Immigration

Thank Immigration for the New Covid-19 Vaccines

Both new vaccines were developed at firms established by immigrants or their children. It's a dramatic example of the enormous benefits of international freedom of movement.

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Perhaps the best news since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic is that two highly effective vaccines are about to become available: one developed by Pfizer in partnership with the German firm BioNTech and one by Moderna. Immigrants or children of immigrants played key roles in both. Their role in this vital technological breakthrough is an example of the enormous benefits of international freedom of movement.

Noubar Afeyan, co-founder of Moderna, emigrated with his parents from Lebanon to Canada, as a teenager. Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci, the husband and wife team that founded BioNTech, are children of Turkish immigrants who came to Germany as guest-workers—a group much derided by German anti-immigrant nationalists. It is perhaps worth adding that Moncef Slaoui, the scientist who heads the US federal government Operation Warp Speed vaccine development initiative, emigrated from Morocco to Belgium at the age of 17, and eventually came to the US.

Not only are all four of these people immigrants or children thereof; they or their parents also all came from Muslim-majority nations (though Afeyan comes from a family of Armenian Christians). Muslim immigration is, of course, a special target of the ire of both American and European immigration restrictionists.

It is unlikely that Afeyan, Sahin, Tureci, and Slaoui could have made such valuable contributions to Covid vaccine development if  they or (in the cases of Sahin and Tureci) their parents, had remained in their countries of origin. Lebanon, Turkey, and Morocco, simply don't have the the same educational and research opportunities for scientists are as are available in the US and Europe.

Native-born American and European scientists would likely have eventually developed effective Covid vaccines even without the help of immigrant researchers. But, in the meantime, many thousands of additional lives would have been lost, and untold economic and social damage would have been inflicted. In the United States alone, we have over 1000 Covid deaths every day.

Obviously, only a tiny minority of immigrants ever make the kinds of enormous contributions to society that the Covid vaccine developers have. But even a relatively small number of such cases demonstrate the benefits of free migration. If even 1 in 1 million immigrants end up making extraordinary innovations that would not have been possible otherwise, that's a tremendous boon to the entire world.

Ordinary immigrants also still make major contributions to economic and scientific development. In the US and many other countries, immigrants and their children are disproportionately represented among doctors and scientists. Without them, the pandemic would have been considerably worse. Immigrants are also disproportionately likely to found new businesses, and develop other types of innovations.

Perhaps we should let in migrants who seem likely to become doctors, scientists, or innovators, but keep out most others. This, however, assumes that government can do a good job allocating labor, and predicting which types of workers will make useful contributions and where. That assumption is unlikely to be true; if it were sound, the Soviet Union would have been a great economic success. Conservatives who (rightly) deride socialist economic central planning in other contexts should be equally suspicious of government planning of international labor flows.

Moreover,  immigrants who are not scientists, doctors, or outstanding entrepreneurs nonetheless make important contributions to economic development. Immigrants from poor nations routinely increase their productivity several-fold upon moving to wealthier and freer societies. That's a huge boon to receiving nations' economies, and indeed to the world as a whole. Economists estimate that eliminating legal barriers to migration throughout the world would roughly double world GDP, creating enormous new wealth. And wealthier societies generally have more innovation, better health care, and more capability to combat pandemics and other threats.

If extraordinary immigrant achievements like the development of Covid-19 vaccines are a point in favor of expanded migration rights, what of immigrants who cause extraordinary harm? In any large group of people, there are likely to be a few terrorists, serial killers, and the like.

Fortunately, the extreme "tail end" of positive immigrant contributions easily outweighs the negative tail end on the other side. The early development of the Covid-19 vaccine by itself is likely to save far more lives than have ever been taken by immigrant terrorists or serial killers in the US and Europe. When it comes to more ordinary crime, immigrants in many Western nations (including the US and Canada), actually have much lower crime rates than native-born citizens. I summarize the relevant data in Chapter 6 of my recent book Free to Move.

A more difficult to assess tail-end risk is the possibility that an immigrant might become a dangerous political leader who subverts the nation's institutions. Adolf Hitler, for example, emigrated to Germany from Austria. Perhaps the world would be a better place if the Germans had kept out the future Fuhrer of the Third Reich. And if tight general restrictions on migration from Austria were the only way to keep out potential dictators, then perhaps Germany should have adopted them.

But the better way to forestall would-be demagogic dictators is to establish strong institutional barriers to their rise. Such barriers are essential even in nations that have few or no immigrants. Indeed, many authoritarian movements are in fact nationalist parties that advocate the supposed interests of the dominant native-born ethnic group (which was also, of course, true of the Nazi Party led by Hitler).

