One of the more disturbing things about Ron Paul’s popularity is his staunch opposition to legal and illegal immigration. I pick on him not because his views on immigrants are especially harsh, but because they stand in stark contrast to his reputation as an advocate of free markets and Austrian economics. On his campaign issues page, he warns that “current reform proposals would allow up to 60 million more immigrants into our country” and that “this is insanity.” I am surprised to see Ron Paul buying into this tired bit of socialist rhetoric. The idea that simply allowing 60 million would actually result in 60 million people rushing into the U.S. is absurd, but suppose it were true. What’s the worst that could happen?
According to the Malthusian theory subscribed to by socialists and environmentalists, the amount of resources and capital in a particular region is fixed, so the average income of individuals can be calculated by dividing the total resource/capital base by the number of people. A fixed resource base means a fixed number of jobs, so a large influx of immigrants means rising unemployment and falling standards of living.
Fortunately, it is socialism, not open immigration that is “insanity.” The premise that the resources available to meet human needs are fixed – that each new human being requires a fixed amount of land, metal, and fossil fuels to live – is absurd. Each additional individual creates not only new demand for the products of civilization, but also provides new resources and insight for meeting those needs. Every self-supporting worker produces more than he consumes, adding to total productive output and raising the real wage rate for everyone. Historically, the American standard of living rose fastest during peak immigration periods and continues to rise today. Our greatest source of wealth is not natural resources or the capital base, but the ingenuity and creativity of our entrepreneurs and workers.
By increasing the division of labor, immigrants free up workers previously employed in maintaining the capital base to invest their time in growing capital and efficiency. So for example, by lowering labor costs, new immigrant factory workers free up engineers to invest in expanding production and improving the efficiency of labor. This improves everyone’s living standards. A free society allows a growing capital and knowledge base to be multiplied by entrepreneurs who find new methods to improve human life, proving an exponential growth in prosperity.
A further complaint of Dr Paul is that “taxpayers should not pay for illegal immigrants who use hospitals, clinics, schools, roads, and social services.” I completely agree. However, this is besides the point. No one has a right to live of other people, regardless of where he was born. American welfare bums do not have any more right to my property than Mexican bums. It is the welfare state that is immoral, not immigration. Furthermore, the argument is misleading because illegal immigrants and permanent residents are generally not eligible for welfare, and already pay the property, fuel, and sales taxes that pay for schools and roads. Illegal immigrants don’t pay income taxes, which Dr. Paul believes we should eliminate anyway, but they often pay social security taxes via bogus social security cards – effectively subsidizing legal workers. Do people who oppose granting illegal immigrants driver’s licenses realize that they are for forcing citizens to pay for the illegal immigrants’ share of road-maintenance costs?
For more on the issue, read my case for open immigration.