The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

An Odd Reaction to Brexit

"It's just sad to think of the families that will never be because of all this."

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

From a Politico article:

For others, there's a personal toll and private lament. As I played on the floor with the toddler of my Brussels hosts on Monday, his British mother — who met his Dutch father while working in Brussels — told me: "These kids would not exist without the European Union. We owe our family to Britain's membership of the EU. It's just sad to think of the families that will never be because of all this."

Now I appreciate that the British woman and the Dutch man are presumably happy together, and credit free movement of workers for their happiness with each other. But if the mother couldn't live in Brussels and stayed in London, I expect she likely wouldn't have remained childless; presumably she would have met some other man and had a child with him, thus owing that family to Britain's nonmembership of the EU. Should we think sadly about that family, which will never be because Britain was in the EU and the woman went to Brussels instead? Should we think happily of the British-British families that will now exist after Brexit instead of the British-Dutch ones?

I think there's a lot to be said for free movement of workers. It may give people access to jobs that could be markedly better for them (given their skills and interests) than they had at home. It may give businesses access to employees who are markedly better than local employees (because there may not be enough employees with the right skills and salary levels locally). And there are things to be said against this as well.

But I very much doubt that free movement of workers, at least among free and prosperous Western European countries, materially affects the quality of family formation. (I suppose that some people might have fairly specific tastes in spouses that are hard to satisfy at home; but that's a relatively rare circumstance, I think, especially when it comes to Britain, Belgium, and the Netherlands; and there's no reason to think the woman in the Politico story has such preferences.) Perhaps by moving to Brussels you'll meet a spouse who's better than you would have found at home, but perhaps you'll instead miss the chance of meeting a spouse who's better than the one in Brussels.

Likewise, I love my wife and my boys, but I expect that if an alternative me had to stay in Kiev, he too would have married and had children, and would be as likely to love his wife and children as I do mine; there's no reason to feel sad about unborn children in such a context. Life in America is generally happier for immigrants, I think, than in Ukraine, and immigration from the Ukraine to America has been good—but for other reasons.