This website is dedicated to making the case for open borders. The term “open borders” is used to describe a world where there is a strong presumption in favor of allowing people to migrate and where this presumption can be overridden or curtailed only under exceptional circumstances. Continue reading
Tiago Ribeiro dos Santos, the author of this guest post, is a diplomat at the Ministry of External Relations of Brazil and a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of either institution.
Today is International Women’s Day. It is the day we celebrate how much women have achieved since the beginning of the feminist movement but, more than that, it is a day to realize how much there is still to accomplish in gender equality. Even in developed countries, discrimination happens in so many ways that it may be hard to pick a specific way to help the plight of women.
I say we should try to help the vast majority of women worldwide who live in poor, repressive societies. The challenges a woman in New York faces, however serious they are, pale in comparison to what a woman in the most repressive countries has to deal with.
Many feminists heavily prioritize advancing women’s rights in developing countries exactly because of this difference in the size of the challenges. Women (and men) from around the world fight practices such as stoning, female circumcision, abusive dress codes and several others. Most of the efforts involve some form of governmental or non-governmental pressure to stop these injustices from happening.
But one neglected approach is to allow these oppressed women move to a society where they would not be oppressed. To let them live a life (significantly) free of discrimination, persecution and poverty. Which is what open borders would achieve. The number of women who would benefit is enormous. As mentioned previously in the open borders blog, 49% of migrants are women, according to the International Organization for Migration.
I will not delve into what other effects an open borders policy would achieve, because many others have done so with much more competence than I could attempt to achieve. What I would like people to take away from this day of reflection is that if we are serious about helping the most afflicted women in the world we should consider allowing them to enjoy the benefits we have already conquered alongside us.
Here’s our Friday link roundup. See here for all link roundups. As usual, linking does not imply endorsement.
Follow us on Twitter for a steady stream of links and discussion.
Discussions of the ethics and philosophy of migration law
Discussions and recommendations that take a long view (not directly topical)
- Global: The Curious Case of the Falling Remittances by Timothy Ogden, Financial Access Initiative (NYU), March 6, 2014.
- Europe: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” – Europe’s migration challenge and its economic impact by Rainer Münz, bruegel, March 7, 2014.
- United States: How Immigration Can Restrict and Enhance Liberty: An argument for letting in more newcomers—and a warning about a potential pitfall by Conor Friesendorf, The Atlantic, March 4, 2014.
- United States: Barack Obama under siege over deportations by Reid J. Epstein and Seung Min Kim, Politico, March 6, 2014.
- United States: Clueless in the Capital: DHS and ICE Morale Continue to Plunge by Dan Cadman, Center for Immigration Studies, March 7, 2014.
- United States: Why does the state treat the children of undocumented immigrants as second-class citizens? by Alison Piepmeier, Charleston City Paper, March 5, 2014.
- United States: America’s Maginot Line by Lucy Steigerwald, Antiwar.com, March 6, 2014.
- United States: A Libertarian Solution to Immigration Reform by Ed Krayewski, Reason Magazine, March 4, 2014.
Migration in the news
- United Kingdom: #PrayForInternationalStudents – the Conservatives Are On the Migration Bandwagon Again by Daniel Stevens, NUS Connect, March 7, 2014.
- United States: ‘The Romeikes Can Stay!!!’: Shocking 180 in the Case of German Home-Schooling Family by Erica Ritz, The Blaze, March 4, 2014.
- United States: Why Can’t A Nation That Calls Itself A Melting Pot Sort Out Its Immigration System? by Elise Foley, The Huffington Post, March 7, 2014.
- United States: Florida High Court Says Illegal Immigrants Cannot Get Law License: Judge Points to Federal Statute Prohibiting Public Benefits for Undocumented Workers by Joe Palazzolo, Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2014.
- Immigration reform crucial for South Jersey farmers, officials say by Thomas Barlas, Press of Atlantic City, March 5, 2014.
The “sanctity of borders” has been the central doctrine of the post-Cold War world order. It is very topical because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine which seems to have taken place on February 27, 2014. For the record, Putin has denied that Russian forces seized Crimea, claiming the pro-Russian forces are local militias. The US State Department has provided evidence that Putin is lying. As an intermittent Russia watcher, my impression is that words have an instrumental rather than a veridical function for Putin, and have little value as evidence for anything except what he thinks it is in the interests of Russian power to fool the world into believing at a particular moment. Be that as it may, the Crimea crisis is a dire threat to the global principle of sanctity of borders.
I have a schizophrenic attitude to the “sanctity of borders.” On the one hand, as I put it in the title of a previous post, “The Modern Borders Regime Was Designed to Secure International Peace,” which I just reread. It’s worth rereading now. Both there and in an earlier post, “Deepening the Peace,” I argue that the Wilsonian world order that, in the course of the 20th century, gradually succeeded in partitioning the world into sovereign democratic or pseudo-democratic nation-states with well-defined borders, has been (since World War II) strikingly successful in maintaining peace. I derived these ideas some time back from an excellent book by Michael Mandelbaum, The Ideas that Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy and Free Markets in the Twenty-First Century (but the book is really about the 20th century). For evidence on the world’s growing peacefulness in general, see the Human Security Report and Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. (I find the latter book obtuse in many ways, but it musters the evidence convincingly.) I think the “sanctity of borders” as a principle of international relations is a crucial factor explaining the world’s unprecedented peacefulness.
This is partly why I have hitherto been skeptical of the peace case for open borders. While prima facie plausible, it seems empirically false. The Golden Age of Open Borders ended in World War I. The closed borders post-WWII era was much more peaceful. Correlation does not prove causation, of course, but the fact that the data seem to show the opposite of what the peace case would predict, makes it seem unpromising.
Now, to immigration restrictionists, “the sanctity of borders” has another meaning: borders are morally significant lines which individuals cannot cross without wronging all the inhabitants of the nation whose territory they have entered. Either governments per se, or the people through their governments, have a kind of collective right in the entire territory of a nation, which undocumented immigrants violate. Governments act justly when they restrict immigration, regardless of what their reason may be or whether they have any reason at all. There is no right to migrate; on the contrary, nations enjoy a right, analogous to private property rights, not to be migrated into without their (suitably defined) consent. Thus borders are sacred.
“Sanctity of borders” in this sense, I deny. I think it lacks moral or philosophical justification, and the belief in it is immensely harmful to human welfare. Governments do not really enjoy this right. When they act on their belief that they do, they act wrongly. The world would be a better place if they correctly understood that they do not have this right, that on the contrary there is sometimes a right and in any case a liberty to (peacefully) migrate which governments may justly infringe only in exceptional cases.
Is my rejection of “sanctity of borders” against international migration inconsistent with a favorable attitude to “sanctity of borders” in international relations. No. The reconciliation is easy: I could simply assert that governments have a right to defend their borders by force against armed invaders, and a duty not to send armed invaders into other countries, but that they do not have a right to deny entry to peaceful immigrants who intend only consensual and rights-respecting interaction with a country’s current and lawful residents. Maybe I would assert that. But I would qualify my support for sanctity of borders in other ways. And here my opinions track those of many “liberal internationalists” in the foreign affairs community.
There have been many instances of humanitarian intervention by Western democracies since the end of the Cold War, including: Rwanda; East Timor; Sierra Leone; Yugoslavia, and in particularly the 1998 war in Kosovo; and most recently, the 2011 intervention in Libya. All these wars tend to violate the principle of “sanctity of borders,” in the sense that military forces cross an international border without consent of the recognized, sovereign government of that country. Is it hypocrisy, then, to object to Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, or of Ukraine in 2014, on the ground that it violated “the sanctity of borders?” No, but the sanctity of borders must be qualified. It could be restated:
(1) “No government should send military forces across the sovereign borders of another, not having been attacked, unless this is necessary to prevent a massive human-rights violation, such as genocide or ethnic cleansing, currently in progress [humanitarian intervention], and to prevent such a crime is the government’s only important motive [disinterestedness].”
That would justify the war in Kosovo and some others, but not the 2003 invasion of Iraq. If we want to justify that too, we could offer the following:
(2) “No government should invade another country that has not attacked it, except to prevent extreme human-rights abuses or remove a totalitarian regime; furthermore, it should do so without intent of annexation or economic exploitation, without partition except as a last resort to prevent human rights violations, with fair advance warning, multilaterally and with the active support of other nations, and with a domestic record that gives it a credible chance of establish a rights-respecting regime in place of that which is removed.”
Principle (2) would justify the West’s humanitarian interventions, as well as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but condemn Russia’s invasions of Ukraine and Georgia. But am I just moving the goalposts? Is principle (2) actually rightin some fundamental moral sense? Does it allow too much, in authorizing so many interventions? Does it forbid too much, condemning some military interventions that are really justifiable?
For example, in Ukraine, Russia acted non-transparently and without fair warning, by stealth and surprise, in a situation where no major human rights violations were taking place, without a credible chance of establishing a rights-respecting regime because they don’t have one at home, with what seems to be an intent to partition Ukraine, and likely with an intent to annex Crimea. Yet Russians could make a plausible cause that the majority of the population of Crimea wants to be partitioned from Ukraine or even annexed to Russia (there may be a referendum about this in Crimea). Why shouldn’t the will of the Crimean majority decide whether the country is to be part of Ukraine or not? And why shouldn’t Russia help the Crimean majority attain its goals?
I think the best answer is that a world order based on a qualified sanctity of borders, as expressed above in Principle (1) or Principle (2), has proven itself quite effective in maintaining international peace. But that answer is not fully adequate, because man does not live by peace alone, and in all sorts of other ways, the contemporary world order is not conducive to the flourishing of much of the human race. The world order based on “sanctity of borders,” which Putin is now vigorously subverting, though impressively peaceful, has never been particularly rational or just. There was vast economic inequality between rich and poor nations. Totalitarian dictators like Saddam Hussein, whom the West had power to overthrow, were left in power, to the infinite detriment of their abject peoples. The 2003 invasion of Iraq has mitigated this problem a bit, but has not no way to guarantee people against getting trapped in a totalitarian nightmare regime. Many borders were drawn in a highly arbitrary fashion. Some states were rigged to fail by a disadvantageous geography or ethnic makeup. Ukraine, though far from the least fortunate of the world’s countries, is a good example of the arbitrariness of established borders, and the harm they do. There was never any very good reason for predominantly Russian Crimea to be part of Ukraine. It was a historical accident.
There have always been lots of plausible reasons to renegotiate all sorts of borders all over the world. Borders had to be treated as “sacred” precisely because they were so arbitrary and indefensible. We can’t offer a good reason why Crimea should be part of Ukraine, because there isn’t one and never was. Nor, for that matter, is there a good reason why Chechnya should be part of Russia, or Taiwan part of China, or why most of the borders in Africa should be as they are. But start to redraw them, and you open a Pandora’s box.
One of the more arbitrary borders in the world was that between Iraq and Kuwait, and just for that reason, the Gulf War of 1991 was so important for establishing the principle of “sanctity of borders.” That war, with full UN backing, embodied more than any other the principle of “collective security” which the US had been seeking to establish as the basis of the world order since Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. The League of Nations had embodied it, rather naively and ultimately without success. The United Nations had embodied it, but UN processes quickly got caught up in Cold War realpolitik and didn’t work the way they had been intended. But suddenly, in 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union, a UN-backed US-led genuinely global coalition applied overwhelmingly force to reverse an act of aggression. The very arbitrariness of the border thus defended clarified that it was precisely the principle of sanctity of borders, i.e., of any internationally recognized border, that was being established. It was a watershed. To this day, the world is full of little countries with little militaries that go unafraid among the nations. They have confidence in collective security, in the US-led UN-based world order, in international law. It was the 1991 Gulf War, above all, that made that possible. Meanwhile, however, humanitarian intervention has been undermining the principles of that world order. In particular, the 1998 war in Kosovo, leading to its declaration of independence in 2008, and the 2003 war in Iraq, undermined it.
The Iraq War of 2003 had a justification in international law: Saddam had committed himself to letting the international community verified that his country was free of WMDs, then he’d kicked out the weapons inspectors. UN Resolution 1441, authorizing the use of force, was passed. But there was still something lawless about the way the war was initiated. For one thing, the US administration said that it wanted UN authorization, yet would intervene with or without it. The US administration didn’t seem to be reacting to anything Iraq had just done. In that sense, the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a “war of choice.” There was certainly a humanitarian argument for overthrowing what everyone recognized to be a brutal totalitarian tyranny. But Saddam’s Iraq wasn’t engaged in genocide just then. The invasion of Iraq was part of a broader, much-misunderstood response to 9/11, and in that respect it was effective: Al-Qaeda was lured into a deadly trap. But to accept that as a reason to violate “Iraq’s sovereignty” was to set a dangerously ambiguous precedent, easy to manipulate and turn in sinister directions. The US wasn’t disinterested the way it had been in Kosovo or East Timor, and that made it more dangerous. The “sanctity of borders” was certainly violated in the sense that an international frontier was crossed by armed force, and the ex post justification, that a people was being liberated from tyranny, could easily turn into a program for wars all over the world, since there are plenty of genuinely tyrannical governments left standing. On the other hand, there was no question of the US annexing Iraq, and it didn’t partition it either. In that sense, the sanctity of borders was respected. But it was nonetheless a blow to the principle.
