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Immigration Certificates and Zero Net Immigration
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March 08, 2009, 03:41 AM
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Warren Buffett proposed in 2003 the idea of "import certificates"—an adjustable tariff to balance the US trade deficit. I think the idea has some merit—but needs some adjustments to work properly. One problem is that imports of capital improvements (i.e. machinery used in a BMW plant) are treated exactly the same as imports of consumer goods. That might be handled by allowing payment of the import certificates to be adjusted according to the depreciation schedule of major capital items. If BMW imports equipment for a factory in the US with a 10 year depreciation schedule, they might purchase a bundle of import certificate futures coming to maturity over 10 years.

I think the idea of import certificates also can be applied to achieving a sane immigration policy. Peter Brimelow has previously proposed that the US should have a goal of zero net immigration. I think that goal is interesting—but it needs to be considered with the fact that many immigrants to the US are relatively young people that will produce offspring that will be US citizens-and that many emigrants are retirees that are going back home where there social security checks will stretch further. There may be room for use of some kind of futures market to help with this situation.

Still, we could have a market in immigration certificates that would work. Each emigrant that that leaves the US for another country would get paid the amount that immigrant of a similar age is willing to pay to come to the US. For folks nearing retirement age, they might be qualified to have sufficient means to support themselves in the US and a payment sufficient to cover the shortfall between the social security contributions of the emigrating population and the likely social security receipts of that population. Illegal aliens leaving the US and non-citizen green card holders could get some kind of partial credit in proportion to their stay. Immigration certificates could be seen as a kind of option to obtain citizenship-that could be combined with requirements to learn English, live in the US without criminal activity(and perhaps obtaining an insurance policy that assures that should a prospective immigrant be incarcerated or become ill, the US taxpayer won`t be footing the bill). One nice feature if immigration certificates, is that if someone finds the US just isn`t to their liking, they can get a big part of their investment back—and thus con jobs and exploitation of immigrants could be minimized.

There are big blocks of the US population that are deeply dissatisfied with the direction the US government has taken in recent decades. An immigration certificate scheme would give them a realistic chance to make a new start elsewhere-and would let the powers that be of the US select the kind of population they really want. It would instantly solve the problems of infrastructure creation related to population growth driven by immigration. I suspect that a regime with immigration certificates would still have substantial immigration-but it would have a fundamentally different composition and would be balanced by emigration that would be more substantial than we have now—and would be largely voluntary.

If we combined import certificates and immigration certificates, the incentives created for US workers could change rather dramatically. We might actually wind up with a population that really wants to be in the US—and the US could return to its roots as a nation of citizens.