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How Much Immigration Is Too Much Immigration?

The United States has laws in place to limit the number of immigrants granted entry. How many immigrants should be allowed to call America home? Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, argues that the United States should have open borders. Jan Ting, professor of law at Temple University, argues that there need to be limits on the number of immigrants.

In this clip from the debate, Prof. Ting argues that the risks of trying an open border policy are too great. He points out that the U.S. population is estimated to grow at a fast rate in the next 50 years and through the end of the century if we do nothing. He is concerned that allowing free immigration will overwhelm U.S. infrastructure and cause too much environmental damage.

Prof. Caplan responds by arguing that the market will ration immigration just as it rations anything else. Indeed, the idea of immigration without quotas is overwhelming if we do not consider how market forces will play a role. He argues that we can have open borders without fear because of the power of the market.

1) Shikha Dalmia: 5 Reasons Why Low Skilled Immigrants Are Good For the Economy (video): ReasonTV goes over some basic economics in this impressive video


2) Immigration Reform -- The Time for Free Trade (article): Independent Institute fellow Benjamin Powell explains the similarities between free movement of people and free movement of goods, and why supporters of one should support the other


3) A Libertarian Argument Against Opening Borders (essay): John Hospers, a prominent libertarian activist in the 1970s, makes the case for limiting immigration from a pro-liberty perspective


4) A Simple Libertarian Argument Against Unrestricted Immigration and Open Borders (article): Stephan Kinsella explains why this view is not as contradictory as it is often portrayed


How Much Immigration Is Too Much Immigration?

JAN TING: And I think the elite in the United States fully understands that we’re a nation of immigrants, and wants an immigration policy that’s consistent with our history, and our tradition of being a nation of immigrants, and that’s why we have the most generous immigration policy in the world. Again, we admit more legal immigrants with a clear path to full citizenship than all the rest of the nations of the world combined. And we do that every year.

That is an appropriate immigration policy for our nation of immigrants. But can we set any limit at all? That is the question, and that’s a fundamental question. And I thank the organizers of this debate for putting that question before us, because that is the question that so many politicians deny. Are we going to enforce any limitation at all? And I admit it’s hard.

We’re going to turn away people that look a lot like our ancestors. And we’re going to turn them away not because they’re bad people. We’re going to turn them away because we have a numerical limitation on how many people we’re willing to admit every year because we want to assimilate them in an organized way.

We want to make them full citizens in our United States. Right? We see immigrants as future citizens standing on an equal footing with all the rest of us. But we need a process of assimilation, and we can't just kind of throw the doors open and let everybody in all at once. You know, I wish Bryan was right. And if he turned out to be right that would be great.

But fundamentally the question is, as I’ve said, are you willing to bet the republic that he’s right? I, for one, I am not willing to bet the republic. I want a generous immigration policy where we gradually assimilate people and make them contributing citizens. So that’s the way forward. And I think the American people understand that. They get it. They understand that the numbers of people that would like to come here would overwhelm us even if immigrants are no more or have no higher incidence of criminality than the population as a whole.

A tremendous increase in population is going to increase our need for prisons and all kinds of social services. You know we’re projected—we have 300 million people—we’re projected to grow to 400 million by the year 2050, and 600 million by the end of the century. And that’s if we do nothing. That’s if keeping the immigration restrictions on now. We’re still going to have that dramatic growth. So we have enormous population-growth problems that we’re going to have to deal with if we do nothing. If we adopt Bryan's position of open borders it gets worse.

BRANDON TURNER: Okay, so now we've -

BRYAN CAPLAN: Sorry, sorry, I’ve got to reply to that.

TURNER: Okay. Can you reply with a question?

CAPLAN: Um, no, with a reply. All the pictures of being overwhelmed by vast numbers of immigrants, if there’s no quota are very scary until you realize that the free market has a way of rationing scarce resources. It’s called the price mechanism. Right now, in Manhattan, there is a very small of fraction of people who want to be in Manhattan are in Manhattan. Why are all the other poseurs not there? The reason is because the rents in Manhattan are really high and the inflation-adjusted wages are really low. That’s how markets handle things. When there’s very high demand for something, prices go up. When there’s very high supply, prices go down.

This is the market’s way of rationing scarce resources. There’s no need for some additional policy of limiting the total number when market prices can adjust to handle it in the same way that it does in all the other areas that we’re used to.

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