In the spring of 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, and this was recognized by many countries around the world including the US and most of western Europe. Russia was on the side of Serbia, a fellow Orthodox Slavic nation, and it’s probably in reaction to this that Russian-backed separatists in South Ossetia, a province of the US-allied Republic of Georgia, grew more active… and a war took place in August 2008. How exactly this occurred isn’t entirely clear, since Russia is an unfree and secretive country. The outcome was that Russia occupied two provinces of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and supported their declarations of independence, which however have gone almost entirely unrecognized by the rest of the world. But while Russia didn’t procure international recognition for its new occupied territories, it didn’t face any real consequences either.
Obama came into office and immediately sought to “reset” relations with Russia, as if the breakdown in relations were the US’s fault. I think this basically reflects Obama’s uncritical, knee-jerk rejection of the legacy of the Bush administration. Obama appeased Russia by withdrawing plans to create a missile defense complex in Poland, among other things. To my mind, the “reset” was a huge mistake on the part of the Obama administration, and it’s the main reason why Russia has now occupied Crimea. Russia paid no price for its aggression in Georgia, so now it has done it again, on a larger scale. The West could have done plenty to punish Russia without going to war: boycott the Sochi Olympics, expulsion from the G-8, sending arms to Georgia, a military buildup along the Russian border, targeted sanctions, trade restrictions. It could have boycotted the 2014 Sochi Olympics, or agitated for them to be moved elsewhere, a blow to Russian prestige. It should have done all that, but it might not have worked, and it might have risked escalation into war. What made it difficult, though, was that Russia’s position– that South Ossetia and Abkhazia should be separated from Georgia because their populations seemed to want to– was morally plausible. At any rate, to risk war with Russia for such a dubious cause would have seemed odd.
Now, after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the West finds itself in a position something like what it faced with Hitler in 1938. This is not a polemical reductio ad hitlerum, but an analytical device and a mnemonic. Putin resembles Hitler enough that Hitler’s career sheds light on Putin’s. Hitler and Putin came to power in countries bitter about losing major wars. Each was fiercely indignant about the fall of the former regime. (Putin has called the Soviet breakup “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.”) Both rose in the context of a struggling democracy which they proceeded to eviscerate, clamping down on political parties and press freedom and imprisoning opponents. Both spread anti-Western attitudes through official propaganda.
By late 1938, Hitler had an impressive record of bloodless conquests. He had remilitarized the Rhineland, contra Germany’s agreements in the Versailles Treaty; executed an Anschluss or union with Austria, which was then confirmed by “referendum”; then occupied the Sudetenland, a majority-German region of , this time with the active support of France and Britain, which were hoping to sate Hitler’s territorial ambitions to avoid war; and then occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia. None of this had met armed resistance, and naturally it did much to fuel Hitler’s popularity in Germany. Note that all of these early Hitlerian victories could plausibly be defended in terms of the Wilsonian principle of national self-determination. The West had greatly strengthened Hitler by letting him achieve all of this so easily. But what was the alternative? As long as Hitler had a plausible moral justification for his moves, however legally unacceptable they may have been, it was hard to muster the moral will to go to war with him. And so the rules of international legality were eviscerated, and a new system of incentives developed, and countries began to align themselves with Hitler. If Britain and France had fought in 1936, it would have been an easy win. By waiting to 1939, they almost handed Hitler the world on a platter.
Now, differences. First, Russia’s relative power is much less than Germany’s was. Second, whereas Russia is an authoritarian semi-dictatorship which has increasingly stifled dissent, it is not a totalitarian regime like the Nazis or the Soviet Union. Consequently, Russian public opinion is less crazy. Russians have more access to international news. Third, there isn’t a Russian ideology in the way there was a Nazi ideology. Fourth, Putin was less ruthless in establishing his regime. And I doubt that we’re on the brink of World War III. But the dilemma the West faces is similar to what it faced in 1938: either plunge into a nasty, dangerous confrontation that could lead to war for the sake of a not particularly just cause (keeping the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, or Crimea in Ukraine), or let the central stabilizing principle of the international order be eviscerated, and live in Putin’s world.
Bryan Caplan asked for predictions about Ukraine. I’ll offer a few. For now, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine looks unpopular in Russia. If Crimea secedes in some fashion, which it probably will, I doubt that Putin’s gambit will be so unpopular a year from now. I think Russians are afraid of the reactions of the West, but the West’s reaction will be feeble enough that, in Russians’ eyes, events will prove Putin right. Putin will be strengthened at home. Meanwhile, a few other things will happen:
- Other secessionist movements around the world will be emboldened. They will behave more provocatively, and start to look for foreign patrons.
- Demand for nuclear weapons will increase. Crimea will persuade many that nuclear weapons are the only real security in Putin’s world, and also, and worse, that they allow a nation to engage in aggression with impunity. I was tempted to say “fifteen nuclear powers by 2020,” but I don’t know enough about the supply side. Maybe nuclear weapons are too difficult for some regimes to get. But more will want them.
- Military spending will rise in many countries.
- Many regimes will try to alter the ethnic “facts on the ground” in their favor, burdening human rights in pre-emptive strikes against possible secession movements.
- If Crimea’s independence is widely recognized, Taiwan will start to use it to bolster the case for their independence. This raises the probability of a China-Taiwan war.
- The trend towards declining violence documented by the Human Security Report will stall or go into reverse.
Now, all this is causing me to reassess the peace case for open borders. Until now, I had been skeptical because the status quo seemed to be doing so well. But now it looks like the status quo may be breaking down. There’s a civil war in Syria which no one knows what to do about. In view of the empirical regularity that democracies do not fight each other, the global spread of democracy was an encouraging sign for the future of world peace. But democracy seems to be in decline. Democracy failed quickly in Egypt. The Pax Americana seems to be giving way to a more chaotic period of interregnum.
And so, let me suggest that it would be useful if open borders, the right to migrate, could be deployed in a somewhat opportunistic factor as a means to peace. Consider the case of Ukraine. One reason Russians care so much about Ukraine is that Kiev is so central to Russian history. It was where Russia began. Russians want to have access to it. If Ukraine joins NATO and the EU, immigration restrictions will probably be tightened in ways that make it harder for Russians to live and work there, or even to travel there. It’s not really clear why Russians should have less right of access to a place important to their culture and history like Kiev, than Americans have to a place important to our culture and history, like New York. Might it not help to reconcile Russians to Ukraine’s absorption into Europe, if their right to live and work in Ukraine were recognized and guaranteed? In principle, Russians’ right to live and work in Ukraine is separable from Moscow’s right to rule Ukraine.
Again, consider the situation of a Russian-speaking voter in Crimea, faced with a referendum on separation from Ukraine and incorporation into Russia. One major benefit of becoming part of Russia is that he will gain the right to live and work in Russia. This is quite valuable, since Russia is both big– many options– and richer than Ukraine. While it might seem even more valuable to have the right to live and work in Europe, (a) that is not being offered at the moment, and (b) for a Russian-speaking Crimean, the cultural transition would be much harder. Now, suppose arrangements could be made, such that Crimeans would be part of a free migration zone which includes Russia, so that Russians could move to Crimea and live and work there, while Crimeans could live and work in Russia. That might make it easier to reconcile pro-Russian Crimeans to the cancellation of a referendum on independence.
Indeed, if Ukrainians could all along have been an overlapping zone of free migration between Russia and Europe, such that Ukrainians could live and work in either Russia or Europe, and Russians and Europeans could live and work in Ukraine, need the tensions into Ukraine ever have come to this pass? Europe-oriented Ukrainians could be confident that the influence of Europe would be sustained, while Russia-oriented ones would not fear being cut off from their homeland.
At bottom, the trouble with Ukraine is not that her people can’t get along with each other, as that the sovereign democratic nation-state model just doesn’t fit it very well. Some other arrangement is needed to avoid conflict, which combines integration and fluidity with the autonomy of regions and ethnic communities, and which recognizes and gives institutional protections to the links Ukrainians feel to different communities beyond Ukraine. The state sovereignty model is too crude to accommodate these needs.
If we’re entering a more chaotic era, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It will probably be more violent: that’s just reversion to the historical mean. Minimizing violence was one thing that the late 20th-century Wilsonian world order did exceptionally well. But it may also be more creative, more just, and/or more interesting. As we muddle through, the single most important thing we can do is to advance individual rights on any front we can. Formal, democratic, constitutional processes may become less important, and hopefully some powers, such as the power to restrict migration, will be taken out of their hands. Protection of human rights should not be the responsibility only or primarily of sovereign states towards their own citizens, but churches and all sorts of civil society organizations and of conscience, as well as international organizations, should find ways to do it, and existing states should probably start doing it for people other than their own citizens. Apologies if this is vague, but it’s my dim glimpse of what may be in store for us.
Here’s our Tuesday link roundup. See here for all link roundups. As usual, linking does not imply endorsement.
Follow us on Twitter for a steady stream of links and discussion.
General discussion of the ethics and philosophy of migration law
- Assessing immigration policy as if immigrants were people too by Open Borders guest blogger Ilya Somin, The Volokh Conspiracy, The Washington Post, March 2, 2014.
- Migration and Human Rights (49): Rights and Non-Rights Based Reasons to Favor Open Borders by Open Borders guest blogger Filip Spagnoli on his own blog, March 1, 2014.
Migration in the news around the world
- United Kingdom: What’s wrong with selling visas to rich immigrants at £2.5m a pop? The money raised would solve a lot of economic problems and quell political scaremongering about immigration by Will Hutton, The Observer (The Guardian), March 1, 2014.
- Israel: Petros Tesfagherghis: Distressed refugees in Israel are calling for help, Migrant Voice (undated).
- Australia: Scott Morrison has 66 spin doctors by Bianca Hall, The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia).
- United States: The Walls That Hurt Us by Marcello Di Cintio, The New York Times, January 23, 2014.
- Africa: Are Chinese immigrants undermining African progress? There are now 1 million Chinese living and working on the African continent, but while some are investing in employing and training locals, others have hauled most of their profits back to China by Henry Hall, Christian Science Monitor, February 26, 2014.
Research, policy analyses, recommendations, and long-run forecasts
- Less poverty, more emigration: understanding migrant flows from developing countries by Henry Telli, Migration and Development, September 11, 2013.
- United States: The Economic Gains from Eliminating U.S. Travel Visas by Robert A. Lawson, Saurav Roychoudhury and Ryan Murphy, Cato Institute (Economic Development Bulletin No. 19), February 6, 2014.
- United States: Border Patrol’s use of deadly force criticized in report. An independent review of U.S. Border Patrol shootings criticizes the agency for ‘lack of diligence’ in its investigations and suggests that agents’ tactics sometimes create a pretext to open fire by Brian Bennett, Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2014.
- United States: A Treacherous Journey: Child Migrants Navigating the U.S. Immigration System, a joint report by the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) and Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), released February 2014.
- Singapore: The Singaporean Path to Cosmopolitanism by Open Borders guest blogger Bryan Caplan, EconLog, February 26, 2014.
This is the second of a series of weekly posts with the most interesting content from the Open Borders Action Group on Facebook. Do join the group to weigh in on existing discussions or start your own (you might want to read this post before joining).
- Does giving people factual information about the proportion of immigrants change their views on whether there should be more or less immigration? There wasn’t enough data to resolve the point.
- Is there a meaningful distinction between political and economic refugees? It was argued that countries might be willing to take political refugees because the size of the potential refugee flow would be bounded. It was also agreed that political refugees who faced immediate and significant threats to their lives did have a stronger claim to the right to migrate.
- What’s a good response to the reductio ad anarchism response to open borders? The general consensus was that open borders is consistent with anarchism, but does not entail anarchism. Just as opposition to slavery or imperialism could be argued within both anarchist and mainstream-statist frameworks, so could opposition to arbitrary border restrictions.
- Is anybody interested in creating short videos about open borders? People suggested a range of options.
- Why is public opinion in Sweden more pro-migration than most other First World countries? (based on data from Nathan Smith’s post Who favors open borders?). Sweden’s general egalitarian nature and people’s desire to see themselves as generous were cited. It was also argued that historical luck may have played a role: past and present anti-immigrant parties were widely viewed as kooky or evil (due to their other, non-migration-related beliefs), so mainstream parties sought to distance themselves from overt opposition to migration.
