British Free Marketeers Should Welcome Romanian and Bulgarian Immigrants

Some self-described supporters of the free market in the U.K. wrongly oppose the free movement of people


Credit: dannyman/wikimedia

Yesterday, the remaining transitional controls on the free movement of Romanians and Bulgarians within the European Union were lifted. Romanians and Bulgarians are now free to work anywhere within the economic bloc thanks to one of its only good policies.

Unsurprisingly, in the runup to January 1, 2014, British tabloids issued warnings relating to the lifting of transitional controls on Romanians and Bulgarians. One article from The Daily Mail warned that almost all flights and buses from Romania and Bulgaria to the U.K. were booked. BuzzFeed later showed that the claims made in the Mail article were not true. There was at least one exception to the plethora of doom-and-gloom media treatment relating to Romanian and Bulgarian migration in the U.K.: The Economist published an open letter to Romanians and Bulgarians inviting them to the U.K.

Some politicians joined the tabloids in expressing their concern about the imminent arrival of more Bulgarians and Romanians. As January 1 came closer, British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has faced pressure from some of his colleagues to address European migration, argued that the E.U. should reform its free movement policy, and in an op-ed for The Financial Times said that he shared many people's concerns about Romanian and Bulgarian migrants, adding that the free movement of people cannot be a "completely unqualified" principle of the E.U. British Home Secretary Theresa May argued that the U.K. should limit the number of E.U. citizens who can work in the U.K., a move that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat, said would be illegal. Members of Parliament sitting on the all-party parliamentary group on Gypsies, Travellers, and Roma warned that some politicians are worsening community relations with anti-Roma rhetoric.

The political rhetoric in the U.K. surrounding Bulgarian and Romanian migration has highlighted the fact that politicians from political parties whose members claim to be either pro-markets, anti-E.U., or both would implement anti-capitalist policies hostile to the free movement of people if they were given free rein.

Both Cameron and May are members of the Conservative Party, and have spoken out in favor of capitalism.

In a speech in May this year May reaffirmed the Conservative Party's commitment to capitalism, saying, "We believe in free markets because history has proven them to be the best means by which we spread opportunity to all, regardless of who you are and where you're from."

During a speech in January 2012, Cameron said, "I believe that open markets and free enterprise are the best imaginable force for improving human wealth and happiness," and in a speech in October of this year at the Conservative Party conference Cameron said that the Conservatives will "leave the 1970s-style socialism to others."

Yet, on the Conservative Party's website, keeping immigration down is presented as an achievement, alongside tax cuts and a reduction in crime.

Members of the British Eurosceptic party UKIP have also made their concerns about the impending influx of Bulgarians and Romanians known. In his speech at the UKIP conference this year, the leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, warned of the effect the welfare tourism and potential crime wave that could result after Romanians and Bulgarians are permitted free movement across the E.U.

Interestingly, Farage has argued that the U.K. should take in Syrian refugees (as long as they're Christian).

UKIP's anti-immigration rhetoric is is particularly bizarre given that the party's constitution describes UKIP as "libertarian."

It is frustrating to see self-described supporters of the free market being so hostile to increased immigration. Free market advocates realize that having fewer restrictions on the global movement of goods is better than imposing more restrictions. Why should the movement of labor be treated any differently?

Perhaps more frustrating than the inconsistency displayed by politicians who claim to be supporters of free markets while arguing against the free movement of people is how misguided the objections to immigration in the U.K. are. Despite what is often said in the U.K., the country is not crowded, immigrants to the U.K. drive down housing prices, and the more recent immigrants are net contributors to public finances.

There are, of course, Americans parallels to the inconsistency displayed by conservative politicians in the U.K. Many American conservatives claim to support free markets, but while they might be totally fine with someone moving from New York to Phoenix, that opinion often changes when it is someone moving from Tijuana to Phoenix, which is a shame considering that migrants who settle in high-income economies (such as the U.S.) are more likely than the local population to exhibit characteristics necessary for entrepreneurship.

It is worth remembering that the level of bureaucracy and legislation relating to migration in Europe is recent. In the U.K., up until 1794, all passports were issued and signed by the monarch, and for most of their history more closely resembled letters of introduction than the documents we use today. It was not until the early in the last century that passports as we know them began to be used.

In the second half of the 19th Century, the expansion of railways throughout Europe made checking passports effectively difficult, and by 1914 "practically everywhere in Europe" had abolished visas and passports as a result. Compared to most of human history, today's restrictions on people's movement are incredibly strict and immobilizing.

