THE LATE NOBEL Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman was a free market libertarian who believed that immigrants helped make America great. Yet he has become the restrictionist right's weapon of choice to expunge the GOP's pro-immigration faction.
It's working. The Jack Kemp-style immigration champions are in complete retreat in the GOP, and the ultra-restrictionists are on the march.
How has the latter group accomplished this feat? Partly by taking Friedman's vague and general observation that free immigration is not compatible with the welfare state out of context and repeating it like a mantra at every opportunity. Not an hour goes by without some restrictionist somewhere--on blogs, social media, online comments sections--invoking Friedman's comment to justify President Donald Trump's aggressive border enforcement and push to slash immigration.
But these anti-immigrant conservatives are abusing Friedman. If they paid attention to his full remarks instead of conveniently cherry picking what suits them, they'd realize that far from cheering Trump's draconian immigration crackdown, the great economist would be denouncing Trump as a colossal fool.
Friedman is rightly venerated by conservatives for his path-breaking academic work and his popular PBS series Free to Choose, which extolled the virtues of markets over government. But he was always clearly in favor of immigration. In a 1984 survey of America's top 75 economists, Friedman unambiguously stated: "Legal and illegal immigration has a very positive impact on the U.S. economy."
Even Friedman's 1978 University of Chicago speech, "What is America?," from which nativists draw the notorious remark about the incompatibility of free immigration and a welfare state, begins by emphasizing how important it was for the country to maintain its tradition of welcoming foreigners. That's what has "enabled the rest of us to get here"--no doubt a reference to the fact that he himself wouldn't be standing there addressing that august group if America had slammed the door on his Jewish parents who had come from Hungary. He went on to observe that the millions of immigrants who had "flooded America before 1914" (when restrictionism first started gaining serious traction) were an unmitigated blessing for everyone--themselves and the Americans already in the country. "The new immigrants provided additional resources, provided additional possibilities for the people already here," he declared.
But then he...