- What is the expected value of open borders advocacy? It was argued that even though open borders is unlikely at present, it takes decades of “tilling the ground” to make sure that open borders happens swiftly once it becomes politically feasible.
- Does interacting with migrants make people more pro-migration or anti-migration? There was a hypothesis in the post and some more discussion in the comments, but no clear consensus.
- What is some research on the long-term political, social, and economic impact of migration? The post is recent and more comments are needed. Please add your own comments there.
So my recent post The Coming Catholic Movement for Freedom of Migration seems to be convincing some people. Not convincing people to support open borders, but convincing people that the Catholic Church supports open borders. Actually, I shouldn’t take credit. It’s not my arguments, but a statement of the Catholic bishops, that convinced a blogger to write acerbically about The One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Open-Borders Church. I merely drew attention to their statement.
It would be an understatement to call the writers at Open Borders immigration enthusiasts; they make the Democratic and Republican parties look like pikers. And even they have found an organization that appears at least as enthusiastic about immigration as they are: the U.S. Catholic Church [links to my post].
The post and the comments that follow partly criticize the Catholic bishops on what might be called Catholic grounds. Most interestingly, one commenter digs up a quote from Thomas Aquinas which I may quote in another thread. But some of the comments attack Christianity itself. For example:
“Most Christian leaders today are girly men.”
“Who cares what the church says or thinks?… Christianity has nothing to do with the truth.”
“The Catholic Church, and Christianity in general in the 21st century, calls on all white nations and only white nations to be lambs to the slaughter…”
“The Catholic Church has only secondarily — if at all — a spiritual mission. Today’s Church is a worldwide corporation, its main difference from Coca-Cola being that its wealth and investments are untaxed…”
“Pope John Paul II is rumored to have been Jewish by birth and once married with children… Communists as seminarians [have] infiltrated the church in the thousands.”
All this raises an interesting question: can churches afford to promote freedom of migration? If churches teach the Biblical view of immigration, and members disagree with it, why should they listen? Why shouldn’t they conclude that the church is a sinister conspiracy of international Jewish girly men determined to extirpate the white race through lies and slander, for the sake of profit? Why shouldn’t they stand up and storm out?
Religion can be thought of as a competitive marketplace. There is competition at several levels: among major religions; among Christian denominations; between Christianity, secular humanism, and other worldviews for people’s credence; between churches and the world for people’s time and money; within congregations about which activities– youth ministry, music, international missions, poor relief, etc.– will get funding and personnel; between liberals and conservatives to determine policy with congregations and jurisdictions; between priests for parishes; between parishes of the same denomination within a city, etc.
All this competition gives us reason to suspect that Christian churches aren’t really in charge of their own message. Rather, they’re constrained to satisfy customer demand. Pastors who tell people what they don’t want to hear will either get replaced, or else see their congregations dwindle until their parishes become unsustainable. We should see successful pastors teaching what their congregations want to hear. That’s not to say they are insincere. They might be. Some pastors may preach what their congregations like to keep their jobs. More honorably, pastors may downplay unpopular tenets of the faith in order to keep parishioners coming who would otherwise leave, and lose the beneficent influence that (the pastor thinks) even a watered-down Christianity has. But selection rather than adaptation may explain agreement between pastors and their congregations. Pastors who happen to say what the age likes get jobs and see their congregations grow. Pastors who say what it hates, don’t. And what one generation of pastors is silent about, the next generation hardly knows, having not grown up hearing it. And so, by this account, the religious marketplace will ensure that the content of Christian teachings will adapt itself to the times.
Now, I think there’s some truth to the cynical view in the above paragraph, and that’s part of the answer to John Lee’s question, “Why Don’t Christians Care More About Open Borders?” However favorable the Bible may be to open borders, the way the Church is enmeshed in society tends to distort and selectively censor the Christian message at any given moment in history, and often the parts of Christian teaching which are especially unwelcome get partially hidden. So “welcome the stranger” is either not taught, or is taught in an indefensibly moderate way, relative to what “love thy neighbor” would really demand in a world where vast inequalities in economic opportunity and political and religious freedom are largely driven by the accident of place of birth.
What is really striking for me, however, is how little the cynical, demand-side view holds true, when it seems at first glance so plausible. Superficially, Christianity does change with the times, it gets watered down and complacent. But real Christianity is always lying in wait to shine through all the compromises. And the result is that while the lukewarm Christians of former ages seem very alien to the modern Christian, the zealous Christians seem intimately familiar. It would be very difficult, at this distance, to understand the court of the empress Aelia Eudoxia, persecutor of St. John Chrysostom. But the writings of St. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) are no more, and no less, psychologically remote from a devout Orthodox Christian than those of St. John of Kronstadt (1829-1908) or Tikhon Shevkunov (contemporary author of the bestselling Everyday Saints). The distance between myself and any of these three writers is not one of time, but one of sanctity. They are far above me, but they are not at all out of date. They have the same quality about them, and its name is Christianity. Only at a lower level of sanctity is there a 4th-century Byzantine Christianity and an 18th-century Methodist Christianity and a 20th-century English Christianity and a 21st-century Russian Christianity. At a higher level, all these converge. C.S. Lewis and Athanasius are almost interchangeable. The Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton described near the end of his book, The Everlasting Man, the strange and wonderful feeling that he and I and many others have experienced of coming into the full, living presence of a Christianity we had only glimpsed in the faraway past:
There are people who say they wish Christianity to remain as a spirit. They mean, very literally, that they wish it to remain as a ghost. But it is not going to remain as a ghost. What follows this process of apparent death is not the lingering of the shade; it is the resurrection of the body. These people are quite prepared to shed pious and reverential tears over the Sepulchre of the Son of Man; what they are not prepared for is the Son of God walking once more upon the hills of morning. These people, and indeed most people, were indeed by this time quite accustomed to the idea that the old Christian candle-light would fade into the light of common day. To many of them it did quite honestly appear like that pale yellow flame of a candle when it is left burning in daylight. It was all the more unexpected, and therefore all the more unmistakable, that the sevenbranched candle-stick suddenly towered to heaven like a miraculous tree and flamed until the sun turned pale. But other ages have seen the day conquer the candle-light and then the candle-light conquer the day. Again and again, before our time, men have grown content with a diluted doctrine. And again and again there has followed on that dilution, coming as out of the darkness in a crimson cataract, the strength of the red original wine. And we only say once more to-day as has been said many times by our fathers: `Long years and centuries ago our fathers or the founders of our people drank, as they dreamed, of the blood of God. Long years and centuries have passed since the strength of that giant vintage has been anything but a legend of the age of giants. Centuries ago already is the dark time of the second fermentation, when the wine of Catholicism turned into the vinegar of Calvinism. Long since that bitter drink has been itself diluted; rinsed out and washed away by the waters of oblivion and the wave of the world. Never did we think to taste again even that bitter tang of sincerity and the spirit, still less the richer and the sweeter strength of the purple vineyards in our dreams of the age of gold. Day by day and year by year we have lowered our hopes and lessened our convictions; we have grown more and more used to seeing those vats and vineyards overwhelmed in the water-floods and the last savour and suggestion of that special element fading like a stain of purple upon a sea of grey. We have grown used to dilution, to dissolution, to a watering down and went on forever. But Thou hast kept the good wine until now.’
Against the cynical half-truth that the churches have to say what the age wants to be competitive, I see a deeper reality, that the Christian message is always latent, and I see in history the pattern, that that message repeatedly shines through and shatters the transient compromises.
Christian churches have always, albeit in varying degrees, distinguished God and Caesar, and regarded some matters are primarily Caesar’s realm, concerning which the church should remain on the sidelines. However, law and society and morals and faith are too interwoven for there ever to be a clear and clean separation of church and state. Churches may feel it appropriate to take stands on morally charged political issues. In some cases, they have to do so, because their own practical business is directly affected. It is possible to ask, then, whether a particular issue stance contributes to the competitiveness of churches. To illustrate the point, I’ll compare two issues: (a) gay marriage, and (b) immigration.
I’m sorry to say that I think Christianity will lose ground in America in the next generation because of its stance on gay marriage (as this study, for example, suggests). I also think that churches that remain staunch in their opposition to gay marriage will gain market share within the diminished ranks of Christians.
With 70% of young people favoring gay marriage, it seems unlikely that 77% of Americans will continue to self-identify as Christian. After all, both the Old and New Testaments clearly define homosexuality as a sin, and gay marriage contradicts two thousand years of universal Christian practice. If young people disagree with the Bible about this, they’ll feel growing cognitive dissonance in church. Many will leave.
Of course, there are a few churches, such as the United Church of Canada and some Swedenborgians, that recognize same-sex marriage. More churches probably will do so. The trouble is that in adopting the fashionable view on this issue, they fatally weaken the logic of Christianity as a whole. “Is the Bible the Word of God or not?” members will inevitably ask. “If so, why do we approve what it condemns? If not, why should we pay attention to it at all?”
Such churches lose members in both directions. Some will think Christianity true and go to other churches where it is still taught. Some, following their leaders’ concessions to their logical conclusions, will think Christianity false and look for other communities, other principles, and other things to do on Sunday morning.
There are a number of tactical reasons why “welcome the stranger” might be a shrewd message for contemporary Christian churches to emphasize. One is triangulation. A church that feels constrained to be on the “right” of the emerging consensus on gay marriage earns political capital with members who are more on the “right,” but risks losing people on the “left.” A strongly “left” stance on immigration might alienate members on the “right,” but if churches are the last bastion of support for traditional family values, conservatives may have nowhere else to go. Meanwhile, members on the “left” who are alienated by the church’s stance on gay marriage might be pleased by the church’s stance on immigration just enough to stay in.
Again, some Christians today find themselves obligated to violate anti-discrimination laws by refusing to participate in gay “wedding” ceremonies and thus endorsing a false belief about what marriage is. If Christian churches recognize that it’s right to violate the law on an issue of conscience like this, shouldn’t they also recognize that it might be right for someone in a poor or a totalitarian country to violate US law in order to earn enough to feed their families, or to practice their religion freely? And if undocumented immigrants are sometimes right to break US law, doesn’t it follow that the law is unjust and ought to be changed, just as anti-discrimination laws that violate freedom of religion ought to be changed?
Most fundamentally, though, the tactical merits of immigration advocacy for enhancing the competitiveness of Christian churches are linked to the Biblical case for open borders and its consistency with New Testament ethics. If people in the pews dislike what they hear from the pulpit, it matters whether the priest or preacher has the Bible on his side or not. If he (or she) is preaching gay marriage, he clearly doesn’t, and the parishioners’ belief in Christianity becomes the wedge that separates them from the church. But when the US Catholic bishops make a statement that all-but-endorses open borders, honest people among the Roman Catholic faithful, even if they don’t like the stance, must admit that the bishops have a strong case to make. They can’t plausibly regard the bishops as apostates for saying it. They can contest it, by quoting Thomas Aquinas or trying to offer different interpretations in the Bible, and the fact that they can do this is a reason for them to stay in. After all, if your preacher endorses gay marriage, and you disagree, what can you say? You can’t argue from the Bible, because he obviously doesn’t regard it as authoritative on the question. But if you think the bishops are making an honest mistake, you can argue with them, from traditional Christian sources.
At the end of the day, seeing the way public opinion has turned against them in the last couple of decades, Christian churches should be eager to elect a new people.
This is a reminder that Open Borders Day will be held on Sunday, March 16, 2014. Due to the international nature of the site, and the real-time nature of discussion on Twitter and other forms of social media, we invite people to start celebrating the day starting from the beginning of Sunday, March 16 in New Zealand (the earliest timezone, GMT+12) and ending at the end of Sunday, March 16 in the latest timezone (GMT-12, followed by some Pacific islands).
- Use the #OpenBordersDay tag while sharing open borders-related stuff on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. The Open Borders Twitter account (which you might want to follow and tweet to) is @OpenBordersInfo. Open Borders regular bloggers and some occasional and guest bloggers will be active on Twitter throughout the day participating in the Twitter conversations.
- Use Facebook to show your commitment to open borders. You could share the Open Borders logo, make it your profile picture or cover photo, or share links on Facebook related to open borders.
- Organize physical meetups: Feel free to post about possible meetups on the Open Borders Action Group or send messages to people who’ve liked Open Borders: The Case and live in your city (you can find them using Facebook Graph Search).
- If you’re attending the 2014 European Students for Liberty conference (14-16 March 2014), that would be a great venue to advertise Open Borders Day.
Keep in mind: the goal of the day is to raise the stature of open borders as a topic of discussion. It’s not possible or desirable to make instant converts by posting extraordinarily convincing tweets or posts for open borders (if somebody changes their mind completely after reading one tweet, their conversion is likely to be shallow). But it is possible to shift people’s views at the margin from “open borders is a crazy strawman” to “open borders is an out-there proposal that has a few good arguments for it that at least some people take seriously” — as Bryan Caplan has managed to do.
