Monday, August 8, 2011

Dislike Immigration? You Probably Haven't Tried to Move Countries

Rationalists like myself tend to believe that they arrived at their beliefs by reason alone. And this is indeed the hope - if, like the Marxists believe, our world view is shaped only by social circumstances, then logical argument between different people is a hopeless ideal. Which would be a distressing thought. And while I don't tend to subscribe to this notion, still, it's hard to know how much your ideas about the world might change if you were in a different social position.

One example of this that I've found odd is that Australians in England share some resemblance in social position to Mexicans in the USA. Australia exports a lot of the backpacker crowd to the UK, and so most of the ones you meet tend to be poor, working unskilled jobs like bartending or manual labour jobs like construction. A lot of them have overstayed their visas, working on forged documents on a cash basis. There is a middle class, to be sure, but the popular perception among the English seems to be (correctly) of low-brow larrikins, tolerated by their hosts but somewhat outside polite society.

And here's where things get interesting.

Once, when I was in Honduras, I was talking with a bunch of Australians who were living in London, several of them having stayed there illegally. And when the subject came up, what was hilarious was hearing them recite every single argument traditionally given in favour of illegal immigration:

-Why won't they just let us stay? We're not doing anyone any harm
-The country would grind to a halt without the Australians to do the grunt work
-We pay taxes already, through them being withheld from our wages

What is even more funny is that Australia is not a country known for its embrace of immigration into its own country. Legal immigration is hard enough, and illegal immigration is strongly disapproved of. And I would bet that most of the people making these arguments if asked 10 years earlier would have been fairly unsympathetic to, say, an Iraqi making the same case as to why he should be allowed in Australia. Reader, I struggle to ever recall having heard any Australian advancing these arguments in favour of illegal immigration - even its supporters tend to promote it on a humanitarian basis ("we need to help the refugees", not "we should allow the free movement of cheap labour from India").

Now, I tend to think that allowing open borders is a very bad idea. As Milton Friedman noted long ago, open immigration is incompatible with a welfare state (which, like it or hate it, isn't about to disappear). And even without the welfare concern, I think the culture of the immigrants you're allowing matters a lot - even though it's terribly sad that there are a lot of child soldiers in a particular country, that doesn't mean it's a sound idea to let them move near you (for instance).

But still, if as they say, a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, and a liberal is a conservative who's been arrested, then a pro-immigration person is an immigration restrictionist who tried to move countries without a job lined up in advance.

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