Let’s Not Beef Up The Border Patrol

Kevin Drum says he doesn’t have a problem with beefing up the border patrol because, hey, he’s not for unrestricted open borders and “the federal government should do its best to stop illegal immigration.”

I think that argument proves too much. I don’t think robbing banks should be made legal, but it doesn’t follow that I need to support boosting the FBI’s budget. It’s uncontroversial to say that the government should try to stop bank robberies, but that doesn’t mean the government should exert infinite effort toward this goal. Given the background level of crime in the United States, it seems to me that if we somehow reached a zero bank robberies equilibrium that would be evidence that we’re overinvesting in bank security relative to other things. What’s more, I certainly don’t think we should dedicate specific extra funds to the FBI’s efforts to stamp out illegal gambling. It’s true that, in principle, given that many forms of gambling violate federal law the laws out to be enforced. I think America’s anti-gambling laws ought to be liberalized, but probably not eliminated altogether. That said, I don’t think that lax enforcement of anti-gambling laws is a big social problem and I would not support diverting extra social resources to this goal.

Immigration, if you ask me, is quite similar. We ought to allow for higher, though not unlimited, levels of legal immigration than we do right now. That the border control laws are only imperfectly enforced makes them no different from the laws against heroin, murder, driving cars in bicycle lanes, or tax evasion. Under currently prevailing circumstances, dedicating more resources to catching economic migrants is a bad idea.