May 1, 2015 Print

Europe is in the middle of a severe immigration crisis, with waves of migrants washing up on Mediterranean shores from North Africa. Migrants arrive in shoddy boats, filled to the brim with desperate people looking for a safe haven and a better life. Many of them are refugees escaping turmoil in the Middle East, particularly Syria and Libya, but the majority originate from sub-Saharan Africa. Mediterranean countries, particularly Italy and Spain, bear the brunt of the current crisis — not long after beginning to find their feet again after the recent economic downturn.

The economic and immigration crises throughout Europe are making many people rethink the European Union’s immigrations policies, but, if history is any guide, these policies will probably become even more restrictive, not less. Sam Bowman, deputy director of Atlas Network partner the Adam Smith Institute, suggests that this crisis would not be so painful for Europe if policymakers were to liberalize migration laws and the labor market.

Bringing in low-skilled immigrants who can fill positions in a flexible and absorbent labor market results in positive impacts on wages and productivity for natives, Bowman argues, while dramatically improving the lives of both the immigrants and their families back home. This should be a no-brainer for progressives who want to improve human welfare, but they face a dilemma. Researchers at Queen’s University found a negative correlation between the size of the welfare state and the propensity to lower the drawbridge.

“Higher levels of immigration seem to make voters support redistributive domestic policies less,” Bowman observes. “People are less happy to share with people who aren’t much like them.”

Teaching both voters and their political leaders that general welfare and societal standards of living are best advanced through the productive activity of free markets, rather than the redistributive policies of an expansive welfare state, would enable Europe to save hundreds of thousands of lives by including, rather than excluding, those who yearn to be free and productive.

Read Sam Bowman’s full article, “The progressive’s immigration dilemma.”