September 10, 2008

Let Their People Come Review Part 1 - The Morality of Immigration

Photo from Flickr - celikins

I just finished Lant Pritchett's fantastic Let Their People Come, and I feel compelled to put down a few of the thoughts that I had. I hope this will kick-start my writing on this blog, but that remains to be seen.

I wrote about immigration once before, and reading Mr. Pritchett's book reinforced some of my ideas, and gave me some new ideas.

One of the most powerful arguments, in my mind, is his argument that we treat nationality as a morally legitimate basis for discrimination. He compares labor mobility restrictions to apartheid - "The analogy between apartheid and restrictions on labor mobility is almost exact. People are not allowed to live and work where they please. Rather, some are only allowed to live in places where earning opportunities are scarce . . . The restrictions about who can work where are based on conditions of birth, not on any notion of individual effort or merit"(79).

This is one facet of what I call the "There but for the grace of God" argument, and I think that it is spot on. Any attitude or policy that treats people differently because of the "conditions of birth" is inherently wrong, and the location of birth is no different than race, gender, or ethnicity. He argues that we have as strong a moral obligation to the "Outer Mongolian" as we do to our own countrymen.

While there are serious policy difficulties in determining how to achieve a society without "nation prejudice", Pritchett reminds us that this should be our goal, and we should couch our policy decisions in that framework.