"Keep the Riffraff Out!"

Mormonism is a proselyting religion. Close to 35 years ago, I was one of many Mormon missionaries trying to persuade people in Tokyo to become Mormons. And most of you will one time or another see Mormon missionaries at your door, wherever you are in the world. 

One of the positive features of a proselyting religion that is not always fully appreciated is that newcomers are fully welcome, as long as they make even a minimal attempt to fit in. And if they so choose, it is not hard for them to become full members of the community.

Sometimes, members of the Mormon Church question the virtue of bringing someone into the community who has enough needs that they are likely to require more help from the community than the amount they are able to help others. But the young women and men serving for a year and a half or two as full-time missionaries and higher Mormon Church authorities quickly overrule such sentiments.

I don’t believe in the supernatural anymore, so I don’t believe in Mormonism. But I do believe in America. 

I wish America were a proselyting nation, eager to bring newcomers into the fold. I believe it would be a better world if more of the world’s 7 billion people were Americans. There are many people who would be willing converts to being Americans, but we keep them out.  

I have written a lot about immigration policy. For example, see “The Hunger Games is Hardly Our Future: It’s Already Here” and “You Didn’t Build That: America Edition.” But the sentiment “Keep the riffraff out!” shows up in other contexts as well. It is also an important motivating force behind the lobbying for occupational licensing, which I wrote about in “When the Government Says “You May Not Have a Job.” And the sentiment “Keep the riffraff out!” is a serious barrier to affordable housing, as it leads many cities to impose regulations that severely limit the construction of new housing, as Ryan Avent and Matthew Yglesias talk about in their respective books:

To me, a central ethical principle is that people are people, and all human beings deserve to be treated as human beings. “Keep the riffraff out!” should not be our first impulse in relation to other human beings.