Weekly OBAG roundup 32 2014

This is part 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).

General points related to migration and people’s opinion about migration

Specific current and historical situations

Global Citizenship

The article “The Global Citizen without a Country,” at Public Discourse, seemed worth linking to and quoting, as relevant to my friendly feud with Bryan Caplan, and to his long-running battles with Steve Sailer and Mark Krikorian. The article is about the “global citizen” movement, which I had never heard of, but which seems to be at least as significant a phenomenon as what Dylan Matthews (it takes an outsider to bestow such a label) calls the open borders “movement.” The scale of it is impressive:

Within a few years of the September 11 attacks, anyone on a university campus could observe the steady growth of programs and institutes promoting global citizenship. By 2009, a number of my students on a study-abroad trip to the Middle East preferred to be known as global citizens rather than Americans. President Obama, who had proclaimed himself a “citizen of the world” the previous summer, was inaugurated the night we climbed Mount Sinai, and even the brand of water we purchased at the summit— “Baraka”—seemed to proclaim a new world order.

Of the top fifty U.S. News & World Report national universities, 60 percent have programs that identify or describe themselves in terms of global citizenship. So do over half of the top twenty-five colleges. Nearly all of these programs were founded or re-branded since 2001. This is remarkable, but understandable: who would deny that we have responsibilities to the rest of the world, or that we have loyalties beyond our own country? Who doesn’t want our universities to teach more effectively about the rest of the world?

The promise of global citizenship is as expansive as the rhetoric at the opening of a new session at the UN.

Are these people we should be recruiting to the open borders movement? It seems logical: if there is to be global citizenship, surely it makes sense that there be global freedom of migration as well. Also, what is the relationship between “global citizenship” and Bryan Caplan’s “cosmopolitanism?” Cosmopolitan  roughly means “the world is my city” in Greek, so the ideas ought to be nearly synonymous, but I’m guessing Caplan would prefer to opt out of citizenship altogether. Anyway, the author is somewhat dismissive of “global citizenship”:

To re-phrase H. Richard Niebuhr, this movement often imagines that citizens without countries will bring humans without a nature into society without culture through laws without foundation…

Actual citizenship entails formal membership in a particular political community with legally defined rights and duties. We quarrel over what citizenship means in the US because we have a common vocabulary to describe that membership. By contrast, you can easily lose your path upon entering the thicket of theory that marks the language of the global citizenship movement…

The global citizen who gets the highest praise typically works for a secular nongovernmental organization (NGO) such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International, or Doctors Without Borders. But the definition would also apply to the adherents of any world religion and to many employees of multinational corporations.

Still, none of these people has actual political membership in a global community where he must “rule and be ruled,” as Aristotle described the citizen. Religions and NGOs are not self-sufficient. Their members don’t have to debate policies that radically affect everyone in the community where they live. Above all, members’ participation is voluntary, unlike that of a citizen. Their loyalties may be “dissolved by the fancy of the parties,” to quote Edmund Burke’s critique of the revolutionary notion of citizenship in France. In short, they may contribute to the civil society of one nation, or several, but they are not “citizens” of any global entity—and some of the theorists admit as much.

The problem is not that the movement uses the term “citizenship” loosely. The problem comes from its view that citizenship in an actual country is merely arbitrary or contingent.

I agree that for citizenship to be meaningful and substantive, it must be broadly understood by the people concerned. In other words, it must be embedded in tradition, not in jargon and a “thicket of theory.”

But what are we to make of this sentence: “Above all, members’ participation is voluntary, unlike that of a citizen.” Ritchie seems to assume that voluntariness is inconsistent with citizenship. This isn’t the status quo even today. Many people are citizens because they chose to be, e.g., naturalized citizens of the USA. True, most people get their citizenship by birth and keep it, but why should this be an essential criterion of citizenship? On the contrary, the Declaration of Independence states that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights… [and] to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In other words, the Declaration of Independence seems to insist precisely on the voluntariness of citizenship, the consent of the governed. It is an ideal doubtless difficult to implement and perhaps even naïve, but surely, to the extent that membership in an organized community is voluntary, any duties associated with membership are rendered more legitimate thereby. As for “the view that citizenship in an actual country is merely arbitrary or contingent,” this isn’t so much a “view” as a plain fact. I’m a US citizen because, by accident of birth, I was born a US citizen.

I agree with Ritchie is that to build global citizenship on “humans without a nature” is to build on sand, but from there on we part ways, and I sometimes find myself impressed by how well he articulates an obviously false view, as if he’s a volunteer straw man. As Thomas Jefferson understood, there is such a thing as human nature, and human rights are entailed by that nature. States are legitimate in virtue of their services as protectors of human rights.

As for “ruling and being ruled” and “debating policies that radically affect the community in which [one] lives,” non-states often have those features in a much greater degree than even the most democratic states. My family and my church are real communities in a way that the USA isn’t, and I have a real say in how they are run, while I’ve surely never significantly influenced the policies of the USA, and probably never could. Meanwhile, many of this world’s states don’t even pretend to let their peoples “rule” as well as be ruled, or to let them freely debate and have a say in policymaking. Again, Ritchie seems to be a volunteer straw man, making arguments that obviously fail for his side and cannot help being turned to his opponents’ advantage.

I am more sympathetic with Ritchie when he argues that “global citizens”…

place little value on the legal, social, and cultural histories of the countries that have protected the rights and established the social benefits they champion. Instead, their faith is in lists of principles that will be carried out sometime in the future.

Yes, “lists of principles that will be carried out sometime in the future” are no substitute for the “legal, social, and cultural histories of the countries that have protected… rights.” Real progress and prosperity depend on good institutions and traditions. I wrote, I think, quite a good defense of tradition in Chapter 2 of The Verdict of Reason. It’s too long to quote in full (here’s an ungated link), but I make a forceful argument that “tradition is the lifeblood of free societies,” because “tradition has epistemic value as society’s repository of knowledge about what works and does not work,” and “tradition is an indispensable medium for people to understand each other.”

That’s part of the reason why I resist Bryan Caplan’s “cosmopolitanism.” He breezily defines cosmopolitanism as “focusing on people’s common humanity rather than superficial differences.” The reality is that what is most superficial about us is not our differences but our similarities. We all (almost) have two legs and two arms and two eyes and walk and talk and eat and vary in weight by a factor of 3:1 or 4:1 at most, and less in height, but in our souls we are worlds apart. The Hindu and the Christian live on the same earth but in different cosmoses. What one man loves, another hates. The freedom Caplan prizes does have roots in “common sense,” though I’d prefer to say, in human nature. But it is also the specific heritage of the Christian West, and no one could have imagined modern Western freedom from the evidence of common sense alone, without the heritage of a hundred generations’ worth and more of tradition. Indeed, since Caplan sometimes seems to recognize this, perhaps we don’t really disagree.

Still, human rights are a moral reality, even if it takes a lot of tradition to inculcate in us a full appreciation of them. (Indeed, we still have a long way to go.) Ritchie praises the global citizens for their concern for human welfare…

It’s impossible to read the material on global citizenship without respecting its adherents’ commitment to human rights, peace, and global access to education, medicine, clean water, and food.

… but education, medicine, clean water, and food will be effectively secured for humanity only in the context of deep and well-grounded institutions. Now, part of the point of the open borders movement is that since it’s very difficult to build good institutions, people should be allowed to move freely to places where they are already in place. That does pose some risk that the good institutions will be degraded by changes in the underlying population, but we think the risk is manageable.