The E.U.'s free movement policy is great for Europe and should be supported by people who call themselves capitalists. It's a shame that the E.U.'s free movement policy is not implemented globally. In 2011, Michael Clemens of the Center For Global Development estimated that global GDP could increase by at least 67 percent and by as much as 147.3 percent if every country removed migration controls. What's not to like?

In the coming months and years there will no doubt be coverage of the minority of the Romanian and Bulgarian migrants who do commit crimes and engage in welfare fraud in the U.K., and some politicians who claim to support capitalism will rail against the U.K.'s latest intake of immigrants. Amid all of the inevitable anti-immigration political rhetoric and scaremongering reporting, it is worth remembering that it is not possible to make a consistent argument against immigration while calling yourself a capitalist or a libertarian, and that the free movement of people is not only economically beneficial, but it was the norm for most of human history.

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  1. Milton Friedman said it best (paraphrasing): Free and open labor markets and social welfare states are oxymoronic. Pick one because you cannot have both.

    1. Why do you hate brown people?

  2. “Romanians and Bulgarians” is a terrific PCism and Britishism, a real superstar of silly phrases.

  3. They’re right to fear a Romanian invasion — one of the smartest, most enterprising, and most productive people I know, is from Bucharest.

    1. I’m about 1/4 Romanian, but my family invaded the U.S. (by way of Canada, shamefully) over 100 years ago.

  4. Except that such immigrants are seeking welfare, not work. It seems libertarians just can’t see reality. And this does not include the fact that most of the immigrants will be Gypsies who don’t work, except at crime, especially property crime. Has libertarianism been reduced to supporting property theft and thieves? Of course, this is a logical extension of the libertarian obession with drugs. Next thing will be libertarians supporting free marijuana for the poor, because it stimulates marijuana production.

    1. Your argument exposes a misunderstanding of libertarianism…. Which I fear is promulgated by folks who really don’t understand it and yet find themselves in position to speak on it, such as Mr. Feeney in this case.

      See my earlier comment.

  5. This is the sort of sophomoric analysis that makes me despair of Reason, sometimes.

    The problem is that you can’t have open borders AND a big welfare state. If you open borders in pursuit of ‘free markets’, then you also have to abolish the welfare state in pursuit of ‘free markets’. Failing that, any talk of ‘free markets’ is asinine.

    And yes, I saw that Mr. Feeney weakly attempted to head-off this argument with his claim that “the more recent immigrants are net contributors to public finances….” Interesting to hear a “libertarian” imply that free movement of foreigners into a non-libertarian state is OK because those foreigners are net contributors to “public finances.”

    OTOH, if the open borders policy results in the failure of the welfare state, then maybe Mr. Feeney is right, and it is actually a good thing! But that’s not the argument he makes. From reading the article, what I get from his comments is: “open borders = magic button to make things awesome! Keep fact of massive welfare state behind magic curtain, please.”

  6. Unfortunately Matthew you leave out some important facts.
    Many Romanians and Bulgarians will come to the UK to work menial jobs, taxing the welfare state further without significant enough contribution. They will not as a result contribute to market growth.

    Rapid immigration, as will happen here and as can be seen in Southern California will destabilize the culture and replace it with the incoming one. The problem with that- which you completely fail to mention – is that Romanians and Bulgarians (like Mexicans) are leaving a failed system but will ultimately plan on implementing the same one in time in the UK; as has happened with other immigrant groups there, and as has happened in Southern California.

    So if you call yourself just a capitalist or libertarian you might have a point. But if you are a conservative and/or Christian then their are other things to weigh that you ignored. This is typical of establishment Republicans, its all about the money.

    UKIP calls itself libertarian to distinguish itself from the Tories. In fact, they are the truer conservatives given that the Conservative Party no longer is conservative.

    1. Many Romanians and Bulgarians will come to the UK to work menial jobs, taxing the welfare state further without significant enough contribution.

      This implies that people working menial jobs are getting “welfare state” benefits: is that in fact the case?

      Furthermore: if locals do those menial jobs, aren’t they “taxing the welfare state further without significant enough contribution” just the same as Romanians and Bulgarians?

      1. If the locals do the menial jobs, at least its status quo as far as the welfare state goes. Absorbing millions of new immigrants to do those jobs is just adding more mouths to feed on the government dole, with no uptick in economic production to support them.

        1. It depends.

          Let’s say that the UK workforce consists, without new immigrants, W+X+Y+Z locals, where:

          W: the number of locals who are net payers into the welfare state, i.e. they pay in more than they consume
          X: the number of locals who are neutral payers, i.e. they pay as much as they consume in various welfare
          Y: the number of locals who do menial jobs and net receivers, i.e. they consume more welfare than they pay in
          Z: the number of locals who do not work, just consume welfare

          Now let’s replace all Y with immigrants. The question is: what happens with the Y number of local people? If they grow the Z category locals, it is indeed a net loss to the welfare state; but if they get into the X category, then that’s neutral for the welfare state and if they get into the W category then that’s a gain for the welfare state.

