International Ghettos

I’ve been enjoying Tim Lee’s post on international apartheid and mostly pro-apartheid and weak responses and am happy to see that the Free Exchange post cited by Lee calls ending international apartheid “perhaps the biggest and most controversial idea in development circles.”

The most interesting, anti-apartheid, and strong response came from Kerry Howley in Reason, throwing throwing cold water on the idea that the option to leave is bad for poor areas:

Health care workers who immigrate to the United States may never have acquired those skills were immigration not an option.

Exactly. As I’m fond of saying, brain drain means increased returns to education.

Howley’s post makes another nice analogy:

Applied domestically, the alternate policy would be rather like forcing people to stay in undeveloped inner city ghettos. It would mean telling the children of poor parents that they could never leave the economically backward neighborhood they happened to be born in, even if that neighborhood offered no education or employment opportunities. It would entail prohibiting suburbanites from inviting inner city residents onto their property to perform an economic service.

However, my favorite recent post on this subject falls outside the above conversation — Nathan Smith on The Hawley-Smoot Border Policy:

One factor in the downturn has been little noted: immigration. The Feds have, alas, been getting nasty lately, sending out letters to employers warning them about “no match” Social Security numbers. That started in August. Lower immigration expectations naturally reduce house prices, since part of the price of a house comes from capitalized expectations of its future value, which is a function of demand, which is a function of, among other things, immigration. Rising house prices have done much to sustain the boom in recent years, as people’s rising net worth has spurred them to spend. Current house prices probably reflect the market pricing in immigration expectations. In that sense it could be justified; but an immigration crackdown could turn it into a bubble and deflate it. Falling net worth could create more credit crises, and would surely reduce spending.

Now, there’s a certain justice in people who agitated for deportation seeing their home prices collapse, or — still better — for getting evicted. What they have desired to do to others has been done to them. But here’s the problem: lots of people who are innocent of animosity against immigrants are being punished too. That’s the problem with big government programs: we’re all in the same boat, and wise dissenters have to pay for the stupidity and wickedness of others.

The general economic disruption caused by apartheid enforcement goes well beyond housing, even ignoring (as usual) the direct and tragic loss of utility suffered by enforcement targets.

2 Responses

  1. Lucas says:

    One of the few checks and balances in the ancient Hawaiian politics was the right to migrate from one ruler’s territory to another. If a king was too oppressive the laborers would go elsewhere.

    A similar policy for nations would provide a floor for government treatment of the people.

  2. gurdonark says:

    My own views on these issues continue to form, so that I do not want to burden your weblog with ideas that do not neatly fit into “pro” or “anti” arguments. My views do not match yours, but it’s an interesting topic.

    Yet so often the issue beyond the debated point interests me. I am always drawn to the same issue to which I am drawn by, on a much smaller scale, arising from public school issues. Whether one adopts an open borders policy, or one has strict immigration laws, then one will inevitably face the problem that one faces in all sectors of life that feature unequal gifts and unequal resources. In colloquial terms, what about the child who is left behind in a second-rate school? The same metaphor applies to those left behind in impoverished countries.

    No matter whether one expands the right to move beyond borders or whether one seeks to adopt a nationalistic view of immigration, one is left with people “left behind”. The virtue of a more open immigration policy is that the bar is no longer limited to desired skills among the immigrants.
    Yet the nature of the competition among people is such that an underclass will remain on site in third world countries or third world sectors of developed countries. The talk about “who may travel” seems to me to be of deep interest. Yet I am more interested in how to resolve the problems at each “at home”.

    Take East St. Louis. Its residents do not have an immigration bar to travel to other parts of the country. They can elect officials, and they live in an area surrounded by a vibrant economy which can generate jobs for people who migrate to nearby cities. Their issue us not “immigration” as they are citizens. Yet for a variety of historical, economic, political and cultural reasons, all tinged with inequities of the past and present, many folks are just “left behind” there. Many of the “best and brightest” “immigrate” to other cities, unfettered by the need for a US passport. But thousands live in sub-ideal conditions.

    I’m interested in whether we should have more open or less open immigration laws. I dislike the jingo-istic anti-immigrant mood that some of my fellow Americans take. On the other hand, I am not sure if we are ready for a “purely open” border.

    But my heart still goes out to those trapped in countries or even American cities where inequality and cultural apartheid are the norm, and stay that way for the folks who “stay behind”.

    I know that your suggested remedy might be one way out for those who can effectively leave. But I keep casting back to those who stay, in whatever places poverty lands them.

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