There is a lot going on here. Part of this is traditional xenophobia, the habit of finding aliens to blame during times of political and economic anxiety, which is doubly attractive if those aliens are ethnically distinctive: When was the last time you heard Senator Sanders screaming about our trade deficit with Germany or Pat Buchanan bemoaning the thousands of illegal immigrants from Ireland residing in the United States? Part of it is legitimate concern about immigration that is excessive and chaotic, and detestation of politicians who are so easily mau-maued by suggestions of prejudice that they either refuse to touch the issue or pursue precisely the wrong policies.
But part of it is that John Lukacs was right, though we seem to be haunted less by the ghost of Adolf Hitler than by that of Benito Mussolini, whose economic ideas and executive-centered political model were so attractive to Franklin Roosevelt and to progressives of his era. It is not the case, as some libertarians suggest, that free trade implies free immigration, that laissez-faire implies open borders; that is a mistake made by those who neglect the fact that human beings have economic value but are not economic goods.
onetheless, there is a large overlap between those who put immigration restriction at the center of their agenda and those who oppose free trade, and they share the assumption that economic interactions with foreigners absent government guidance toward the “national interest” is necessarily destructive. It is not that there is no such thing as the national interest: We have an intense and necessary interest in what’s going on in Pyongyang at the moment, and what happens in Syria, whether our borders are secure, whether our banking regulations put us at a global disadvantage. But there isn’t a legitimate national interest in having boffins in Washington stand between a fellow in Pittsburgh who wants to buy a pair of sneakers and a guy in Mindanao who wants to sell them to him. That so many are convinced that there is such an interest is only another piece of evidence, superfluous at this point in history, that there isn’t much of a market for markets, that people who have enjoyed the benefits of largely free and open trade for a long time now remain suspicious of the very mechanism that makes the abundance they enjoy possible.