Here’s our Friday link roundup. See here for all link roundups. As usual, linking does not imply endorsement.
Follow us on Twitter for a steady stream of links and discussion.
- Why Republicans should support immigration reform by Robert Held, The Hill, February 24, 2014.
- The Labor Market Effects of Reducing Undocumented Immigrants by Andri Chassamboulli, Giovanni Peri (published as NBER Working Paper), February 2014.
- Time to fix our immigration courts by John Gossart Jr., The Hill, February 26, 2014.
- Does Immigration Undermine Public Support for Social Policy? by David Brady and Ryan Finnigan, last updated January 29, 2014. Also mentioned by Tyler Cowen in Does immigration undermine public support for social policy?, February 26, 2014, Marginal Revolution.
- Why Development Economics is Failing the Poor by Dalibor Rohac, The Umlaut, February 26, 2014, reviewing William Easterly’s new book The Tyranny of Experts.
- A note on an argument about open borders by Chris Bertram, Crooked Timber, February 28, 2014.
Some other links of lower relevance, but still potentially interesting to our readers:
- Libre Initiative reaches out to Hispanics with free-enterprise message by Georgia Pabst, Journal Sentinel, February 23, 2014.
- Are Mexicans the Most Successful Immigrant Group in the U.S.? The American Dream Doesn’t Just Belong to Those With the Most Money and the Fanciest Degrees. It Also Belongs to the Strivers Who Achieve More Than the Generation Before Them. by Jennifer Lee, Zócalo Public Square, February 24, 2014.
- Local’s husband caught in immigration snafu by Heidi Rice, Post Independent, February 23, 2014.
- Will Florida Grant In-state Tuition to Undocumented Students? by Juan Escalante, Huffington Post, February 25, 2014.
Post by John Lee (regular blogger for the site, joined October 2012). See:
Co-blogger Vipul raised recently the question of whether pursuing the radical concept of open borders is really worth it, compared to just focusing on moderate “immigration reform”. Given I blog here, my response to Vipul’s question is not in doubt. But there’s a basic question I think we can easily overlook if we try to answer Vipul’s question based on gut feel: how do open borders differ from moderate “immigration reform” which most pro-immigration liberals across the world work towards? Here, I’ll outline: several starting premises that we all share; three important ways in which we fundamentally disagree; and finally, one important thing which we actually agree on (or at least, don’t disagree anywhere close to the degree it’s commonly imagined).
At first glance, this seems trivial: open borders is a substantial or total dismantlement of existing border controls. Moderate liberal immigration reforms either seek to reinforce border controls while treating unlawfully-present immigrants better (e.g., most of the immigration reform proposals on the table in the US as of this writing) or minor loosening of border controls for certain types of people (e.g., proposals to allow for greater economic migration in certain job categories, or refrain from holding asylum-seekers in prisons). In other words, open borders supporters want to tear it all down, while moderate reformers simply want to selectively patch up or open certain parts.
This is not the whole story, however. You can’t explain the differences between open borders supporters and moderate reformers until you’ve looked at the reasons why their approaches diverge. Both groups of people I daresay come at the problem of immigration sharing certain perspectives and premises:
- Economically, immigration is not harmful and actually can be a huge boon
- Socially, immigration does not threaten the existing order and may actually strengthen and/or improve it
- Most reasons commonly given for tight border controls have little basis in fact
- The way border controls treat most prospective migrants is highly inhumane
- The way governments treat irregular or unlawful migrants is also very inhumane
When you consider these points of agreement, it’s actually a wonder why these two groups of people advocating changes to our immigration systems land so far apart. Why do some embrace a completely radical view that concludes the whole edifice is rotten to its core, and must be fundamentally torn down and rebuilt, while others simply focus on what amount to tweaks — tweaks that no doubt affect the lives of millions, but remain almost infinitesimal compared to the changes which open borders might bring?
The first salient difference I can see is that open borders advocates are not afraid to follow the straightforward conclusions of immigration research to their ultimate conclusion:
- Immigration is good for the economy? Awesome, why not allow as much immigration as people want to engage in? If a citizen wants to hire a foreigner, everyone benefits — so have at it!
- Immigration doesn’t threaten our society? Great, yet another reason we can shut down government programmes that spend billions “defending” our borders from restaurant cooks and IT workers, and divert those precious resources to better uses for our nation.
- Our immigration system treats millions of people as if they are subhuman? Seems like a good reason to begin shutting the whole thing down and replacing it with a more humane legal regime: we could just allow everyone who wants a visa to get one.
Already, I can hear the thousands of moderate reformers protest: that’s wholly unfeasible! That’s simply too crazy! But why is that? You can’t cite studies showing “Immigrants add $X to our economy” or “Immigrants pay $X million more in taxes than they get in benefits” or “Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born here” without addressing the inescapable conclusion: if immigration is so good, what’s wrong with having more of it?
Now, to be sure, I’ve slightly oversimplified the social science here for the sake of argument. But none of the caveats to the conclusions I’ve cited above can at all come close to explaining the immense reluctance moderate reformers seem to have about reaching the inevitable conclusion of the research here. Using the very premises I outlined above that we agree on, it seems that open borders is the only defensible, reality-based policy.
You might protest that most of the evidence pointing to neutral or positive effects from immigration is based on existing levels of immigration. Open borders is sufficiently radical that it might just be “out of sample” for any of the empirical studies we have about migration’s effects so far. I would say that although not strictly empirical, we do have some pretty good evidence from the pre-closed borders era of the 20th century that open borders pose no existential threat to humanity or the nation; for an example, see my take on what open borders history suggests will happen to Latin-American migrants in the modern US. Either way, if we’re being truly honest about the social science, then the right skeptical position is: “We have every reason to believe open borders is the right thing to do. We must move towards it, monitoring the evidence as it comes in for proof to the contrary.”
Economist Bryan Caplan has made just this argument before, responding to the precautionary principle-based argument against open borders. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to meet a mainstream immigration reform advocate who openly takes such a position; the way most advocates talk, they’re happy to embrace empirical evidence which may support “immigration reform,” but shrink from any inexorable conclusion, no matter how firmly the evidence may point towards it, that open borders could possibly be the right thing to do. Most mainstream immigration liberals strike me as irrationally certain that the immigration status quo is backed by the evidence, and open borders aren’t — when actually just the opposite is true. But to give credit where credit is due, one of the few immigration liberals who has been willing to grapple with the tough question of open borders is Slate‘s Matt Yglesias, who had some pretty thoughtful things to say in response to criticism of open borders advocacy.
On to the second important area of disagreement: are loose border controls a government “subsidy” for migration, or are they simply relaxation of the state’s control on an organic human activity? In discussing migration with many of my liberal friends or acquaintances, I find many inherently frame an open migration policy as a subsidy to migrants, artificially spurring human activity that only occurs because the state has encouraged it. This paradigm is why someone like say, Vivek Wadhwa so casually dismisses open borders as not a very meaningful source of empowerment — because in his view, migrants don’t actually want to move! In this worldview, loose border controls are a subsidy to migration: people don’t actually want to move in some platonic world, but by opening the borders a little, you’ve subsidised their migration, and so they’ll pack up and leave the only home they’ve ever known.
I find this view very difficult to understand and almost as hard to rebut, because it seems so obviously self-refuting. Let’s say the government required you to apply for a permit before you were allowed to write any blog post. If government loosened the permit requirements, or abolished them altogether, would any sane person call this new blog permit policy a “subsidy” to bloggers?
It is of course true that loosening border controls promotes migration. But this promotion of migration occurs as a result of migration flows being able to edge back towards their natural state. Returning to my example, you would see an immense spike in blog posts if government abolished the application fees for blogging permits. This abolition of fees would be a “promotion” of blogging in one obvious sense of the word, but it clearly is not a subsidy to blogging — it is a removal of one government barrier to blogging.
In my opinion, seeing border controls as a government barrier, instead of just a natural state of the world, is one of the key differences between open borders advocates and mainstream reformers. If we treat borders as natural, and any loosening in their control as some sort of state “subsidy”, the right intuitive response would be skepticism. After all, a subsidy requires resources from the state. Even if no actual transfer payment is being made, government investment is required to effect the policy, and some prioritisation calls have to be made about the trade-offs of pursuing this particular subsidy or programme versus some other alternatives.
This is why, when open borders comes up, some mainstream liberal in the room will almost always pipe up: “But what about all the problems we have in our country? Sure, we could invest in open borders and that’d raise world GDP, halve world inequality, etc., but don’t we owe it to our citizens to spend our scarce resources on solving their problems first?” The stereotypical open borders response to this might be to stare flabbergasted at someone who just suggested it is more important to spend money on, say, domestic farm subsidies than on aiding the escape of people fleeing genocide. But honestly, we don’t even have to do that. You can be a good citizenist and nationalist and still find this cliched liberal response totally unappealing — because it’s coming from the unintuitive and senseless view that loosening border controls constitute a subsidy, instead of a removal of a barrier.
There is nothing natural about watertight controlled borders. Borders themselves are sometimes natural: rivers, mountain ranges, and so forth have marked out tracts of territory since time immemorial. Many borders are obviously artificial, drawn by some dead white man who might never have met anyone who lived on either side of the line he invented. Can we say that a system of brutal border enforcement truly serves the people’s interest, when these borders have often been drawn with utter disregard for the actual interests, welfare, or way of life of the people living on either side?
Whether drawn artificially or naturally, borders sealed to a degree where virtually nobody can cross are an immense historical aberration. There is nothing natural or logical about assuming a watertight border and taking any loosening of that to be an artificial subsidy. Quite the opposite: our society has to invest an immense amount of resources in sealing our borders to a degree that we fancifully imagine to be somehow “natural”.
The people suggesting that any loosening or opening of the borders would be a pull on the state’s or society’s limited resources are totally ignoring that tight border controls already pull immensely on our resources. Border guards do not work for free. Electrified fences do not build themselves. Prison camps for people fleeing war or economic disasters don’t spring out of nowhere. Plane tickets for deportees do not simply pay for themselves. Every dollar less that we can spend on deporting people or keeping them out is a dollar we can spend on a more deserving citizen here. There simply is no “investment” necessary to “subsidise” open borders.
This pernicious view of sealed borders as natural, and loose borders as a subsidy for migration, directly ties to the third fundamental disagreement: open borders advocates hold state-enforced border controls to a much higher bar for ethical legitimacy than moderate reformers do. Most moderate reformers are not very ethically- or morally-bothered by immigration laws.
A lot of the passionate moderate reformers I’ve encountered are bothered by these laws primarily to the degree that they affect people they know: in other words, migrants who are already present in the country. Open borders advocates on the other hand seem oddly-motivated and passionate about all the prospective migrants who aren’t even here yet, and, if we don’t open the borders, will never come. But this is because moderate reformers see sealed borders as a state of nature, and any loosening of the border as a subsidy to targeted classes of migrants. Consequently, they aren’t interested in open borders, which seem like an untargeted subsidy: it seems infinitely costly, and it’s not clear what the return on what seems like an infinite investment would actually be. Moderate reformers want the “subsidy” of looser border controls to focus on groups they can immediately see as deserving target beneficiaries: children of illegal immigrants, some illegal immigrants, refugees, high-skilled workers. They don’t see much reason to care about other possible classes of migrants, since that’d be diverting the scarce resources necessary to enact the “subsidies” they’re seeking for these classes of migrants. It’s not morally- or ethically-important to consider people outside these narrow classes: sealed borders are the natural state of things, and it doesn’t make sense to invest resources in opening the borders to unskilled day labourers. The onus is on these “economic migrants” to prove why it’s worth investing in opening the borders to them.
Open borders advocates on the other hand find it ethically abhorrent to insist on removing barriers to organic human movement for certain classes of people, but not others. Why treat a refugee fleeing genocide so differently from another refugee fleeing famine, or another refugee fleeing economic collapse? What is the morally-relevant difference? If we allow refugees from one dictatorship open borders, but not refugees from other dictatorships, what morally-relevant reason is there?
The key difference is that moderates find arbitrary restriction of movement across borders totally ethically acceptable: of course it’s okay for the state to ban you from crossing if you don’t have a university degree, because we shouldn’t be investing scarce resources in subsidising migration for people like you. Open borders advocates reach a completely opposite conclusion: it’s completely ethically unacceptable for the state to do this arbitrarily. Allowing you to cross the border is not a subsidy to you; it is a loosening of an artificial government restriction. If you want to look for work here, come shop, go for a walk, whatever, the onus is on the state to show why your doing this would impose unacceptable costs that require you to be refused entry.
