Free Trade and Illegal Immigration
I was listening to the radio on the way home tonight and Al Rantal was on one of his favorite hobby high horses, illegal immigration. He was bemoaning the decline of the presence of the American worker in the meat packing industry. He mentioned the oft repeated claim that these are jobs that Americans wont do, and this time Mr. Rantel actually got the argument right, or more accurately put forward the complete argument: these are jobs American’s wont do at the wages currently being paid. Mr. Rantel then went on to scold those who are in favor of increasing immigration and changing immigration laws to make it easier for those who want to come here to work. Basically, this boiled down to: How can American workers compete with wages that, while above that in the third world, are below what Americans are willing to take to do these kinds of jobs?
And this got me thinking. If you are really adamantly against immigration you are a protectionist. Really, you can’t be anything else. After all, one of the standard argument against free trade and for protectionism is that American workers cannot compete with third world wages. So to protect American jobs we have to protect them from that cheap labor. Basically that is Al Rantel’s argument (or at least one of them) against illegal immigration. And not only are you a protectionist, but you are quite close to being a Mercantilist. After all, when I listen to Mr. Rantel and those like him they talk about how changing immigration policy to let in more immigrants will wreck the American economy, that we must resist it to keep the American economy strong, etc. Well, that kind of rhetoric and policy fits very well with mercantilism.
What is wrong with being a mercantilist? Well, if you have two countries engaging in mercantilist policies against each other, they end up hurting themselves. Basically, they are limiting trade and as a result they are actually weakening their respective economies. The whole idea of trade in general, be it between individuals or countries, is that of voluntary transactions that are, in expectation, to benefit both (all, in an n-party transaction) parties. Thus, by limiting trade, you limit opportunities for the actors, individuals, corporations, or nations, to make themselves better off. Or more simply put, trade is a positive sum game (in expectation).
Seriously, what is the difference between importing cheaper goods produced in another country or labor from another country? Both are commodities, both have functioning markets. The only way one can hold this position is to hold it for both commodities and to be a protectionist. I can understand getting control of the borders on national security grounds, but one thing those who hold this view might have to accept that to do that, it might mean making legal immigration easier not harder aside from security checks.