Poor Foreigners Shouldn't Be Political Reformers at Home, They Should Come Here Instead


Credit: martnpro / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

George Mason University economics professor Bryan Caplan has written an article for EconLog titled "I'm Too Busy Fighting Tyranny to Feed My Family," which does a good job of highlighting the absurdity of opponents of increased immigration saying that foreigners in awful conditions should stay where they are and fix their home country rather than try to flee to a wealthy country like the U.S.

Caplan begins his article by describing John, an unemployed political activist who spends much of his time posting and sharing political news on social media and attending political events. John is so dedicated to political activism that his kids are "hungry and ragged."

Caplan then makes a moral point which I hope is obvious to most readers:

I think you'll agree that John is a terrible human being.  Why?  Because his priorities are demented.  Political activism is a luxury.  Before you engage in this luxury, you must satisfy your basic responsibilities to provide for yourself and your family.  

Caplan goes on to rightly point out that some opponents of increased immigration are asking those who live in regrettable situations to do exactly what John is doing:

Why bring this up?  When I point out that would-be immigrants are trying to save themselves and their families from hellish Third World conditions, my critics often respond, "They ought to stay home and try to fix their broken political systems!"  In other words, my critics are admonishing the global poor to heed the example of John the feckless activist.

Thus, suppose Jacques the desperate Haitian father has an opportunity to escape to Miami, where he can shine shoes and send money home to feed his kids.  Instead, he chooses to let his kids go hungry so he stays in Port-au-Prince and fights tyranny with political leaflets and soapbox speeches.  Noble?  No more than John.  The righteous man knows that meeting his family responsibilities is more important than playing Don Quixote.

The article finishes by pointing out that people in poor countries who try to escape to the developed world while trying to provide for their families are doing their home country far more of a service than most political junkies:

What should humble people born into Third World misery do?  Stay the course.  Do your best to provide for your family.  Keep trying to escape to the First World and get the best job you can.  Remember that activism is a luxury if you know what you're talking about - and a pestilence if you don't.  The people who follow this advice aren't just fulfilling their basic responsibilities.  They're doing far more to improve their homelands than the vast majority of political junkies ever will.

I'm glad that Caplan has highlighted the nonsense that is the "stay home and fix your own country" rhetoric sometimes heard among those who oppose increased immigration. Men, women, and children die every year trying to leave their homes. Some drown, others die of thirst and exposure, and some are tortured and killed by traffickers. It's immoral and ignorant to suggest that people who risk such dangerous outcomes while trying to improve their lives and the lives of their family members would be better off back in their home countries being political activists.

Watch Reason Foundation's Shikha Dalmia outline five reasons why low-skilled immigrants are good for the economy below: