Save Immigrants From Envy: Lock Them Out!


Gawker mocks The Atlantic for holding a party in which regular schlubs were segregated from brilliant and stimulating guests like Arianna Huffington. Mickey Kaus sees a public policy lesson:

You can imagine the party planners' thought process: We want to have this exclusive witty cocktail party–but we also want to do something for everyone else. Hey, we'll let them come and watch! That's better than nothing, right? Wrong! Stark, in-your-face snobbish social inegalitarianism makes everyone unhappy–the favored few no less than the masses. At least in this country. At least Atlantic types. …

Most obvious public policy application of the Atlantic Party Parable: Guest-workers! Many U.S. employers, generally allied with Republicans, want to import unskilled workers and then ship them away after a few years. Atlantic moral: Everyone invited to the party gets to party. For legal guest workers, there should be a path to citizenship…

I'm not sure that the experience of being a guest worker from a developing country is terribly akin to the experience of being at a cocktail party without access to Moby, but no matter. The relevant alternative to the tiered party system, as Kaus recognizes, is a party where non-celebrities are not invited. The only relevant, politically feasible alternative to a guest worker program is to keep the supply of visas for low-skill workers as limited as it currently is.

Kaus seems to feel that the second-tier guests would have been better off not being invited, and guest workers would be better off if not given the chance to immigrate on limited terms. Perhaps he is right. So here is a wacky idea: Let the people involved, rather than bloggers, express their preferences. Did the guests stay at the party even though they had to admire the likes of Mike Bloomberg from afar? Do hundreds of thousands of people prefer being guest workers in Singapore to staying in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and India? It would appear that some people are willing to endure some amount of legal and social inegalitarianism for improvements in absolute wellbeing. Indeed, it would appear that some people are willing to endure social inegalitarianism for access to an open bar. This is not a promising line of argument for people who think being a second-class citizen in the United States is just obviously worse than being a first-class citizen in Chad.