I voted for José Antonio Kast in 2017. He was, by far, the best candidate running for President of Chile. However, he is a lawyer with evidently little economics training, and his resulting views are similar to those of the Constitution Party in the U.S.A. As such, he differs from pro-life libertarians on several issues: (1) immigration, (2) de-criminalization of drugs and (3) the amount of regulation and state (as opposed to market) he wants in people’s lives (libertarians want less than Constitution Party people do, even though they want far less than other rightists). In this article, I would like to focus on Kast’s views on immigration.
In his recent interview debate with Fernando Paulsen, José Antonio Kast very eloquently presented his case. He is quite brilliant, and just as he stood head and shoulders above the other candidates running for President in 2017, he fended well for himself in the interview and discussion pertaining to immigration. There is no doubt in my mind that he will be a likely presidential contender in 2020 for the right-wing coalition. Nevertheless, I think Kast was quite mistaken in his point of view with respect to immigration into Chile, and I was sad to hear some inference of his alignment with mostly-non-libertarian Donald J. Trump.
Kast stated his case well during that interview, just as he did in others, such as the CNN interview with left-liberal Congressman for Arica Vlado Mirosevic from the Liberal Party. That party has some similarities with libertarians—even though it aligns with the Chilean Left’s coalition, whereas libertarians generally fall into the Right’s coalition. Nonetheless, for all his virtues as a debater and public speaker, Kast failed to better Mirosevic. There are several economic reasons for this debate loss, wherein one can clearly see that lawyer Kast demonstrates that he has not yet attained an economic way of thinking that is essential for him to generate proper public policy opinions.
First, economists correctly argue that immigrants, on net, improve the country’s economy that receives them. This fact is true whether or not the immigrant arrives legally or illegally. The late University of Chicago Economist Julian Simon wrote about immigrants in his book, The Ultimate Resource 2 (1997). He argued that immigrants provide a low-cost boon to society since they enter the workforce directly and their primary and secondary education has already been paid for by another country, along with any apprenticeships. The first 18 to 25 years of any person’s life are generally the most expensive in social terms, because children and university students do not produce much and yet cost a tremendous amount to raise and form or educate. Simon also argues that all resources are effectively infinite (since the sun will last for billions of years and the earth’s crust is absolutely massive), and all but one natural resource can be synthesized or replaced with alternatives (e.g., natural gas or electricity instead of gasoline): the human mind.
He says that even if we had 50 million mediocre human minds born that are hardly better than monkeys, so long as an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs or thinkers like Albert Einstein or Thomas Jefferson were among them, the social, scientific and economic change fomented by those special people would dwarf the mediocrity of the myriad others. Thus, whether abortion or immigration is the topic of discussion, Simon’s thesis looms large: we need more human minds so that we may once in a while hit on a special one. Therefore, there is no reason to worry about mediocre people being born in Chile or immigrating to Chile. The successes of the few will far surpass the mediocrity of the many. Chileans should be especially aware of this fact since the vast majority of its most successful people were immigrants, including nearly every Chilean on the 2018 Forbes list of billionaires.
Second, Chile has a grand history of immigration dating from the Nineteenth Century, where many thousands of Europeans arrived, especially from Germany, Britain, Italy, Croatia, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Portugal), the United States, and a large Orthodox Christian remnant from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine—that part of the former Ottoman Empire that is now called Israel. Nowadays, the immigrants are mainly coming from South America and the Caribbean. Yet, Chile’s population is still comprised of only about 3% immigrants. Two-thirds of other OECD countries have between 10% and 44% immigrants. Immigration is especially important for countries like Chile, and most European countries, where women do not produce enough children to replace the current population and ensure future economic growth and prosperity. Thus, for Chile and Europe, immigration is essential.
Third, it makes no difference if the large numbers of Venezuelans and Haitiansarriving legally as “tourists” in Chile over the last two years (perhaps as many as 150,000 to 200,000 from each country per year) were and are disingenuous about their true intentions about why they came to Chile. Clearly, most wanted to get a job and stay permanently. Is that fact either unusual or terrible compared to any other human being? Yet, Kast wants to discover them and not allow them to enter if they have ulterior motives.
