Angus Deaton on Responsible Nationalism

The globalists have for far too long ignored that globalization, whether due to an increase in imports or an increase in immigration, has inevitably harmed some people in the industrialized countries. Angus Deaton has written an important essay that emphasizes the problem with what he calls “cosmopolitan prioritarianism,” which he defines as “an ethical rule that says we should think of everyone in the world in the same way, no matter where they live.”

The globalization that has rescued so many in poor countries has harmed some people in rich countries…Like many in academia and in the development industry, I am among globalization’s greatest beneficiaries – those who are able to sell our services in markets that are larger and richer than our parents could have dreamed of.

Globalization is less splendid for those who not only don’t reap its benefits, but suffer from its impact. We have long known that less-educated and lower-income Americans, for example, have seen little economic gain for four decades, and that the bottom end of the US labor market can be a brutal environment.

Citizenship comes with a set of rights and responsibilities that we do not share with those in other countries…We can think about these rights and obligations as a kind of mutual insurance contract: We refuse to tolerate certain kinds of inequality for our fellow citizens, and each of us has a responsibility to help – and a right to expect help – in the face of collective threats…When citizens believe that the elite care more about those across the ocean than those across the train tracks, insurance has broken down, we divide into factions, and those who are left behind become angry and disillusioned with a politics that no longer serves them.

This is precisely one of the key themes in We Wanted Workers. My recent exchange in Reason Magazine with Shikha Dalmia addresses this very question. At the end of the exchange, I leave no doubt as to which side I am on:

Espousing any specific immigration policy is nothing but a declaration that group x is preferred to group y. It is easy to avoid clarifying who you are rooting for by trying to reframe the debate in terms of amorphous philosophical ideals about mobility rights and the like. But this is where we go our separate ways. When push comes to shove, I will side with policies that improve the well being of the American worker.



Author: George Borjas

I am a Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.