This post is hopefully a series of posts on how the state ruins everything. The overriding thesis of this series is that individual people can run and plan their own lives far better than the coercive agency of the state can do it for them, and that whenever government intervenes in any aspect in our lives beyond the very narrow biblical scope of punishing crime (not sin, crime), it fails to solve the problem it claims to be solving and creates several other problems and distortions that turn people who could otherwise peacefully coexist into enemies.
Immigration and the Correct Attitude of the Christian Toward the Alien
In the Old Testament, compassion was commanded toward the alien. This was in spite of the fact that aliens were “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12 KJV).” What was the correct attitude of Israel toward these aliens and sojourners? The covenant people were free to trade with aliens and sojourners, were commanded to provide hospitality to them, and were to be a kingdom of priests that the aliens might know the LORD was God. The people of Israel were commanded not to be led astray by foreigners to serve false gods. They were also not to trust in alliances with foreign governments. While many of the warnings against disobedience stated that aliens would inherit their possessions and rule over them, the correct solution was not xenophobia, but faithfulness. Jonah knew that the repentance of Nineveh was a precursor to the judgment of Israel because he was familiar with the blessings and curses of the covenant and knew that Israel was deserving of the curses. Rather than repenting, Israel (led by her tyrannical and unbelieving government) “cracked down” on immigrants, aliens, and sojourners (Malachi 3:5). They did the exact opposite of what was commanded by adopting the false gods, trusting in alliances with foreign powers, and oppressing the alien and sojourner.
In the New Testament, those who were afar off have been brought near. Christianity is truly an international religion. In an important sense we are all aliens and sojourners (1 Peter 2:11). We wait for a city that has foundations, whose maker and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10). Our primary allegiance must never be to the borders drawn by some sociopath more than a century ago, but to our brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no room for nationalism or xenophobia in the church. Just as war should be abrogated because there are Christians on both sides that are unwilling to take up arms against other Christians, xenophobia and animosity toward immigration should disappear because many of the people trying to come to your nation would be fellow Christians.
Human Action and Relocation
Moving from one location to another is a costly ordeal. In order to move from one location to another, a person must value their appraisal of his situation at his destination more than his appraisal of his current situation plus the cost necessary to relocate and the risk that things won’t work out as he plans. If you value the two equally, you will not take the action to relocate; you must value the “after” (as appraised in advance of taking the action) more than the “before” in order to act. This often means leaving behind family, friends, loved ones, and a culture and/or language that you are familiar with and the risk of facing hate, discrimination or oppression at your destination. Property that is too expensive or impractical to move must be left behind or sold.
Think about what it would take for you to move across the country or to another country. It’s the same for people who leave other countries to move here. In 2006, I left my life in New Hampshire to move to North Carolina and marry my wife who lived there. I gave up a lot. I don’t see my family or friends from home more than a couple of times a year. However, I knew that my wife would have needed to make a similar sacrifice and it was cheaper to live in North Carolina. I valued the life I was gaining more than I valued the life I was leaving behind.
Why do people relocate? It depends on the person. These valuations are subjective which allow for trade to be possible. Some might relocate in hope of a better job or business opportunity. Others might relocate to flee oppression or famine. Some people relocate for religious reasons, either as missionaries or to be a member of a particular church or religious community. Some people value the lifestyle of being a transient or vagabond more than putting down roots in a single location, but even transients need to make decisions about which place to go next and when to make the move. In all cases the person relocating needs to believe that his life will be better in the new location as he subjectively values the situation in advance of making the move.
How Government Involvement in Immigration Destroys Correct Attitudes Toward Immigration and Encourages Animosity and Distorts the Incentives for Relocation
If you think moving within a country is a hassle, just try it if your intended destination is across an arbitrary line that some sociopath bureaucrat drew over a century ago. The conservatives and Republicans (many of whom are Christian) glibly state that people should just follow the immigration laws. Either these people are disingenuous when they say this or they don’t realize that the agencies that control immigration are like the DMV on steroids. If you are politically connected, you go to the front of the line. If not, you get to wait and wait and wait. This is just the direct involvement in government in immigration. All the “immigration reform” in the world won’t solve the problem. The best thing that the government could do is admit that they can’t regulate immigration for people better than they can regulate it for themselves.
