DEBATE WORKSHOPS 2000

Resolved: That the United States federal government should significantly increase protection of privacy in the United States in one or more of the following areas:

EMPLOYMENT, MEDICAL RECORDS, CONSUMER INFORMATION, SEARCH AND SEIZURE.


Free markets mean free movement

by John Gray, Jesus College, Oxford University

[John Gray, a fellow at Jesus College, Oxford, is the author of Mill on Liberty: A Defence (1983), Hayek on Liberty (1986), Liberalism (1986), Liberalisms: Essays in Political Philsosphy (1989), and Post-Liberalism: Studies in Political Thought (1993). Interestingly, John Gray's later writings have argued against free trade, open immigration and other liberal concepts.]

Few can remember a world without passports or borders. Yet that's how it was only 80 years ago. In Europe, you needed your passport only to go to Russia or Turkey.

The freedom to travel was a part of Europe's liberal civilization. During the hundred years before World War I, most European economies enjoyed price stability&emdash;thanks to the gold standard&emdash;and an unprecedented growth in the standard of living. There were no major wars. Civil liberties and parliamentary institutions strengthened throughout Europe and seemed likely to spread over the whole world. Everyone believed that free migration promoted prosperity. Statesmen took for granted that the freedom to travel was part of the market economy.

World War I brought an end to all that. By bringing ruin to the middle classes of Europe and wreaking havoc on the liberal institutions of the European nations, the war also put an end to the freedoms of travel and residence that had fueled the phenomenal expansion of commerce and industry. Tight controls on the movement of peoples appeared along with strict curbs on the international flow of capital. In a few short years of war, individual liberty of migration disappeared.

The ideal of the classical economists was an open world economy with an international division of labor. They all acknowledged that the free movement of labor was an indispensable counterpart to the unrestricted mobility of capital. Just as tariffs and quotas resulted only in dislocating the world market and decreasing economic welfare, so too immigration controls resulted in economic stagnation and the waste of human resources.

The classical economists also saw in the control of the free movement of peoples a remnant of the mercantilist system of political economy they opposed. Under mercantilism, both physical and human capital were owned by the state. They were national resources to be exploited in the pursuit of power. Any curbs on the movement of peoples was a regression from liberal civilization and from individuals' freedom to make their own choices and live their own lives.

The suspicions of the liberal economists were confirmed during the inter-war years. Throughout the world, freedom of travel and freedom of enterprise disappeared simultaneously. In Nazi Germany, above all, collectivist control of the economy meant the loss of individual freedom to travel and the forced migration of whole peoples and, in the end, policies of racial extermination. By the outbreak of World War II, men and women, instead of being able to choose where they wanted to live and work, virtually had become the property of the state they happened to live in.

What does the decline of freedom of movement and migration mean for the defense of the free market? In spite of the events of the past 60 years, conservatives have been slow to learn their lesson: The freedoms that make the market economy cannot easily be divided. Too often, those conservative free marketeers most firm in their opposition to intervention in the market by governments and labor unions have been in favor of the clumsy and inhumane control of migration.

In the U.S. and Europe, conservatives haven't followed the logic of the market economy in promoting free movement of peoples. On the contrary, they have given the defense of the free market a bad name. It is now considered a reactionary movement very different from the liberating force it was in the 19th century.

Enoch Powell, Britain's most intellectually distinguished political defender of the market economy, is also the most prominent advocate of morally repellent and unworkable proposals for the repatriation of nonwhite immigrants.

The Thatcher government in England firmly resisted the intemperate demands of the Tory right for even stricter immigration controls. But it seemed willing to abandon Hong Kong&endash;that oasis of market capitalism&endash;and stripped Hong Kong's hard-working citizens, who remain British subjects, of their right to reside in the United Kingdom.

The Tories as a whole have displayed a strange blindness to cultural realities. They fail to see that in Britain today it is the Asian immigrant populations who are the last to hold the conservative virtues of hard work, business enterprise and family solidarity. It is surprising that with the entrepreneurial spirit in decline and the family in disarray in the native population in Britain, Tories have not seen in the million or so immigrant voters a natural ally in the political struggle against religious socialism.

Now that conservatives are taking a more critical view of the overextended welfare state, it is a pity that they do not also look at their policies on immigration. It is the growth of the welfare state&endash;and war&endash;that has strengthened demands for immigration controls. Now that the British government is trying to return a large part of responsibility for welfare to individuals and families, it is a good time to reconsider immigration policy.

A return to the pre-1914 world without frontiers is Utopian and a practical impossibility. If the defense of capitalism is to have the humane and liberating aspect it had in the heyday of the free market, however, and if conservatism is not to be a merely defensive and reactionary creed, it is high time attempts were made to relax and liberalize the controls on free movement.

 

 
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