There is a strand of liberalism or libertarianism that is skeptical of, and sometimes even hostile to immigration. This piece in The Australian by Gaurav Sodhi is a good example, which appears to be a follow up of a 2006 paper that raised some of the cultural and social objections to immigration that are typical of this view.
Sodhi doesn’t quite go so far as outright opposing the scheme – he conspicuously avoids passing judgement, except to raise a rather peculiar objection. Surely nobody has claimed that a tiny guest worker program could single handedly resolve Pacific development problems alone? The scheme will be wonderful for the guest workers, wonderful for their families who will benefit from their comparatively high salaries, wonderful for the farmers who need the labour, and pretty good for consumers who like to eat cheap fruit. The dire situation of some Pacific economies is not sufficient reason to oppose such an exciting opportunity for everybody involved. And the less said about the implication that the potential Pacific island workers are criminals, the better.
I admit to being very uncomfortable with those supposedly free market advocates who oppose immigration, for whatever reason. Too often the objections are so strained as to be suspicious. The idea that we should stop an individual from searching for work beyond the national borders of their birthplace simply because we believe that their culture is somehow incompatable with ours is a deeply illiberal position to hold. Our existing skilled migration scheme discriminates on the basis of education, and, by implication, wealth. That is, to my mind, already unconscionable; ‘liberals’ who propose further group discrimination on the basis of culture are even more worrying.
How does the free movement of people differ in any significant way from the free movement of goods or services? Surely we have enough faith in the strength of liberal democracy – and the persuasiveness of liberal civil society – to withstand potential ‘clashes’ of culture? The only concrete thing we ask of migrants is that they obey existing laws – and in this concern we already have an elaborate mechanism to monitor and assure compliance of all those on Australian shores regardless of their birthplace.
This is not merely apologetics. I suggest that not only is immigration practically beneficial, but we have a moral obligation to accept into our borders those who want to come. For individuals born in under-developed countries, simply crossing into the developed world can dramatically increase their potential salary, as well as allow them to experience the historically unprecedented living standards that we already enjoy.
The objections to expanded immigration seem nationalistic or economically illiterate at best, and immoral at worst.
Crossposted at chrisberg.org