Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Tierney and Rawls on Immigration

In the fall in ec 10, we talked about philosopher John Rawls's theory of justice. In today's NY Times, columnist John Tierney applies Rawlsian logic to the immigration debate. He writes:

Even if you accept the debatable economic premise that low-income workers are significantly harmed, the argument [against increased immigration] fails on moral grounds. It flunks the famous ''veil of ignorance'' test of John Rawls, the quintessential liberal philosopher who stressed protections for the least fortunate members of society. Social rules are fair, he wrote in ''A Theory of Justice,'' if you would endorse them without knowing what your position in society would be.

Suppose you were setting immigration policy from behind that veil of ignorance. Which of these would you choose?

(1) Restricting immigration to protect some of the lower-paid workers in America from a decline in wages that would be no more than 8 percent, if it occurred at all.

(2) Expanding immigration to benefit most Americans while also giving some non-Americans living in dire poverty the chance to quadruple their income.

You don't need to slog through ''A Theory of Justice'' to figure out this one.