Humans Are Capital, Which Means There's No 'Crisis' of Migrants
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In the 1960s, millions swam across the Sham Chun River that separates Hong Kong from Shenzhen on China’s mainland. It’s a waste of words to say where the millions were swimming from or to, but just in case, back in the 1960s and 70s it wasn’t uncommon to hear in the U.S. that “they’re starving in China, so finish your dinner.” Yes, the millions who escaped Chinese collectivism in favor of Hong Kong’s freedom were escaping starvation first and foremost.

The migration of massive amounts of human capital from Shanghai and Shenzhen (among others) to Hong Kong always comes to mind when newspaper and television headlines describe it as a “migrant crisis” when humans exit collectivist and or murderous parts of the world. How could it be a “crisis” to take in people who love themselves and their families enough to exit what suffocates their freedom and their ability to eat?

To which some readers will arguably reply not unreasonably that they’re not against immigration as much as they want the "right kind of immigration." They want the skilled, the educated, and some might even quietly say they want the people who aren’t from “s---hole countries.” Ok, but China was assuredly a s---hole country in the 1960s and 1970s, and its primary human export was desperately poor and starved people who were escaping horrendously bad living conditions of the toilets-as-holes-in-the-ground variety.

What’s important is that Hong Kong became Hong Kong as a consequence of the arrival of people who were unwashed, tired, desperately hungry, or add your own adjectives that normally describe migrants. As opposed to the arrival of millions existing as a “crisis,” the inflow of starving people into Hong Kong factored large in making it great.

About this inflow, the great classical French economic thinker Jean-Baptiste Say described immigrants as “treasures.” The view here is that he got it right. They’re moving to where you are because they believe they can make themselves better near you. Applied to once scrofulous Chinese people, the immense prosperity of Hong Kong (even now) signals that they merely needed freedom and free markets to clean themselves up.  

What’s important about this is that the United States is no different. Think about it. Seriously, the surest sign that migrants into the United States gradually (and frequently rapidly) spiff up their appearance and their overall economics is the constant arrival of migrants into the United States. People who want better aren’t going to Honduras, but they are coming here. Unknown is why so many are prone to describing the flow of people as a crisis.

The above question in particular rates mention with regard to Texas, the presumed epicenter of the so-called “migrant crisis.” Texans (and conservatives well outside of Texas) have for years reveled in the outflow of Californians to Texas, but when people from outside the United States take their talents and ambition to the U.S. through Texas, it’s suddenly a crisis.

About this, the aforementioned juxtaposition isn’t meant to be read as flippant. No doubt Californians migrating to Texas look and live differently from those coming up through Central America. At the same time, the fact that they look and live differently is a statement of the obvious. Where people aren’t free to develop their talents, they tend to look pretty bad. See again the Chinese of the 1960s crossing the Sham Chun River. But they once again cleaned themselves up upon arrival in Hong Kong. Such is the genius of freedom.

This is something to keep in mind as media types and pundits continue to describe the southern Texas border in “crisis” terms, but the flow of Californians into Texas in more exuberant fashion. The simple truth is that economic freedom has a long track record of improving the appearance of the formerly tired and hungry, and as for the orderly nature of the California diaspora versus the more disheveled look of the one in south Texas that all-too-many attach “crisis” to, it seems their wording is off. That’s the case because the city, state or country importing humans has historically not been harmed by it. With good reason as the flow of people signals a growing division of labor among free hands, plus it’s a market phenomenon.

At the same time, government control of the flow decidedly isn’t about markets. Which is something to consider. Is the crisis of the moment one of people who want better, or government trying to plan the market signal that is the arrival of people who want better?  

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, President of the Parkview Institute, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors ( His latest book, set for release in April of 2024 and co-authored with Jack Ryan, is Bringing Adam Smith Into the American Home: A Case Against Homeownership

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