The article has a good deal about Edmund Burke, whose public career, as a defender of the rights of the Indian people against British imperialism, and of the American revolutionaries to make their own nation, but then as a critic of the French Revolution and a founder of intellectual conservatism, is an interesting case study in how rootedness and cosmopolitanism can be combined. Burke rightly believed in universal values, but understood that it is only through the customs, culture and institutions of particular communities that these can be realized, and it is on the building up of these, that most of our attention and effort should focus. That is citizenship, rightly understood.

That conclusion in no way implies that citizenism is necessary, advisable, or morally permissible. It isn’t. “Americans First” is a wanton denial of our responsibilities to our fellow man; one rarely encounters such a bluntly amoral doctrine, equally intolerable from a Kantian, utilitarian, or Christian perspective. But “global citizenship” is also a misconceived ideal, for at the end of the day, citizenship must be in a polity, and there is no global polity to be a citizen of, and we probably should not wish for one. Individualism is not enough; we need communities; and membership in communities, even when that membership is not wholly voluntary, can involve us in special duties. But real communities are more local than the whole globe.

Responsibilities to the communities one is a member of should never be an excuse for injustice, cruelty or indifference to the rest of our fellow men. In advocating open borders, I am first of all opposing an evil that is done on behalf of one form of community, the nation-state. But as open borders would transform people’s communities and identities, I am obliged to have at least vague answers to large questions about how human needs for community and identity will be met. My response is that the artificial concentration of loyalties that the nation-state has tried to force on us in the 20th century will be reversed, and that is probably a good thing. It is better for justice and imagination when membership is felt in many forms and at multiple levels, when communities overlap and interpenetrate one another, when identity is more complex and interesting than a mere titular nationality. I want, not to abolish the nation-state, but to limit its scope and power, and to reverse the stultification and flattening of identity, the eclipsing of a diverse ecology of communities by banal nationalistic pieties, and the substitution of openly coercive and arbitrary for at least notionally consensual community, that the monopolization of governance by the nation-state brought about.

See also my post “Immigration, Identity, Nationality, Citizenship, and Democracy.”

Weekly OBAG roundup 31 2014

This is part 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).

General points related to migration and people’s opinion about migration

Specific current and historical situations

Meta

  • Post by Fabio Rojas with a draft op-ed he wrote to promote open borders. 7 likes, 9 comments.
  • Post by Nathan Smith, September 19, 2014, linking to an Economics Detective Radio podcast with Garret Peterson on open borders. 3 likes.
  • Post by Oliver Beatson, September 19, 2014, of a song he remembered that reminded him of open borders. 1 comment.

Let Us Dream Bigger: The Dreamer Movement Should Support Open Borders

I am a reluctant Dreamer. I naturally sympathize with the goal of my fellow Dreamers to see some version of the Dream Act passed, but I can’t help it think too small a dream. The Dream Act would provide relief to us who were brought into the United States as children, but it would do little to improve the life of those who are still on the other side of the border. Open borders on the other hand would both improve our lives and humanity as a whole. Open borders would allow everyone to migrate freely regardless of their place of birth, race, wealth, or religion. Open borders would give everyone the right to decide their own fate by deciding where they want to live.

Open borders is a sounder argument than the Dreamer argument. Many Dreamers implicitly concede that their parents did something wrong by entering the United States unlawfully, but argue that they themselves did no wrong and should not be punished. The Dreamer argument does not condemn barriers against immigration per se, it only asks for special treatment for unique situations such as Dreamers.

Dreamers are right to point out that they should not be punished for the sins of the parents, and current US immigration law already reflects that. The primary punishment for illegal immigration is being subject to the immigration bars, which disallow one from lawfully migrating to the US for a set period of time subject to how much unlawful presence was accrued. Under existing law illegal aliens who are minors do not accrue unlawful presence. It takes a hundred and eighty days after a Dreamer has turned eighteen, the age of adulthood, before the first immigration bar of three years is triggered. Dreamers can, upon reaching adulthood, leave the United States and apply to return under existing legal channels without fear of a handicap.

By no means is immigration into the United States easy, but there are legal options. Surely the brightest Dreamers should be able to acquire a student visa. Those who are related to US citizens can re-enter on the fiancé visa or through other family-based visa schemes. The asylum system is not perfect, but those Dreamers who have genuine fear of going to their country of origin can lodge a defensive asylum claim. With this in mind it is unclear why dreamers need any further special exemptions.

Ultimately a Dreamer who remains in the United States after reaching adulthood has affirmatively elected to remain an illegal alien. They could have self-deported without spending a day in jail or even triggering an immigration bar but they instead choose to stay in the United States.

By no means am I advocating Dreamers self-deport.  I wish only to point out that the typical Dreamer argument is flawed and an unstable foundation. I offer in its place the case for open borders. We dreamers have the right to live unmolested in the United States, but this is because immigration is itself a universal human right and not because we are special. Any Canadians who wish to reside in Mexico should be able to do so. As should any Indians who might want to live in the United Arab Emirates. Immigration is always and everywhere a right possessed by all of humanity, not merely to a subsection of it.

Would advocating for open borders be more difficult than simply advocating for a special exemption for ourselves? Yes, but by no means must we insist on open borders overnight and it would be entirely fine to promote a gradual approach to open borders so long as we made our ultimate goal clear.

Promoting open borders would not only give dreamers a stronger foundation, but it would also gain us new political allies in the form of libertarians. Openborders.info is not exclusively targeted to libertarians, but many of its contributors are libertarians or fellow travelers. As a movement we Dreamers have long aligned ourselves almost exclusively with the left, and what good has that done us? On occasion we get a small reward to keep us content, but our goals have not been met because our allies need not worry about us shifting our resources elsewhere.

Take for example that the Obama administration had promised to announce a series of executive changes to immigration policy earlier this month, but backed out when it became clear it would be politically unpopular to do so. We may protest, but ultimately what does it matter? It is not as if we will punish the administration by going out and campaigning for Steve King and his anti-immigration posse. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has worsened our bargaining position by making our fate tied to the future electoral victory of the Democratic Party. What if however there existed other allies who could be counted on to, at minimum, leave DACA alone? Then we could have a genuine ‘protest vote’ and better our bargaining power.

Many libertarians are already predisposed to sympathize with our struggle, they know full well the idiocy of government regulation, and we can expect to be warmly received if we extended a hand towards them. Aside from Openborders.info, libertarian think tanks like the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, and the Independent Institute already offer their support to us.

I hope that my fellow Dreamers will adopt the case for open borders if not for the sake of having a stronger argument in the foundation of our movement, and if not to gain political allies, then at least for the sake of justice.

Equality of Opportunity

According to Dylan Matthews’ write-up of an interview with Bryan Caplan at Vox, Caplan’s elevator pitch is:

“What would you think about a law that said that blacks couldn’t get a job without the government’s permission, or women couldn’t get a job without the government’s permission, or gays or Christians or anyone else?” George Mason economist Bryan Caplan asks. It’s a pretty easy question. Obviously, such a law is discriminatory on its face, serves no rational purpose, and is unacceptable in a liberal democracy. But Caplan continues: “So why, exactly, is it that people who are born on the wrong side of the border have to get government permission just to get a job?”

