Economic Theory: Let All the Aliens In

The May 9 edition of Newsweek Online features an article by economists Josh T. Smith and Ryan M. Yonk, “Here is the Simplest Way to Deter Illegal Immigrants. They argue that economic theory provides an easy solution to America’s immigration problems – let everyone in so American companies can have cheap labor and increase profits. But this argument is both flawed and dangerous. It relies on false assumptions about the mechanics of the free market and a profound naïveté about the world we live in – reducing immigration policy to nothing more than a numbers game.

The authors conveniently ignore the fact that a functioning free market is dependent on the existence of a legal system which permits the enforcement of contracts, and provides a forum for vindicating property rights. An effective legal system is dependent upon sovereignty, which delimits the law’s reach and allows market participants to understand whose rules govern their actions. Sovereignty, is a function of borders. Nevertheless, pro-immigration, free-market economists never answer the question: How will a free labor market function in a lawless world without borders?

Moreover, there is a total failure to acknowledge the considerable downside to a laissez-faire approach to border control and immigration policy. Not all things that are profitable are also beneficial from a policy perspective. (Prostitution, child pornography, and the sale of human organs spring to mind.) To assert that they are is to ignore the dire social, political, cultural and moral concerns that arise in connection with unchecked mass migration and the erasure of national borders.

This unwillingness to acknowledge the broader societal effects connected to immigration is made worse by an inability to comprehend that immigration policy decisions should be made with the best interests of American citizens in mind. As the English philosopher Roger Scruton noted, the starting point of Western political philosophy is the consensus among modern thinkers “that sovereignty and law are made legitimate by the consent of those who must obey them.” In contrast, the free-market approach to immigration would allow immigrants to self-select, and presumes that anyone willing to bear “the costs” of coming to the United States is worthy of admission and unquestioned acceptance into the policy.

Unfortunately, not all immigrants come to the United States for the right reasons. And – for many – employment, money, and economics are not part of the equation at all. On 9/11 we learned that lesson the hard way. Anyone whose head is in the real world – as opposed to the rarefied world of economic theory – can’t help but notice the constant barrage of news reports about rape, murder, and mayhem committed by the nation’s legal and illegal alien population. That’s why roughly one fourth of the federal prison population is composed of the foreign born.

When foreigners are viewed solely as numbers on a spreadsheet, some economic theories of immigration might seem to make sense. But when immigrants are viewed as human beings whose actions are often motivated by concerns other than money, then the economic approach doesn’t provide answers. Rather than streamlining its immigration system, the United States should simply enforce immigration laws already on the books. Those laws were designed to preserve all of America’s interests – economic, as well as social, cultural, political and diplomatic. President Trump’s mere threat of enforcement has already reduced attempts at illegal entry by over 70%. Those are numbers the U.S. can live with.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar
    James Blythe on

    This article overlooks the most important question relating to immigration: its effect on our society and culture. Our nation is already being overrun by Third World immigrants from failed states who do not assimilate into American society. They join growing ethnic enclaves around the country which are actually encouraged and supported by local left wing governments under the label of “diversity”.

    If uncontrolled immigration were adopted as government policy, the current western European culture of the United States would be swamped in a single generation by the rapid growth of violently competing Third Word religious and ethnic enclaves. The ultimate result would be the destruction of the United States as we know it..

  2. avatar

    Look Up the Bubble Gumball Video on Numbersusa, RE: OVERPOPULATION

    America is not the dumping ground for the world’s lack of demography science and OVERPOPULATION control the last 4 decades…we’re FULL.

  3. avatar
    John Odekirk on

    The only benefit is to large companies who rely on a large unskilled labor pool, Wal-Mart, agriculture processing, etc., where 1,500 applicants apply for 15 job openings. What is the benefit of developing poor communities of immigrants? Crime, over population, impact on tax payers as you mentioned? The fact that illegals circumvent the requirement for disease screening and end up in the general labor pool and our schools, should be on top of everyone’s concern.

    • avatar

      John definitely you have no idea how this country was born and subsequently became a power….I am certain you are no billionaire nor millionaire …..

  4. avatar

    The article by Smith and Yonk has that familiar stench about it. And sure enough, when you click the link to the article, it says it first appeared on the Foundation for Economic Education site, which is totally libertarian. There’s no doubt that their major thesis is correct. Mass immigration does provide business with cheap labor and more profits. And that is exactly what those opposed to mass immigration contend.

    Apparently these two cheerleaders have no concept that their cheap labor is unable to live on those cheap wages the company wants to pay, so a lot of the cost of paying for their family’s upkeep, like medical care, housing, and food stamps, may and likely will fall on the taxpayer. It’s a great deal for the company, you betcha, but for a government already 20 trillion in debt, not so much.

    Then they insist that there are “studies” that prove mass immigration does not lower wages. Uh, what? How can you argue that it will provide cheap labor but at the same time say it doesn’t lower wages? Hello? We know libertarians live on another planet but how do you explain such an obvious contradiction.

    Nor do they address the fact that we have had immigration numbers unprecedented in our history for the last 30 years and the result has been the steady erosion of the American middle class. We’ve put their theories to the test and they prove the opposite of their claims. And not a word from them about the massive infrastructure costs of a growing population, the roads, schools, courthouses, utilities, water, and most important, our electrical infrastructure that is stretched to it’s limit now. Complete nonsense divorced from reality.