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One of my excellent students sent me a link to this Stossel video last week and he asked my thoughts on what Jeff Miron had to say at about the 3:54 mark. It’s only about 30 seconds long after that, so do check it out. What I’d like to point out here are two things:

(1) Miron’s data is correct. Immigrants are neither a big (possibly none) drain on the welfare state, nor contrary to popular belief do they come here precisely because they want to take advantage of generous welfare programs. Tim Taylor provides a very brief overview of some of the evidence here.

As a side point, I am not interested in open-immigration because I think Miron is right about the death of the welfare state. I think there are far too many factors that give rise to a large welfare state for immigration to have much impact. This post is not going to be why I support 100% open immigration. However, some anti-immigrants in the classical-liberal camp worry that if “we allow” lots and lots of immigrants to come here, that most folks will be coming from countries that are more hostile to freedom, markets, property and the rule of law than the US is, and therefore that we’d be importing a trojan horse for the demise of liberty (why worry, it’s already gone). But that seems wrong to me. It seems just as reasonable to ask, “what types of people are more likely to want to migrate to a freer country?” And it seems to me to be reasonable to think that the folks that come here are precisely the ones that would sympathize most with those of us who cherish individual responsibility, freedom and markets.

(2) I am not sure I’ve noticed anyone in the debate note this, but it is, to me, I think the most important implication of Miron’s observation. You should not be surprised that immigrants do not get much net benefits from the welfare state! Even if they come here to take advantage of it, and even if immigrants are poorer than natives, the fact remains that much of what we think of the welfare state is just a disastrously bad game of splitting the check, or worse, the “middle” class buying dinner for the rich. We don’t have a “welfare” state as a way to ameliorate the misfortune that some of us are born into and are unable to escape, we have a Menckenian/Bastiatian state where we live in the great fiction “through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

One Response to “Immigration and the Welfare State: The Crazy Aunt in the Attic”

  1. Bob says:

    “And it seems to me to be reasonable to think that the folks that come here are precisely the ones that would sympathize most with those of us who cherish individual responsibility, freedom and markets.”

    That sounds rational except by large margins, new immigrants identify as Democrats rather than Republicans. Though neither party is libertarian, the Republicans are much closer than the Democrats. I think the reason immigrants come is pretty simple, the U.S. is much more prosperous than their home countries and they want to have more prosperous lives. I don’t think greater liberty is likely a top priority for many immigrants (or many existing citizens, otherwise, we’d all be Libertarians).

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