The different ethical bars that state controls over migration are held to here follow completely from the “subsidy versus felling a barrier” paradigm clash. And open borders advocates then go one step further to say: in most cases, there is no such unacceptable cost to society from allowing the person entry, and as such, there is no permissible reason for the state to refuse them entry. This follows entirely from the first disagreement: the evidence is overwhelming that in general, immigration is beneficial. To the extent the state refuses foreigners entry, it must narrowly target these refusals to the exceptions of the general rule that immigration benefits the economy and society.
This brings us to my last promised point: that in one respect, open borders advocates and moderates are not really that far apart. Except for no-borders advocates and anarchists, most of us sympathetic to open borders will grant the state the authority to regulate and control border crossings. I’ve drawn an analogy to trade in the past: nobody thinks “free trade” means that I should be able to import AK-47s at will. Governments control many aspects of movement and life. If you are carrying bird flu, as a general rule you should not expect freedom of movement, domestically or internationally. Open borders is not about allowing armed soldiers or criminal gangs to cross sovereign borders at their whim. Open borders is about allowing innocent people, who want nothing more than to seek a better life, to cross sovereign borders in peace. I don’t think we need to tear down all border checkpoints in the world to achieve open borders. It would be perfectly feasible to maintain border checkpoints in an open borders world: you’d simply approve every visa application unless evidence arises that the applicant has malicious intent, or otherwise is a person who poses a significant and meaningful threat to your society.
The vast majority of migrants in the world today, actual and prospective, neither have malicious intent, nor do they pose a threat to us. The social science shows that their coming here would benefit our economy. They wouldn’t undermine the foundations of our society. Preventing them from coming as if they are an invading army causes a disproportionate use of state force which violates basic human rights and common sense: in what way is it reasonable to bring warships to bear on refugees fleeing mass murder, or use gunships and drones to turn back people looking for a kitchen job that pays minimum wage? Unsealing our world’s borders would not be an untargeted, infinitely-costly subsidy to the migrants of the world, nor would it eliminate a fundamental natural feature of our states: it would simply free up billions of dollars for us to spend on our own citizens in more enriching ways, and allow millions of people to put their talents to better use serving us and each other. Open borders is a radical idea — and we should absolutely move towards it.
Post by Paul Crider (regular blogger for the site, joined June 2013 as an occasional blogger, promoted to regular blogger July 2013). See:
Last week Rumplestatskin, at the Australian outfit Macrobusiness, criticized Alex Tabarrok’s moral appeal for open borders as a “morality play of the 1%”. He quotes Tabarrok’s (open borders boilerplate) rhetorical question “How can it be moral that through the mere accident of birth some people are imprisoned in countries where their political or geographic institutions prevent them from making a living?” But he adds his own spin:
How can it be moral that through the mere accident of birth some people are imprisoned in towns and suburbs where their financial and geographic constraints prevent them from making a living?
That open borders within countries does not automatically eliminate poverty reminds us be skeptical of claims that opening borders between them will reduce poverty automatically.
This is an interesting point, but there are a couple things to keep in mind. First, what do we mean by “poor”? Poverty in the rich world is a very different beast from poverty in the poor world. The poorest five percent in America still make $3 – 4000 per year, putting them in the 60th percentile of global income. (Milanovic 2012, see figure below) This doesn’t mean that rich world poverty isn’t a problem. But even if migration opportunities only help people in, say, the 50th global income percentile and above, that means helping people we would normally think of as poor without qualification if only they already lived in the rich world. So, yes, opening borders will pretty much automatically reduce poverty, even if it doesn’t eliminate poverty.
This point can be turned around the other way. Would we be richer if we had less mobility in the rich world? As Lant Pritchett has discussed, mobility allows people to escape the traps of ghost towns and dying industries. Would we even ponder restricting the out-migration of West Virginians to the rest of the US or Tasmanians to the rest of Australia as a strategy to improve the lives of the poorest in those regions? In the dying towns and sleepy suburbs of the rich world, it is also the poorest who will have the greatest difficulty taking advantage of their freedom to move away. But no one suggests imprisoning less disadvantaged people in their dying towns to be fair to the most disadvantaged.
Open borders is merely the logical outcome of any type of ‘natural rights’ moral reasoning. People should have the opportunity to flourish irrespective of the patch of Earth they were born.[sic] Yet the idea boils down to being the policy you support when you want to help the world’s poor but don’t support actually giving them money.
This seems a bit ad hominem to me. Open borders is merely a libertarian idea, pushed by rich folks and their shills who want to reap the status benefits of advocating a policy that would allegedly benefit the poor without having to actually fork over any cash. I’ve wondered before why it is so commonly thought that a policy of open borders must be at odds with a policy of global redistribution of wealth. I see no reason why an earnest leftist couldn’t support allowing everyone in the world freedom of movement and at the same time support redistribution from the rich to the global poor. There’s no inconsistency, and no readily apparent reason why the two policies would conflict.
In many ways open borders is the type of policy you support to display street cred in the company of the economically rational, particularly when discussions turn to inequality and, god forbid, redistribution. Making the poor richer is as simple as giving them money and therefore access to resources, whether they are fellow citizens of your country, or your planet.
Well, this certainly sounds simple. Simply handing cash to the poor is a good idea, and we should all do a good deal more of it. (On this note I can’t resist observing–anecdotally–that many of the people I know in the open borders movement are also very interested in “effective altruism“, including direct cash disbursements). The reasons why global poverty is not actually this simple illuminate why, despite what I said above about compatibility, I personally think tax-based redistribution is a bad idea. It’s perfectly consistent to hold this view along with a preference for free movement, but it’s a view I don’t actually endorse.
There is a strong case to be made that simply handing cash to the wretched of the earth is one of the best ways to get the most bang out of your altruistic buck. It allows the poor to make one-time life-improving investments (a metal roof, a bicycle, etc) that can ease the immediate pangs of poverty. But it isn’t at all clear that this can be scaled up without the cash becoming yet another resource to be diverted to and exploited by the same local kleptocratic elites that already impoverish poor societies. I am presuming of course that Rumplestatskin envisions ramping up aid going through official channels.
Control of the aid spigot can also become a source of conflict, just like oil fields and diamond mines. And like oil and diamonds, foreign aid can potentially inflict a resource curse on an imbalanced economy. This isn’t to say that foreign aid is always bad. The evidence to my knowledge suggests that foreign aid contributes weakly to economic growth and can improve non-economic outcomes. But it is neither simple nor without danger. These considerations should give even the committed redistributionist pause.
Finally, there is the coercive nature of global redistribution. Such redistribution involves levying taxes on individuals in rich countries in order to transfer funds to people they have never met and know very little about, through murky and what are likely to be perceived as illegitimate channels, with little guarantee that the funds won’t be compromised by the problems above. Of course, all taxation involves coercion with no guarantees of efficiency. But these are the qualities that make tax rates and redistributive policies so contentious even within domestic politics. The justification requirements only increase with international transfers. These aren’t necessarily insurmountable hurdles. The severity of global poverty is significant enough to override most aversions to higher taxes–including my own–but only if the rich world taxpayers can be sure those taxes will do some good.
Contrast this with liberalizing immigration to the rich world, which removes coercion from current policy. One can argue about economic effects on the poorest individuals in both the sending and receiving countries, and one can make vague arguments about changing national character. But for the individuals directly affected, open borders reduces coercion and expands opportunities.
Post by Vipul Naik (occasional blogger and site founder, launched site and started blogging March 2012). See:
A common criticism of free markets is that due to market failure, the level of supply of a particular good or activity may be too high or too low. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a case for government intervention. Governments may fail too: they may exacerbate the problems further, overcorrect in the other direction, or introduce a new dimension of problems. But the question of market failure is worth considering, whether one comes up with a governmental solution, non-governmental solution, or concludes that there is no solution.
The question for migration: under open borders, will the level of migration be optimal, too high, or too low? The majority of open borders supporters (or at least, those who consider the question sufficiently well-posed) probably adhere to the view that the level of migration under open borders would be closer to optimal than under the status quo. That still leaves open a range of possibilities for the situation under open borders: perhaps there is slightly more migration than optimal, or perhaps there is slightly less, or even a lot less, migration than optimal. Most open borders skeptics who consider the question well-posed (and particularly those coming from a universalist angle) probably feel that the amount of migration under open borders is a lot more than optimal (hence their support for migration restrictions).
I will lay out some possible reasons why there might be “too much” or “too little” migration, though it will be difficult to arrive at a conclusion. In future posts, I might talk more about how to weigh the considerations and how to address the issues raised.
Here’s a quick summary:
- Wealth effects: inability to afford the upfront costs causing too little migration
- Hyperbolic discounting combined with large upfront costs of migration causing too little migration
- Overestimation of the private importance of material gains causing too much migration
- Under-accounting for positive flow-through effects and externalities (growth of other parts of the global economy) causing too little migration
- Under-accounting for negative flow-through effects and externalities (including goose-killing) causing too much migration
- Under-accounting for the benefits accruing to future generations causing too little migration
1. Wealth effects: inability to afford the upfront costs causing too little migration
Some prospective migrants may benefit greatly from migrating, and wish to do so, but the upfront cost of migrating may be so high that they literally cannot afford it. Joel Newman discussed this case in his recent post. Prima facie, I don’t see this as a big issue long-term: I expect that to the extent that people care deeply about migrating, loans (repaid through greater post-migration earnings) and private charity will help fund the upfront costs.
The catch: people need to be sufficiently eager to migrate to avail of the opportunity of a loan (along with the attendant liabilities). But the failure to do so is more a problem of hyperbolic discounting (next on our list) than of an inability to afford the move.
Intranational migration, or the lack thereof, offers important lessons. There’s a great deal of intranational migration, but a lot less than one might naively expect given the cost-benefit analysis, raising the possibility that wealth effects might constrain intranational migration.
Both the 0% interest loans and the conditional cash transfers led to large increases in seasonal migration, while “information only” treatment had no apparent effect,7 leading the authors to combine the cash and credit groups and information only and control groups into “incentivized” and “non-incentivized” groups, respectively, for the remainder of their analysis.
In the year the study was conducted, incentives led to a 22 percentage point increase in migration on a baseline level of 36% in the non-incentivized group, a 60% increase.9In the following year, when incentives were no longer provided, migration was still 10 percentage points higher in the villages that had previously received cash or credit incentives. Three years later, an 8 percentage point increase persisted in these villages. This increase in seasonal migration led to large and well-identified gains for the families of migrants at the origin, who benefit from remittances.
2. Hyperbolic discounting combined with large upfront costs of migration causing too little migration
People value the future less than the present. This isn’t considered ipso facto irrational. Economic models typically use exponential discounting. Roughly, this means that the ratio in which you value today and tomorrow is the same as the ratio in which you value tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. In other words, a constant increment of time leads to a fixed proportion change in value.
In practice, though, people tend to engage in hyperbolic discounting. They value the present highly, and the future a lot less, but the proportional dropoff from the present to the near future is much greater than the dropoff between dates in the future. In other words, people value their present a lot more than their selves six months into the future, but they’re pretty much indifferent between 30 months in the future and 36 months in the future. Hyperbolic discounting is not invariant under time translation and therefore leads to dynamic inconsistency. What this means in practice is that people might avoid migrating now because of the huge upfront cost, even in the face of numerically larger benefits within six months of migrating. On the other hand, if they are asked now whether they’d be willing to migrate 2.5 years later to achieve huge gains 3 years later, they are more likely to express willingness.
Hyperbolic discounting isn’t a problem per se if people have access to commitment devices that can allow them to force themselves to migrate at a later date (a bit like Save More Tomorrow). But such mechanisms are hard to develop and implement without morally impermissible coercion, particularly for a weighty decision such as migration. This argument points in the direction of there being far less migration than people would like from a non-present-biased vantage point.
3. Overestimation of the private importance of material gains causing too much migration
An articulate critic of Bryan Caplan has made this point in detail. The relevant passage is quoted below:
It seems clear that many immigrants chose to immigrate in-order to obtain better economic standing. Surveys from around the world have found that improvements in their material condition is the first thing people list when asked about how their lives might improve. They think that they will be better off if they have more money. This is an area in which immigrants might plausibly make a mistake: they overestimate the importance of absolute wealth to their well being and in so doing under appreciate other factors, such as their relative wealth and their sense of belonging in their community.
First, I am going to look at the relationship between absolute income, relative income, and happiness. To be clear, relative income is how much money you make relative to the people around you. If you live in a third world country and make a third world income then you have a pretty average income relative to the people around you. If, on the other hand, you move to a first world country, you could have a significant increase in the total amount of money you are making and still be making less money than the people around you. That is, you can experience an increase in your absolute economic standing and a decrease in your relative economic standing. And if relative income is more important to your mental well being than absolute income is then you could experience a decrease in happiness as a result.
