Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


one-eyed jack asks:

Why are you in favor on immigration, including illegal immigration? If you posted on the topic in the past, can you pont me to it?

Previous posts on the topic are here, here, and here (see the comments especially). Here's a description of my proposed immigration policy. And here's the first of eight sections of something I originally intended as the first chapter of a book; the chapter's name is "Borders," and it contains some of my ideas on the subject.

So what's my position? It's hard to know where to begin.

I could start by saying that on many policy questions, there's a trade-off between equality and freedom and/or efficiency. Thus, a low-tax economy gives people more economic freedom and yields faster growth, but may lead to a larger gap between rich and poor. A large welfare state slows economic growth and reduces people's economic freedom, but induces (or tries to induce) greater equality of outcomes. If you create gifted-and-talented programs in a school, you give the brightest kids more opportunity to learn at their own pace. But there will be bigger differences in learning outcomes. And so on.

In the case of immigration, however, the government is using coercion, restricting freedom, in order to increase inequality. The US population is priveleged in global terms, enjoying a far higher standard of living than what prevails elsewhere, particularly in the developing world. By restricting entry to the United States, the government cuts off the non-American-born from opportunities for self-advancement. At present, transnational inequality is greater than inequality within any single country, even Brazil. This outcome is a result of immigration restrictions. Opening the borders would be a giant step forward for freedom and for equality at the same time. No trade-offs.

Another way to approach the question is to address the foundations of legitimate government. Having declared independence on Lockean grounds, America is to some extent committed to Lockean principles, so let's start there. Just government is by consent of the governed. Let's assume that the American-born have signed a social contract and consented to be governed by the US federal government (though there are problems with that claim). One of those laws is that Mexicans cannot immigrate without the federal government's permission. But Mexicans never consented to be governed by that law. And even if we claim that, by entering the US, they consent to be governed by the rest of the US's law, it's nonsensical to claim that they consent to be governed by the border law that they violated in order to come. So there is no consent; and so we cannot justly coerce them to obey that particular law.

Or again, consider natural law. There are many things that we know through conscience are wrong: we should not kill, we should not lie, we should not steal, and so on. Human law, when it is just, is rooted in natural law. Not everything that is wrong should be illegal, of course. There may also be a certain extent to which human law must extend beyond natural law; for example, nothing in natural law forbids us to drive on the left-hand side of the road, but for purposes of organizing highway transportation it's essential for us to establish a standard with regard to that. This is acceptable because which side of the road to drive on is morally trivial, and does not materially affect anyone's interest (so long as some standard is established). When human laws extend beyond the natural law, as in the prohibition of alcohol, they become unjust, and because the law no longer has an ally in individuals' consciences, it also becomes possible to enforce, since spontaneous conspiracies against the state form everywhere. Such is the case with immigration.

Martin Luther King said that we must obey just laws and disobey unjust ones. Against unjust laws he advocated civil disobedience. The greatest injustice in the world today is the vast differences in wealth between nations, which are in large part a result of border restrictions. It is time for civil disobedience, in which the ten million or so illegal immigrants now living on US soil are leading the way.


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