What economists call “labor,” most of us just call “people.” Without people, there is no economy — no producers, no consumers, no supply, and no demand. This fact is so fundamental most economic textbooks simply skip right past it. Even second-graders know none can produce less than one, one less than two, and two less than three.
But for the anti-immigrant advocates in D.C., each new person makes us poorer. It is a philosophy so anti-human, so counter-common sense that bureaucrats are the only people who seriously have considered it and not rejected it. It is the anti-life premise of population control policy the world over: from China’s one-child policy to eugenics. Rather than seeing progress in the eyes of each new person, they see only death and destruction. These protectionist, anti-immigrant, population controllers see more “labor” — that is, more human beings — as a starting point for a race to the bottom for societies.
This Friday, Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) demonstrated exactly this contempt for the most basic fact of the market when he responded to a CEI press release that opposed a bill to reduce immigration. Mehlman scoffs at the notion that “without massive infusions of foreign STEM workers our most vital industries would wither and die.” We never argued such a thing — rather, we argued new foreign workers would expand (almost by definition) America’s industries, increasing Americans’ wealth.
If fewer workers means more prosperity, then wouldn’t no workers be the ultimate prosperity? When have we limited the workforce enough? The logical conclusion of Mehlman’s premise means no workers at all, and that really would make “our most vital industries wither and die.” But if that’s so, which I hope he would admit that it is, then doesn’t more workers mean “our most vital industries” would live and grow? Obviously!
FAIR’s founder, radical environmentalist John Tanton (pictured above), argued that eliminating population leads to progress, but “double the number of people,” he says, and “we’re back where we started.” Contrast this anti-people philosophy with that of the father of classical liberalism and limited government, John Locke. “People are the strength of any country or government,” Locke wrote. “I ask whether England, if half its people should be taken away, would not proportionably decay in its strength and riches? …That most can be made where are most hands needs no proof” (at least to everyone but D.C. anti-immigrant crusaders).
Mehlman sums up what he believes is my position by saying, “One of the most vocal ‘free market’ lobby groups, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), made it clear that their true agenda can be summarized in one word: More—more skilled workers, more unskilled workers, and more family-based immigration.” More workers!? More families!? More people!? Is this meant to sound scary? Yes, we do believe these are good for the economy, but only if the market, free from government interference, demands them. CEI doesn’t advocate for more immigrants — it advocates for more freedom, and the amount is up to people.
But FAIR doesn’t want to leave people, or the market, free to choose to immigrate or not. That FAIR doesn’t understand markets is reflected in Mehlman’s use of quotes around the phrase “free market,” as if free market economists don’t actually think more people are good. Just consult the 20th century’s Julian Simon who called people the “ultimate resource,” or the 19th century’s Frederic Bastiat, who denounced “international barriers [to] capital and labor,” or the 18th century’s Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, who condemned “obstructing the free circulation of labour from place to place” and said “the most decisive mark of the prosperity of any country is the increase of the number of its inhabitants.”
Perhaps Mehlman would object that there are many large countries that are poor, but what Smith and his free market successors argued was that trade created wealth. The more traders, the more wealth. More inhabitants in a country is a mark of prosperity, but other means of including more people into the country’s economy are just as good. Immigration and reproduction are two ways, but so are free trade across borders and open entry into industries by new businesses. Governments of poor countries stop these activities and prevent wealth from being created.
People mean little economically if they can’t interact freely. Smith understood free societies that allow this interaction are open societies and open societies are prosperous societies — a lesson FAIR has yet to learn.
(See also: why more people doesn’t mean lower wages)