Sunday, April 02, 2006

Neoprotectionist?

David Frum says:

That's what some of us who favor enforcement in labor laws are called. The idea is that if you favor free trade in goods, you must also favor the unrestricted migration of populations.

But from an economic point of view, the analogy is not just wrong: It is upside down.

When we debate free trade, it is the free-traders who speak for the public interest and the protectionists who champion narrow selfish constituencies: because protectionism imposes costs on almost everybody in society while concentrating its benefits on a privileged few.

But when we debate immigration, it is the restrictionists who speak for the public interest. The best economic research on the subject strongly indicates that high levels of unskilled immigration impose costs on most people - and concentrate their benefits on a privileged few. (New York mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke for that lucky group in a wonderful Marie Antoinette moment yesterday on WABC radio. Speaking to radio host John Gambling, Bloomberg said, "You and I are beneficiaries of these jobs. You and I both play golf; who takes care of the greens and the fairways in your golf course?" Lower wages for thee equals lower green fees for me!)

It is the immigration restrictionists in this debate who are the functional equivalent of free traders, by championing policies to raise the standards of living of most Americans. Open immigration - and especially guestworker programs - are the functional equivalent of protectionism: costs for all, benefits for narrow special interests

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