Immigration as Trade Policy

Sam Roggeveen at the Interpreter wonders how I can be so sure that when a Michigan ad for Barack Obama targets John McCain as a foreign car owner, the emphasis is on foreign car owner, not foreign car owner. In other words, there’s the hint of protectionism that Sam worries about, but not the xenophobia he initially mentioned.

Truth is, I can’t say for sure that Obama’s protectionist rhetoric is just rhetoric. But I think that the next phase of globalization will be as much dominated by immigration (ie. the liberalization of labor markets) as by protectionism. Case in point, the EU’s emerging consensus on tightening immigration policy, which is sure to create a backlash, especially when the U.N.’s poverty reduction program for the developing world loses out to Washington’s poverty reduction program for Wall Street.

On this score, I think both Barack Obama and John McCain represent a net gain for American immigration policy, although it remains to be seen if either will be able to push anything progressive through the pitchforks of Congress.