In Free to Move, I also consider claims that immigrants with illiberal political views might pose a threat to free societies, in their role as voters, even if none of them actually become dangerous political leaders. Such problems are—in most cases—overblown; where they are a genuine threat they can be addressed by "keyhole" solutions less draconian than forcibly excluding migrants.

Extraordinary immigrant contributions to breakthroughs like the development of Covid-19 vaccines do not by themselves prove that we should have a presumption in favor of "open borders." But they do strengthen the case for breaking down barriers to international migration. The more we restrict migration, the greater the danger that the person whose research might have saved your life will instead be languishing in poverty and obscurity somewhere where they have no chance to fulfill their potential.

 

 

 

NEXT: New York's COVID-19 Microcluster Whac-A-Mole Game

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  1. No one is against “immigration”.

    People want it to be legal and above board, measured, with limits, and we want the policy structured for the benefit of Americans.

    Strawman defeated though. Kudos.

    1. Oh hogwash. Trump hates immigration, legal or illegal. A whole lot of xenophobic nativists, both Democrat and Republican, hate immigration, legal or illegal. Not a majority, but enough for politicians to latch on to as a campaign hook.

      1. Trump is a xenophobic. You can tell because he married a xeno twice. That’s what someone afraid of foreigners does, right?

        Dem talking points are transparently stupid and false, but they all keep repeating them.

        1. No, trump is xenophobic about what is good for America, as he sees it. Of course he’s going to make exceptions for himself! But the rest of us? It’s his business to tell us what’s good for us, and that means no immigrants. You may excuse it by saying he wants only legal immigrants, but he’d doing his damnedest to reduce the number of legal immigrants too. Maybe you haven’t noticed. You’re another TDS victim, where anything the Trump haters say must be false, therefore even when they speak the truth, you don’t believe them.

          People like you remind me of when the Nazis found the Katyn forest massacre, where the Soviets murdered 22,000 Polish officers and blamed it on the Nazis; the Nazis were actually telling the truth, but they had cried wolf so many times no one believed them.

          1. Who is this “Trump” person of which you speak?

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    2. You and Jimmy need to have a discussion, looks like.

      1. Nope. You guys need to stop falsely tearing down others to keep up vain pretense of virtue — even as Dems and open borders people advocate choices with little or no thought to the consequences for Americans.

        Immigrants are awesome and do a lot of good. Why does the left keep using them to undermine education and work opportunities for Americans? If US government education wasn’t so dehumanizing, for example, we’d see a lot more non-immigrants involved in this advanced research too.

        1. Jimmy is being an out and proud nativist, and you are blaming immigration on Democratic education and labor policy, somehow?

          You’re pretty tangled up.

          1. Ilya was pointing out how immigrants are in scientific research positions. If American government eduction wasn’t bad (and essentially a monopoly), more Americans would get the education needed for those positions and could join the immigrants. That’s not a complicated idea.

            What’s wrong with advocating for native-born Americans anyway? Native born Americans deserve respect and assistance of society at least as much as immigrants. Actually more, since their parents and ancestors built and paid for the infrastructure and culture that got us here and that we all benefit from.

            1. There are many metrics about what makes an education system good than how many STEM folks it churns out.

              Talent isn’t just education. A wider and more diverse talent pool to pick from means you’ll do better research.

              What’s wrong with advocating for native-born Americans anyway?
              What’s wrong with advocating for white Americans anyway?

              People are people. Exclusionary affiliations have a pretty poor history, whether they be race, religion, or national origin.

              You and Jimmy enjoy one another.

              1. Is advocating for white Americans better or worse that advocating against white Americans? If life improves for white Americans, do you consider that good or bad?

                1. As a white guy myself, I’m happy when anyone manages to improve by whatever metric you see fit. But if only whites are improving, that points to something pretty untoward going on.

                  But you know that’s not where white pride or nativism comes from. They come from negative tribal affiliation and zero-sum thinking; not about building up but about tearing down.
                  Look at Jimmy talk about immigrants and tell me it’s not about hate.

                  1. You said you’re happy when things improve for you. You talk around whether it’s good if life improves for white Americans.

                    Americans of all races can see Dem’s extreme reluctance to advocate for or advance any policy that might help any of us — except very specific grievance-based changes that help one racial group only at the expense of others.

                    Dems always have plenty of time and enthusiasm to attack us though.

                    1. I’m pretty sure I covered whites when I said anyone.

                      I do not share your white resentment. Where you see reluctance, I see a group that’s doing great amidst other groups that are not.

