Yesterday’s brief post raised an eyebrow over a congressional candidate who manages simultaneously to call himself a “free-market economist” and to support strict controls on immigration. Here are a few more words for those who don’t quite see the problem.
First, I can imagine two possible meanings for the adjective “free-market”. Either it means you place a high value on freedom as an end in itself or it means you believe that freedom is, in general, a highly effective means to other ends you care about, like prosperity or security. I happen to be a free marketeer in both senses, though I can easily imagine being a free marketeer in either sense alone.
I see my preference for freedom as an end in itself as being similar to my preference for well done meat — you either share that preference or you don’t, and if you don’t, we’ll just have to agree to disagree — there’s no right or wrong here. One exception: If your preferences strike me as inconsistent — if, that is, you seem to make a lot of choices that indicate a strong preference for freedom while denying that freedom is terribly important to you — then I’m apt to point to that inconsistency and suggest that you might want to think a little harder about what your true preferences really are. That was the thrust of what I once tried to do in a book called Fair Play, where I suggested that the choices we make as parents often reveal values contrary to those we express in the voting booth — and that by reflecting on those choices, we might become more thoughtful voters.
On the other hand, if you doubt that freedom is an effective means toward prosperity, then I’m pretty sure you’re just wrong, and that if you thought about it harder you’d change your mind. A lot of my other writing has tried to explain how to think about it harder, and to demonstrate that this is a subject where hard thinking can be fun.
Now I’m not sure in which sense our congressional candidate considers himself a free marketeer, but surely if you’re a free marketeer in either sense, you’ll tend to endorse statements like these:
- I, and not the government, should get to decide who will be a guest in my home.
- I, and not the government, should get to decide who I’ll hire to mow my lawn.
- I, and not the government, should get to decide who I’ll go running with this evening.
- I, and not the government, should get to decide whose businesses I’ll patronize, who I’ll serve as customers in my own business, and who I can sell my house to.
Strict controls on immigration are, of course, antithetical to all these propositions because their entire purpose is to exclude a large class of people from visiting my home, mowing my lawn, joining me for an evening run, selling me products, buying my products, and generally being, at my discretion, a part of my life.
Could a “free marketeer” nevertheless support strong immigration controls for some other reason that, in his view, trumps his preference for and/or faith in free markets? Sure, but it seems awfully unlikely. After all, those reasons are available to everyone. If millions of people who don’t think of themselves as free marketeers have weighed those reasons in the balance and come down in favor of welcoming more immigrants, then surely you’d expect the scales to tip even further when you throw in a strong preference for freedom.