the case of migration we are primarily concerned with adults who should be seen as morally responsible for their choices. But these migrants cannot be held responsible for the social, political, and economic conditions of the nation of which they happened to be born a citizen, nor for the relative freedom and opportunity to achieve their personal and family goals that attracted them across political borders. I have crossed political borders in pursuit of personal and family goals, and now live and work thousands of miles from my birthplace. Lucky for me, I haven’t had to cross national political boundaries. But the place of my birth, and being born a U.S. citizen, was no more my doing than my parents’ marital status at the time of my birth.
I grant, however, that not everyone approaches the issue from the same moral perspective as I do. We are talking about formation of public policy for a polity holding diverse moral views, and to make policy decisions for a diverse population it can help to point to the best evidence concerning the likely consequences of decisions. If you need evidence, then after reading Alex’s post at Marginal Revolution, click through to the letter at the Independent Institute site which has a list of references.
We should find a policy solution that readily accomodates the personal pursuit of freedom and opportunity, and which does not restricts the ability of persons to pursue freedom and opportunity based upon where on this planet they happened to have been born. Lucky for me, the consensus view of economists is that what I think of as the right thing to do for moral reasons is also likely to be, on net, a benefit to society overall. Actually, lucky for us that the right thing to do is the good thing. Lucky for all of us.