Nevertheless, Kast’s preoccupation is quite irrelevant in terms of public policy. These immigrants are following the law. All tourists can apply for temporary residency should they decide that they like living in Chile. Indeed, it is a great way for Chile to advertise its benefits to prospective immigrants by giving them a “free trial” of the “product.” They are not much different than people who come without the intention to stay and find during their stay that they like the country and thus apply for residency—or if a tourist falls in love with a Chilean while visiting and decides to stay and marry the person. Ditto for the capitalist that finds a lucrative business opportunity in Chile and applies to remain as a resident. Who cares what their initial intentions were? People change their minds. Is that bad, too?
Approximately 49% of the countries of the world can come to Chile without a visa and receive their tourist card at the airport, including Haiti and Venezuela. Kast wants to root out immigrants from those countries (and perhaps others) that arrive with intention to work. He does not suggest it, but some might wonder if he wants to reduce the 49% figure even further, hoping to cherry-pick the better quality immigrants who arrive with university degrees, Christian cultures and white skin. I would certainly hope that is not the case!
But he does not seem to realize that even if he could do so, it would be quite simple for any Venezuelan of Haitian to look for work while they are tourists (90 days, easily renewed to 180 days), obtain a work offer, then take the six-hour bus ride to Mendoza, Argentina (perhaps employer-paid) and apply from that city to re-enter Chile with a temporary visa. In other words, all Kast’s interrogation will do is place another step in the immigration process. The enthusiastic immigrants looking for a better life will still come and work!
Fourth, as an article in The Atlantic details, the evidence clearly indicates that immigrants help local economies grow and prosper, not the other way around. That’s why so many American cities are courting them. In the short term, there will be labor market distortions resulting, for example, from a million new immigrants arriving in a country like Chile with a total population of only seventeen million. But over time the “displacement of Chilean workers” will be mitigated as the market allocates labor resources and opens new venues for development. The massive influx of immigration to New York over a century ago had detrimental short-term impacts, but over the medium- and long-term it produced tremendous benefits.
Fifth, I have heard some followers of Kast (although not Kast himself) recommend that Chile obligate newcomers to speak Spanish, in order to cut down on immigration from Haiti. Except for some who live along the border with the Dominican Republic, Haitians do not speak Spanish as their native language. Nevertheless, consider, too, that neither do the vast majority of the 55,000 non-Spaniards from Europe, North America and Oceania who currently reside in Chile. Should Chile force these immigrants to speak Spanish prior to becoming permanent residents or citizens? From a libertarian perspective, there is little reason to compel them to do so. By living in Chile, they will already be impelled to learn the local language, and there are many schools to teach Spanish to foreigners in Santiago, Viña del Mar and elsewhere. So why complicate the immigration process?
There was no language test for immigrants to New York and Buenos Aires, for example, during the Nineteenth Century and Twentieth Century, and yet those migratory periods brought significant prosperity to the recipient countries. Even the immigrant ghettos of major American cities did not hold on to the mother tongue of the “old country” forever. Their children all learned the local language perfectly. Indeed, my grandparents were so ashamed of Italian (although I am not sure why) that they refused to teach it to their children, insisting that they use English instead. My mother had no problem learning English as the daughter of an immigrant father.
Sixth, ironically, Kast uses a similar line of reasoning to refuse immigrants that pro-abortion rights advocates use to justify killing unborn human beings. He asks, “What kind of quality of life will they have?” Yet, he staunchly and rightly rejects such reasoning as specious when it comes to the “unwanted” unborn child—or with respect to children who will be born into poverty (e.g., with a single mother). In both cases, there is no justification for one person to determine the future destiny of another based solely on his personal judgment of the future.
Just like we must assume that pre-born humans want to live and continue their lives, so must we assume that poorer people want to have a shot at improving their existences through immigration. Once again, the aforementioned immigrants to New York, and also to northern New Jersey, Boston, Chicago—especially the Irish—suffered some of the most “inhumane” living conditions imaginable. Economists have pointed out that they lived in conditions worse than black slaves did in the South. Yet, few of them regretted going to America and, over time, nearly all of them met with tremendous economic prosperity for themselves and their posterity. The same will be true in Chile.