                      So now you’ve moved from ignoring nativism to white grievance?

                      Huh. That was easy.

                    2. I don’t see any groups at all. Individuals of all races are doing great, medium, or bad. You ignore (or celebrate?) the plight of individuals doing bad when those individuals are one of your non-preferred races.

                      You keep talking around any Americans getting any help for anything. But knives are always ready and you’re always looking for any opportunity to attack.

                      Who brought up race in this conversation? Hint: not me.

                    3. Except when you bother to glance at the forest, you see that your ‘everyone is an individual’ does not hold up at all in real life.

                      If you don’t look at both the forest and the trees, you’re not getting the whole picture.

                      Statically, there’s all sorts of race and class-based group correlatives going on.
                      And you can trace some causes back. No, it’s not all (or even mostly) due to intentional racism. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a group problem worth addressing.

                      You keep talking around any Americans getting any help for anything. But knives are always ready and you’re always looking for any opportunity to attack.

                      Whatever story you’re telling yourself, it seems like some bad medicine that’s preventing you from engaging.

                      I brought up race *by analogy* you’re the one that went down the ‘I’ll bet you hate white people’ road.
                      You’ve got some issues, dude.

                    4. Still nothing about anyone of any race getting any help with anything.

                      You don’t see anything wrong with reducing people to statistics, do you?

                    5. Still nothing about anyone of any race getting any help with anything.
                      Are you talking about affirmative action or closing the borders? Because I’ve talked about both.

                      You don’t see anything wrong with reducing people to statistics, do you?
                      “If you don’t look at both the forest and the trees, you’re not getting the whole picture.”

                      If you think looking at statistics is a dehumanizing anathema, you’re the one with a problem.

                    6. Treating people as individuals is the opposite of a problem.

                  2. Black Americans have been screwed over by mass immigration. Remember 40 acres and a mule? That was replaced by the Homestead Act. Land was given to immigrants instead of former slaves.

    3. Illegal immigration is immigration. Legal immigration is all immigration you allow. We can allow immigration from Muslim countries, immigration for asylum seekers, etc. Would all be legal if allowed. You don’t want it.

      1. A compromise immigration law that could pass a Democrat House and a Republican Senate, or any law that represents a compromise that would get broad bipartisan support would probably be fine.

      2. Illegal immigration is immigration. Legal immigration is all immigration you allow. We can allow immigration from Muslim countries, immigration for asylum seekers, etc. Would all be legal if allowed. You don’t want it.

        The dishonest of your argument is exceeded only by the rank stupidity of it.

  2. Hey look the exception proves the rule. Case closed!

    What a sham.

  3. I believe that immigrants could provide a welcome shot in the arm for many struggling communities — contributing entrepreneurism, ambition, optimism, education, drive, and skill where they would be particularly helpful, and that it is unfortunate that many of those communities are inhabited by the loudest opponents of immigration and immigrants.

    In this case, immigrants seem positioned to provide a welcome shot in the arm for everyone.

    1. If an unchecked flood of illegals is such a blessing why exactly aren’t their host countries or any other countries clamoring to take them? You’d think Whatthefuqistan would roll out the red carpet or lock in their refugees if they’d magically turn the place into a scifi Utopia like the progs claim. What the heck are these future rocket scientists and brain surgeons doing here with nowhere else to go?

      1. Immigrants who can not and do not make contributions to global prosperity in their home countries do such great things here. Why do have to come here to do them? Lucky for us, they bring their clever ideas about how to make this place tolerable. Like open borders, for example.

    2. Minneapolis is awesome these days with all those colorful immigrants. Same with Dearborn, MI and the countless other mid-West towns which were used for illegal immigrant dumping grounds in the last 10-20 years.

    3. Immigrants can be good for a nation, or bad for a nation, depending on which immigrants, and how many. People like Ilya pretend they’re an unalloyed good with no point of diminishing returns. That’s literally crazy.

      1. Why does a blog operated by movement conservative law professors attract so many stridently bigoted followers?

        I doubt the Conspirators devote much attention to that point, but I sense the hiring committees at mainstream law schools are aware of it.

        I am content.

        1. “attract so many stridently bigoted followers”

          I don’t know, why did it attract you? And, how can we get you to go away?

  4. George Washington owned slaves and he helped found one of the greatest nations in history. Therefore this proves slavery is a great thing and all our presidents should be slave owners from now on.

    Lol is this guy for real?

  5. Objections to immigration, legal or otherwise, have never been rational.

    1. Wow, impressive argument.

      1. Look at all of them and none can give a rationale based on facts.

        In theory it’s possible, but I’ve never seen one factually supported.

