Illegal Immigration: A Feature, Not A Bug, Said Milton Friedman

In the wake of Obama's defensive "we're tough on immigration too, you right-wing freaks" talk yesterday, an interesting blast from the past from the nifty Classically Liberal blog has fresh relevance.

In it is summed up in full the thoughts of economist Milton Friedman on immigration. Friedman is often used as an example of a libertarian who questioned open borders in a welfare state world. That's kind of true. But it lead him to the logical conclusion that illegal immigration is the best immigration of all:

If you have free immigration, in the way we had it before 1914, everybody benefited. The people who were here benefited. The people who came benefited. Because nobody would come unless he, or his family, thought he would do better here than he would elsewhere. And, the new immigrants provided additional resources, provided additional possibilities for the people already here. So everybody can mutually benefit....

Look, for example, at the obvious, immediate, practical example of illegal Mexican immigration. Now, that Mexican immigration, over the border, is a good thing. It’s a good thing for the illegal immigrants. It’s a good thing for the United States. It’s a good thing for the citizens of the country. But, it’s only good so long as its illegal....

That’s an interesting paradox to think about. Make it legal and it’s no good. Why? Because as long as it’s illegal the people who come in do not qualify for welfare, they don’t qualify for social security, they don’t qualify for the other myriad of benefits that we pour out from our left pocket to our right pocket. So long as they don’t qualify they migrate to jobs. They take jobs that most residents of this country are unwilling to take. They provide employers with the kind of workers that they cannot get. They’re hard workers, they’re good workers, and they are clearly better off.

My Reason magazine feature from March 2007 on the career of Milton Friedman.

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  • JEP||

    "Illigal"?

  • ||

    "They provide employers with the kind of workers that they cannot get. They’re hard workers, they’re good workers, and they are clearly better off."

    That is because they are workers they can fire and exploit the shit out of without worries of them going to the labor department.

    There is nothing genetically superior about Mexicans. If they were genetically more hard working than Americans, their country wouldn't be such a shit hole and Americans would be migrating there. They just work hard because they are desparate and have no choice.

    I am not really sure that "what this country really needs is an endless supply of really desparate people that will do anything and endure any tretment for low wages" will win a alot of converts to the open borders cause.

    Look immigration worked in 1914 becuase we were a lot freer and we didn't have the New Deal or the Great Society. Until you get rid of those things, open borders will never work, even Friedman admitted that.

  • ||

    Or, how about workers that you can just decide not to pay, and they can't do anything about it? Except maybe get the local gang to break your knee caps. If they have such connections.

  • sarcasmic||

    Ever worked beside an illegal Mexican? I have.

    They're some of the hardest workers you will find.

    You might be as well if you had five kids and a wife to feed.

    Mexicans aren't lazy.

    It's their kids who are lazy. You know, the ones who get indoctrinated in our public schools.

  • Foogle||

    I've worked next to workers who literally carry refrigerators on their back for $5 an hour. And I've worked with Mexican laborers who steal and do drugs. There are all types.

  • sarcasmic||

    true

  • skr||

    That's why I hire mayans from Guatamala.

  • Billy Shakespeare||

    Your "Mayan" plan is going to generate some blowback on 21-Dec-2012.

  • ||

    People are people, John. Some are lazy pieces of goldbricking shit, like all of us on H&R, and some are really hard workers.

    However, the Mexicans who come here for work are self-selected to be most likely hard workers. Just like our great-grandparents in the late 1800s. Everybody wins in that case.

  • ||

    They are hard workers, but the reality is that being an illegal alien does mean that employers can screw you over, and you can't do anything about it. And it does happen. It is self-limiting since word gets around if you don't pay your employees, but it's actually pretty common for a guy to pick up a bunch of day laborers, promise them a certain amount, work for 14 hours straight, and then hand them a wad of cash that's a few 20s short at the end of the day.

  • cynical||

    Even if Mexicans on average aren't better, maybe the effort of coming here filters out the hardworking ones from the lazy or risk-averse ones?

  • Foogle||

    Episiarch and Cynical have rose-colored glasses on, unfortunately. I've friends working in the immigration business here in LA. The current situation selects for hard workers, yes. But it also selects for people who break the law and for the Mexican gangs that bring them here. Even people who come here for ostensibly "good" reasons end up rooming in small apartments with drug users or working for the criminal gang that imported them.