          Of course this assumes that the Y category is as described, i.e. although does the menial jobs, its members are net welfare consumers.

    2. Give me a fucking break. 40% of California’s population is Hispanic. It’s 50% in LA. A couple of hundred thousand of Bulgarians and Romanians will not destabilize the culture in a country of 60-odd million.

      When the first wave of former communist states joined the EU, only the UK, Ireland and Sweden opened their labor markets right away. So that’s where the Poles went. This time around, the UK was among the last to do so. Those Romanians and Bulgarians who wanted to emigrate already have, to places like Spain, Italy and Greece.

  7. And this is how leftists play libertarians like a cheap fiddle. They do it on drug legalization, and they do it on the immigration issue just as well.

    When is everyone going to wake up and realize that priority one needs to be DISMANTLING THE WELFARE STATE before any of our other noble libertarian goals will make any kind of sense whatsoever. You cannot dump millions of unskilled new immigrants into an extensive welfare state and expect assimilation and economic productivity. You cannot legalize hard drugs in the middle of an extensive welfare state and not expect an entirely new class of government dependents.

    We cannot and should not give an inch on ANY social policy until the primary and overreaching issue of the size of the welfare state is addressed realistically and seriously. Otherwise we’re only going to take one step forward and five steps back.

    1. What did that old coot Friedman know, anyway?

  8. If you follow the link given in the article, you learn that the way that immigrants help keep a lid on housing prices is by making the areas where they live less desirable, i.e., the “there goes the neighborhood” effect. People who don’t like immigrants won’t pay a premium to live there, and a small percentage of established residents move (usually those with the better incomes). Citing this study does not seem like an especially wise or effective way to argue for open borders — certainly not when your audience includes property owners!

    1. People who don’t like immigrants won’t pay a premium to live there, and a small percentage of established residents move (usually those with the better incomes).

      Which means that those locals who want relatively cheap housing are able to find it in those areas where the influx of immigrants kept a lid on housing prices.

  9. I’ve made quite a few friends from Bulgaria and Romania, and, suffice to say, I wish we’d seriously reform our own visa rules.

  10. Matt Feeney is wrong on a few issues, the free movement of labor and in this case Romanians and Bulgarians should also mean free movement of capital and no minimum wage / wage controls that apply to now each citizen in the EU(SSR). UKIP in sofar is libertarian as much as Reason is libertarian while still accepting too much government and believe in the possibility to shrink the size and scope of the US government is too optimistic. Expect more a Sovjet Style Collapse in the US and elsewhere (EUSSR) included. PS if Matt Feeney and the rest of the Reason staffers still think the EU is repairable think again, it is not. I am Dutch citizen and I just cannot wait for the EUSSR to dissolve within the next 12 months but in a peaceful way not the way to a full blown surveillance state.

  11. Many of the new arrivals in the UK are getting on benefits within weeks of arriving. Others are undercutting wages of British citizens. Libertarians live in this theoretical fairy land where everything just comes up roses if we just let people do whatever they want.

    Social disintegration is going to be the result of too much immigration. There are no magic beans here. Adding people does not necessarily create enough growth for all to thrive. The free market is an integral part of society but there are also cultural issues to deal with.

    These idiots at Reason sit over here and claim to know what is best for Britain. That sort of conceit is no better than the socialist central planners. Read the studies on the effects of un-assimilated people from diverse cultures being thrown together. A climate of distrust and and dissatisfaction is a powder keg, not a recipe for growth and prosperity.

    1. I guess you are referring to the essays of Enoch Powell aren’t you. I agree to that extend that Reason is too rosy about the ability to process large groups of immigrants. The UK ain’t the US and you can even say that even that has not workout the way it should have due to the culture wars of the left in the late sixties and early seventies. Undercutting wages is a problem as long as labor in general and the economy is not set free of taxes on labor.

      1. The UK is already experiencing problems between the native born and immigrants. There are Islamic no-go zones and attempts to enforce Sharia law. There is huge resentment among Brits their jobs are being lost to immigrants and those that are benefits. Read the UK press if you don’t believe me. The amazing benefits of open borders are not panning out. I have no problem favoring the citizens over newly arrived foreign nationals who have little allegiance to their new homeland.

    2. Everyone deserves freedom of movement. You’re just making excuses for state infringement.

      1. I disagree Jon, I do not want to restrict anyones movement except for those in political power. However the movement from capital and labor is restricted to go from Britain and say The Netherlands to lower tax competing EU members like Poland and yes Malta or Cyprus.