This argument, also discussed in the “equal opportunity” tab of our permanent content, may be the most effective way to make the case for open borders in two sentences, but I’m ambivalent about it. The ethical intuition it appeals to is equality of opportunity. This is a rather novel principle which, however, is widely accepted in our society as a supremely important moral desideratum, almost a synonym for justice. But I don’t believe in equality of opportunity. Not only is it an impossible ideal, it’s not even especially desirable. And while it’s hard to quantify, I suspect that modern Western society’s pursuit of that ideal has done a lot of harm.

Before I go on, let me say that Caplan’s “elevator case” only presumes that the government policy shouldn’t actively create inequality of opportunity. That’s probably a fairly sound principle of government for contemporary applications. But it’s a short step from asking “why should people born on the wrong side of the border have worse lives?” to asking “why should people born to poor parents have worse lives?” or even “why should people born with genes that make them mentally subpar have worse lives?” Soon you’ve activated luck egalitarian intuitions that people’s destinies ought to depend only on their efforts, and not on factors outside their control, and people start demanding that government policies and individual ethics should be drafted into service to realize comprehensive equality of opportunity in the world. This is a wrong road on which Western society has already traveled a long way.

Equality of opportunity is an appropriate desideratum in certain kinds of games. Take chess, for example. Chess is structured with a view to giving players an equal opportunity to win. They start with the same number and types of pieces, in symmetric positions on the board. Moves alternate, giving players equal numbers of chances to play. Well, almost. White’s first-mover advantage in chess is a well-established fact. In a sense, that’s a flaw in chess, but what can you do? Someone has to move first. Chess would be less interesting if there were huge departures from equality of opportunity, e.g., if White got two moves for every move by Black, or if White started with one rook less. The exception here proves the rule. Sometimes a stronger player deprives himself at the beginning of a rook. This is done to give the weaker player a chance, i.e., to restore equality of opportunity. But just because equality of opportunity is a good norm for all manner of games, doesn’t make it a good norm to try to realize in the life of societies.

In the US, the sanctity of equality of opportunity is a side-effect of the way we dealt with the deep historical tragedy of American blacks (i.e., African-Americans, but like some blacks I don’t like the phrase African-American, since it makes them sound foreign, when the average black bloodline must go back further on American soil than the average white bloodline). While many waves of immigrants to the US have assimilated comfortably, American blacks remain a distinctive, and in many respects a disadvantaged, people, and I think the reason is that they never consented to be part of the American people in the first place, so instead of the sense of social contract that is felt by people of free immigrant origins, the black community is pervaded by an understandable sense of historical grievance. If to reason about justice among groups in this way somewhat offends individualistic ethical assumptions, that doesn’t change the fact of long-term black alienation, passed from generation to generation and absorbed by osmosis from a social milieu, and ultimately rooted in the historical experiences of enslavement and segregation. To regard the imposition of equality of opportunity through anti-discrimination laws as a redress for historic wrongs is, for multiple reasons, an insult to justice, yet it may well have been the least bad way to heal the harmful legacy of racial slavery on the US body politic. But that doesn’t mean that equality of opportunity is a valid ethical principle in general.

The issue goes far beyond race. Whether attempts to apply the principle of equality of opportunity to gender have wrought net good or net harm, I’m not sure. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart grimly documents (among other things) how family breakdown has created a new underclass, and it’s hard to imagine that the surge in divorce and illegitimacy in the US doesn’t have something to do with the comprehensive attack by advocates of equality of opportunity on traditional marriage and its sexual division of labor. On the other hand, a lot of women now enjoy opportunities to pursue excellence that they wouldn’t have had. But that’s good because opportunities to pursue excellence are good in themselves, not because it’s especially important for them to be equally distributed across identifiable social groups such as genders, still less because equality of opportunity across individuals is attainable or desirable.

A race-blind society is a semi-attainable goal. A gender-blind society is not. It might just be possible to make education and labor markets gender-blind, but in the marriage market, sociobiology ensures that men will tend to like somewhat younger women, and will place less value on a mate’s education and potential income, while women are instinctively hypergamous. People will continue to respond to these gendered incentives in ways that make their aggregate performance differ in education and labor markets too, and that isn’t a problem, except from the warped point of view that sees equality of opportunity as a moral imperative. A dogmatic insistence that men and women must have the same opportunities in life will certainly make the problems harder, not easier, to think about clearly, and to deal with sensibly.

Equality of opportunity is sometimes thought of as “meritocratic” and conducive to efficiency, but it can also conflict with efficiency. Norman (2003) proves this in the abstract, by showing that statistical discrimination– “stereotypes”– can be a useful source of information, and can facilitate specialization and networking. Statistical discrimination can even be Pareto-improving, meaning that even the direct victims of statistical discrimination benefit from it, since privileged groups, if not compelled to include them, become more productive in activities that are complementary to those left to the excluded groups. Norman (2003) shows only that this is an abstract possibility, but I suspect that the growth of credentialism, whose wastefulness is one of Bryan Caplan’s regular themes, is partly a consequence of the spread of the principle of equality of opportunity, which made it politically incorrect to just hire trusted cronies or co-ethnics, and forced people to rely instead on impersonal systems like college that filter people much more expensively, and are trickier for less capable people to navigate.

Economic theory provides a certain clarity here. Economists like to speak of people’s “opportunity sets.” They usually start with simplified two-good models, e.g., if you have $10, and apples cost $1, and pears cost $2, you can buy 10 apples, or 8 apples and 1 pear, or 6 apples and 2 pears, etc. But the concept of an opportunity set is extensible to unlimited numbers of goods and services, and the budget constraint concept applies not just to money but to time, and maybe to other things like willpower, social capital, and appetite. Take all this into account, and the opportunity set that each of us faces when we start life is very, very complicated. What can equality of opportunity mean except that these opportunity sets ought to be identical for every individual born? And that, of course, is absurd. Or you could try to save the concept by aiming to equalize the “value,” in some sense, of people’s opportunity sets, but those schooled in the rigorous theory of value developed by economists know that it can’t do any such work. And attempts to make people’s opportunity sets more equal, beyond a certain point, must make the world more homogeneous and less interesting. Variety is the spice of life, and much of the social variety that we enjoy has its roots in differences of experience and circumstance that began well before the age of responsibility, and which would have to be erased, for more equality of opportunity to be attained.

I think one reason people value equality of opportunity is that they identify it with the democratic social contract. Equality of opportunity is an attempt to translate into the economic sphere the principle of “one person, one vote.” The Constitution lets any American (voters willing) be president, so the capitalist economy should be organized so that everyone has a chance at being the CEO of Coca-Cola or Google. By this account, it’s because everyone had a chance at being rich, that the capitalist system is fair, and deserves our support or at least acquiescence. There’s a naïve version of this argument and a cynical version. The naïve version really believes that equality of opportunity exists or is attainable, and seeks to protect or to establish it, so that the have-nots won’t be justified in launching a revolution. The cynical version knows that equality of opportunity is unattainable, but wants to preserve it as a myth, so that the have-nots will be told they could have had it all, but for their own indolence and mistakes, and that will demoralize them too much to make a revolution. Perhaps I’m attacking a straw man here, but I’m not sure.