Some of the most important data on this topic has been documented by economist Richard Easterlin. He has documented that, over the course of the twentieth century, the absolute income of people in the United States more than doubled. Yet, levels of life satisfaction haven’t increased in any substantial way. What this suggests is that absolute income effect on life satisfaction isn’t very large. Similarly, following the second world war Japan rose from a third world nation to one of the richest nations in the world in about 30 years. Over that period, Japan’s GDP per capita increased fivefold and major lifestyle changes were experienced by Japan’s inhabitants as they rose from international poverty to affluence. Yet, average reported levels of life satisfaction in Japan remained unchanged. Further still, an analysis of economic growth and life satisfaction in 9 European countries over a 16 year period found no relationship between economic growth and changes in happiness. A similar relationship exists between individuals happiness and changes in their incomes over their lifespan. Several studies have shown that individuals do not typically experience an increase in happiness between the ages of 20 and 40. And yet, their income increases substantially over that same time period.
In-spite of all this data showing that individuals can experience massive changes in their absolute wealth with no corresponding change in their mental well being, many studies have found that there is a correlation such that the more money people have the happier they are. One way to explain this finding is by positing that the people who end up with the most money are the happiest to begin with and that their income is therefore not the cause of their happiness. There is some good evidence for this position. For instance, in one study researchers interviewed around 15,000 participants at ages 16, 18, and 22, and obtained information on their income at age 29. During the interviews in adolescence and young adulthood they assessed how happy the participants were and preformed a statistical analysis to see if happiness at this earlier period predicted income at age 29. What they found was that not only did happier people go on to make more money than less happy people but that happier siblings grew up to make more money than their less happy siblings. This means that coming from a wealthy family cannot explain why happier young people end up making more money. After all, siblings come from the same family. Thus, the correlation between happiness and income is partially explained by the fact that people that are happier to begin with make more money.
This is an interesting argument, but I wouldn’t put too much weight on it (see Will Wilkinson’s detailed review of happiness research, that I draw upon somewhat):
- I think that revealed preference says a lot, not just in that people choose to migrate, but that they don’t choose to return, and that people continue to migrate even after learning of conditions in the area that they want to migrate to. If anything, migration tends to increase with the presence of diasporas.
- It is more likely that people’s attempt to provide a numerical estimate of their happiness level is based on relative wealth and other considerations, whereas their actual happiness levels correlate with actual wealth.
- One’s absolute level of wealth may not be important, but the opportunity to earn wealth might matter. People who have this option, and then choose not to exercise it, may not be too unhappy. People who choose not to exercise the opportunity still benefit from its existence, insofar as they are making a conscious tradeoff.
- One reason why people’s happiness predicts their future income is that people are aware of their future income, and make present life choices, including choices of consumption levels, taking that into account. If you know your salary ten years from now will be millions of dollars, you have less inhibitions taking out a bigger loan to buy a bigger, better house.
4. Under-accounting for positive flow-through effects and externalities (growth of other parts of the global economy) causing too little migration
For most jobs, doing the job benefits not only the person doing it but also benefits other people, including the person’s customers, employers, and (perhaps) co-workers. People who migrate to take up a job with higher productivity are likely to increase their own income, but in addition, they’re also likely to benefit the people around them to a greater extent than they did with their earlier job. The increased flow-through effects, spillover effects, and externalities are something that people may not consider in their personal accounting. Thus, they may migrate less than they “should” from a universalist perspective.
In particular, as Carl Shulman pointed out (continuing on a theme I blogged about), economic models focused on finding arrangements that are most economically efficient routinely predict substantially larger migration flows than polling data indicate, and it’s believed that the polling data themselves are either about right or an overestimate.
Flow-through effects and externalities should be internalizable through compensation: for instance, employers can pay relocation costs for workers, and local governments can give special tax breaks to people when they move (similar to the discounts that subscription services offer for the first few months). However, there may be practical problems associated with compensation mechanisms.
5. Under-accounting for negative flow-through effects and externalities (including goose-killing) causing too much migration
Concerns such as brain drain and delay of the reform of political institutions might lead to more migration than is optimal under open borders. One culprit is wealth effects: people in poor countries can pay less (for the same subjective benefit) to their doctor than people in rich countries. When a doctor moves from a poor country to a rich country, attracted by a higher income, the doctor’s private gain might overstate the social gain from migration. Note that the claim here isn’t that brain drain justifies the status quo, or even that most skilled migration is bad, but rather that complete free migration might lead to somewhat more skilled migration than is socially optimal. Then, of course, there’s the concern about killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
6. Under-accounting for the benefits accruing to future generations causing too little migration
Migrants have to pay both the upfront costs of moving and the costs of adjusting to a different culture (this may include learning a new language, familiarizing oneself with a new culture, or adjusting to new types of work). Their children, born in the new country, however, do not need to “adjust” in the same sense, though they do need to juggle the somewhat different cultural and linguistic traditions of their parents and the ambient culture. The grandchildren face even lower adjustment costs. In the case of migration from poorer to richer countries, the children and grandchildren can acquire more relevant skills and human capital early on in their lives, and therefore have greater earning potential than the parents. In other words, the place premium for migrants understates the long-term gain from migration because the place premium only accounts for improved earning capacity of migrants without a change in their skill level, whereas their descendants have an opportunity to acquire more skills right from childhood.
It is thus likely that prospective migrants are less willing to migrate because they give insufficient weight to the life satisfaction and earnings of their descendants, particularly their as-yet-unborn descendants.
For a somewhat extreme example, consider Africans who were brought to the United States as slaves in the late 18th century. They were brought against their will, and the vast majority would not have voluntarily migrated. Further, it’s likely that their life (or even their children’s) was worse as slaves in the US than it would have been in Africa, though this isn’t completely clear — they may have been enslaved in Africa in worse material conditions. But there’s strong reason to believe that their descendants today are much better off than the descendants of comparable people who stayed behind in Africa (as can be seen from a variety of health and development indicators). The point here isn’t to endorse slavery, but rather to point out that migration could benefit potential descendants even if it is a net loss for the migrants themselves. (Even if this were true, I don’t think it would justify coercing people to migrate, let alone endure slavery, so that their descendants can lead better lives than the counterfactual. There are other ways of encouraging migration if migration levels are lower than optimal).
In a subsequent post or posts, I’ll look at empirical data relevant to weighing the above considerations and at possible ways to encourage or discourage migration to fix any “market failure” that might occur under open borders.
We’re experimenting with switching the frequency of our link roundups from weekly to biweekly (twice a week). The current plan is to publish link roundups every Tuesday and Friday.
See here for all link roundups. As usual, linking does not imply endorsement.
- World Press 2014: Signals from Djibouti by Kim Hubbard and John Stanmeyer, Proof, National Geographic, February 19, 2014. The post is about an award-winning photograph of people in Djibouti, a small country near Somalia, trying to catch inexpensive cellphone signals from nearby Somalia in order to be able to talk with their relatives. The photographer writes: “Speaking to many of them, the stories were always the same: the desire to reconnect to family, asking for remittance or updates on emigration papers from family living in Europe.”
- Migration, Security and Development: Understanding the Linkages by Khalid Koser and Jerome Elie, People Move blog (World Bank), February 18, 2014.
- Immigration bill contains a state power-grab over marriage by Ian Dunt, politics.co.uk, October 22, 2013.
- Ethics Watch: Alien Status and Bar Admission by Megan Zavieh, attorneyatwork.com, February 24, 2014.
- Students launch selfie campaign to protest against immigration bill: Students and staff at the University of Sheffield take selfies to oppose government policy on immigration by Abby Young-Powell, The Guardian, February 24, 2014.
- Remittance Flows Worldwide in 2012:
U.S. top sending country; India top receiving country by Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends, February 20, 2014.
- Laura Ingraham’s Poor Response to George Will on Immigration by Alex Nowrasteh, Cato at Liberty, February 24, 2014. This was in response to an article by Laura Ingraham critical of a column by George Will about immigration (specifically, Hispanic immigration) to the United States.
- See also the Open Borders blog post The Tanton memo and restrictionism among US Republicans by Vipul Naik.
- Mexican Emigration and a Failed State: The self-defense groups in Michoacán, Mexico by Peter Andrews, Center for Immigration Studies, February 2014. See also a Twitter discussion in response, started by Alex Nowrasteh.
- Hard-fought Utah immigration laws may be repealed: Need federal waiver » Without action by Congress, sponsor says repeal may be best by Lee Davidson, The Salt Lake Tribune, February 24, 2014.
- Review: Bad News for Refugees by Lee Bunce, Post Magazine, February 25, 2014. This is a review of the book Bad News for Refugees by Greg Philo, Emma Briant, and Pauline Donald, based on research by the Glasgow Media Group.
This is the first of a series of weekly posts with the most interesting content from the Open Borders Action Group on Facebook. Do join the group to weigh in on existing discussions or start your own (you might want to read this post before joining).
- Critical factors constraining migration rates if migration were significantly liberalized: There was little consensus, but top contenders ranged from setting up job opportunities to the new migrants, to absence of people in the new country to connect with, to bureaucracy, to availability of housing.
- Additional countries for Open Borders to discuss: Suggestions included Iran/Afghanistan, the Caribbean, Mexico/Guatemala, Japan, Israel, Russia, China, Taiwan, and Brazil.
- Whether “open borders” is the right term: There was a wide range of opinions in the comments.
- Why “pro-immigration” groups (such as FWD.us) endorse border security and employment verification systems, and whether this is strategically appropriate for their goals and for open borders: The general view seemed to be that there are more strategic downsides that the “pro-immigration” groups might believe.
- The extent to which existing minimum wage laws would need to be modified to reap the full economic and humanitarian gains from open borders: There was general consensus that minimum wage laws could be a barrier for many prospective migrants, but commenters argued that people could circumvent these by working on family businesses where such laws were harder to enforce.
- How open borders and charter cities compare: Milo King’s comment listed 7 points and included a diverse range of considerations.
Here’s our weekly installment of links from around the web (see here for all link roundups). As usual, linking does not imply endorsement.
- Conversation with Howard Adelman, academic and activist on issues related to refugees in Canada. Other participants in the conversation were Carl Shulman and Nick Beckstead. The conversation is listed on Nick Beckstead’s conversations page.
- No, Immigrants Won’t Make Welfare State Bigger by Alex Nowrasteh and Zachary Gochenour, Investors Business Daily, February 14, 2014. It is based on their Cato Working Paper The Political Externalities of Immigration: Evidence from the United States (released January 15, 2014). See also Ilya Somin‘s post Increased immigration is unlikely to increase the size of the welfare state, February 18, 2014, Volokh Conspiracy, The Washington Post.
- Leviathan on the Border by Shikha Dalmia, Reason, February 11. 2014.
- ‘Pro-Freedom’ Parties That Aren’t on Immigration by Matthew Feeney, Reason, February 13, 2014.
- A Bad Argument Against Immigration by Fernando Teson, Bleeding Heart Libertarians, February 15, 2014.
- Remittances and vulnerability in developing countries: Results from a new dataset on remittances from Italy by Giulia Bettin, Andrea F Presbitero, and Nikola Spatafora, VoxEU, February 10, 2014.
- Votum „Gegen Masseneinwanderung“: Eine ungute Gemengelage [The Vote "Against Mass Immigration": An uneasy hodgepodge - in German] by Sabine Beppler-Spahl, Novo Argumente, February 2014.
- Ausländer in der Schweiz sind wütend und verunsichert [Foreigners in Switzerland are angry and alienated - in German] by Simone Schmid, Tagesanzeiger, February 12, 2014.
- Einwanderung: Grenzenloser Lebensstandard [Immigration: Living Standards Without Borders/Limits - in German] by Alexander Fink, Novo Argumente, February 2014.
- The whole point of detention for asylum seekers is horror, whether it is acknowledged or not by Waleed Aly, The Age (Australia), February 21, 2014.
Open borders supporter Fabio Rojas, the brain behind the Open Borders Logo Contest, recently converted the Open Borders Logo Contest Facebook group to the Open Borders Action Group (OBAG). While the group was originally intended for a discussion of open borders logos, the new incarnation is intended for a general discussion of strategy and rhetoric related to open borders advocacy. Object-level discussion of the merits of open borders is also welcome, but not the focus.
If you’re interested in discussing or following discussions of open borders advocacy and action, consider joining the group. You can edit the notification settings to determine whether you get notified when new posts are made to the group, so don’t worry about getting too much notification spam. You don’t need to be an open borders supporter, or express only “pro-open borders” views in the posts and comments, but the group’s goals mean that you’re unlikely to enjoy it much unless you have some sympathy for the position. That said, open borders skeptics should feel free to join and lurk in the group to obtain “competitive intelligence” so to speak.
