This is a video of German Chancellor Angela Merkel telling a sobbing Palestinian teenager that she cannot stay in Germany because the country "just can't manage" more refugees. As Amanda Taub notes, it is absolutely enraging:
Merkel, to be clear, is a liar. Germany can in fact manage more than the 400,000 people a year it let in as of 2012. It currently lets in fewer permanent migrants, as a share of its population, than do many other developed nations. That includes other large countries with more than 20 million people such as Australia, Spain, and Canada. Just look at where it falls on this chart:
But I also know that Germany can manage more migrants because the German government has committed to managing more migrants. Because it's a member of the Schengen area, Germany has agreed to allow unlimited immigration from within that community of 26 nations. The Schengen countries other than Germany have a combined population of nearly 340 million.
Obviously all 340 million aren't going to move to Germany. But suppose just 1 percent of them decided to go to Germany next year. That's 3.4 million people, more than eight times the country's total 2012 intake (which already includes Schengen migrants). It's a lot, but as the economies of Spain and Greece continue to endure deep depressions, it's not too fanciful to think many would be interested in moving to the country with Europe's best-performing economy. And Germany has agreed to let in anyone who makes that decision. If they can let in all of them, why can't they let in this girl?
Why does Angela Merkel care less about Palestinian lives than Romanian lives?
Responding to the girl, Merkel notes that there are "thousands and thousands" of Palestinian refugees like her in Lebanon. There are 450,000, in fact, more than half in camps, out of 5 million Palestinian refugees worldwide.
"If we say, 'You can all come here, you can all come over from Africa,'" Merkel asserts, "We can't cope with that."
That's the conundrum, though. Merkel believes she can say to Estonia, to Slovenia, as well as to Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia (three countries soon to join Schengen), "You can all come over to Germany." And in fact that is exactly what German policy says to the 340 million people in the Schengen area: You can all come over.
But Merkel can't say it to Palestinians. She can't say it to Africans. She can't say it to Asians. She can say it, in other words, to white people, from Brittany to the Balkans. But she can't say it to the most desperate of the world's poor.
Why not? Looking at actual substantive reasons, the answer is pretty unclear. The case that immigration hurts rich countries like Germany economically is so weak that even opponents tend not to make it. The narrower case that it hurts low-skilled workers is heavily disputed and, in any case, addressable through transfer programs within rich countries. The economic case against immigration only makes sense if you're willing to put negative weight on the well-being of foreigners.
And just about any other objection Merkel might have to more immigration is easily addressed.
The economist Bryan Caplan, in a 2012 paper on immigration, articulated this case so well that I've reproduced a full quote from the paper here, changing only "US" to "German" and "We" to "Merkel":
If immigrants hurt German workers, Merkel can charge immigrants higher taxes or admission fees, and use the revenue to compensate the losers. If immigrants burden German taxpayers, Merkel can make immigrants ineligible for benefits. If immigrants hurt German culture, Merkel can impose tests of German fluency and cultural literacy. If immigrants hurt German liberty, Merkel can refuse to give them the right to vote. Whatever your complaint happens to be, immigration restrictions are a needlessly draconian remedy.
It's not just Merkel
Merkel should have a better answer for that girl. She should commit to substantially increasing the number of people like her that are allowed to come to and stay in Germany. And so too should her peer leaders. President Obama's record on immigration has greatly improved in his second term, but he's still deported more immigrants than any other president in history. He's hardly a hero for open borders. In the UK, David Cameron is pushing a new crackdown that'll make it possible to seize the wages of unauthorized immigrants.
I give Merkel a modicum of credit: She at least told that girl, to her face, that she wouldn't help her find a better life. Obama and Cameron haven't had to say that to the thousands — millions — whom they've hurt the same way. But the girl still deserved a better answer than the one Merkel gave. She deserved a chance.
If she wants to, Merkel could offer even more than that. She could go beyond letting in 100,000 more, or 500,000 more, or 1 million more people a year. She could let everyone in. People often forget that restrictive borders of the sort that Merkel is selectively enforcing here are a very modern development, and in Europe were basically a side effect of the outbreak of World War I. The 19th century era of mass emigration — largely to America, but also between European countries — resulted not in disaster but in huge gains for all involved. It led to improved conditions for immigrant families and faster economic growth for the native-born population. There's no reason we can't go back to that. There's no reason open borders can't work in developed countries.
Indeed, Argentina has, as a matter of constitutional law, effectively open borders. There are no caps or quotas or lottery systems. You can move there legally if you have an employer or family member to sponsor you. That's all you need. If you don't have a sponsor, and make your way in illegally, you're recognized as an "irregular migrant." Discrimination against irregular migrants in health care or education is illegal, and deportation in noncriminal cases is exceptionally rare. Large-scale amnesties are the norm.
Obviously Argentina is not nearly as rich as Germany or the US or the UK. But it's considerably richer than three of its neighbors (Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil). And yet it doesn't try hard to keep their residents out. It welcomes them — as it should. "One could have expected catastrophe—an uncontrollable flow of poorer immigrants streaming into the country coupled with angry public backlash," Elizabeth Slater writes in the World Policy Journal. "That hasn't happened."
Angela Merkel clearly expects catastrophe if she lets people like this weeping young Palestinian girl stay in Germany. That catastrophe is simply a myth; it wouldn't happen. What would happen is that Germany's economy would grow, its culture would grow richer, and that girl and more like her could see their lives improve immeasurably.
Merkel shouldn't be giving that girl a hug. She should be giving her a home.