What’s absurd about the contemporary West’s partially sincere commitment to equality of opportunity is that Western immigration restrictions are as flagrant and unmistakable a violation of equality of opportunity as could be imagined. That’s why Caplan’s attack is so devastating. The West excludes the vast majority of mankind from opportunities to prosper in the West that many would take advantage of, and benefit by, if they were allowed. By excluding them, we condemn to poverty, poor education, limited political freedom, and often disease and/or violence many who would come to the West and flourish. Equality of opportunity demands open borders.

Inequality within the West is mild compared to global inequality. Feminists scheduled Equal Pay Day on April 14, 2014 to complain that women (collectively) have to work until that date to make as much as men made in 2013. The implicit desideratum makes little economic sense even if the principle of equality of opportunity is accepted (a few happy housewives working part-time would bring the average down for women, but it would not represent any societal injustice) but for purposes of comparison, if estimates of the place premium were used to calculate an “Equal Pay Day” for foreigners, it would have to be postponed several years. In addition to economic inequalities, many foreigners suffer from a severe lack of religious and/or political freedom.

Once an interlocutor understands that equality of opportunity demands open borders, they have two choices. They can cling to a moral belief in equality of opportunity as a compelling desideratum, and accept that this entails opening the borders. But open borders would fall far short of delivering the unattainable, boring utopia of equality of opportunity. People born in poor countries would still be disadvantaged by not knowing English, not getting as much free education, and perhaps by not inculcating the ineffable habits and values that make Westerners free and productive.

On the other hand, an interlocutor might regard open borders as the reductio ad absurdum of equality of opportunity, and abandon that moral principle. That’s fine, too. Let’s abandon that misguided ideal and think more rationally about how to promote human flourishing. Still, there is a little merit in the idea of equality of opportunity, and we should have a bias against government policies, like immigration restrictions, that directly and massively work against it.

By the way, those who have read to the end of this post may be interested in an earlier argument of mine that “private discrimination against immigrants is morally fine and should be legal.” Also relevant is my post “No Irish Need Apply.”

Weekly OBAG roundup 30 2014

This is part 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).

General points related to migration and opinion about migration

Specific current and historical situations

Meta

  • Post by Tiago Santos, September 13, 2014, linking to The case for open borders by Dylan Matthews, Vox, September 13, 2014. 21 likes, 2 comments. The piece includes an interview of Bryan Caplan as well as a summary of the main points made in the interview. There is also a shoutout to the openborders.info website and team. See also our external coverage page.

Weekly OBAG roundup 29 2014

This is part 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).

General points related to migration and opinions about migration

Specific current and historical situations

Site content and meta

Where I Dissent from Bryan Caplan

Since Bryan Caplan has been a sort of godfather/patron figure for this blog from the beginning, I thought it might be of interest to readers to outline a few points where I dissent from him. In general, I admire Caplan as a writer whose lucidity, range, and right-mindedness on most issues has few peers today. That’s not just one libertarian admiring another. Caplan’s writings on family, public choice, and free will, though not inconsistent with libertarianism, are largely independent of it, and here too I admire and largely agree.

I also like Caplan’s choice of which libertarian causes to champion and to neglect, which to carry to extremes, and which to be compromising and squishy about. Mainstream libertarians are wrong (in my view) about gay marriage and abortion, and they overvalue gun rights. Caplan doesn’t promote those causes much. Caplan is also right not to champion Austrian monetary austerity and the gold standard, as some libertarians do. Immigration, meanwhile, is the issue on which libertarians most dominate the moral high ground, and on which extreme libertarians are more correct than the moderates and compromisers, and here Caplan is most vocal and purist.

It feels odd to call Caplan “wise,” since he always somehow has the air of a smart-alek teenage kid with pimples and a baseball cap. (I think it’s because he engages in intellectual debate with in the same spirit of light-hearted, competitive fun that kids play baseball.) But I’ll do it anyway. You don’t get so many issue positions right on the basis of analytical cleverness alone. It takes wisdom. Caplan’s pacifism is the part of his intellectual agenda I have the least sympathy with, but even here, his frank naivete is calculated to be a useful provocation to gutsy, nuanced thinkers with more of the truth here than Caplan has, to explain themselves better.

Nonetheless, the deep philosophical differences between myself and Bryan Caplan are really rather large. Let me start with the topic of “cosmopolitan tolerance.” In a recent post, Caplan called cosmopolitan tolerance “the sweet spot of freedom.” He argued that free societies are best served when people don’t feel disgust or hatred for their fellow human beings (obviously, since that would make them want to oppress and persecute them), nor indifference, nor love, but moderate benevolence. Indifference is better, but freedom, after all, benefits one’s neighbor as well as oneself, so moderate benevolence towards others is likely to strengthen a person’s commitment to the values of a free society. But why not love? Because

default emotions like love and devotion are also inimical to human freedom.  If you love every stranger like your own child, the idea of respecting their freedom to make their own mistakes is hard to stomach.  You’ll want to give strangers what they need, regardless of what they want.  This yearning makes both paternalism and the welfare state quite enticing.

That’s a very interesting argument, but I would take the Christian view that the ethical ideal is to love one’s neighbor as oneself, where one’s neighbor– as the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) illustrates– means anyone you happen to come in contact with, who is in evident need. Is that “inimical to freedom?” Surely, it’s evident that the Good Samaritan’s benevolence is not inimical to the freedom of the robbed man. He wasn’t helped against his will. Nor did the Good Samaritan aid the wounded man with other people’s tax dollars, but out of his own generosity. But mightn’t the Good Samaritan’s general attitude of generosity towards strangers induce him to support paternalism and the welfare state? I doubt it.

First, an immediate response to an unmistakable need is quite a different matter from a programmatic purpose of bettering the human condition, and I don’t think the psychological motives of the two are very similar. Second, the Good Samaritan’s attitude is consistent with epistemic modesty and respect for the rights of others, and I believe it is those traits that a judicious anti-paternalist should seek to encourage. Don’t seek to restrain people’s benevolence for their fellows. Instead, stress the need to respect the rights of others, to let them live their own stories, and have their own adventures. Let us remember that man does not live by bread alone, that adversity is often a good teacher, and that kindness, clumsily and patronizingly bestowed, can corrupt and demoralize a person. Let us remember Gandhi’s critique of philanthropy, and his saying that

“Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.”

Exactly. Or as G.K. Chesterton put it, the philanthropist differs from the lover of humanity because he may be said to love anthropoids, whereas the lover of humanity loves men. Certainly, we should restrain out benevolent impulses when they tempt us to violate the demands of prudence or justice. Certainly, we should make sure that our service is rendered joyfully, and with a view to the real flourishing of our fellows, and not simply because we want to remove their suffering as an eyesore. We should never forget that it is infinitely more important for our fellows to be virtuous, than to be well-fed, and that it can be an injury to a man to encourage his vices by giving him help that he does not deserve and is sure to abuse. But our attitude towards our fellows ought to be love, and the more of it there is, the better.

If anything, I think people support both the welfare state and immigration restrictions because they don’t want to be Good Samaritans. They don’t want to see unmistakable needs and feel they ought to help with their own resources, so they demand that the government mitigate poverty domestically, and they erect the border as a blindfold. The border is their way of walking to the other side of the road and pretending not to see, like the priest and the Levite in the parable. I sometimes joke that “I support the abolition of private property rights, by moral suasion.” That is, by all means, let money be redistributed from rich to poor, but let it be voluntarily given, not taken by the government. By all means, let goods be shared and held in common, but let that be because their owners share them freely and with a good will, not because they are taken from the owners by force.

