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FAGIN: Economic freedom fights "poor country disease"

By: BARRY FAGIN
January 25, 2018 Updated: January 25, 2018 at 4:05 am
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photo - Barry Fargin- Opinion column sig
Barry Fargin- Opinion column sig 

As I understand nationalist views on immigration, some countries bear a resemblance to receptacles for fecal matter. People who want to leave those countries for better ones are not the sort of people we want as fellow citizens.

It's hard to follow their reasoning, if you can call it that, but I think it goes something like this: A country is a bad place to live because people who live there are bad. If they come here, they will make our country bad too. Immigrants from poor countries have PCD: Poor Country Disease. If we let them in, we'll all get PCD and turn poor. Or something like that.

The latest Presidential Poop Proclamation is timely, because the Fraser Institute and dozens of think tank co-publishers have just released their 22nd annual "Economic Freedom of the World" report. Ask the Internet about it.

The report shows that countries with more economic freedom tend to be less, well, poopy. Countries in the top quartile have an average GDP seven times higher than those on the bottom. If you live in one, odds are you'll live 25 percent longer. Most amazingly, even if you live in the bottom 10 percent of a top-quartile country like America, you're still twice as rich as the average person in a bottom-quartile country like Syria.

Norway, presumably a non-PCD country with "good" potential immigrants, ranks 25th in economic freedom, easily in the top quartile. Sweden is right behind at 27. Switzerland, believe it or not, is number 4. America is tied with Canada at 11.

Let's assume for the moment there's something to this whole PCD idea. What fights PCD?

The report looks at five areas: Government economic activity, the rule of law and protection for property rights, sound money, the freedom to trade outside borders, and regulations that limit freedom of exchange. Which of these exactly are immigrants from poorer countries responsible for?

Consider this: America has a reliable court system that supports tort remedies and well-defined property rights. Are you personally responsible for that? How much credit do you deserve for the soundness of the dollar? Conversely, is there anyone you should thank for not having to bribe someone to start a business? Of course not. If you had the good fortune to be born in America, you inherited these things as your birthright.

Now flip things around. To what extent is an aspiring Venezuelan immigrant responsible for the Bolivar being a worthless hyperinflated currency? How exactly is a woman in Saudi Arabia responsible for not enjoying the same legal protections as a man? Is a visa applicant from Haiti to be blamed for the corrupt judge that shut down his business in favor of a politically connected rival? I think the answers have to be "none", "she isn't", and "no".

Even if people understood that immigrants from poor countries aren't responsible for the institutions they inherited, would they still want to keep them out? Unfortunately, it looks like the answer is yes.

One new feature of this year's Fraser Institute report is very disturbing: The rise of anti-immigration populist parties in industrial democracies. If the report is right, it is not large numbers of immigrants that lead to anti-immigrant populism, but large entitlement spending. As entitlement spending rises, so do calls to restrict immigration, on the belief that immigrants will raid the cookie jar. Higher taxes and higher spending mean higher support for immigration barriers. Not a pretty picture, for those of us who believe that allowing capital and labor to move freely is the best way to reduce human suffering and ensure a better, more prosperous world.

Poor Country Disease is not something immigrants bring with them. It is something they desperately want to leave behind. The overwhelming, mind-boggling majority of people who leave their native land do so because they want better lives. They are willing to work hard to make that happen.

Our history shows they will be great Americans. Precisely because of the s***holes they left behind.

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Barry Fagin is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute in Denver. His views are his alone. Readers may contact Dr. Fagin at barry@faginfamily.net.

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