Equal opportunity

Immigration restrictions arbitrarily discriminate against people based on their place of birth, and enforce these restrictions coercively. They deny people living in countries with dysfunctional political and economic systems the opportunity to prove their worth in other countries. They deny these people the opportunity to improve their living standards and secure a better future for their children.

There are many debates surrounding the question of equal opportunity. On the one hand, there are people who say that governments are not obliged to make active efforts to secure equal opportunity for all, but rather, should focus on equal opportunity in access to public services and equality before the law. These people argue that government enforcement of equal opportunity through mandating affirmative action, or passing restrictions on hiring practices, are an infringement of the free association rights of private parties. Also, it is argued that such measures often have negative unintended consequences.

Others argue that governments need to play an active role in securing equal opportunity by restricting or outlawing discriminatory practices in employment. Some argue for mandating affirmative action in private employment. Some argue for means-tested welfare programs to level the playing field for poor children so that they can compete fairly with their more privileged counterparts.

These are difficult issues with many competing interests (liberty/freedom of association versus egalitarian goals) as well as uncertainty about unintended consequences.

On the other hand, people on both sides of the issue can agree that laws that forbid free association and deny equal opportunities to those already underprivileged are unambiguously bad.

The case of immigration restrictions is a clear example where both equality of opportunity and freedom of association are denied. Thus, it should be a no-brainer for people on both sides of the equal opportunity versus free association divide to join hands on this issue:


  • No blacks need apply: A hypothetical by Michael Clemens that compares the government forbidding a person from taking a private job because of race versus because of national origin.
  • Global apartheid: Immigration restrictions are comparable to the now disbanded apartheid regime in South Africa and to Jim Crow laws in the southern United States.
  • Immigration restrictions as affirmative action, based on a blog post by Bryan Caplan.