Everything Will Change, Everything Has Changed: A Brexit Symposium

British Prime Minister David announces his resignation at Downing Street.  (Photo by Ray Tang/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Britain Makes History

By Richard Samuelson

So yet another effort to put all of Europe under one government seems to be failing. From Caesar to Charlemagne to Charles V to Louis XIV to Napoleon and beyond the vision of unity has been a recurring theme in European politics. The latest effort, a union forged in the wake of two destructive and nearly universal wars, is different in some ways—although not democratic, there have been democratic elements in the EU. Moreover, and most importantly, expansion has been peaceful, featuring conquest by referendum.

All that notwithstanding, one can, quite accurately see the Brexit as the latest in a long series of rejections of a universal European empire, with Eurocrats in the place of previous would-be emperors. As in previous centuries, Cambridge and Oxford dons are more comfortable conferencing with their peers at the Sorbonne than with their fellow subjects, and once again the would-be coutiers they train look to the Continent for moral guidance. And, as before, many of Her Majesty’s common subjects resent it.

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The Classical Liberal Case Against Brexit

Britain votes on whether to leave the European Union in a month. If I were a British, it would be a difficult decision, but on balance I would vote against Brexit. The benefits of free trade outweigh the costs of the EU’s regulatory regime.

From its birth classical liberalism has been dedicated to free trade among nations. Trade allows nations to specialize at products and services and which they excel, enriching them all. It creates a larger market, providing incentives for innovation and it is innovation that ultimately transforms the standard of living. This latter benefit is particularly important in this era of technological acceleration. More generally, free trade signals an openness to the world and a tolerance of foreigners.  It is a moral as well as economic good.

EU is the largest free trade zone in the world and that counts heavily in favor of staying. But the free zone comes bundled with other more controversial requirements. For instance, membership carries with it the requirement to let citizens of other EU members work in Britain.

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Immigration “Law” a la Obama: What a Wicked Game

Immigration Documents

A Ninth Circuit immigration decision bears crucially on the Supreme Court’s pending decision in Texas v. United States, better known as “the DAPA case.” The appellate court’s April 5 decision shines a harsh spotlight on the administration’s legal defense of its immigration policies.

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Why the Left Favors Immigration but Opposes Trade

The American Left generally welcomes immigration, but opposes foreign trade. There are exceptions of course, but generally the further left one moves this combination of policy preferences is even starker. Bernie Sanders seems wholly opposed to free trade and yet favors immigration. Indeed, he wants to make citizens of immigrants, even if they have come here illegally.

What explains this divergence? It cannot plausibly be concern for low-wage workers in the United States. It is true that trade, while being generally beneficial, can depress the income of low-wage workers (at least in the short term), because they must compete more with low-skilled workers elsewhere. But the effect of low-skilled immigrants  is the same. It puts pressure on the wages of low-skilled Americans.

It can’t be concern for the poor abroad.

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Progressivism Makes Immigrants Unwelcome

Last week President Obama gave a speech to newly naturalized citizens at the National Archives. His remarks show why immigration, long rightly praised as an essential part of our heritage, has become a source of ever greater controversy. The President failed to acknowledge that it is the principles of limited government and individual rights that make United States a welcoming place for immigrants because they assure that newcomers cannot tip the political balance to make life worse for those already here.

Instead, the President celebrated the raw power of democracy to make “progress,” change that can come at the expense of long time residents.The President did suggest that one of the “binding forces” for America is “loyalty” to “the documents” that surrounded the new citizens at the Archives. But he never identified these documents by name, quoted any language from them, or explained why they have an enduring claim on our loyalty. In particular, President Obama cited almost none of the liberties protected by the Constitution and nothing of the structure of federalism and separation of powers that protects those liberties.

It is hard to believe this was mere oversight. His administration has notably failed to defend both the structure and rights that are actually in the Constitution.

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Trump and PC Leaders: Peas in a Pod

Donald Trump and the new campus political correctness movement have a lot in common. Both want to create safe spaces where people fear no challenge from the exercise of others’ liberties. In the case of the campus PC movement, their disdain for freedom is obvious. They want to stop others from saying things that may offend them or undermine their world view. But the modern university grows out the enlightenment, which of course gave much offense to aristocrats, priests, and various other purveyors of received wisdom. Illiberal political correctness is thus at war with the classical liberal ideas on which our universities are founded.

