Enthusiasm for the Right of Migration
One international right about which I am extremely enthusiastic is the right of migration. As Ilya Somin and I have written about in the paper I have previously referenced, one concern about international law, if it were actually enforced, is that it would make it harder for individuals to vote with their feet against bad laws, because international law creates a globally uniform rule. The flip side of this point is the recognition that the right to exit regimes at the national level is extremely valuable. It is valuable not only for the individual who exercises it but for his fellow citizens. Migration can put pressure on states to change their policies for the better. Of course, communist dictators recognized this fact: one reaction was to build the Berlin wall.
How can we make this right more effective? I would be very interested in readers’ suggestions. The right of emigration obviously becomes far more effective if there are places to immigrate. The international treaties on asylum are a good beginning and in my view nations often give these treaties only a crabbed and grudging interpretation. But many emigrate not to flee actual persecution, but simply economic hardship, usually brought on by bad government policies. Obviously, the easiest way to provide more opportunities for migration would be through more generous immigration policies, but politics, particularly the politics of welfare states whose citizens do not want to pay out benefits, create an obstacle.
One way is to encourage more guest worker programs. The European Union right to travel and work in any member state is an excellent example of this idea. But here too politics proves a barrier: citizens fear the loss of jobs to immigrants. Could this be overcome by a deal? Perhaps under the aegis of the WTO wealthy nations could let in a certain number of migrant workers in return for access to financial and other service sectors in poorer ones– access that would itself create jobs. Sadly, some nations with very bad policies might be loath to agree to such a deal, precisely because of the emigration pressure it might create.
One point seems clear. This is another reason to make economics and basic statistics courses a more important part of the education of every citizen. Immigration and guest worker programs certainly have costs, but they have lots of benefits as well. The difficulty is that individuals have a natural xenophobia that often makes these hard to see. This heuristic defect can be, in some measure and at the margin, dispelled by information.