Friday Roundup, February 15th

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  • Don’t miss the current podcast with Randy Simmons on his recently updated book, Beyond Politics: The Roots of Government Failure. Simmons, in this discussion, challenges the iron-clad belief that government rules and regulations live and move in rational operation, having their being serving the commonweal 24/7. Instead, Simmons provides a comprehensive way to think about the giant suck of political reality.

The bottom line is that for all the good that immigration can do (and I’m an immigrant to the U.S., who is very glad that America let me in, and who generally supports immigration), unregulated immigration can dramatically change the nature of the target society. It makes a lot of sense for those who live there to think hard about how those changes can be managed, and in some situations to restrict the flow of immigrants — who, after all, will soon be entitled to affect their new countrymen’s rights and lives, through the vote if not through force.

I sometimes pose for my liberal friends a stylized thought experiment. Say that they live in a country of 3 million people (the size of New Zealand) where 55% of the citizens are pro-choice and 45% are pro-life (1.65 million vs. 1.35 million). Now the country is facing an influx of 1 million devoutly Catholic immigrants, who are 90% pro-life. If these immigrants are let in and become citizens, the balance will flip to 2.25 million pro-life to 1.75 million pro-choice (56% to 44% pro-choice); and what my friends might see as their fundamental human right to abortion may well vanish, perfectly peacefully and democratically.

Ilya Somin, co-blogger at Volokh, pens an interesting response to the effect that

There are many ways to reduce potential negative political effects of migration short of banning immigration itself. The most obvious is to deny the immigrants in question the right to vote. Both the United States and most other nations already impose waiting periods before new immigrants become eligible for citizenship (currently five years in the case of the US). If necessary, the five year period could be extended to ten years, fifteen, or even longer. We could even grant permanent residency rights to people who are ineligible to vote for life. Living in a country for many years without the right to vote may seem like an injustice. But living that way in a relatively free and prosperous society is still far better than living in a poor and oppressive Third World country – in many of which the citizens also lack any effective political influence.

None of the above proves that the danger of political externalities never justifies keeping out immigrants. To the contrary, I think there are extreme cases where it does. But before imposing such restrictions, natives have an obligation to seriously consider whether the externalities can be prevented or reduced by less repressive measures, such as delaying the grant of citizenship and constitutional constraints on government power. And in weighing costs against benefits, they cannot completely ignore the interests of the potential migrants themselves.