Alternative Immigration Policy – Price Tags on People

Via Arnold Kling and Mark Thoma comes a proposal by Dwight R. Lee:

Immigration has become an increasingly divisive issue and chronic homelessness and panhandling are our plaguing our cities. I have a modest policy proposal for addressing these problems that would increase immigration and improve the well-being of all Americans including the panhandlers. Relying on politically determined quotas to address immigration and bureaucratic compassion to help the homeless and panhandlers has clearly failed to solve these problems. The time has come to increase our reliance on the problem solving power of individual freedom and market exchange. First consider the fact that America’s homeless and panhandlers (who are often different people – some homeless don’t panhandle and some panhandlers aren’t homeless) are actually quite wealthy. Almost all own an asset – their United States citizenship – that is worth several hundred thousand dollars. The problem is that they are denied the right to sell that asset … The suggested policy is straightforward. Simply give Americans the right to sell their citizenships to non-Americans, with the sellers having to leave the country and the buyers allowed to move in with all the rights and opportunities of any other U.S. citizen. Obviously almost all those who sell their citizenship will be poor.

While Arnold and Mark comment on this idea, let me toss out an old idea once verbally put forward by Edward Tower, which I always found interesting. His idea too would have put a market price on people as they migrate from one nation to another but in this case, the price is paid or received by the nations. A couple of examples from the 1970’s may help to illustrate the idea. When Mikhail Baryshnikov decided to defect from the Soviet Union and sought political asylum in Canada, wouldn’t it have been more efficient for the U.S. government to compensate the Soviet government that to have the political fuss over whether he had the right to emigrate? On the flip side, Congress passed the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1966 hoping to allow Cubans to immigrate. Towards the end of the Carter Administration, Fidel Castro decided to have a forced migration of what later become known as the freedom flotilla by some of the exodus of the Marielito refugees by others. While some of these refugees were political prisoners and professionals, some were violent criminals and former mental patients, forced by Castro to leave the country. The market idea for the latter group would require us to think in terms of negative prices, that is, compensation that should have been paid to the U.S. government by the Cuban government.

Putting price tags on human beings mind sound objectionable to some, but some economists find the restrictions of the mobility of people even more objectionable.