        You are I am afraid looking at this from a too rosy scenario. Mass migration from any culture to another which is happening causes real problems. Matt and You are just out of touch because you don’t (seem) to live here in the EUSSR

      2. does freedom of movement prevent ownership of land?

        Can 300 million ppl have a social contract over jointly-owned land?

        Does freedom of movement entitle persons to violate others property rights?

        Basic questions that reveal inconsistency between your immigration ideal and contract/ownership.

        Open borders is not an ideal of the non-aggression principle. Its a communist concept that declares resources to be un-ownable.

      3. So the nation state is dead? Wrong.

      4. So if 10 million people from [insert 3rd world country here] can get here somehow, we should just let them in? You are talking nonsense.

  12. Context

    Sociologically, culture is context. Behavior is a function of its consequences. Massive immigration has consequences other than economic; also political and social. Changing a culture will change the behavior of its citizenry … for better or worse.

    A nation-state, by definition, has the sovereignty to determine its own culture, military invasion notwithstanding. Perhaps, the Brits would like to remain Brits although, at the moment, it seems a battle that they are losing (

  13. Open Borders is the VERY LAST ideal to espouse (chronologically) as a libertarian.

    Sure, it can be part of our ideals, but we have about 8 gajillion things to do before they are feasible.

    Idealists kill our ideology to the average person. Be realistic, utopia does not happen all at once, and pretending others are unpure libertarians because they understand you can’t count your chickens before they hatch is asinine.

  14. Recognizing persons beyond your political jurisdiction means you have no say in their upbringing, socialization, law, etc. Politically distinct entities cannot have a zero barrier without importing conditions that are external and beyond control.

    Treating those outside your sphere like those inside your sphere isnt fair to those of the original pact.

    This is why annexation is better. Then you have direct political control over conditions of those who desire citizenship. What we have now is equivalent to letting mexico politically govern texas, but forcing US govt to deal with the fallout.

    its responsibility without control/determinism. this is disorder. if we have social responsibility for immigrants, then we have political control over their countries of origin in direct proportion to that social responsibility. its that simple. control produces responsibility, not the other way around.

    the morality of open borders is only as strong as the match between politics and selfinterests. its not an objective good, which is the general premise constantly promoted here.

    1. There is a social contract of 300 million with joint ownership of land. If ownership of land exists/can exist, then illegal immigration is immoral. its the most basic violation of property ownership. the fact that the land has multiple owners doesnt bear on subject whatsoever.

      open borders is a communist train-of-thought; let all the piglets in the world suck on the sow’s teat, nevermind their real mother. apparently its a global resource belonging to the collective. subgroups cant contract and exclude others from said contract. everyone is a party in every contract.

      1. open borders is a communist train-of-thought

        Yeah, that’s why there was an Iron Curtain — and internal border controls in the Soviet Union.

  15. It is rare for Reason to write articles on issues that would antagonize most of its Conservative readers. In this analysis, Reason magazine is very consistent with the core philosophy of Libertarianism, which calls for Free Movement of All People.

    Most comments oppose Free Movement of People because of the Welfare State or because they want to protect the Nation State. Conservatives, rarely talk of Welfare States in terms of subsidies to the Agricultural/Defence/Auto industries. Priority should be to dismantle the Government Military Industry Complex that bleeds resources away from all citizens.

    The argument that a Nation State cannot allow immigration because the Nation’s cultural, social and religious order would be disturbed is anathema to Libertarianism because Libertarianism does not care about the Nation State. It wants to minimize or eliminate any State as much as possible.

    1. Which is why Libertarianism is a fairy tail based on a complete misunderstanding of history and human nature. You people don’t seem to have noticed that most of the new arrivals to these shores will vote in ways that are completely against your principles. Your own policies would bring about your destruction.

      1. Talking to a hardcore true-believer libertarian can be almost as frustrating as talking to a hardcore true-believer communist. They both have wildly unrealistic views on human nature and how the world actually works.

        Now, I obviously think that libertarians have far more to contribute to civilization than communists, and while occasionally naive, there is nothing evil about libertarianism, while communism is truly evil at its core.

    2. Interesting. Would then the founding fathers qualify as Libertarians in your view under this rubric?

  16. As for me this is very difficult and serious question. The government has allowed many immigrants to come to the country, while a lot of local people have no appropriate job. There are some problems in the labor market, and they will just grow due to the low paid workers who have just arrived. For the time being local people really tend to use some services that provide instant paperless online loan payday and such occasions will just become widespread.

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