Control of immigration (was: Multiculturalism)

Russell Turpin
Sun, 21 Oct 2001 14:48:51 +0000

Clay Shirky writes:
>In the case of the US laws regarding imigration, I disagree with many of 
>them, but the thing that makes them legitimate in my mind is that they are 
>the laws of a democratic government with strong protections for minority 
>races and religions .. Similar immigration restrictions on the part of the 
>French stike me as less legitimate, as they have fewer Constitutional 
>protections for minorities. .. and anything the Vietnamese government might 
>have to say about
>immigration strikes me as least legitimate of all.

There is a counter-argument. Immigration restrictions
don't restict the citizens of the nation imposing the
controls, but the citizens of other nations who might
want to move there. The immigration controls by rich,
western nations can be viewed as a global system of
limiting the mobility of labor. In essence, they keep
the large pools of workers in "developing" nations out
of the world's richest labor markets. The various
free-trade initiatives and treaties have focused
primarily on the mobility of capital and goods. Nike
can set up a plant in Vietnam, and sell the finished
product in Europe and the US. The Vietnamese laborer
cannot move to Europe or the US. So Nike gets to
enjoy the low costs of an artificially constrained
labor market. From the viewpoint of market economics,
this benefits investors, western consumers, and western
labor, at the expense of labor in the rest of the
world, which is to say, at the expense of the vast
majority of the world's population, which gets no say
over the immigration controls that matter.

As an American, I can think of all sorts of reasons I
like this arrangement. I can imagine, though, that
things would look quite differently were I a worker in
Vietnam. Yes, America is democratic. How convenient
for the citizens of the first world that they can
"democractically" control the labor markets of the
rest of the world! They spout off about global free
trade, yet tightly restrict the one kind of global
mobility that might matter to "me," a third-world

OK, this is radical stuff. But there is more than a
shade of hypocrisy in some of the free-trade rhetoric
that comes out of Washington and London and Paris. If
you want to really follow the logic of free markets,
the western nations' immigration controls are the
greatest barriers to world free trade, and the ones
that are most harmful to the world's population.
Speaking purely from market economic theory.

And yes, of course, there are political issues that
override this. The whole idea of democracy and free
markets might not survive, if the west really were to
allow open immigration. Even so, we might sense a
litte more the tension between our free-market
rhetoric, and the global system of not-so-free markets
that we carefully construct. I'm not sure what to do
about it. But recognition of what is always seems a
good first step.


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