Immigration and the Future: a Response to Robert Higgs

I respond to an article by Robert Higgs titled, “Nativists Don’t Know the Future” where he tries to cast doubt on the idea of demographic changes and other negative impacts of immigration.

First off, I don’t identify as a “nativist.”

I’m not sure if this term is being popularly used or if Higgs is trying to make the people who are against open borders look like Bill the Butcher and his crew in the movie Gangs of New York. Joking aside, I need to clarify that I’m not against immigration in general. Immigration in a free society would work in accordance with property rights and would be mutually beneficial to the parties involved. The state, taxpayer-subsidized public property, and various government programs and benefits funded by taxpayers all get in the way of the ideal situation regarding immigration. The current system of immigration is contrary to the principle of free association. Reducing or removing restrictions on immigration would exacerbate this issue. Hoppe said it best

The waves of immigrants currently flooding the Western world have burdened it with thwarts of welfare parasites, brought in terrorists, increased crime, led to the proliferation of no-go areas, and resulted in countless ‘bad neighbors’; who, based on their alien upbringing, culture, and tradition, lack any understanding and appreciation of liberty and are bound to become mindless future supporters of welfare statism. No one is against immigration and immigrants per se, but immigration must be by invitation only. All immigrants must be productive people and hence, be barred from all domestic welfare payments.

Now, to address some of Higgs’ points in his article.

Higgs says…

Many anti-immigrationists display a remarkable confidence in their ability to forecast how immigrants will act for many years into the future. So, for example, the nativists often allege that if, say, Mexicans are permitted to enter the USA, they will sooner or later vote for governmental measures to plunder the current residents and redistribute the loot to themselves. What gives the nativists such powers of divining the future, especially when they have no special knowledge of social science or ethnic history to work with?

Of course, no one can predict the future and no one claims to. We can use evidence however, to predict or make assumptions about how a given group will generally respond to a given situation. For example, let’s look at Mexican immigrants. According to a Pew Research report titled, “When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity”

When it comes to the size of government, Hispanics are more likely than the general public to say they would rather have a bigger government providing more services than a smaller government with fewer services. Some 75% of Hispanics say this, while 19% say they would rather have a smaller government with fewer services. By contrast, just 41% of the general U.S. public say they want a bigger government, while nearly half (48%) say they want a smaller government.

Also according to Pew Research, illegal immigrants tend to vote Democrat over Republican. With these statistics in mind, I find it safe to say that having open immigration from Mexico could result in more people voting for larger government. I don’t know that for sure, of course. Higgs suggests that experts have been wrong about immigrants assimilating into the country in the past. He claims groups such as the Chinese and Japanese ended up doing well or better than other groups that were thought to be more likely to blend in. He doesn’t cite evidence, but if he’s referring to Asian immigrants doing better than European immigrants in the U.S., clearly the experts back then were not understanding average IQ differences among different populations. According to IQ Research, the average IQ in China and Japan is 105 compared to an average IQ in Mexico of 88 and an average IQ of 99 in the European countries such as Poland, Germany, and Sweden. So, it would seem reasonable that Chinese and Japanese would do well or even better than other immigrating populations. Higgs says…

Nowadays, of course, the knee-jerk response to such historical observations is to say that the modern welfare state changes everything. But this raw denial is simply wrong. Immigrants continue to blend into American culture, generally speaking, in the same way that previous arrivals blended in. Each generation comes closer to the national norms in terms of economic, social, and cultural variables.

Higgs gives no citation for evidence here either. According to research by the Center for Immigration Studies

The welfare system is designed to help low-income workers, especially those with children, and this describes many immigrant households. In 2012, 51 percent of immigrant households with one or more workers accessed one or more welfare programs, as did 28 percent of working native households.


Welfare use varies among immigrant groups. Households headed by immigrants from Central America and Mexico (73 percent), the Caribbean (51 percent), and Africa (48 percent) have the highest overall welfare use. Those from East Asia (32 percent), Europe (26 percent), and South Asia (17 percent) have the lowest.

The evidence against the idea that little or no immigration restriction is conducive to smaller government is overwhelming. Here Higgs does what leftists generally do, which is appeal to relativism and nihilism to cast doubt on their opponent’s evidence…

In any event, the fact remains that no one is privy to knowledge of the future. If one really knew the political future, one could make a fortune working for aspiring politicians or making bets in Las Vegas.

On that note, I could just as well say that less immigration restriction could turn the U.S. into a third-world country. Potentially, millions and even billions of immigrants could flood the U.S. if there was no border enforcement or immigration restriction. So, I find it odd that Higgs uses the fact that we can’t tell the future as an argument that we shouldn’t be skeptical about mass immigration.

And now for the virtue-signaling…

Higgs concludes by appealing to morality and anti-collectivism…

Acting morally means treating every person as he deserves, not treating every person as a perfect representative of the average person in a certain group. Doing the latter commits the sin of collectivism, which is the very thing that many anti-immigrationists pretend to fear if immigrants are allowed into the USA.

I absolutely agree with Higgs that we must judge individuals by their own merit. Statistics about averages are indeed averages, not representations of each individual in a given group. However, it is not collectivist to base government policy decisions on evidence based on averages. Children are on average far less informed than adults. This is evidence that children probably wouldn’t make good voters. These leftist tactics of relativism and denying evidence are being deployed constantly be the proponents of open borders as evident in the immigration debate between Kokesh and Molyneux. We have to stick to the evidence and sound reason and arguments in order to work toward a libertarian society.


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