A few quick guidelines for OBAG:
- Fabio moderates posts and comments ruthlessly for incivility, including reciprocal incivility (if somebody’s rude to you, let the moderators deal with it).
- To the extent possible, when commenting on a post, stick to the topic of the post rather than pivoting to a general discussion of the merits or demerits of open borders. This helps keep the discussion focused.
- More detailed comments and discussion are better suited to the Open Borders blog, where the bloggers and audience are more committed to hashing out arguments in full detail.
Post by Michelangelo Landgrave (occasional blogger for the site, joined February 2014). See:
Last November President Obama was heckled by pro-migrant activists demanding that his administration take action to halt deportations. The President responded that he was unable to take further steps and that this was an issue Congress had to tackle.
One wonders if the President has considered using administrative changes to ease use of the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) labor agreement.
NAFTA dealt primarily with reducing barriers in goods and services, but it also provided for a minor reduction in barriers to labor as well. Canadian and Mexican professionals may acquire the non-immigrant TN status to work and live in the United States in renewable increments of three years. The relevant text can be found in Chapter 16 of the NAFTA treaty. Only a handful of professions are covered by the status and most of them require bachelor degrees, which means that expanding the TN status would not provide much aid to lower skilled migrant-hopefuls but it would nonetheless be a move towards more open borders.
At minimum the President’s administration could seek to ease the application process for the TN status. Currently most TN status holders leave the United States in order to renew their TN status in an US consulate or embassy in their home countries. This is costly to do and many would benefit from being able to apply from within the United States. A process to apply does exist within the United States, but it is rarely exercised due to the difficulty of doing so.
The President’s administration could also seek to allow those eligible for TN status to self-apply to renew the status without the need for cooperation from their employer. The TN status is quasi-portable; when first applying a TN holder must prove that they have a job offer in the United States but can change employers in the interluding time provided they file out some paperwork. Unfortunately the need to have their employers help them renew their status limits the portability of the status. Allowing self-petition would remove this and make the status fully portable.
TN status is currently valid for increments of three years. The President’s administration could expand this to five or ten years. During the Bush administration the status was changed from one to three years, so Obama would merely be following in his predecessors’ action.
If the President was especially ambitious he could seek to expand the list of professions covered by the TN status. Unlike other proposals here the President would have to negotiate the terms of expansion with Mexico, Canada, and Congress. President Obama is down in Mexico discuss the future of NAFTA, could it be he is already toying with the idea of using NAFTA for a broader labor agreement?
Expansion of the TN status should be an attractive route and it is surprising that both successive Presidents and open border advocates have ignored it. The TN status is already part of the US code (Title 8 Section 214.6) and no further enabling legislation from Congress would be necessary. The President’s administration would not be creating a new status using executive order, it would merely be easing the administration process of a well established aspect of US immigration law.
Regular opponents of increased immigration would be hard pressed to argue against expanding NAFTA’s labor provisions. The President could potentially increase the list of eligible professions, but the TN status would ultimately only benefit skilled workers. There is plenty of rhetoric against unskilled migrants, but it is rare to find the same passion against skilled migrants. The TN status does not provide a pathway to citizenship to its holder and therefore denies its holder the possibility of benefiting from most US welfare programs or voting. The types of migrants that come under the TN status are the most favorable ones; well educated middle income professionals who are here to do business.
Easing use of the NAFTA’s labor agreement could not easily be portrayed as misuse either. NAFTA was meant to reduce trade barriers between the US, Canada and Mexico. Both the letter and spirit of NAFTA would be carried out by easing the application process for the TN status. Is it fateful that the trade treaty celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
The TN status has no numerical caps. Mexican applicants were numerically capped at its inception, but said cap was removed in 2004. Increasing the number of TN status holders would not reduce the number of visas available elsewhere and should not cause any significant backlogging of other visa applications.
In 2012 733,692 individuals were admitted into the US under TN status, mostly for short periods. Only a relative few reside in the United States for significant portions of time.
Source: DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2012
No labor certification process is required for those applying for the TN status. The low number of TN status holders relative to the supply of potential applicants suggests that the administration is being stringent in who it grants the TN status to. It also implies that many more individuals could TN status if the President’s administration eased its application procedures.
If done properly an extension of NAFTA’s labor provisions could lead to the the three member nations agreeing to reform the treaty to include lower skilled labor as well or possibly extending NAFTA membership to the Caribbean and Central America countries. These would all be marginal moves, but they may wet things enough for a slippery slope towards open borders in the long run.
Michelangelo is an economics student in California. He holds a BA in Economics from California State University, Northridge and plans to begin his graduate studies in the autumn.
He was born in Morelia, a provincial capital in western Mexico. At the age of two he was brought to the US by his parents along with his younger sister. A libertarian from birth, Michelangelo never understood why he needed anyone’s permission to move across the US-Mexican border. He settled down in Los Angeles and has lived there ever since.
Michelangelo’s first blog post will be published soon, but if you’re eager to read him, check out his writing on immigration for PolicyMic in Autumn 2013.
PS: If you are interested in blogging for Open Borders, fill our potential guest blogger contact form.
Post by John Lee (regular blogger for the site, joined October 2012). See:
More than any other country in the world, the US epitomises a country welcoming to immigrants. Its legacy of reaping the boons of immigration, and outsized influence on the world stage are why we so often discuss it on Open Borders, even if we firmly stand behind open borders across the world. In recent years, the US has been setting a bad example for the world on immigration, and we need to set the record straight. Americans today are happy to embrace their immigrant past, but reluctant to face their immigrant future. But these are two sides of the same coin — and the past tells us that American restrictionists’ worst fears have already come to pass — and gone.
Immigrants from Asia, Africa, and above all, Central and Latin America are taking centre stage in the US today. Hispanics especially represent the future of American immigration. As a result, any American can present you with a laundry list of concerns about Hispanic immigration:
- They are low-skilled and poorly educated
- They don’t learn our language
- Their culture is rude, uncouth, and macho
- They are migrating at an immense rate, far too quick for societal or political institutions to adapt
- They bring their own language with them, and unabashedly force American institutions to accommodate their language
- They are either apathetic or outright disloyal to the US, and pose a risk to national security
It is tempting for those on the left to dismiss concerns about immigration as rooted merely in the basest racism, bigotry, and prejudice. I would agree that anyone who has seriously examined the empirical data here will find these concerns to be overblown — even on the rare occasion that there’s a grain of truth to them, the situation is nowhere near as bad as restrictionists typically make it out to be. And it is true that immigration restrictions, especially in the US, have traditionally been founded primarily, if not entirely, on racial prejudice. But these are not reasons to casually dismiss reasonable people’s concerns about immigration today.
Now, for those who really think that, based on that laundry list I laid out above, Hispanic immigration is a major problem in the US and one that needs to be stopped at all costs, I simply say: your concerns, valid as they may be, were anticipated a long time ago. No less an American than founding father Benjamin Franklin expressed precisely the same sentiments about a new cohort of swarthy immigrants threatening to overwhelm the United States:
Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation… Not being used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it; and as Kolben says of the young Hottentots, that they are not esteemed men till they have shewn their manhood by beating their mothers, so these seem to think themselves not free, till they can feel their liberty in abusing and insulting their Teachers.
…now they come in droves, and carry all before them, except in one or two Counties; Few of their children in the Country learn English…They begin of late to make all their Bonds and other legal Writings in their own Language, which (though I think it ought not to be) are allowed good in our Courts…there is continual need of Interpreters; and I suppose in a few years they will be also necessary in the Assembly, to tell one half of our Legislators what the other half say; In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.
Franklin went as far as to accuse these teeming masses of ignorant, uncouth immigrants of treason. When the colonies that would become the US fought the French, these immigrants refused to fight, and publicly argued that it would be better to surrender to the French instead:
…for when the English who were not Quakers, alarmed by the danger arising from the defenceless state of our Country entered unanimously into an Association within this Government and the lower Countries raised armed and Disciplined near 10,000 men, the Germans except a very few in proportion to their numbers refused to engage in it, giving out one among another, and even in print, that if they were quiet the French should they take the Country would not molest them; at the same time abusing the Philadelphians for fitting out Privateers against the Enemy; and representing the trouble hazard and Expence of defending the Province, as a greater inconvenience than any that might be expected from a change of Government.
Yes, the swarthy immigrants Franklin was talking about here were none other than the Germans. (While none of us would describe them as such today, he was quite explicit in his correspondence, describing peoples like the French, Russians, Swedes, and Germans as “swarthy” in complexion.) The early US faced a dramatic influx of a horde of immigrants, all from one particular country and cultural background. Even the most sympathetic immigration advocate would surely agree that at some point, “swamping” creates meaningful and dangerous risks to the established order and institutions of society.
But despite all the dangers he called out, Franklin saw no reason to demand mass deportations or even a closing of the borders. He simply wanted to encourage broader settlement of the new immigrants, greater funding for English-language schooling, and precautions against importation of criminals:
I am not for refusing entirely to admit them into our Colonies: all that seems to be necessary is, to distribute them more equally, mix them with the English, establish English Schools where they are now too thick settled, and take some care to prevent the practice lately fallen into by some of the Ship Owners, of sweeping the German Gaols to make up the number of their Passengers.
Maybe Franklin didn’t want to consider deportations or strict border controls because he didn’t believe in the feasibility of a massive militarised law enforcement apparatus that would be necessary to enforce these. We surely can feasibly have those things today (albeit at the cost of turning a leading democracy into a leading police state). But if we have learned anything from the German-American experience, why on earth would we want to?
In Ben Franklin’s day, Germans were swarthy, ignorant, unskilled, uncouth foreigners. They were alien to the people of the United States, and migrating in such vast numbers that they could have swamped and sunk the ship of state. But this clearly did not happen. Quite the contrary. Germans became truly American to a vast degree, despite continued immigration from Germany through the 19th century. If you keep ethnic descent in mind, then the Germans truly won World War II, as esteemed co-blogger Hansjoerg Walther has pointed out before:
Forget about General Eisenhower, and get used to Generalfeldmarschall Eisenhauer. Same for Chester Nimitz for the Navy (now: Generaladmiral Nimitz) and Carl Andrew Spaatz for the Air Force (now: Generalfeldmarschall Karl Andreas Spatz).
The Germans were as alien to the US Ben Franklin knew as Hispanics are alien to the US we know today. Actually, that’s wrong: the Germans were more alien. Hispanics have grown up in close proximity to the US, under the influence of its cultural and political leadership. They hail from democracies of some kind, and have a much better understanding of democracy than most any German growing up in the monarchic, aristocratic Germany of Ben Franklin’s day would have had. They have strong economic and cultural ties to the US. Many Hispanics are literally native Americans. Hispanics are far less likely to undermine the America we know today than the Germans were likely to undermine the America Ben Franklin knew in his day.
The Germans were truly alien to the US. But we no longer think of them that way. If I had told Ben Franklin that two centuries down the road, the largest single ethnic group in the country he helped found would be the Germans, he would have recoiled quite violently. But that is in fact the case: Germans are the largest single ethnic group in the modern United States, numbering almost 50 million. The Germans won World War II for the US. The Germans gave the US some of its greatest cultural contributions, including hot dogs and hamburgers. German-Americans include such American figures as Tom Cruise and Walt Disney.
Perhaps Ben Franklin would consider the modern US unimaginably impoverished by the supposed dilution of Anglo-Saxon culture and institutions. But the institutions that he established were preserved by generations of German immigrants. German-Americans gave their lives for these institutions in World War II. We don’t think of the hamburger as alien; it’s the quintessential piece of American cuisine.
If German immigration has taught us anything about swarthy, unskilled, uneducated, impolite, and politically apathetic immigrants, it’s that the United States will be just fine taking them in. The US admitted millions of Germans in an era of open borders when its institutions were unbelievably weak and newborn, and when those millions of Germans were coming in far greater numbers relative to the US population than anything we see today. The notion that US society and institutions are less equipped to cope with a similar influx under open borders conditions today than the US society and institutions of the Revolutionary Era is absolutely laughable.
We may be shocked to see what the America of 2063 or 2113 looks like. It may be even less familiar to us than the America of 2013 would be to Ben Franklin. But from all we’ve seen with German immigration, it seems quite clear that the waves of immigrants making the US their home today, Hispanic or otherwise, will turn out just fine.
