immigration caravan girl GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images

Why Is Immigration Different from Trade?

There is no doubt that immigration brings a host of benefits, both to immigrants themselves and to the native-born population. But if broadly beneficial immigration is to be sustained, destination countries must acknowledge and address the real risks that it raises.

MEDFORD, MASSACHUSETTS – Despite the current backlash against free trade, exemplified most prominently by US President Donald Trump’s protectionist “America First” agenda, the economic case for easing the movement of goods and services across borders is strong and straightforward. The case for immigration – that is, the movement of labor across borders – is no less compelling, though it is far more complicated.

For a libertarian like me, the benefits of free trade are obvious: transactions between willing buyers and sellers, within an economy or across borders, almost always benefit both sides. While restrictions may be worthwhile to ensure, say, the safety of goods entering a market, barriers should be kept to a minimum.

On the other hand, it is not worth limiting trade to punish countries that supposedly unfairly subsidize their exports or allow employers to exploit their workers. Limiting imports from countries with low wages and poor working conditions may seem justified; in reality, it deprives these countries’ low-wage workers of what little they can earn. At the same time, it imposes an unwarranted and frequently regressive tax on consumers.

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