Caplan has championed “cosmopolitan tolerance” as one of the advantages of open borders, arguing that “immigrants are good for cosmopolitan tolerance,” and, assuming this point is accepted, adds:

I can’t even figure out what social disasters nativists will try to pin on cosmopolitan tolerance.

So I ask them: What country has ever suffered from cosmopolitan tolerance run amok?  From focusing on people’s common humanity rather than superficial differences?  From judging people on their merits instead of their origins?  From living and letting live?

This is an interesting challenge. The word “cosmopolitan” comes from the Greek cosmos=world and polis=city, but in the sense of the city-states of ancient Greece, so “country” would be almost as good a translation. A cosmopolitan, then, is someone who feels that “the world is my city.” But is it possible to feel that way, without a certain loss of the fond attachment to hearth and home, which is also one of life’s pleasures? A sturdy peasant for whom every stone of his native village is sacred, and whose enjoyment of it is proportional to his love, is not very cosmopolitan, yet may have a greater share of wholesome and fruitful happiness than most urbane citizens of the world. If anything, I’m inclined to think that being cosmopolitan is correlated with being discontented, restless, and easily bored. Not that cosmopolitanism is a vice. It’s probably a minor virtue, though a costly one to acquire, and hard to separate from associated vices like superciliousness and indifference. Rootedness is also a virtue, and a more important one. It’s good to love one’s own home, and also to have such broad exposure to the common heritage of mankind that one really feels the whole world is one’s city. But to combine these opposite virtues is a rare attainment, and if cosmopolitanism comes at the cost of not feeling at home anywhere, it is too dearly bought.

As for tolerance, it is subject to this paradox: that a society cannot be tolerant without being intolerant of intolerance. To see why, imagine a society where 95% of the population is highly tolerant both of homosexuals, and of violence against homosexuals. Gay people in this society can take pleasure in the knowledge that the vast majority of their fellows look upon their lifestyles with perfect equanimity, and do not judge or condemn them in the least. Alas, the tolerant majority looks with the same equanimity on a small minority of self-appointed divine avengers of sodomy and perversion. When such thugs attack a homosexual in the street, the crowds will not sympathize, but will reflect that, after all, who are they to judge? How can they condemn the sincere expression of someone else’s ethical beliefs? Clearly such tolerance is hardly worth having. Gay people would probably prefer to live in a society which is moderately intolerant, as a matter of morals though not in law, of homosexual behavior, but is also uncompromisingly and aggressively intolerant of violence against homosexuals.

American society today is intolerant of aggression; of racism; of proposals for ethnic cleansing; of the Inquisition; of fascism and communism; of polygamy. It harbors a propensity to lash out against “sexism,” even though this word does not, as far as I can tell, refer to any actual coherent concept, but means whatever a person who chooses to be offended wants it to mean at a given moment. Some parts of American society are becoming intolerant of the idea that marriage necessarily refers to an attachment between a man and a woman. I regard some of these intolerances as bad, but to regard intolerance in general as bad doesn’t fundamentally make sense. You can’t really even make a coherent distinction between moral progress and intolerance of the moral evils that moral progress overcomes. As an open borders advocate, I don’t want to make America more tolerant, but in a sense, less so. I want people to be fervently intolerant of the use of force to exclude or remove immigrants.

And that does not apply only to moral evils. A useful reductio ad absurdum of the idea of tolerance is to imagine a tolerant classroom, in which the teacher scrupulously avoids imposing her views, instead tolerating any opinion that might be expressed. She might humbly suggest that the derivative of sin x is cos x, or that the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, but far be it from her to repress or punish a student who, on an exam, expresses a different opinion. The lesson here is that one can’t pursue excellence without being intolerant of mediocrity, and this applies at the societal as well as the individual level.

Historically, the societies most notable for the successful pursuit of excellence fulfilled very imperfectly the desideratum of cosmopolitan tolerance. Victorian Europe, the wellspring of such dazzling progress in science and exploration and economic productivity and literature as the world had never before seen, was notoriously disdainful of non-European peoples. Classical Greece, birthplace of philosophy and democracy and geometry and the proto-scientific study of nature, classified the rest of mankind contemptuously as “barbarians” and was sometimes even ready to regard them all as natural slaves to the free and enlightened Hellenes. Western Europe in the High Middle Ages, birthplace of scholastic philosophy and natural science and the university and the Gothic cathedral and great modern nations like England, France, and Spain, as well of the common law and proto-democratic representative institutions of England that in due course became the basis for modern political liberty, was admirably international as far as Western Christians were concerned, but regarded everything outside “Christendom” as more or less evil and benighted.

By contrast, in response to Caplan’s challenge to find a society of excessive cosmopolitan tolerance, I would name the Roman Empire. There, the many nations of the ancient Mediterranean met and mingled, promiscuously exchanging myths and gods and cults and light philosophical ideas and goods and slaves. They called it the Pax Romana, but it was a time when Roman republican liberty surrendered to the tyranny of the Caesars, and the intellect atrophied and descended gradually into mediocrity. Of course, the late Roman Empire wasn’t entirely tolerant as we mean the word. Thousands of Christian martyrs died gruesome deaths merely for refusing to engage in the nominal emperor-worship which the rest of the population indifferently and ironically engaged in. But principled religious toleration hadn’t been invented yet. The Roman Empire acted to defend the civic unity expressed in the imperial cult, but its general attitude was one of tolerance, of live and let live. It tolerated a labyrinth of religions and cults, it tolerated prostitution, it tolerated social practices like slavery and infanticide. And it gradually ran down, degenerated, and fell apart.

The Christian Church, which took over at the last minute and carried the torch of the classical Mediterranean civilization through the Dark Ages, is often blamed for its intolerance. That this is a somewhat unfair charge is easily seen in the fact that pagans fed Christians to the lions, not vice versa. But Christian emperors did eventually close pagan temples, prohibit pagan sacrifices, remove the pagan Altar of Victory from the Senate, and suppress the ancient Olympic Games. All these changes were perceived by pagans as attacks on their ancient rites, and rights, but to charge the Christians with persecution in the modern sense is complicated by the statist nature of paganism. Thus, as pagan temples had generally been built, maintained, and operated to a large extent at public expense, their closure could be seen as a measure to improve the public finances by cutting spending on things the majority no longer wanted much. Morally, though, the charge of intolerance is apt. Christian churches were intolerant of infanticide, crucifixion, suicide (which had sometimes been ordered by the state), and sexual exploitation of slaves, and the process of moral improvement that it initiated led on to the near disappearance of slavery from medieval Europe. It’s a good thing the Christian churches dispelled the corrupt and enervated cosmopolitan tolerance of the Roman Empire, and replaced it with a moral fervor to better the human condition.

One more critique of Bryan Caplan probably deserves to be the topic of another post, but I’ll add it here briefly, because I might never get around to writing that post. In his book Myth of the Rational Voter, Caplan writes as an unabashed epistemic elitist. His thesis is that democracy is vitiated by the “rational irrationality” of voters, who indulge their biases (the make-work bias, the anti-market bias, the pessimistic bias, and the anti-foreign bias) because their vote won’t affect election outcomes anyway, so they have no incentive to make sensible choices at the ballot box, as opposed of doing whatever feels good. That voters have these particular biases, Caplan establishes by looking at survey data and showing how the views of ordinary people on the economy deviate from those of economists, who presumably know better. His assumption here is that experts know best, and that voters’ disagreements with the experts are evidence of voters’ (not experts’) mistakes.