        1. Of course, like Ilya, any facts that do not support your position are not facts, ergo no rationale based on facts.

          Great logic.

          1. Prof. Somin has an ideology he’s relying on, but he has also brought stats in past posts.

            On the other hand, the other side has bromides about ‘rule of law,’ trumpeting a single notorious economist, and then rot like Jimmy demonizing Minneapolis.

  6. Same argument could be used, and more aptly so, for an end to abortion. How many brilliant minds have been prevented from making great discoveries because they are part of the 1.7billion abortions worldwide, and counting?

    1. By that logic we should not only force women to give birth but to have unprotected sex, get our birth numbers as high as possible. Someone driving in from Mexico to work a low wage job and rent a tiny apartment seems like less of an imposition, but it really isn’t. Here’s why: …

  7. “Perhaps we should let in migrants who who seem likely to become doctors, scientists, or innovators, but keep out most others. This, however, assumes that government can do a good job allocating labor, and predicting which types of workers will make useful contributions and where. That assumption is unlikely to be true; if it were sound, the Soviet Union would have been a great economic success.”

    Imagine actually believing that this was the reason the Soviet Union failed and not, you know, the communism.

    For anyone who is new here, Ilya Somin is a sort of public policy analogue to a Prince or a Steve Jobs; deluded with irrational beliefs but with no one willing or able to tell him so.

    1. If there is one thing the carefully cultivated audience of this White, male, movement conservative blog can’t abide, it is genuinely libertarian content.

      You deserve better colleagues, Prof. Somin.

      1. Really, does he? Does he deserve you as a colleague? Actually, maybe he does. Nah, I don’t hate Ilya that much, nobody deserves you as a colleague, that’s just torture.

    2. Imagine actually believing that this was the reason the Soviet Union failed and not, you know, the communism.

      Whoosh! You missed the point entirely: this sort of attempt to centrally plan labor markets is communism. Just as the government does not know how many (or what type of) widgets or loaves of bread or magazines are needed, it does not know how many members of the work force, or what type, are needed.

  8. I Fucking Love Immigration

    1. Change the word order and I can agree with you, from experience.

  9. So, scientists can’t do science in Lebanon, Turkeyor Morocco? Wonder why? What could possibly be holding those nations back from modernity???
    Plus, in order to allow immigration of scientists and other constructive people, we must allow unlimited immigration of criminals and unskilled laborers? Non sequitur, anyone?

    1. Infrastructure matters.

  10. A more difficult to assess tail-end risk is the possibility that an immigrant might become a dangerous political leader who subverts the nation’s institutions.

    How about the simpler method of just being a bunch of fanatical Commies from, say, Frankfurt, who move directly into the nation’s academic institutions and rot them from the core outwards. Don’t even have to bother seizing direct political power.

  11. Indeed, many authoritarian movements are in fact nationalist parties that advocate the supposed interests of the dominant native-born ethnic group

    And, indeed, many other authoritarian movements are in fact internationalist parties that advocate for the supposed interests of workers across the world, and are quite happy to exterminate anyone regardless of ethnicity.

  12. The plural of anecdote is not data. Prof. Somin’s cherry picked data don’t prove any more than Trump’s highlighting of immigrants who commit heinous crimes (of which there are certainly some). Somin and Trump are really peas in a pod when it comes to the quality of their argumentation.

  13. Were these 4 immigrants directly and solely responsible for this? Or, were they part of large teams of people who made it happen?

    Is it your position that butfor these 4 immigrants it’s not possible that there would be a vaccine in the same stage of progress, by say, another company, in another part of the world, like maybe AstraZeneca this morning? Oh, maybe they’re all immigrants too. Not like everyone everywhere isn’t an immigrant, but hey, don’t let that stop you.

    1. Amusing to hear the right go all ‘you didn’t build that!’

      I’ve been to a brown bag about these about this. There’s a pretty good argument that the BioNTech are a but-for cause on their lab’s mRNA advances.

      [mRNA has the benefit of being super fast to replicate compared to having to wait for a virus’ dividing time. Hence why they were so fast – you can get an antigen in thereputic concentrations much more quickly. AND it’s replicable for just about all viruses! Though you do have the storage issue.

      I haven’t heard much about the new AstraZeneca vacc other than it doesn’t have storage issues but is marginally less effective.]

  14. The US is robbing other nations of their best and brightest by preferentially attracting professionals. Those countries often have a greater need than the US for doctors and scientists, and we encourage them to flee to benefit and enrich our country. How can they be expected to develop solid medical, engineering, and research foundations if they are attracted away by richer countries.

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