Open minds, open source, open bars—openness is usually seen as a great virtue.
But when it comes to open borders for immigrants and open markets for free trade, Democrats and Republicans sound more like the "they took our jobs!" rednecks on South Park than the wise statesmen they claim to be.
President Obama supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would lower trade barriers among a dozen countries. But leading Democrats—including Harry Reid, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren are opposed. And Hillary Clinton, who supported the deal while she served as secretary of state, is now hedging as she seeks her party’s presidential nomination.
There are intellectual property provisions that are troubling but that’s not what most opponents are bothered by. Democrats have long insisted on “fair trade” rather than free trade, which makes it harder for poorer countries to compete with the U.S. by creating rules and regulations that raise their costs.
If there’s one thing that virtually all economists agree on, it’s that reducing trade barriers creates a richer, more prosperous, and more peaceful world. Former advisers to both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have signed an open letter urging fast-track approval of the Trans Pacific Partnership for the same reason that Adam Smith touted free trade in The Wealth of Nations: “It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy.” As it is with families, so it is with nations.
If Hillary Clinton doesn’t want to listen to Adam Smith—or her former self—she might listen to her husband, who signed the North American Free Trade Agreement over the objections of his own party back in 1993. "we have made a decision now that will permit us to create an economic order in the world that will promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment, and a greater possibility of world peace," he said.
If the Democrats are driven nuts by the idea of open markets, Republicans go bananas over the notion of open borders. Virtually all GOP contenders for the Republican presidential nomination have called for a “time out” or a slow down on immigration until they say the border with Mexico is fully secured.
And most want only to let in immigrants with work skills that they say will help the economy and not take away or lower wages for low-skilled, native-born workers.
Think about it: Republicans routinely complain that the government can’t deliver the mail or educate children, but they’re convinced that government bureaucrats can perfectly adjust the mix of foreign workers in the vast and complicated American economy.
Yet even economists who are critical of immigrants with low skills recognize that they don’t take jobs from native workers. Instead, they head to the places where the economy is booming and employers are desperate for extra bodies. And they stop coming or go back home when the work dries up, especially if they know they’ll be able to cross borders safely and legally.
But Republicans don’t have to take it from libertarians. They can just listen to a guy named Ronald Reagan, who wrote "Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status."
And in a 1980 debate with George H.W. Bush (who called for higher levels of immigration himself), Reagan said:
Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then, while they're working and earning here, they'd pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back. They can cross. Open the borders both ways.
Open minds, open markets, open borders—yeah, they’re all good things.