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.