Immigration Debate Insight

James Pinkerton has an illuminating essay at Tech Central Station titled "Universalism vs. Nationalism" that has helped me understand why the immigration debate is so weird. He begins:

Here's a question: Why do Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and The Wall Street Journal editorial page have such similar views on immigration?

The answer is that all four of the above -- Mahony, CAIR, the ACLU, and the Journal -- have chosen universalism over nationalism. The four embrace different visions of universalism, to be sure, but each one of them is similar insofar as it seeks to transcend passports and borders. Each of the four pursues a trans-nationalizing, world-flattening globalism that regards nation-states as, at best, necessary evils -- and at worst, unnecessary evils.

When Pinkerton uses the magic word "visions", that pricks up the ears of all those who have read Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions. And we say: "This explains a lot, actually."

For example, the other day I linked to a Cafe Hayek article from Don Boudreaux containing this puzzling paragraph:

The narrow cost-benefit solution might well be further restrictions on immigration -- I say "might," not "is" -- even if, in my opinion, such restrictions are unethical because they violate the basic human rights of Americans and foreigners alike.
The telling clue that we're dealing with a vision here lies in words like "unethical" and "basic human rights". The ideal situation is to have no restrictions on immigration at all; Don's acknowledgement that the costs of such a policy might outweigh the benefits is extremely hedged.

Similarly, David Friedman, in discussing a hypothetical situation whether to hire the next-door kid or an illegal immigrant to do a task: "I would have done the right thing—by hiring the illegal…"; he goes on to justify lawbreaking in this case because "most people believe in obeying laws selectively—ignoring the ones they think are foolish or wicked except when the risk of getting caught makes it more prudent to obey." [Emphases added.] Again, we're obviously dealing not at all with costs, benefits, and trade-offs, but more with an overarching moral vision that will brook no compromise.

That's fine, of course, as long as it's recognized. I like and admire both Don and David. But it's interesting that they are arguing, at bottom, not based in their expertise in the fields of economics and law, but from their visions. And in particular, it seems to be what Sowell would call an "unconstrained" vision; it's unusual in that this particular flavor of vision unites the disparate factions Pinkerton mentions.

Also buttressing this view is that Mr. Constrained Vision, himself, Thomas Sowell, is taking a much different side on this issue. See here and here for two of his recent columns on the topic.


Last Modified 2006-05-25 7:20 AM EST

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