The greater problem in government involvement in immigration is the problem of incentives created by the myriads of other programs. Let’s contrast two societies. In one of them, people are free to come and go as they please, but they need to pay their own way or rely on voluntarily provided charity. In the other society, you are not allowed to relocate there, but if you do manage to smuggle yourself in, you are promised a free lunch at somebody else’s expense. Free education, welfare, medical care, you name it. Now think about how this affects people’s valuations in whether they choose to relocate to that nation or not. Because people make their decision to relocate subjectively, the populations who would relocate to society A and society B are very different. To transform a familiar aphorism, it’s the socialism, stupid.
There are other incentives that affect immigration. The minimum wage law forbids people from legally working at a rate below the rate decreed by government. Let’s hypothetically [heh] state that you have a large adolescent and young adult population that is unemployed and you have another large population of people who believe their lives would be so much better working at a sub-minimum wage that they are willing to risk crossing a border contrary to government edict to work a black market job. Then in the classic government way, those in power use immigration to drive a wedge of division to pit people against their neighbors. The frustration felt by the people who are upset that money is being taken from them by force and given to people who came to the country for a free ride is understandable, but it is misdirected. The anger and frustration should be directed at the government itself, but instead most of these people look to the government to pass a law and save them by legislation.
Less understandable is the person who seeks to get laws passed against immigration because they are afraid that foreigners are going to come in, work for lower wages and steal [sic] their [sic] jobs. Most of these people simultaneously give lip service to the idea of capitalism and the free market and don’t get the irony. In the 2012 and (especially) 2008 Republican primary debates, it seemed like 40% of total debate time was occupied by the candidates arguing about who will build the biggest wall to keep people in, er, I mean, out. Even Ron Paul, whom I admire greatly and is right on just about every political issue got caught up in the confusion over immigration.
The Opportunity Cost of Immigration and Relocation Barriers
In economics, opportunity cost is the value you miss of the best alternative being forgone by the choice you actually make. Because you don’t know the results of the best alternative, opportunity cost is a hidden cost and is often overlooked in analyses of hypothetical situations. The opportunity cost of government intervention will be a running theme in my series on how the government ruins everything. The sad truth is that none of us even know how badly government intervention has lowered our standard of living – we can only imagine what things might have been like. Your opportunity cost of immigration and relocation barriers are all the inventions, products, and services that you never see because people can’t relocate as they see fit.
Let’s use an example of somebody from history (when you had more freedom than today in this area) who was in the right place at the right time but could not be under today’s conditions. Steve Jobs’s biological father was Syrian. Right now Syria is under OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) sanctions from the United States government, meaning that you cannot do business with Syria. Imagine all of the products and services that Steve Jobs has had a hand in (Apple and Pixar will be the most notable). If the sanctions against Syria were timed differently, you don’t get Steve Jobs – he doesn’t exist because his parents never meet. Steve Jobs’s very existence was a product of greater freedom of movement than we have today. Just try to imagine the inventions, products, and services we do not have today that we would have if we had greater freedom to relocate for ourselves instead of having government try to control and manage it for us.
What Immigration Would Look Like In a Free Society
If people were able to come and go as they pleased, provided that they relied solely upon their own money or the voluntary charity extended by others, then there would never be such a thing as an immigration “problem” anywhere. If a bunch of people flocked to a certain place prices of real estate would adjust to the influx of immigration. Some people currently living in the destination area would sell their land for a profit and go live elsewhere on the profit gained from the sale of their land. There is a natural equilibrating tendency here. If the cost of moving to a certain location changes, it will affect how many other people believe it is worthwhile to relocate there. Because you never truly realize equilibrium, there will be other factors (inventions, new businesses, climate changes, etc.) that will cause people to readjust their valuation of where they want to live and whether they wish to relocate.
How would the life of the average person be improved under immigration freedom? Even the person who never moves in his life would be better off, and here is why. If you have freedom of movement, people can relocate to where the entrepreneurial opportunities are. Relocating is in its essence a form of entrepreneurship. When there are fewer barriers to the freedom of movement, the average person gets more and better products and services to choose from at better prices because the freedom of movement allows for greater flexibility in the labor market. Relocation “entrepreneurs” are able to get where they need to be with less cost and red tape.
Which Society Would you Rather Live In?
Earlier in this post, I contrasted society A (the free one) and society B (which is essentially the one we live in now). Which one would you prefer to live in? Remember back to my discussion of opportunity cost. We have many people today who think that the solution to the “immigration problem” is to become even more like East Germany than we already are. Do you want to live in a society where you are frequently accosted by people with guns and demanded to produce your papers (comrade)? Do you think that some petty bureaucrat would do a better job planning where you live your life and whom you associate with better than you can do it for yourself? I didn’t think so. How about we apply the Golden Rule and afford others the same freedom that we would want to have granted to ourselves?