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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. First, I present a critique of Walzer’s claims from an economic perspective. I take the maximization of global economic welfare to be the appropriate objective, then explore whether the value of distinctive cultural communities can justify immigration restrictions. Second, I present a moral critique from a liberal perspective. I argue that even if immigration restrictions satisfy the preferences of incumbent residents for more extensive segregation than voluntary segregation can provide, this effect cannot justify immigration restrictions in a society committed to liberal ideals.


Employment Practice, International Trade, Labor Law, Moral and Political Philosophy, Race Relations

Publication Title

University of Chicago Law Forum

Publication Citation

2007 U. Chi. L. F. 321 (2007)