But lately, Caplan seems more and more to position himself as a champion of common sense. He extols philosopher Michael Huemer for building a political philosophy on “common-sense morality,” and makes a “common sense case for pacifism,” which strikes me as merely evasive since it isn’t utilitarian, but rather seems to take a type of natural rights line that would lead to something close to Tolstoyan pacifist-anarchism, which however he arbitrarily stops short of, calling it “too broad.” This common-sense philosophy seems to be the platform from which Caplan attacks theories favored among the elite, such as John Rawls’ veil of ignorance. Now, if Caplan had simply said that sometimes the common sense of ordinary people is right, against the experts, and sometimes the experts are right, against the common-sense of ordinary people, there would be no inconsistency. We’d presume that neither source of knowledge is epistemically foundational in itself, and look for other sources that are. But as general epistemic principles, “trust the experts” and “rely on common sense” are a bit inconsistent. If they are to think clearly and follow the evidence where it leads, experts need to be able to reject common-sense opinions sometimes. Conversely, if a maverick intellectual like Caplan wants to reject this or that elite consensus with an appeal to common sense, isn’t he obliged to defer to the opinion of the common man on other questions, too, including questions where common sense doesn’t support him?

This strikes me as a fatal flaw in the Caplan-Huemer project to found an anarcho-capitalist political philosophy on common-sense morality. Yes, the non-aggression principle has a basis in common sense, but so do the notions that governments make laws and citizens should obey them. If one’s epistemic starting place is that common sense is reliable, one has surrendered ex ante the option of rejecting things like governments or migration restrictions that everyone nowadays takes for granted. I would advocate a more critical approach to common sense, distinguishing intuitions about natural rights, which are an indispensable source of ethical insight, from customs and tradition, which are a fallible but very valuable repository of lessons mankind has learned, and to which great but not unlimited deference is due, from self-serving prejudices, rationalizations, and bad habits, which can pass easily and perhaps validly for common sense, yet which need to be smoked out and rejected. I think respect for common sense is an amiable, humble, and often useful habit for a thinker to have. It reminds a thinker of the complexity of the world. But one can’t articulate anything clearly, or follow any sophisticated chain of logic, or conduct an experiment, without departing somewhat from common sense, and entering the rarefied, elite world of theory and expertise.

The dearth of moderates’ critique of open borders

Post by Vipul Naik (occasional blogger and site founder, launched site and started blogging March 2012). See:

We’ve done a fair number of posts on the distinction between moderate and radical open borders. This post explores an important angle that we haven’t yet explored, and should be of particular interest to people who come from the outside view as truth-seekers.

Here are some facts:

  • There is a small collection of explicit advocates of open borders, including Open Borders bloggers, as well as some of the people in our pro-open borders people list, plus many of the people who’ve liked us on Facebook. While their (our) views aren’t identical, there is general agreement that there should be a strong presumption in favor of free movement around the world.
  • The pro-open borders view is a minority view, even within the “enlightened” public (i.e., even among people who have a reasonably accurate general picture of economics, politics, and some basic facts about migration).
  • That said, the enlightened public does exhibit attitudes more favorable to freer migration than the public at large. This may be due to a mix of a more cosmopolitan (as opposed to citizenist or territorialist) outlook, and a more positive estimate of the impact of migration on natives. For more, see our pages on economist consensus, legal and political scholarly consensus, and smart and more informed opinion.
  • It is quite rare to see reasoned critiques from supporters of moderate open borders of the more radical open borders position. Therefore, it is difficult both to know the extent to which moderate open borders supporters have rationally considered and then rejected radical open borders, and to know their reasons for doing so.

Why does this matter? In general, in the absence of further information, it makes sense to defer to the majority view within the enlightened public. So if you had never given thought to the issue of migration, it might be most reasonable to conclude that moderate steps in the direction of open borders are optimal. But how do you decide whether radical steps are better or worse?

Here, the dearth of explicit critiques of radical approaches from moderates creates a problem. If there was good evidence that moderates had carefully considered and rejected radical approaches, then, even without examining the details, we could have a reasonable prior in favor of the moderate view. If, on the other hand, there is little evidence of moderates carefully considering and rejecting radical approaches, our confidence in favoring moderate approaches instead of radical ones would be lower, and an inside-view examination of the issues may be necessary.

From the weak inside view, the lack of critiques is even more puzzling, because many of the arguments advanced by moderates in favor of open borders easily extend to radical open borders, and moderates’ typical formulations of the arguments rarely provide criteria for just what level of openness would void their arguments. As co-blogger John Lee wrote:

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.”

To be clear, moderates haven’t been completely silent in their critiques of open borders. Consider, for instance, economist Tyler Cowen. He has written a fair number of short posts critical of extreme open borders and its advocacy. But he is an exception among moderates, and, as I noted earlier, open borders advocates’ own description of potential weaknesses in their case seems to be more thorough than Cowen’s criticisms. Other open borders moderates, such as Scott Sumner and Matt Yglesias, have argued against radical open borders mainly based on principled arguments in favor of moderation, but have generally appeared favorably inclined to the idea of open borders as an end goal that is desirable in at least some sense (Sumner here and Yglesias here). There are other occasional criticisms of open borders from moderate standpoints, that we have sometimes responded to in blog posts (such as Gene Callahan’s Immigration, Yes- and No post that Nathan responded to here), but criticism of open borders is still a lot rarer than ignoring it.

An interesting observation: how explicit engagement with open borders tends to move people in a more pro-open borders direction

If you took the view that the case for open borders is correct but largely ignored by people because they don’t give it sufficient consideration, you would expect that the more people tried to engage critically with the case for open borders, the further they would move in the direction of supporting open borders. Anecdotal evidence seems to bear out the latter (namely, that people move in a pro-open borders direction when attempting to critique open borders), and therefore provides some support for the former (namely that the case for open borders is correct but somewhat ignored). I noticed some evidence of this when discussing John Cochrane’s seeming shift towards an open embrace of open borders in my review of the inaugural issue of Peregrine. Separately, co-blogger Nathan noted in a recent post:

[Reading Callahan's argument against open borders] confirms my casual impression from years of debating immigration, namely, that in arguing against you, restrictionists tend to position themselves a lot further in the right (i.e., pro-immigration) direction than it seems likely they would have gone without your provocation. If we could establish consensus about “the moral case for allowing as much immigration as we can bear,” that would be major progress. It’s not a very well-defined criterion, and restrictionists would doubtless seek to define the “we can bear” clause in very limiting ways. Open borders advocates would explain why it’s unreasonable to call a large population of resident non-voters, or a significant drop in the wages of unskilled natives, “unbearable.”

Summary of reasons

So what are the main reasons why moderates rarely engage with radical open borders, to either praise it or critique it? In an Open Borders Action Group post on Facebook, I considered a few possible reasons, and others added to my list. I include the full list of reasons below, then discuss them in more detail. I choose a somewhat different ordering from that used in the OBAG post, in order to be more logically consistent.

Reasons #1-#3 in the list represent some form of ignorance or irrationality on the part of moderates that leads them to fail to consider open borders. Reasons #4-#6 indicate laziness or sloppiness on the part of moderates in terms of their decision to not engage. Of the reasons proposed, the most substantive reasons, and the ones that should cause us to give moderates’s views most weight, are reasons #7 and #8.

