Bryan Caplan discusses the economics of a cruise ship as a metaphor for trade and labour mobility in this thought provoking post.
At one level, economic theory tells us that the exploited workers on the cruise ship are better off than they would be if we boycotted the cruises. But at another level, they are having to do this because our immigration laws prevent them from getting other, better paid jobs in rich countries.
Undoubtedly most of my fellow passengers fully supported our immigration laws. So when I looked at their faces, I couldn’t help thinking: You people really do exploit and oppress the employees of this cruise ship. As consumers, you expand the workers’ job options and help them build a better life for themselves. But as voters, you have done everything you could to keep these poor people from competing in First World labor markets on equal terms. In a just world, your diligent assistant waiter from India might be your boss.
As I pointed out here, free traders who believe in free movement of capital and goods should, for the same reasons, believe in free movement of people.
Perhaps one day it will be recognised that our unjust and illiberal immigration policies have made a major contribution to human suffering and avoidable death.