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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Americans Are Even Xenophobic toward Canadians

Americans are so xenophobic, they don't even favor open borders with Canada.

Are Americans racist and xenophobic? As usual, two package deals angrily competing for our attention. The first says: Americans are obviously racist and xenophobic. The second says: no, you’re just being paranoid.

Neither package deal sees America clearly. For racism, Avenue Q has it right: while (almost) everyone’s a little bit racist, the key word is “little.” How little? In the United States in recent decades, race has minimal effect on earnings once you correct for obvious measures of worker productivity – and minimal effect on incarceration once you correct for obvious measures of law-breaking. While these aren’t the only possible metrics of racism, they are the main ones people get angry about. And there’s not much there.

Xenophobia, in stark contrast, is rampant. With apologies to Johnny Carson, let me put it this way …

How xenophobic are Americans?

[dramatic pause]

Americans are so xenophobic, they don’t even favor open borders with Canada.

Xenophobia Wins over Racism

Think about all the popular arguments against immigration. Immigrants hurt low-skilled Americans. Immigrants abuse the welfare state. Immigrants commit crimes. Immigrants don’t learn English. Immigrants refuse to culturally assimilate. Immigrants vote for Sharia.

Why not let Canadians live and work here? Well, why should we? Why can’t they just stay in Canada?Now ask yourself: how do any of these arguments even remotely apply to Canadians? But the sound of crickets changes nothing. If a Canadian asks to live and work in the US, America’s default answer remains: no.

Historically, yes, opposition to immigration was closely tied to racial and ethnic bigotry: first against Asians, then against Southern and Eastern Europeans. And anger about immigration continues to be racially enhanced: Americans gripe far more about an illegal Hispanic immigrant from the South than an illegal white immigrant from the North.

Still, when xenophobia conflicts with racism, it is xenophobia that prevails. US law genuinely grants citizens, regardless of race, the basic human rights to live and work anywhere they choose – and denies these basic human rights to everyone else on Earth – even if they’re the spitting image of Ozzie and Harriet. We bitterly joke about DWB – the de facto “crime” of Driving While Black. But WWF – Working While Foreign – is literally illegal … unless, of course, the US government feels like making an exception. And even if you’re Canadian, the US government rarely feels like making an exception.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that Americans spend much time decrying Canadians or even thinking about them. But if you broach the subject, Americans’ xenophobia is plain as day. Why not let Canadians live and work here? Well, why should we? What’s wrong with Canada? Why can’t Canadians just stay there? A fellow human being from Canada wants to rent a US home from a willing landlord and accept a US job offer from a willing employer – and Americans favor prohibition for no identifiable reason whatsoever. If that’s not xenophobia, what is?

But aren’t people in every country – Canada included – similarly unreasonable and unfair? Sure. Xenophobia – not racism – is the unrepentant bigotry that rules the world. People in every country on Earth take it for granted. But as we teach our children, “Everyone else is doing it” is no excuse for bad behavior. Almost everyone is is extremely xenophobic. And everyone should stop. Starting with you.

This first appeared at Library of Economics and Liberty.

  • Bryan Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University, research fellow at the Mercatus Center, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and blogger for EconLog. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.