Kast further argues that poorer immigrants are overcrowding hospitals and public schools (and especially kindergartens), which can no longer accommodate them. But this is also a short term problem that will automatically be resolved by markets over time. Like Henry Hazlitt famously said in Economics in One Lesson(1946:3-4), “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” Sure, the newcomers will cause some shocks in the short run, but in the long run problems will be resolved, especially as they end up finding jobs or starting businesses.
Once again, Kast’s argument sounds remarkably similar to pro-abortion rights advocates’ myopia or the Donohue-Levitt argument that future crime will decrease as abortion increases. Those scholars merely state the obvious: if all babies are aborted then all future crime will be reduced to zero since people will be reduced to zero; if half are killed off then crime will drop by 50% in twenty years: big deal! But how can these arguments legitimately justify killing the unborn or impeding prospective immigrants. Many other studies by academics, along with libertarian and other think tanks, have shown (as summarized by Richard Pérez-Peña in The New York Times in January 2017) that immigrants are the least likely group to engage in crimes overall, since they want to ensure their standing in their new country.
Finally, how does a libertarian handle immigration? A common line of thought is simply to have open borders. However, given that countries must also protect the private property rights of their citizens or residents, it would be much better to privatize the border—a liberty-loving solution that I have taught for over a decade. As I have written beforehand, there are market-based alternatives available to deal with immigration problems. Remember, too, that illegal immigration problems are a function of government failure. If markets were relied upon to secure the Chilean border, all parties concerned would fare far better and there would be much less illegal immigration.
Through market mechanisms based on competing firms handling different border sections with high technology, Chile would be better prepared to stop violent criminals, terrorists, carriers of contagious diseases, intentional transporters of diseased agricultural products, and so forth, from entering—right at the border. Let the rest of the immigrants into Chile and help them know where the best opportunities are for them to live and work (if they wish)—especially the poor and ignorant ones!
Such market-based regulation can, indeed, better determine where to best send new immigrants to meet employers, or even offer them homesteading options if they populate remote areas of the South and North of the country—just like Chile offered to many European immigrants going to its southern regions in the Nineteenth Century. Chilean public policy has always tried to encourage settlement of remote areas for national defense purposes if nothing else. Even today, public school teachers and policemen, among others, receive double salaries (or something like that) if they are willing to work in remote areas like Melinka, Puerto Aguirre and near Visviri. Why not offer something similar to Haitian, Venezuelan, Dominican Republic and Colombian newcomers?
Chile need not fear immigrants. On the contrary, it needs them. Moreover, there is no good reason to ask for greater state intervention. The state has a far better record of looting and harming us than it does of protecting us and enhancing our quality of life. Markets will do a better job than the state, more efficiently and justly, too, of optimizing legal—and minimizing illegal—immigration. Even if markets ae not perfect, they do not fail like governments do, and will likely provide better results than relying on the state. This fact should be evident to Chileans, who already enjoy things like privatized social security, ports, and inter-urban highways—all of which are superior to state-provision of similar services.
I really like J.A. Kast and would vote for him again. But he is a lawyer, without training in either economics or graduate work in public policy. Accordingly, he has made a serious mistake in his thinking about immigration. Yet, I can forgive him, understanding that he is bound by his background in law alone. I just hope he is willing to listen to some economic reasoning coming from the ranks of his own admirers.
John Cobin, Ph.D. Twitter
Visit AllAboutChile.com for discussion and forums about the country. Non-wealthy immigrants to Chile should also create a portable income by signing up to be a 51Talk online English teacher. Read more details about the job in my previous post on the subject.
For a brief introduction consider Dr. Cobin’s abridged 2015 book (56 pages): Chile: A Primer for Expats ($19), offering highlights (somewhat outdated) found in the larger book. Buy Dr. Cobin’s Public Policy books at Amazon.com: