Ethics Trumping Economics?

By Vernon Briggs
Volume 7, Number 2 (Winter 1996-1997)
Issue theme: "Looking back on the 1996 elections"

In 1993, the United Nation's Population Fund identified immigration as "the human crisis of the age." Its report pointed out that, historically, there were vast unpopulated spaces on Earth that were livable and where human beings could move in times of conflict, depletion of their local natural resources, climatological changes, or natural disasters. By the end of the 20th century, however, it is no longer possible to move en masse anywhere on the globe without confronting territory already occupied by others. Moreover, the report states that these would-be "recipient areas and countries are already under stress" themselves. Consequently, immigration is emerging as the key issue confronting the governments of nation states everywhere.

So far, the nation state remains the only significant policymaking entity throughout the world. Even international agreements must be ratified by individual nation states before they become effective. Nation states, in turn, usually act in what they perceive as being their own national interest. Often, such actions appear to be selfish in their motivations. Normally, they are. Yet in each case, "serving the national interest" is the rationale offered for the actions taken by their leaders.

Vernon M. Briggs, Jr. is a professor of economics at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. His most recent book is Mass Immigration and the National Interest (M.E. Sharpe,1996) available from The Social Contract Press, 1-800-352-4843. This paper was first presented at Writers Workshop XX, held in Washington, DC., October 19, 1996, sponsored by The Social Contract Press. In most instances, economic considerations are paramount in determining how policy decisions reflect the national interest. The 1991 war with