This is a blog about politics, and politics on some level is about legislative proposals and whether they can pass and whether they help or hurt efforts to win elections and whether election outcomes help or hurt prospects for specific pieces of legislation. But on another level, politics is about ideas and sentiments and attachments and worldviews and so forth.
And to me, at least, when the topic comes to immigration I’m much more interested in that more abstract level of conversation than in narrow debates about forging a legislative compromise. The bottom line, for me, is that this is an issue fraught with misunderstandings. People wildly underestimate the extent to which immigration is a positive-sum interaction that leaves almost everyone better off. It’s true that as is typical in life some individual people are harmed by high levels of immigration, but those people are a distinct minority. It makes dramatically more sense to try to improve the living standards of native-born Americans through higher taxes to finance more and better public services than it does to try to improve the living standards of native-born Americans through trying to prevent people from moving to the United States to do work in exchange for money.
Accurately keeping track of which people are entering the country has some real value from a counterterrorism and smuggling point of view, but limiting non-criminals’ ability to come here as tourists or workers is a low- to negative-value proposition.
What’s more, though it’s inevitable that democratic politics will focus mostly on what Americans want and need from an individual perspective it makes more sense to take a more global outlook. Relative little of the most intense suffering in the world takes place in the United States or other developed countries. And one of the very most useful things developed countries can do to alleviate intense suffering is to allow people to come live in our countries and do work in exchange for money. Developed countries are nice places with democratic politics and liberal rights and economic opportunity. It’s good for people to experience these things and it’s good to expand the number of people who have the opportunity to experience them. The right to move where you want is one of the most important rights a person can be granted, and it’s a shame that so few people have that right.
Obviously, that’s all way off message and not where politics is going. But we’ll be talking about migration in 2020 and 2030 and 2040 and 2050 and beyond and it’s important to not just promote good bills, but sound, humane ways of thinking about the issue.