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I was on Radio New Zealand’s Sunday Morning panel discussion on immigration.

I was a bit surprised that they opened by asking about detention conditions in Australia for New Zealand prisoners, though I probably shouldn’t have been as it’s been in the news a lot.

While I certainly don’t like that Kiwis who have built a life in Australia wind up in an immigrant detention facility with potential deportation, I think of the trade-off a little differently.

In a first-best, you wouldn’t treat migrants that way – and especially when they’ve been in the country for a very long time with strong family ties. But suppose that your country’s voters, in general, are really sceptical about the merits of letting more migrants in. If part of what lets your country take in more migrants than it otherwise would are sidepayments to current voters that immigrants who commit offences would be deported, then we have to weigh the lower quality experience for each migrant against the increased number of migrants who can be so-accommodated.

Or think of it this way: New Zealand currently takes in a certain number of permanent residents and gives them voting rights. There’s a fair bit of opposition to taking on more immigrants, but some of the opposition comes from fear of migrants changing the nature of the country. I’m a permanent resident rather than a citizen. If New Zealand could take in more permanent residents, as a political equilibrium, if we permanent residents didn’t have voting rights, I’d be ok with that.

The difference in quality of life between places like New Zealand and places like Haiti is absolutely huge. If we stop people from moving from there to here, because we’re squeemish about countenancing a pretty minor difference in treatment of migrants in New Zealand relative to those born here – we wind up doing harm. First best is treating everybody equally, sure. But if we could let more people experience the >1000% increase in wages that comes with migration from the third world to the first world by doing things like restricting new migrants’ voting rights or deporting those convicted of crimes – that’s a deal that is massively welfare increasing.

For further reading, here’s Bryan Caplan on the case for open borders.

The audio’s embedded below. Enjoy!

About Eric Crampton (88 Articles)
I'm Head of Research with the New Zealand Initiative.

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