    Now in Epi and Cynical's defense, I think this is more an indictment of criminalizing immigration than Mexicans. Nevertheless, it is not a given that the current immigration system 'selects for hard workers'. Shrug.

  • ||

    Exactly, you have to connect yourself to a criminal gang, or else people with fuck you over. If you have a gang connection, you can tell them you didn't get paid, and they'll go beat up the asshole that stiffed you. Of course, you have to give them a cut in exchange.

    It's exactly the same as the effect of making drugs illegal. Criminalize something, and organized crime will take the place of the police and court system.

  • ||

    On the down side, illegal immigrants are reluctant to go to the police, so they tend to be more vulnerable to exploitation by criminal gangs or unscrupulous employers.

    What happens to a market without enforcable contracts or courts to resolve disputes?

  • fish||

    What happens to a market without enforcable contracts or courts to resolve disputes?
    reply to this

    It becomes kind of like the United States.

  • ||

    Er. We HAVE courts and enforceable contracts.

    A market without them looks much more like Russia during the Yeltsin era. In other words, it's controlled by organized crime in collusion with the state.

  • fish||

    We HAVE courts and enforceable contracts.

    It's just adorable that you believe that.

  • fish||

  • Invisible Finger||

    You can either have no illegal immigrants or you can have minimum wage/Davis-Bacon.

    Pick one.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Why? Because as long as it’s illegal the people who come in do not qualify for welfare, they don’t qualify for social security, they don’t qualify for the other myriad of benefits that we pour out from our left pocket to our right pocket. "

    Except it's not exactly true that the illegals aren't using any of the welfare/social services.

  • ||

    This ^

  • Foogle||

    Right. An illegal family with 3 kids is consuming anywhere from $15,000 - $35,000 in public school funds depending on the district. That is more than they are paying in Sales Taxes and Income Tax (if they somehow pay that).

  • ||

    That's true of legal American residents. At least the illegals aren't also on welfare and Medicaid.

  • Foogle||

    The legal residents are more likely to be paying FICA. And on average they earn more than the average illegal immigrant.

  • ||

    Actually if illegal immigrats could pay FICA they probably would, since paying 10 years of FICA gets you out of some of the green card requirements. I used this provision myself, since my sponsor (older brother), does not live in the US.

  • ||

    Hazel, illegals use emergency rooms for free health care, and do get other forms of welfare (e.g. aid to their children).

  • ||

    In San Francisco they can also get subsidized public housing, which are often newer and better units than I live in, and for far less rent.

  • Law Student||

    Those 3 kids are American citizens and are no more welfare leaches than every other child in the schools.

  • Foogle||

    I'm actually an Open Borders guy, but until we can mitigate the secondary effects, I cannot see why libertarians support this.

    1) Massive illegal immigration gives liberals the stats they use to base all sorts of stupid legislation. Latest research indicates that around 5% of our workforce is illegal. These are people with the barest labor value- without high school or college degrees or without a command of the english language. As a result, they earn crappy wages. And so the US Income Disparity looks worse than those countries that restrict immigration to only those people with high labor value.

    2) By and large these illegal aliens come from a world view that is far more statist than the US. They are more likely to endorse heavy social restrictions and government-protected union interference in the labor laws. They agitate and vote for policies that net worse than the value they bring.

    Again, in my ideal world, we could let people come and go as they please. #2 can be mitigated through a guest worker program that does not give people the franchise to vote- but you know that would continue to be eroded by the people who want more statist voters. #1 will never change until this country gets off of its obsession with income disparity and instead realizes how awesome the economic mobility is in this country.

  • silent v||

    Not sure I agree with your second point. True, illegals come from more statist countries. But the point is that they take great risks to get away from those countries. Why would they agitate to turn this country into as big a shithole as they fled?

    Also, illegals don't vote (except for in LA)

  • Slap the Enlightened!||

    I dunno. Ask them.

  • ||

    As someone else said upthread, those aren't the immigrants. Those are their kids. After they've been indoctrinated in our public schools with the whole notion that they're victims of the evil white oppressors and should demand welfare as reparations.

    If the left didn't control the public schools the second generation hispanics might learn from their parents experience more and the same proto-marxist bullshit that dominates their home countries less.

  • Slap the Enlightened!||

    Ok, so that's an argument for what? Sterilizing immigrants? Because the public schools sure ain't going anywhere anytime soon...

  • zoltan||

    Good post--I wonder why the many homemaker Mexican mothers still send their kids to public school. Maybe they don't know how bad it is. Maybe they like tax-paid babysitters.

  • MWG||

    So long as the Klan exists, I assume your for affirmative action then, right?

    So long as La Raza exists, anything even remotely resembling open borders is out of the question, right?

  • Slap the Enlightened!||

    So long as the Klan exists, I assume your for affirmative action then, right?

    Nope.

    So long as La Raza exists, anything even remotely resembling open borders is out of the question, right?

    Nope. Open borders are the out of the question under any circumstances I could possibly think of.

  • zoltan||

    You hate property rights.

  • ||

    Uh, what silent v said. I wasn't aware illegals voted. Whenever I hear "I'm for open borders, BUT..." you know some fallacious shit is coming next.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    " I wasn't aware illegals voted"

    The dead vote in Chicago.

    What makes you think that there aren't illegals voting also?

  • ||

    The dead don't vote. Partisan hack scumbags vote using their name. Do you blame the dead for this? See the difference?

  • ||

    Episiarch, tonight...YOU!

  • ||

    "See, you don't know what rape is like. For years, I thought it was funny. 'Oh, yeah. Rape's so funny.' Until you've been raped. You're about to find out what that's like, Hand Banana."

  • Foogle||

    Sorry I wasn't clear on #2. I'm not saying they are voting now, but that if they do vote, it will be a bad thing for libertarians.

    As I said, the way to avoid #2 is with a guest worker program. Unfortunately, there will always be statists agitating to get these people the right to vote. By and large, every poll I've seen of immigrants most largely representing the illegal population suggests that they are socially conservative, fiscal liberals.

  • ||

    So restricting the free movement of people is ok if you're selecting for voters for the policies you prefer.

    That's pretty fucking disgusting. Like I said, when you hear the "BUT...", you know some nasty shit is coming.

  • Foogle||

    "Restricting the free movement of people" my ass. I get to restrict people from moving across MY property all I want, and if you are a Libertarian, you ought to agree with that. And if I want to enter into a community that broadly restricts outsiders from entering into all of our property, that is my right as well.

    A Mexican citizen has right to free movement is balanced against my right to restrict who can access my property and the property managed by my government.

    I am an open borders guy because I believe it is beneficial for everyone to have a liquid labor market. And while you get off asserting catch phrases as if they were self evident truths, Adults understand that at some point Libertarians are going to have to confront reality rather than run around shouting "la la la right to movement la la la".

  • ||

    Except you aren't an open borders guy, so stop lying. The USA isn't your property, and fuck you, you don't get to restrict the free movement of people.

    Once again, you've proven how the "BUT..." means some nasty authoritarian or racist shit is next.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "The USA isn't your property, and fuck you, you don't get to restrict the free movement of people."

    The USA isn't the property of Mexicans (or Canadians or Russians or any other nationality) eitehr.

    There is such a thing as national sovereignty.

    There is no such thing as some global "right" to be anywhere on the planet that you want to be.

    We do not have a one world government.

  • Foogle||

    Epi-

    Why don't you just start righting ghost posts with the straw men you seem to be fighting. Over and over you seem to take offense at stuff I didn't say.

    In any case, the whole theory of government is that people create a government, not to protect some other Nationals' rights, but to protect their own. And that includes enforcing who can go on OUR property and the property held in trust by the government.

    How is THIS SPECIFIC issue any different than a Gated Community that forms and prevents any outsiders from coming on the property unless a majority of the residents vote to loosen the restrictions? And why should Libertarians support the right of property owners to form a governing entity like that, but not to form a national government that does the same?

  • ||

    Because the gated community has unanimous consent of the property owners therein. The territory claimed by a government does not.

    The government cannot legitimately abrogate their rights to transport, house, and employ whomever they wish on their property.

  • MWG||

    "A Mexican citizen has right to free movement is balanced against my right to restrict who can access my property and the property managed by my government."

    'Private government property rights'?

    Your private property rights end where your property ends. If I want to have José mow my lawn and Juanita clean my house, it's really none of your damn business.

