To Be a Good Citizen, You Need Not Be Rich

– Minouche Shafik thank
you so much for joining us. I’d like to ask you
about the role of markets in dealing with immigration. Gary Becker, the University
of Chicago economist, Noble Prize Winner, free
market laissez-faire economist argued that there’s a simple solution to our fraught debates
about immigration policy. Put a price on citizenship
and whoever can pay, can come. And you set the price at whatever level will generate the number you want. It’ll increase the receipts
to the National Treasury, especially in rich countries
where many people want to go. And it will attract, he argued,
the best kind of immigrants. Those who will contribute to
the economy, who are motivated, who will earn back quickly whatever price they have to pay to get in. What do you think? – It’s interesting. I have to say I don’t agree. I think there are some domains where using market allocations
are not appropriate. I think citizenship is one,
I think voting is another. I think those are domains in which, for democracy to work, people have to come to it as equals. That’s also true about citizenship. The choices the countries
make about who to let in are very complicated. We can talk about that. It’s very complicated. But I think using an auction
is not the right tool. – Because? – Because being a good citizen, is not measured by how
much money you have. So I think it’s more criteria. You know when you’re buying a good, the person who’s willing
to pay the most for it, is probably the person
who values it the most. And so I’m happy to
use a financial measure of value for buying a house or
a car or something like that. But I think the value of citizenship is not determined by how
much income you have. There are people who
are outstanding citizens who have no income and there are people who are dreadful citizens
who are very wealthy. And so I just think it’s the wrong metric. – He did partially
anticipate this objection by saying there could be a system of loans for immigrants who are well motivated, just as there are loans for
attendance at universities for students who can’t afford to pay. Would that change your view? – The point about citizenship isn’t you will come and earn a lot of money and therefore you’ll be a good citizen because you’ll be rich. I guess I reject the metric and so a loan which generates more of the same metric, it doesn’t respond to my concern. – You’re worried that it turns citizenship into a purely instrumental good. – Yes, the reason we value citizens and citizenship is not by
how much money people earn. I think it fundamentally undermines what a democratic society is all about if you start selling that and using a financial metric. If you take that logic to its end, the more money you earn, the
more votes you should have. I mean that just… And of course some societies
were organized like that in the 18th and 19th century. – Property qualifications. – Property qualifications
for voting and so on. And we don’t accept that anymore. There are some domains
where markets and pricing are really good for allocating resources and making decisions and there are some domains where they’re not. – Many countries have foreign
investor visa programs that amount to fast track to citizenship. – Yes. – For people willing to
either invest a certain amount in a country or to pay an outright sum to the government. – I’m not very fond of those programs. I think many of them
have a social dimension where you have to invest in
a poor part of the country to benefit that part of
the country and so on. And you can see some policy logic for that but those programs where you just pay and you get a passport, I
don’t think that’s right. – But what is the trade off? The country gains, the
National Treasury does by selling a passport or a visa. The person who comes and
invests, they’re willing to pay, they benefit, it’s worth it to them. What is the trade off on the other side? – I think there are many
different versions of this. There are some versions where
people just buy a passport and don’t actually live in the country and don’t actually
contribute to that society in any way and I think
those are very problematic. I think it’s more nuanced
if the person actually lives in the country, pays
taxes, becomes a citizen and then I think it’s more
acceptable to consider because they actually add something and contribute to that society. – Now what would you
think of this variation on Becker’s proposal. Not that the country sell passports or citizenship but suppose
a citizen of the UK or of the US needs money, is not so keen to live in that country
and there’s someone from abroad who’s wealthy
and willing to pay that person to trade places. Someone let’s say from Russia would like to live in the US and is willing to pay a large amount of money
to some American citizen who will swap citizenship, trading places. A private deal. – Right. – You mentioned earlier we generally think in liberal societies we
should allow private deals. What about this one? – It’s interesting. It’s completely illegal in any country. I don’t know of any country
that would allow that to happen. I can’t answer that
because I got no evidence of any example of whether
it was good or bad. It sounds a bit farfetched
because very few countries would allow such a private deal to happen. I think because most countries want to have some control over who is a citizen and so the people you’re protecting by not making that possible are the existing citizens
of both countries who would want to have some say over who joins their community. And I think I see the
wider social interest of other citizens, probably superseding the right of an individual
to have a private deal along those lines. – Even if you screened
out terrorists, criminals. – Criminality, terrorists. Yes, because I think setting
your immigration policy is an issue for a democratic government to decide democratically. And having private individuals kind of thwart that isn’t right. – Minouche Shafik, thank you so much for this conversation. – Pleasure, thank you.

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