David Henderson In Person

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Am I the only one who makes a concerted effort to see LRC authors speak and meet them in person whenever I can? I hope not because it is a lot of fun and you always learn something. I also find that I enjoy reading people’s articles more when I have met them. I wish we had a speaker’s schedule up on LRC so that you could see who is coming to your city at a glance. I just got back from seeing David Henderson speak at The Discussion Club here in St. Louis, (Ralph Raico also spoke at the Discussion Club near the end of last year… Boy did he make the sparks fly!) I had no idea what a well informed and engaging champion of economic freedom Professor Henderson is. He had people laughing even as he destroyed their arguments.

There were two points he made that particularly struck me. The first was in response to a question about shutting down “sweatshops”. He made the usual free market argument that the people working in those sweatshops have demonstrated by working there that that was their best option. But he made the point in a way I hadn’t heard before: “You don’t help someone by looking at their list of options and eliminating the one they chose!” Well said.

Since the topic was jobs going offshore, he spent much of the lecture making the argument for free trade. One person asked whether immigration restrictions were a last bastion of trade restriction. His response was interesting. He said that immigration was great in 1900 when there were no welfare benefits but the issue was clouded now by those immigrants who may be coming to cash in on the magnanimous welfare state. He did not use this to argue for immigration restriction though but argued for a residency requirement of, say, 20 years. Only once the residency requirement was complete would an immigrant be eligible for welfare (including gov’t schools!), citizenship and voting. He argues that very few people are going to immigrate for welfare benefits that are 20 years away. I like this proposal, it meets Rothbard’s criterion for a constructive transitional demand since the effect is to reduce the welfare state some. A small step, but a step in the right direction. It is also a proposal that, he points out, has already had some success on the state level.

11:26 pm on January 13, 2005