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.