Cultural Communities in a Global Labor Market: Immigration Restrictions as Residential Segregation

Howard F. Chang, University of Pennsylvania Law School


Economists recognize that nations can gain from trade through not only the free movement of goods across national boundaries but also the free movement of services, capital, and labor across national boundaries. Despite the presumption that economic theory raises in favor of international labor mobility, the nations of the world maintain restrictions on immigration and show little inclination to liberalize these barriers significantly. Michael Walzer defends immigration restrictions as policies necessary to maintain distinct cultural communities and rejects the alternative of voluntary residential segregation at the local level. I argue that we should instead prefer voluntary segregation at the local level over segregation mandated by the government at the national level. Segregation at the local level allows individuals to enjoy the benefits of living in a community matching their preferences while still enjoying access to labor markets in other communities nearby. The type of segregation that Walzer defends, enforced at the national level through immigration restrictions, cuts workers off from valuable employment opportunities.

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