Immigration As Freedom

I was watching an episode of the excellent BBC/Discovery Channel collaboration Human Planet the other day and it featured a bit on the Korowai people of southeastern Papua who were uncontacted until the 1970s and live in giant treehouses. It was pretty cool stuff. But it’s also obviously a very difficult, very strenuous, very limiting life. If someone wanted to leave that life and go take a crummy job in a rich country, I’d find that very understandable. You could watch television, for example, and have access to basic health care services. Similarly, while I don’t think the United States should take military action to halt the Syrian government’s violent repression, I’d also find it very understandable if a Syrian person were to say to himself “this is a crappy place to live, I’d rather be in America.”

But this kind of thing is generally illegal.

So I was glad to see Ryan Avent make the point that there’s more to the immigration debate than the economics:

And economics side, we should support free immigration to the greatest extent possible based on liberal principles alone. People should be free to move and choose their own destiny. Governments shouldn’t interfere with the right to immigrate any more than is necessary and certainly not to satisfy the nativist demands of unhappy citizens.


The freedom to move is a very important kind of freedom, and countries have ample reason to enhance it.