Donald Trump also wants to create safe spaces for people who do not want to be challenged by the liberty of others. This self-proclaimed master of the art of the deal is no friend of making markets more open.  He opposes free trade agreements that would let our citizens and those of other nations make more mutually beneficial deals. He also promises literally to build a fence around America. To be sure, there is a national security threat to the United States from radical Islamic terrorism. But Trump’s proposals to ban Muslim immigration is at once excessive and ineffective. Why couldn’t jihadis simply pretend to be Middle Eastern Christians? Trump’s proposal is better understood as an attempt to insulate America from religious ideas that many disdain. His illiberal program is at war with America’s freedom.

The safe spaces offered by Trump and the PC movement lure people inside for similar reasons.

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Libertarians Can Believe in Borders: Pat Lynch Responds to His Critics

At Bleeding Heart Libertarianism Chris Freiman has written a thoughtful reply to my post exploring why libertarianism might be consistent with closed borders.  David Henderson at our sister site, EconLib, has agreed with one of Freiman’s points.  I wanted to briefly respond to both of them.

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A Nonoriginalist Challenge to Birthright Citizenship for Illegals – Part I: Embracing Legal Immigrants

With immigration – both legal and illegal – being the subject of debate these days, I thought I would blog a few posts on the issue generally and on the Fourteenth Amendment’s Citizenship Clause in particular.  To sum up my positions, I strongly favor legal immigration, I believe the original meaning of the Constitution requires birthright citizenship for the children of illegal aliens born in the United States, but I believe that a reasonably strong nonoriginalist argument can be made against such birthright citizenship for illegal immigrant children.

To begin, I favor legal immigration. The United States is a country of immigrants and it has been greatly enriched by such immigrants. The nation should allow large number of immigrants to enter its borders. Sadly, the welfare state probably makes it necessary to allow fewer immigrants in, but still large numbers should be admitted.

Not only do I favor immigrants based on public policy reasons, I also sympathize with them. I think of myself as coming from a family of immigrants, with three quarters of my grandparents being immigrants. And my wife, and her family, are also immigrants.

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The Dual Virtues of American Citizenship: Jealousy and Commitment

Taking the Oath of Citizenship at a Naturalization ceremony

A naturalization address given last week by Professor Kevin Hardwick in Beaverdam, Virginia at Scotchtown, the governor’s residence of Patrick Henry during the War for Independence.

In the late 1790s, during the presidency of John Adams, Americans conducted a bitter public debate over the meaning of patriotism.  The dominant political party at the time, the Federalists, confronted an emerging opposition, headed by Thomas Jefferson.   The opposition, the Democratic-Republican party, sharply criticized the Federalists, and condemned both their policies and their motives.

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Welcoming More Syrian Refugees Is Good for America

The Obama administration has made the right decision to raise the cap on the number of refugees so as to take in more Syrians seeking to escape the genocidal conflict in their country. It is not only an appropriate humanitarian action, but it will be good for the United States in the long run, just as our reception of Cuban refugees brought us an enormously successful, entrepreneurial group of Americans.

Immigration policy is a tricky matter to get right for classical liberals, particularly today. While some libertarians support open borders, that policy would be unwise.  If tens of millions of people arrived who were unschooled in our democratic traditions and relatively uneducated, they might undermine the very conditions for liberty that make our nation so attractive to immigrants. They would surely cause a huge backlash.  And unfortunately today, our welfare state can encourage immigration by those would not be productive citizens. A classical liberal constitution would permit us to entertain a more open immigration policy.

But these concerns do not at all undermine the case for taking in more Syrians. Even if we took in a few hundred thousand Syrians, they will not change our political culture. Indeed, given the relatively small numbers, they are likely to change the culture less than did immigration from Latin America or previous waves of immigration. Moreover, these immigrants have reasons to come that are not economic: there is no reason to think they are here to seek welfare benefits. And like Cuban refugees, the Syrian refuges are by no means largely without human capital. Middle-class people with substantial skills have had every reason to flee.

While the Obama administration can lift the cap, Congress will need to provide more money to get these refugees settled.

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