January 4, 2010

The Right Immigration

Justin Katz

As frequently as right-wingers have to insist that they aren't opposed to immigration, per se, we have to begin making a better effort to tie our views on the discrete issue to our broader understanding of culture and economics. Reuven Brenner puts it well:

The histories of Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and West Germany have much in common with that of Amsterdam. In each of these places, the state provided a relatively decent umbrella of law and order compared with what was offered by neighbors. This gave people a greater stake in what the business society was doing: attracting immigrants and entrepreneurs from around the world. In turn, the influence of these critical masses of talent radiated around the world and made people richer in distant places, too. Other places such as Malaysia and even Australia and Europe, as hard as their governments have tried with massive investment funds to create venture capital, have not been as successful. You need the vital few in a tolerant environment to properly deploy that capital. If a place does not attract them, governments create statistical venture capital but not real capital. It's the ability to attract and retain talent that sheds light on the above miracles.

A leftist spin on this observation might be that "a relatively decent umbrella of law and order" must include a safety net that protects residents from calamity and union-built gates that prevent backsliding. In order to gain those features, however, a society must turn its government into a thief. The immutable reality is that productive, innovative people who are also selfish will avoid regions that siphon their money away, and productive, innovative people who are not selfish do not need a government intermediary to ensure their charity.

Failing to craft immigration policies that favor the immigrant population that Brenner presents as high-value human capital strains safety nets while giving "the vital few" reason to fear that they will not be permitted to harvest the fruits of their hard work. Sensitivity about discrimination (neutrally intended) may have a salutary effect on self-image, but it really isn't healthy for anybody involved.


Brenner works his way through an interesting parenthetical note that's worth considering:

These policies no longer fit today's more mobile world. Until they are changed, however—and the sooner, the better—the least the United States can do is try, explicitly, to attract the vital few to its shores and, at the same time, speed up the domestic production of talent. (This is achievable by reducing the number of years youngsters spend in school.)

A disposition toward contrary conclusions makes this suggestion particularly attractive in an environment in which one is more likely to hear of a need for schooling to begin at a younger age, with longer days, and through more-advanced degrees. (Of course, one must pay attention to the parties making those declarations.) If we're looking to foster self-motivation and innovation, though, our society ought to provide exits for young generations to blaze their own paths.