Why "shouldn’t we look forward to a freer, more egalitarian world of tomorrow in which people are allowed to live where they want?" asks Matt Yglesias. If neoliberalism is about removing all barriers to market transactions then removing restrictions to migration should be top of the list.
According to Michael Clemens, restrictions on emigration from poor countries to rich countries is one of the greatest distortions to the global economy. Clemson suggests that the gains from the emigration of less that five per cent of the population of poor countries would exceed those from removing all policy barriers to the movement of goods and capital.
In a recent piece for the Drum, Jeff Sparrow wrote about the tensions between neoliberalism and conservatism. In rich countries, immigration is one of the major sources of tension. Conservatives worry that immigration will undermine social norms. Migrants will bring their own moral codes and will demand that the host country’s laws and institutions respect them. Conservatives fear that the difference between right and wrong will increasingly be seen as a matter of opinion. And without a strong moral framework to keep unruly passions in check, social order will break down.
There’s also resistance from the left. As a commenter on Yglesias’ blog put it: "This call for free immigration only serves to lower the standard of living developed countries, increased immigration only serves to depress wages, dilute union membership and strain the social safety net."
But even if that is true, the comment expresses a shocking disregard for the welfare of some of the world’s most disadvantaged people. According to Clemens, migration is one of the most effective ways of improving the welfare of people in the world’s poorest nations. On the issue of Hati he writes:
… migration and remittances have been responsible for almost all of the poverty reduction that has happened in the island country over the past few decades. They have done enormously more good than any policy intended to reduce poverty inside Haiti during that time. Any poverty-reduction strategy for Haiti going forward that does not include what has been Haitians’ most successful poverty-reduction strategy to date is not a serious one.
It’s not just the left who see a tension between freer migration and the welfare state. In 2004 Britain’s Telegraph declared: "the fundamentals of the immigration issue are straightforward. Milton Friedman, as is his habit, summed the whole problem up years ago, in just 10 words: ‘You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state’."
The Telegraph’s solution is to allow migrants to come, but deny them access to welfare benefits. But carried to its logical conclusion, that might lead to a kind of welfare feudalism where migrants end up paying for the generous welfare entitlements of existing inhabitants of the host country. And that’s a debate we had here at Troppo a few years ago.