I’m prompted to ask by Martin Wolf’s argument for immigration controls.
He points out that immigrants add to congestion. But if next door is rented out to a three-car family, I’ll suffer from extra congestion. Why do supporters of immigration controls think I should have no say over this, and yet should be able to control the numbers of people moving into areas I never visit?
Wolf goes on:
Diversity brings social benefits. But it also brings costs. These costs arise from declining trust and erosion of a sense of shared values. Such costs are likely to be particularly high when immigrants congregate in communities that reject some values of the wider community, not least over the role of women in society.Now, leave aside the dog whistle he’s blowing here. This is also an argument for me to have a veto over next door’s tenants. If these are untrustworthy, or don’t share my street’s values - say because they play loud music or pollute the neighbourhood - I lose. But, again, I don’t lose if untrustworthy types move into an area miles away.
Surely, if social cohesion has any meaning, it is because of the benefits it gives real people in actual streets. I can see the possibility of cohesion between me and my neighbours, but what does it mean to speak of cohesion between me and people living hundreds of miles away?
The question I’m driving towards is: why should immigration controls apply only at the national level? Insofar as immigration brings costs, it does so because of particular individuals - those who “reject some values of the wider community” - moving into particular neighbourhoods. Doesn’t this mean that it would be better for people to control who moved into their locality than the state to try to manage immigration at the national level?
Of course, such controls would in many cases be blind to race or nationality. I - and I suspect the overwhelming majority of people - would much rather my neighbour be a decent foreigner than an obnoxious Englishman.
So, if we must have immigration controls, why don’t we have them at the micro-level? One possibility is that these would violate property rights - the right of landlords to choose their own tenants. But nationwide immigration controls also violate such rights. Another possibility is that we just make a fetish of the state.
Is there a more coherent reason?