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My old pal Cole wrote a post on immigration. It followed a conversation we had on the topic.

His position is that immigration should be limited to people habituated to self rule, and this can be accomplished by limiting immigration by nationality.

I find his argument strange. The biggest problem I have with idea that a free society can only persevere by abrogating the right to freedom of contract and movement, besides being nonsensical, is that it doesn’t apply to his ideas. Cole does not care for a free society; he would prefer an authoritarian virtuous society.  But still, let’s ignore that and address the question directly.

Cole imagines that history is on his side because he was able to cite several founding fathers who favored limiting immigration for similar reasons. The absurdity of seeking advice about virtue from those monsters aside, the argument is a non sequitur.

Public statements from early politicians does not show that restricting immigration has preserved a free society in the United States.

Regardless of what they said, their policies were at no point enacted.

On the contrary, the history of the United States is one of open borders. Until the 1960s (i.e. for 190 years), the percentage of native-born Americans fell at an accelerating rate. Most of these immigrants did not come from free countries. In the 1860s, millions of people used as farm machinery (hardly habituated for self-rule) were released, with no overseers to ensure they lived virtuously.

The vast majority of the United States is comprised of people, or the descendants thereof, who were absolutely not habituated to freedom. The results he claims we will now experience by returning to the historic policy of the United States were never seen. The Republic remains in tact.

What is vastly more important than the nationality of these people (as if that could capture “virtue”) are the incentives they faced. The incentives that caused people to come to the United States selected those who would benefit from a free, open society. The incentives they faced once they came here were to work or die. With no attention paid, except to ban the Chinese for a period, to nationality we got along just fine. There is no reason to believe this will not happen in the future.

Trying to design a virtuous society by central planning is a fool’s errand. The best hope one could have for a virtuous society would be to create rules of just conduct that each man could apply to himself and others in all situations. Regardless of their public statements to the contrary, this is what the founders ended up doing in deed.