  • Foogle||

    MWG-

    Sorry. That isn't true at all. You may wish it to be that way. But since our government has been empowered to dick around with all sorts of our life, that also includes the ability to restrict which foreign nationals can come here. And to be clear, I would be fine with all these foreign nationals coming here if it weren't a trap door to help statists take my money (due to wage unfairness).

  • zoltan||

    A Mexican citizen has right to free movement is balanced against my right to restrict who can access my property and the property managed by my government.

    There is no such thing as "property managed" by the government. There is only property stolen by the government.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "The dead don't vote. Partisan hack scumbags vote using their name. Do you blame the dead for this? See the difference?"

    The point is that people using the names of the dead to vote it is vote fraud.

    It is ALSO vote fraud when illegals are allowed to vote by not having effective methods in place to prevent them from doing so.

  • ||

    Thank you, Foogle.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    You make poor Milton sound like a crank, or maybe he did it to himself. If you're a guy, you don't qualify for welfare. If you're a woman, you don't qualify for welfare, unless you're single, with a dependent child. If you're a kid, you don't qualify for welfare if you have two parents. No one qualifies for social security unless they've worked for ten years in the U.S. and are over 62. Same, of course, for Medicare.

    And if the good old days were so wonderful, how come all those immigrant Jews (Milt's ancestors) organized labor unions, voted socialist, and created the welfare state that Uncle Miltie bemoans? And if the good old days were so wonderful (part 2), how come nobody wants to go back there?

  • zoltan||

    They organized labor unions so they could keep out blacks, Mexicans and other minorities out of the labor pool. They voted socialist so they could get their "free" handouts from the rich.

    And yeah, no one wants to go back to laissez-faire capitalism.

  • ||

    No one qualifies for social security unless they've worked for ten years in the U.S. and are over 62.

    False.

  • oft||

    There are a few holes in Friedmann's argument. First, illegals aren't good workers because they are here illegally, violationg Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, which the framers would not stand for.

    Second, they are not good workers either. That no citizens will take those jobs that neocons like Bush threw out is a load of...

    Americans are doing those jobs in Idaho and Montana right now.

  • ||

    ...they are here illegally, violationg Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, which the framers would not stand for.

    The framers knew the difference between immigration and naturalization.

  • MWG||

    Damnit Mike, I should have refreshed before I posted.

  • MWG||

    Article I, section 8 of the Constitution refers to 'naturalization' which is not the same thing as immigration.

  • ||

    It's a nice catch-22.

    You can't naturalize until you've had a green card for five years. But we're not going to give you a green card.

    Most people who are illegal aliens CANNOT qualify for a green card because they (A) have no family in the US to sponsor them (B) Do not have a college degree, and so cannot get an employment sponsorship, and (C) aren't political refugees, so they can't get asylum.

    It's pretty much impossible to immigrate to the US unless you have immediate family who are US residents, a bachelor's degree and some prior experience, or a history of being tortured by your government.

  • Foogle||

    Right, and the US has absurdly low caps on cards from our southern neighbors.

    This, again, why I see the value of a guest worker program. Let these people come into the US. Require them to pay taxes with very limited access to social services. But that doesn't immediately grant them citizenship. Further we can limit how many dependents the country will support (through tax credits, school, etc).

  • ||

    I agree. A guest worker program, assuming that it lets in A LOT of workers would go a long way towards fixing many of the problem that are produced by illegal immigration.

    If the cap is set too low, you're still going to have people crossing the border though.

  • MWG||

    "It's pretty much impossible to immigrate to the US unless you have immediate family who are US residents, a bachelor's degree and some prior experience, or a history of being tortured by your government."

    Hence the black market along the southern border. It's absolutely no different than the days of alcohol prohibition or the current prohibition on drugs. The remedies are the same for all three.

  • Penguin Monkey||

    Although I am against prohibition/drug laws if you let people get away with breaking the law it erodes rule of law.

    Also can you be a "NAFTA refugee"? I heard from Chomsky and The US government's top 1% worked with Mexico's top 1% to force poor Mexican farmers to compete with tax subsidized American agriculture, while not allowing free trade in other areas. (some libertarians, Milton Friedman maybe, think free trade also includes free immigration)

  • Nike Dunk High Women||

    thanks

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