How Is Immigration Like Nuclear Power?

Nuclear power has the ability to provide cheap, renewable, safe, clean energy for all mankind.  But only 11% of global electricity comes from nuclear power.

Why is something so great so rare?

Because government strangles nuclear power with regulation.

Why do governments strangle it?

Because nuclear power is unpopular.

Why is it so unpopular?

First, innumeracy.  The gains of nuclear power vastly outweigh all the complaints put together, but the complaints are emotionally gripping.  Deaths from radiation are horrifying; vastly higher fatalities from coal are not.  Even nuclear accidents that kill zero people get worldwide media attention, fueling draconian populist regulation.

Second, spookiness.  Scientifically illiterate people can imagine endless far-fetched dangers of nuclear power.  And at risk of sounding elitist, almost everyone is scientifically illiterate.

[brief pause]

Immigration has the ability to double the wealth produced by all mankind.  But only 3% of people on Earth are migrants.

Why is something so great so rare?

Because government strangles immigration with regulation.

Why do governments strangle it?

Because immigration is unpopular.

Why is it so unpopular?

First, innumeracy.  The gains of immigration vastly outweigh all the complaints put together, but the complaints are emotionally gripping.  Deaths from immigrant crime are horrifying; vastly higher fatalities from native crime are not.  Even immigrant outrages that kill zero people get worldwide media attention, fueling draconian populist regulation.

Second, spookiness.  Economically illiterate people can imagine endless far-fetched dangers of immigration.  And at risk of sounding elitist, almost everyone is economically illiterate.

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Bryan Caplan

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Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He is the author of The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies, named “the best political book of the year” by the New York Times, and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. He is now working on a new book, The Case Against Education.

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