Another objection to the idea of open borders is this idea that “people from wartorn country XYZ have a violent culture and would bring their violence to our peaceful streets”. So presumably when coming to the more developed country, they would prefer to use violence than to simply trade for what they want. Interesting objection, but I think there’s a good answer to this.
Let’s start with a more abstract and general idea: Other things being equal, you are less likely to do something if it costs you more to do it. An opportunity cost is what we bear when we have to forego the next best alternative. This was a great point I heard on the EconTalk podcast: Edward Lazear on Becker (relevant transcript pasted below)
And so Gary (Becker) then reasoned that the opportunity cost of a child was the price of the mother’s time; and the price of the mother’s time is what she could be doing elsewhere. And that related to her wage rate. All right, so what does that tell you? Well, in the 20th century, what that says is that when women had the option to work, or when most women were working, as they are now, what you’d expect is that women with high wages have very high values of time, and as a result, it’s more costly for them to take time off and to have children, and so they tend to have fewer of them. If you go back to the 19th century, women were not working, and so this mechanism of high-priced women versus low-priced women was the reverse. The women whose time value was high in alternative activities, like working on a farm or doing household chores, was actually the low-priced woman, or the woman who was poor. And so we had the situation reversed in the 19th century. And so what Gary was able to do with this simple approach was to reconcile two facts. I’ll make one more point and then I’ll pause. Russ, I’m sorry I’m talking on here, but this is– Russ: Go ahead. This is great.Guest: This is one that gets me excited. One of the most important policy implications that came out of Gary’s work–and at this point it’s so obvious and so much of a given that people don’t even realize that it came from Gary’s economics of fertility. And that is that if you want to change population growth rates–let’s suppose we go to a developing country where population is growing at a very rapid rate–the implication of Gary’s work is that the best way to do that is to educate girls. And it has nothing to do with teaching them about birth control or other methods of abstinence or anything like that. What it has to do with is that if you educate girls, what you do is you raise the value of their time in the labor market, and as a consequence, women will then voluntarily choose to have fewer kids. And we see this all around the world, and virtually every international organization and NGO (Non-Government Organization) accepts this as a given. And that’s now an important component of fertility policy. If you want to change the fertility rates, you need to make sure that you educate girls.
So by educating the women, their opportunity cost of having a child rose dramatically – they could now otherwise earn a lot more money in the labour market.
Now let’s apply the lesson to this specific case. A person who comes from a poorer country to a more developed nation will be able to produce more value to the economy, because there is just so much more infrastructure, technology and capital accumulation. Remember, they don’t necessarily have to be better at producing things than the local workers – due to the theory of comparative advantage, they need only focus on the area in which their relative productive inferiority is least (as we all could choose to do). See earlier post: Benefiting from the productivity of other people. Think of it like this: Even lower skilled work is valuable to society, because it can free up the time of very highly skilled/productive people to focus on doing what they do best.
So in this sense, their movement to a more developed nation dramatically raises their opportunity cost. They can now produce at a much greater rate, and they now have access to many more goods and services than they previously did. If they choose to be violent and risk being thrown in jail, they’d now have a lot more to lose. Much better to trade for what we want in the positive sum economic system of capitalism than to try and fight other people and risk losing access to modern day comforts.
I think people are more likely to get aggressive and cause trouble when they have nothing to lose. Give them something to lose.