November 11, 2009 12:25PM

Freedom for Thee, But Not for We

I expected and got some pushback about my post comparing the Berlin Wall to the wall along our southern border. Happily, it was more civil than the reactions I often get when I talk about immigration and free movement of people.

One fair comment focused on the key distinction between the Berlin Wall and our border wall: the direction the guards were facing.

From the perspective of the state, it's easy to conceive of border guards facing "in" or "out"---and those facing in suggest much worse than those facing out. But from the perspective of the individual, what matters is whether or not the border guards are facing you. Our border wall keeps Mexicans and Central Americans from freedom and a better life precisely the way the Berlin Wall did East Germans.

Another pointed out the inconsistency between liberal immigration policies and the welfare state. But the solution is not to wall off the country; it's to wall off the welfare state. David Friedman has pointed out that liberal immigration policies can create political incentives to hold down welfare benefits.

Twenty years ago, West Germany took into its fold an impoverished population whose capacity for self-governance had surely been eroded by years of totalitarian rule. Today, one of that population is its center-right chancellor. Liberalizing immigration would be a project far smaller for the United States, it would bring overall economic benefits, and it would help restore our country's status as a beacon of freedom.

Those who wish to immigrate to the United States did not create the political or economic conditions in their birth countries. Yet many treat their desire for a life like ours as blameworthy. It's incoherent for individualists to think that way about immigrants to the United States while treating the reunification of Germany as something to celebrate. Such incoherence is reflected in our 'wall' policies, which indeed boil down to "freedom for thee (Europeans), but not for we (Americans)."