  1. Ignorance (was #1 in OBAG list): They haven’t thought about it, don’t understand how far the world is from open borders, and/or haven’t encountered people who explicitly advocate for open borders.
  2. Reflexive moderation (was #7 in OBAG list): They package deal the word extremism with the general idea of “negative” or “wrong”. So, if you propose open borders their first reaction is that, “we can’t be so extreme.” (Suggestion from Bryan Hayek, who points to “Extremism and the Art of Smearing” by Ayn Rand).
  3. Failure of language (Sapir-Whorf-like hypothesis): They commonly associate “open borders” with even more extreme versions thereof (no borders, abolition of the nation-state) or with particular empirical consequences (border lawlessness). Moderates who might support specific moves that radically liberalize migration (perhaps not complete open borders, but sufficiently broad keyhole solutions that come close enough for all practical purposes) don’t have a vocabulary with which to think about and express such ideas.
  4. Silence motivated by indifference (was #4 in OBAG list): They disagree with the case for open borders but don’t care about it because open borders advocates are politically inconsequential. (Language altered somewhat from a suggestion by David E. Shellenberger).
  5. Nothing to say (was #5 in OBAG list): They disagree with the case for open borders, but don’t have any compelling arguments, so stay silent. (Suggestion from Carl Shulman).
  6. Morally embarrassing arguments (was #6 in original list): They disagree with the case for open borders, but their objections sound terrible (at least in some social circles) when stated baldly, like “I’d rather one poor American get $1 than 10 far poorer foreigners get $1 each.” (Suggestion from Carl Shulman).
  7. Strategic silence despite agreement, motivated by infeasibility and potential for backfiring on moderate reform (was #2 in original list): They agree to quite an extent with the case for open borders, but consider it politically infeasible at present, therefore they keep mum about it to avoid sabotaging the chances for moderate reform.
  8. Strategic silence despite disagreement, motivated by avoiding giving ammunition to restrictionists (was #3 in original list): They disagree with the case for open borders, but believe that if they openly critique it, the criticisms would be used by their restrictionist opponents against the case for moderate immigration reform.

The reasons offered here are not mutually exclusive, but they do have different implications for how much weight a truth-seeker coming from the outside view should attach to the case for open borders. Continue reading

Homes vs Detention Facilities

Post by Michael Carey (occasional blogger for the site, joined May 2013). See:

As many of you know, there has been a recent influx of immigrants coming to the US from countries in central America due to violence in that region.  For example, Honduras may be more dangerous now than Iraq was in 2007.

Look here for a previous Open Borders post on the subject.

The US government has responded by putting many of the immigrants in detention facilities and attempting to speed up the deportation process.

Recently, my wife and I discussed the possibility of doing something more substantial to show our support for immigrants.  We decided to contact an organization that was negotiating with ICE to allow US citizens to temporarily house detained immigrants instead of keeping them in prison-like facilities.  Recently, we received notice that the US government would rather just spend more money and build more detention facilities. This despite the fact that alternate methods may be hundreds of times cheaper.  I am including the full text of the letter below:

(Note: I am not Catholic, but this happens to be from a Catholic charity.)

Greetings everyone—

First, thank you all for your expressed interest in responding with hospitality to the recent migrant families arriving to the U.S. this summer.

The response to our request for assistance has been tremendous. It is truly a testament to the good will present in so many communities that so many people are ready and willing to open their homes and as Jesus taught us “welcome the stranger”.

When we were approached by DHS in June, they were concerned about the number of families that they were forced to detain because they did not have family ties in the U.S. They asked us to reach out to our networks for help and you all responded with overwhelming compassion.

Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit (ICE) has recently notified us that they do not intend to release the families arriving on the southern border currently held in their facilities. In addition, they will be increasing the capacity of their detention facilities and expediting the deportation of these families. This is a new policy decision that comes directly from the Administration.

As you can imagine, we are not only disappointed by the decision, but very concerned about the fate of these hundreds of families and future arrivals, which include a significant number of women and children. Several years ago, ICE detained families and the psychological impact on the families, particularly children, was devastating. So much so that, following a 2007 lawsuit, families have not been detained- until now. ICE is currently holding over 600 people at a newly opened detention center in Artesia, New Mexico and plans to begin housing families in a 600-bed detention facility in Karnes City, Texas.

As Catholics, we are not only called to show compassion and welcome the stranger, but protect family values, irrespective of one’s nationality or immigration status. Detaining families is inhumane, undignified, and violates basic human rights. In addition to the moral and human rights concerns, immigrant detention has proven to be costly to taxpayers and an ineffective migration deterrent.

Here at USCCB, we will be working diligently to continue to assist detained migrants through our Alternatives to Detention Program, as well as our advocacy work. We ask that you stand in solidarity with us and also work to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected.

So, while there does not appear to be an immediate need for housing, there is a clear need for advocacy on behalf of the detained families and there are likely local opportunities to assist with the families that were initially released (ICE reported that about 30,000 individuals in family units were released in the early weeks of the influx), as well as those families who are now caring for their children, nieces and nephews, etc. who arrived unaccompanied.

Here are a few things that you can do:

  • Reflect on Catholic Social Teaching on MigrationPray that migrants all over the world are protect, provided with safe passages, and treated with dignity and respect.
  • Learn more about the issue of family detention by reading our backgrounder.
  • Advocate against family detention by contacting your congressional representative.
  • Contact your local Catholic Charities or other ministries that support immigrants and find out what support they may need.
  • For those located near the current family detention centers, consider providing pastoral or other services to the detained families (let us know at MRSHospitality@usccb.org
    if you are interested specifically in “visitation”)
  • Support the Alternative to Detentions program by donating to the National Catholic Fund for Migration and Refugee Services.

Caitlin Nuraliev

Program Associate

Migration and Refugee Services

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

3211 4th Street, NE

Washington, DC 20017

MRS Vision Statement: “Creating a world where immigrants,  refugees, migrants, and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome, and belonging.”

The Baby Boom and Open Borders

In a post from earlier this summer, John asked, “Shouldn’t advocates of border controls who complain about population growth leading to more crime, more welfare payments, fewer jobs, and so on, be worried not just about immigrants but also newborns?”  He noted that, unlike for immigration, very few call for government restrictions on reproduction, despite the weakness of the arguments that restricting migration is moral while restricting reproduction is not.  He concluded that government interference with both the decision to have a family and the decision to migrate should be allowed only in exceptional circumstances.

John’s post led me to consider the Baby Boom in the U.S. and how it relates to open borders.  The Baby Boom refers to the large increase in the number of births from 1946 to 1964.  Almost 80 million babies were born during these years in the U.S., making Baby Boomers the largest generation of Americans ever (if immigrants are excluded from generational counts).  When the birth numbers are adjusted for the difference in overall population sizes between the Baby Boom years and today, the results are even more impressive.  Adjusted to the 2014 population, during most Baby Boom years there were 7.5 million or more equivalent births.  For example, the population in 1953 (about 160 million) was about half of today’s population (about 318 million). There were about actual 3.9 million births that year, but that would be the equivalent of about 7.75 million births in 2014, if the ratio of births to base population from 1953 is applied to today’s population.  In most Baby Boom years, the number of births adjusted for the 2014 population exceeded the 2013 number of births (almost 4 million) by more than 3.5 million.  Please see the table below.

