Anti-Immigration Group FAIR: Market Is Like “A Mob Without Reason, Irrational and Immoral”

Last week, Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) denounced CEI’s position on immigration. Mehlman argued new foreign workers would degrade wages and make America poorer. I responded by noting opposition on such grounds is not anti-immigrant, but fundamentally anti-people. “If fewer workers means more prosperity, then wouldn’t no workers be the ultimate prosperity?” I asked. “When have we limited the workforce enough?”

Mehlman has now responded twice without answering this question. Instead, he expanded to a general attack on the market. He said Americans shouldn’t want their destiny determined by an amorphous and unaccountable entity like ‘the market.’” I noted the free market is just free people — Americans like you and me, not some “amorphous entity” — and is made accountable by our own free choices. Mehlman responded by making it clear how little respect he has for this free choice:

Okay, David, try this one: What is a mob? It is people, acting without reason, making irrational and immoral decisions which cause great harm. As a civilized society we have the right to restrict the freedom of a mob to act like a mob. Without the application of reason, we will lose our freedoms and our liberties.

Wait, so the market without government regulation is like a “mob, making irrational and immoral decisions”? No, the market is not a “mob” — it is free people, making nonviolent decisions based on their own personal knowledge of their circumstances. And, unlike a mob, consumers and producers can’t “cause great harm” since they must trade to get what they want. As Milton Friedman put it, “The most important single fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.”

“Economies and markets exist to serve humans, not the other way around,” Mehlman says (repeating the earlier fallacy of separating “humans” from the “market”). But that is what people in a marketplace do — they peacefully serve others with goods and services those other people need. Mehlman doesn’t like this spontaneous, nonviolent process since, in his world, free people act “without reason.”

To correct the unreasonable mob, Mehlman wants to trust this very same “mob” to regulate the entire economy “reasonably.” This confirms what Frédéric Bastiat said about “social democrats”: “So far as they are democratic, they place unlimited faith in mankind. But so far as they are social, they regard mankind as little better than mud” — well, maybe not mud, just an unruly mob intent on buying products made by foreigners. I echo Bastiat, “If people are as incapable, as immoral, and as ignorant as [they] indicate, then why is the right of these same people to vote defended with such passionate insistence?”

Let’s just suppose this “mob” can choose reasonably, as I did in my original post. I didn’t oppose Americans choosing. I simply argued they should choose freedom. Specifically, I said allowing new people will create an even more prosperous nation.  This is not the only argument for immigration reform. There are, in fact, social, economic, political and national security arguments for reform. I focused on the economics because Mehlman claimed new workers hurt America.

Mehlman no longer wants to debate economics. He wants to talk about the social effects of immigration, which is fine — it’s just off the original point. What isn’t fine is the straw man he creates. He claims libertarians “look at a nation simply in terms of where they can make the most money,” which is not true. Nations should allow people the opportunity to move to make money — or for any other reason — but that doesn’t mean we think money defines a nation. In fact, most libertarians probably would agree with his statement that a “nation promises that it will look out for the best interests of its people.”

Our discussion was about that very question: What is best for the nation? Mehlman claims free movement will hasten apocalypse, that government must “demand the allegiance and sacrifice of its people” because allowing people to move causes “social order and stability to disintegrate” and “economies and markets… [to] crumble along with them.” But this argument is not against a right to enter but against a right to leave. Mehlman claims his model society is not the Soviet Union, but apparently, he cares more about walls to keep people in than walls to keep people out. Allegiance must be mandatory and expatriation forbidden.

In the early 19th century, forced loyalty was the dominant view throughout the world. But as the oppressed poured out of Europe, Americans defended their right to leave behind despots and monarchs who demanded perpetual allegiance, and this right eventually became as basic as free speech. “I hold the right of expatriation to be inherent in every man by the laws of nature,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “and incapable of being rightfully taken from him even by the united will of every other person in the nation.” Nations can be built on consent, not force. If free movement of “its people” destroys nations, America should have fallen from the scene long ago.

“FAIR may find itself at odds with the luminaries of Social Darwinism who guide CEI’s philosophy,” Mehlman writes. No, FAIR finds itself at odds with Thomas Jefferson and every declaration of human rights in the world. Ironically, Mehlman goes onto praise actual Social Darwinists, the early 20th century Progressive eugenicists such as Theodore Roosevelt, who closed America’s doors for explicitly racist reasons. If FAIR wants to identify themselves with such men, it should at least honestly acknowledge its true agenda.