Inconvenient questions about immigration

MR readers will know I hold a relatively cosmopolitan stance, sympathetic to immigration, including the immigration of low-skilled labor.  But notice the tension with Milton Friedman’s classic stance that businesses should maximize profit only, without regard for broader social concerns.  If businesses have this liberty to behave selfishly, why do not governments?  Similarly, cannot a mother give priority to her child, rather than selling it to save ten babies in Haiti?  Why should governments be the unique carrier of cosmopolitan obligations?

I see a few possible stances:

1. Randall Parker thinks Western governments should be be elitist, nationally selfish, and determined to maximize national average IQ. 

2. Perhaps government holds special obligations.  Robert Goodin argued that government should be utilitarian while other institutions pursue selfish concerns.  But where does this dichotomy come from, and still, why should the concerns of a government stretch past its citizenry?

3. Peter Singer and Shelley Kagan believe that all entities, whether collective or individual, should take the most cosmopolitan view possible.  For Singer this includes the consideration of other species.  Few people are willing to live the implications of this.

4. We have not (yet?) found a universally correct perspective from all vantage points.  We have public obligations, private obligations, and no clear algorithm for squaring the two.  We nonetheless can find local improvements consistent with both, or which do not greatly damage our private interests.  Freer immigration, even when costly, is one of the cheapest and most liberty-consistent ways of addressing our (admittedly ill-defined) obligations to others.  But surely those obligations are not zero.  This implies, by the way, that Friedman’s maxim is not strictly accurate.

Note that libertarians are often extreme nationalists when it comes to foreign policy ("Darfur is no concern of ours") but extreme cosmopolitans when it comes to immigration. 

My views are closest to #4.  Our inability to fully embrace cosmopolitanism is a central reason why the case for open borders is not more persuasive.  Many people hear the cosmopolitan call and sense, instinctively, that something is wrong.  But when we view the argument in explicitly economic terms — what is the best way of satisfying marginal obligations which are surely not zero? — the case for a liberal immigration policy is stronger.


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