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Open Borders

I have regularly seen statements in the press suggesting that many writers in the media think that we should have open borders, an immigration policy that literally allows anyone to enter the U.S. Indeed there are people who correctly point out that the U.S. had open borders in the past and they use this fact to argue that this evidence implies that we should do this now. The fact that we did this in the past is irrelevant for the following reasons.

In the nineteenth century, my ancestors came to the U.S. knowing that they would need to fend for themselves once they got here. There was no welfare that they would get and the state was not going to provide health care without requiring payment. Many immigrants did not attend public schools or did so for only a short time. In short, coming to the U.S. meant that the individual was on his or her own to survive once in the U.S. Compare that to the situation now.

Illegal aliens can now get health care, school access, food stamps, and other benefits once they are in the U.S. How does the existence of these subsidies affect the characteristics of the the potential immigrants to the U.S.?  Clearly we will attract some people willing to get on the public dole once they are in the U.S. Those people will ultimately draw public resources, raising government deficits or requiring increases in marginal tax rates. The latter reduce Potential GDP. So the existence of the welfare state makes past immigration policies irrelevant to what would happen now if the U.S. had open borders. More generally, why do we want people to come here who only have an interest in getting on the government dole?

Once again, policy design requires thinking about economic incentives. Open borders is a bad idea because of the incentives that it creates.

 

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Categories: Immigration Policy
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Economics One

A blog by John B. Taylor

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One economist's views on economic policy.

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