And we can repeat this exercise ad infinitum. Other cohorts of immigrants have lessons to teach us too, after all. The Irish are the third-largest single ethnic group in the US today, numbering over 35 million, or over 10% of the population. And judging from the concerns of 19th century Americans facing a horde of Irish migrants, again, I think the US and its people will be just fine:
Post by Nathan Smith (regular blogger for the site, joined April 2012). See:
Tyler Cowen is a remarkable thinker. He is a sponge for information and a great summarizer, categorizer, and synthesizer thereof. It is a service in which our age, with its sprawling clamor of disparate thought, greatly needs. Perhaps Cowen’s gifts are inseparable from his compulsive moderation, which often spills over into muddle-headedness. Cowen couldn’t be such a good listener if he didn’t give muddle-headed people a hearing. If he was as lucid and logical a thinker as Bryan Caplan, he’d see through nonsense too quickly and wouldn’t have the patience to read/blog it so that we don’t have to.
Nonetheless, with all due respect, I must remark that a recent post in which he goes after Bryan Caplan as a “False Cosmopolitanite” is singularly demonstrative of the inferiority of Cowen’s philosophical and logical acumen relative to Caplan’s. Caplan hasn’t responded to it yet– perhaps he won’t, either because he’s busy or because it would be so embarrassingly easy– but I think I have a pretty good idea what his response might be. Cowen writes:
Enter the intellectuals, whom I call The False Cosmopolitanites… The intellectuals… push for marginal moves toward a stronger cosmopolitanism, even though in a deconstructionist sense their inflated sense of superiority and smugness, while doing so, is its own form of non-cosmopolitanism… Sailer can skewer The False Cosmopolitanites, who serve up a highly elastic and never-ending supply of objectionable, fact-denying, self-righteous nonsense… Embedded in all of this, Caplan is more particularistic than he lets on, embodying and glorifying a form of upper-middle class U.S. suburban culture of which I am personally quite fond. Sailer is… a non-conformist and smart aleck who plays at the status games of The False Cosmopolitanites. Sailer insists on relativizing and deconstructing The False Cosmopolitanites, which is fine by me, but at the same time he overestimates their power and influence…
There is not the slightest inconsistency between “embodying and glorifying a form of upper-middle class US suburban culture” and favoring open borders. Cowen’s critique is a complete, unmitigated nonsequitur. No reconciliation of Caplan’s two positions (pro-suburbia and pro-open borders) is really needed, but if he felt the need to dispel any slight persuasive force Cowen’s remarks had on weak-minded readers, Caplan could answer in either or all of the following ways.
- Open borders will not disrupt the upper-middle class suburban culture of which he is fond. There’s little reason to think it would lead to more crime. If it did, the boost to GDP from open borders would easily fund a few more police. Many immigrants might integrate pretty easily into upper-middle-class suburbia, but if it takes soaring new tenements and sprawling shantytowns to house the immigrant multitudes, there will be plenty of land on which to build those while leaving room for a lot of upper-middle-class suburbia, too.
- Open borders will, moreover, give more people access to the American suburban life Caplan is so fond of. If Caplan thinks so highly of middle-class suburbia in America, by all means let’s try to give as many people as possible access to this fortunate existence.
- Even if open borders did threaten the American suburban lifestyle, it is not in the least inconsistent to say that protecting that lifestyle is not an adequate motive for immigration restriction policies that is by far the greatest cause of dire poverty in the world. Americans probably wouldn’t need to sacrifice suburban comfort to accommodate open borders, but if they did, that would be a small price to pay for the global gains that could be expected.
Doubtless, there are counter-arguments to all these claims, but that’s beside the point. If Caplan believes (1), (2), and/or (3), Cowen’s suggestion that Caplan is a “False Cosmopolitanite”– inconsistent– for being pro-suburbia and pro-open borders, fails.
Whether or not Caplan, or open borders advocates generally, are guilty of “smugness” or an “inflated sense of superiority” is entirely beside the point. Really, we all have better things to do than talk about the tone in which the arguments are stated. Our business is to evaluate their truth. Are governments justified in using force to prevent peaceful migration, or not?
The answer to that question has nothing to do with whether one is “cosmopolitan” in the sense of liking multicultural art, or having foreign friends, or liking foreigners, or thinking that all cultures are equally valuable or anything of the sort. It is entirely consistent to think most foreigners are morally inferior to Americans and still think we ought not to coerce them to stay in foreign countries. For that matter, it would be eminently consistent to support open immigration because one thinks most foreigners are morally inferior to Americans, in hopes that exposure to the moral influence of American society will improve them.
I doubt that Cowen could even define his terms “particularist” and “cosmopolitan” in a minimally satisfactory way. The suggestions that being “smug” is “non-cosmopolitan” and that “glorifying suburbia” is “particularist” suggest that whatever Cowen means by the terms is so stultifyingly subjective that they couldn’t do any real work in any sensible argument about open borders. Is my meta-ethics of universal altruism plus division of labor “cosmopolitan?” I do insist that we should ultimately place equal value on the welfare of foreigners. But I am not at all “cosmopolitan” in the sense of airy detachment from “particularist” cultural traditions: on the contrary, I’m a Christian, and support open borders partly from Christian reasons. But then, does the fact that Christianity is global and universalistic religion– Jesus said to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)– make me cosmopolitan again? Such questions are unanswerable and fundamentally silly.
Cowen says that “Sailer insists on relativizing and deconstructing The False Cosmopolitanites, which is fine by me.” Why is it fine by him? We intellectuals have a primary duty to truth. Part of that duty includes taking the claims of other scholars seriously, answering argument with argument, not engaging in ad hominem attacks and low blows against one another’s motives. Cowen should know better than to approve of Sailer ”relativizing and deconstructing” Caplan.
By the same token, calling Caplan a “False Cosmopolitanite” ought to be beneath Cowen. Has Caplan ever claimed to be “cosmopolitan” in any sense, let along Cowen’s strange subjectivist sense? If he hasn’t claimed to be a Cosmopolitanite, he can’t be a false one. In general, while I often disagree with Caplan– I find his “common-sense case for pacifism” very naïve, for example– “false” is a very inapt description of him. On the contrary, much of his charm lies in his extreme ingenuousness. But the “False Cosmopolitanite” label is especially fatuous because Cowen’s concept of “cosmopolitan” is so confused, and its logical connection to open borders, for or against, so non-existent.
Cowen says that his “perspective is a synthetic one,” but the post is calculated to give “synthetic perspectives” a bad name. There can be a conflict between synthesizing and seeking truth. In this case, Cowen’s attempt to be a sort of hybrid of Bryan Caplan and Steve Sailer yields a singularly muddled contribution to the debate. Tyler Cowen must try harder to think clearly.
Post by Michael Carey (occasional blogger for the site, joined May 2013). See:
In a recent article about why a a guaranteed income won’t work in this country, Megan McArdle wrote that:
“There is no way that we are going to admit people to this country in order to hand them, and all of their descendants, a check for a thousand or two every month.”
It seems to be conventional wisdom that a basic income is incompatible with open borders. Still, I am an advocate of both. I understand that there is significant tension between them, so let me explain myself.
I may be preaching to the choir, but my primary reasons for supporting open borders are that I think it will result in increased economic activity, it will help many people escape poverty, and it may help avoid some of the tragic circumstances associated with living as an undocumented immigrant.
My reasons for supporting a basic income are probably a bit less familiar, and frankly they may sound a lot like some of the reasons that some people are opposed to open borders. Namely, we have a duty to look out for our neighbors.
Just as we become vulnerable whenever we are close to someone emotionally, those who live near us gain a certain degree of economic and political power over us. This is true even if they aren’t citizens. If people work in our communities, the economy becomes dependent on them. Thus, everyone who works has some degree of economic power in that they can refuse to continue working. They also have some ability to actively disrupt economic activity.
Anyone who votes has political power, but even non-voters have some degree of political power because they can become part of a political conversation. The closer they are, the more visible they are, the more likely it is that people will feel sympathetic to their concerns, and the more likely it is that political powers will take their interests into consideration.
Our duty to our neighbors becomes more pronounced in the face of high levels of inequality. We cannot expect our neighbors to uphold the rule of law if they are starving. What argument can I make to one who lacks food for their children that they ought not steal, other than the threat of violence? Since my neighbors have power over me (for example, the potential to steal from me), I have a strong interest in making sure they respect the rule of law. Thus, I have two options available to me in the face of high levels of inequality. I can either increase my threats or I can make sure my neighbors don’t starve.
Let me clarify a bit about the moral responsibilities of starving people. I personally am not a believer in absolute morality, but you might be. I am not saying that you are wrong. I am saying that if a moral relativist is starving and wants to steal from you, you are going to have a very hard time convincing them otherwise based on moral arguments. The more desperate they are, the more that stealing (or cheating, or engaging in other anti-social behavior) might start to look appealing.
Pretty much every society uses some combination of both violence and welfare support. But to the extent possible, I think we should always prefer the latter option. Unless using threats is significantly easier than making sure people don’t starve, we should make sure people don’t starve.
So that is a basic outline of why I support a policy of providing a basic income for anyone living near me. However, as Megan McArdle points out, giving everyone a basic income can cost a lot of money, and perhaps even worse, it can create a disincentive to work.
I do not take these issues lightly. I believe that a disincentive to engage in productive work is one of the most serious downsides that a public policy can have. Thus, my preferred basic income policy would take the form of a work subsidy (e.g., an expansion of the earned income tax credit program).
The simplest example would be to set some wage threshold, say $4,000 per month. Anyone who accepts a job for less than this amount would be subsidized for half the difference. Thus, for example, anyone who accepts a full time job that doesn’t pay anything would get a $2,000 check from the government every month. People who earn more would pay taxes.
Such a program may have some enforcibility issues (people may take fraudulent full time “jobs” that don’t require them to actually do anything). But people would still prefer to take higher paying jobs, and higher paying jobs would result in lower subsidies, so wage competition should mitigate some of the problems.
OK, so now that you know why I support a basic income, and what sort of basic income policy I prefer, we can get back to the original question. Is this sort of policy compatible with open borders?
If it were the case that everyone who immigrated to the country just represented another $2,000 check from the government and tax revenues remained constant, the policy would clearly be unsustainable. However, there is no reason to believe that the marginal immigrant has no impact on tax revenue.
The big question is: for a given level of immigration, are the marginal social externalities greater than or less than the marginal social costs?
I think most advocates of open borders tend to agree that in addition to the benefits that accrue to an immigrant from coming to the US, there are significant social benefits that are not captured by immigrants. The simplest example is that those who hire immigrants profit from them. So we should be asking ourselves whether immigrants are zero marginal product workers.
One of the big underlying reasons that I support open borders is that I think some societies are capable of employing workers much more efficiently than others. That is, the same person working in the US has a higher productivity than they would if they were working in Haiti.
To the extent that workers are (sufficiently) productive, guaranteeing them a basic minimum income won’t really threaten to undermine our economic growth. As long as our society keeps getting wealthier overall, we can support generous work subsidies. Even if we don’t capture their productivity in income taxes, we can capture some of it in other ways (i.e., in taxes on the corporations employing them). The problems arise if we end up guaranteeing the income of a bunch of non-productive people.
There are two parts to this problem. The first is that people who are inherently non-productive may want to immigrate. The second is that productive employment may require a certain level of capital, and immigration might outstrip capital growth.
Since I think that having high levels of local inequality is a big problem, I can see why one might be opposed to allowing a bunch of non-productive people into the country. To mitigate this, we might only open our borders to those who can find productive employment. But we shouldn’t let people into the country and then let them starve. As long as people have an incentive to work, keeping people from starving is more efficient than keeping them in line using threats of force.
Limiting immigration to potentially productive people won’t necessarily resolve the second issue (capital growth). The main problem arises if there is some ideal level of immigration (based on the relationship between immigration and capital growth) and a basic income would push immigration levels past that limit. While a basic income might impact actual immigration levels, I don’t think it will have a significant impact on the ideal immigration level.
Many open borders advocates question whether a sovereign nation has the right to control immigration levels. I do not. I think that letting people live near us gives them power over us and thus creates strong duties toward them. It seems possible to me that some immigration scenario would actually overwhelm our society and economy, so we ought to at least think about what the proper level of immigration is. However, I personally believe that allowing vastly more immigrants than we do now provides some “low hanging fruit” for economic growth and will improve many people’s lives. If my belief that most immigrants are productive is true, there is no reason to think that allowing them to come would somehow undermine a policy of guaranteed basic income.
Basically, I don’t think that GDP is a zero sum game. The more people we have, the bigger the pie will get. As long as we don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs (that is, the ability of our economy to productively employ them), providing a basic income will be consistent with much higher levels of immigration.
Note: after reading Paul Crider’s recent post, I would like to note that while I do believe that IQ and culture have some impact on how productive immigrants might be, I am not an advocate of limiting immigration to those from certain countries or with certain job skills. There are roles in the economy for many different kinds of people, and I don’t think the government should try to decide what kinds of labor we need to import. I believe that the biggest threat to the “goose” is inequality that might result from having immigration rates higher than capital growth rates. However, I also think that immigration is a cause of capital growth, so the relationship is complicated.