Year Population Births 2014 Equivalent Population Growth Difference in Births Between 2013
1946 141,388,566 3.47 million 7,816,475 1.92 3,858,898
1947 144,126,071 3.9 million 8,618,226 1.72 4,660,649
1948 146,631,302 3.5 million 7,602,165 1.73 3,644,588
1949 149,188,130 3.56 million 7,599,967 2.05 3,642,390
1950 152,271,417 3.6 million 7,529,740 1.70 3,572,163
1951 154,877,889 3.75 million 7,711,503 1.71 3,753,926
1952 157,552,740 3.85 million 7,782,717 1.66 3,825,140
1953 160,184,192 3.9 million 7,754,276 1.76 3,796,699
1954 163,025,854 4.0 million 7,814,502 1.77 3,856,925
1955 165,931,202 4.1 million 7,869,569 1.78 3,911,992
1956 168,903,031 4.16 million 7,844,249 1.81 3,886,672
1957 171,984,130 4.3 million 7,962,982 1.67 4,005,405
1958 174,881,904 4.2 million 7,648,951 1.67 3,691,374
1959 177,829,628 4.25 million 7,611,688 1.59 3,654,111
1960 180,671,158 4.26 million 7,509,580 1.66 3,552,003
1961 183,691,481 4.3 million 7,455,468 1.54 3,497,891
1962 186,537,737 4.17 million 7,119,780 1.44 3,162,203
1963 189,241,798 4.1 million 6,900,213 1.39 2,942,636
1964 191,888,791 4 million 6,639,051 1.25 2,681,474
2014 318,490,000 3.9 million (2013) ——- 0.77 (estimated) ————

 

One observation is that the U.S. reaction to the Baby Boom supports John’s observations about generally laissez faire attitudes toward population growth through births.  Apparently there was little contemporary resistance to the Baby Boom’s production of huge numbers of humans.  Aside from eugenics programs targeting specific groups of people, such as the mentally disabled, which were adopted by many American states and which led to the compulsory sterilization of tens of thousands before, during, and after the baby boom, there appears to have been no government attempt to hinder the large number of births. There apparently also was no significant public movement against the surge of births. (I did find a contemporaneous article noting that more schools would have to be built because of the large number of births.)

This apparent lack of resistance is notable considering that, as previously mentioned, in most years of the Baby Boom more than 3.5 million additional people were being added to the population through births than are being added today, when adjusted for today’s population.  Imagine the outcry if 3.5 million additional immigrants were permitted to immigrate each year to the U.S.  It is true that even adjusting for base population, immigration levels were lower during the baby boom years than today, but this mitigates the difference in birth numbers only slightly.  (As the table shows, the difference in the overall population growth during the Baby Boom years and today (0.77%) is even more significant than the difference in adjusted birth numbers.)

A second observation is that the positive impact of the Baby Boom provides additional evidence that fears of swamping by large numbers of new people under open borders are unwarranted. The economist Peter Yoo looked at the economic impact of the Baby Boom on the U.S. economy.  Using economic models, he apparently found a positive impact: “… after a period of slow growth, per capita consumption increases.  Best of all, the models indicate such improvements in the standard of living occur as even aggregate savings drops.”  This finding echoes evidence that significantly increasing a host country’s population through immigration can have neutral or positive long-term economic outcomes.  It is notable that immigration has an advantage over reproduction from an economic standpoint, since a large portion of immigrants are ready to enter the workforce and contribute to the economy, whereas people born into the economy are dependent for many years before entering the workforce.

A related observation is that without population growth, whether through immigration or births, countries tend to founder. Jonathan Last, author of What To Expect When No One’s Expectingstates that “… growing populations lead to increased innovation and conservation… Low-fertility societies don’t innovate because their incentives for consumption tilt overwhelmingly toward health care. They don’t invest aggressively because, with the average age skewing higher, capital shifts to preserving and extending life and then begins drawing down.”  He suggests that low fertility rates in Japan account for the country’s economic slowdown in recent decades.  Similarly, the U.S., with a fertility rate below the replacement level, faces decline, he believes.  Since Latin America is experiencing fertility decline, Mr. Last doesn’t believe that immigration can compensate for low fertility in the U.S., although it seems unlikely that the desire to migrate from Latin America to the U.S., or from any number of other poor countries throughout the world, will diminish any time soon.  Immigration appears to be an easier way to maintain population growth than attempting to persuade U.S. citizens to have more babies; Mr. Last notes that, aside from the Baby Boom, throughout American history the fertility rate “has floated consistently downward.”  An open borders policy, of course, would facilitate the immigration needed for population growth.

One downside of population growth is that it further strains the environment, as Philippe Legrain has pointed out.  Another is that if the growth later slows, the ratio of the number of retired people to those working increases.  This is a concern about the retirement of the Baby Boomers.  Given America’s low fertility rate and that people are living longer, Mr. Legrain states in Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them that in order to maintain the 1995 ratio of working people aged 15-64 to people 65 and older, about 11 million immigrants per year would have to enter the U.S. through 2050.  (Immigrants tend to be younger than citizens of receiving countries.)  Since immigrants age too and since they probably would not have enough children to maintain the ratio, Mr. Legrain suggests that this would be “only a temporary fix” to an aging population.  However, he also suggests that combined with raising retirement ages , increasing saving rates, and higher taxes, immigration can help the U.S. deal with an aging population.  (See here for a  discussion of the impact of immigrants on the Social Security system.)  Plus, echoing Mr. Last’s connection between growing populations and innovation, Mr. Legrain adds that”if immigration also helps spur productivity growth, it will increase the size of the economic pie available to everyone.” (p. 160)

Vipul suggests that high numbers of immigrants could reduce host country birth rates by driving up the cost of housing, with its cost inversely related to birth rates.  This would weaken the positive impact of immigration on the aging problem.  However, it seems that a larger number of immigrants would be an improvement on the status quo, despite some resulting decrease in native births.

Without the Baby Boom, the U.S. may have suffered economically due to population decline.  Since another similar surge in births is unlikely, immigration, paired with policies to address larger numbers of older residents, will be a key component in maintaining America’s vitality by providing population growth.  An open borders policy would help ensure this population growth.

 

 

 

Weekly OBAG roundup 28 2014

This is part 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).

General points related to migration and opinions about migration

Specific current and historical situations

Weekly OBAG roundup 27 2014

This is part 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).

Posts about Nathan Smith’s draft paper on open borders

  • Post by Nathan Smith, August 18, 2014, about what he’d like people to take away from his draft paper on the global economic impact of open borders. 2 likes, 5 comments.

General points related to migration and opinions about migration

Specific current and historical situations

Weekly OBAG roundup 26 2014

This is part 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).

Posts related to Nathan Smith’s draft paper on the global economic impact of open borders

General points related to migration and public opinion on migration

Specific current and historical situations

Meta

My Draft Paper: A Bit of Elucidation in Q&A Format

Post by Nathan Smith

The draft of my paper “The Global Economic Impact of Open Borders” already feels a bit obsolete after some great real-time peer review and the rethinking it has been provoking me to do. Sometime soon (I hope) I’ll do a rewrite, but it’s already reshaped my thinking about what a world of open borders is likely to look like. I thought a Q&A format might be a good way to explain my methods, highlight some key predictions, and give voice to some of the skepticism readers are likely to feel, responding to it with a mix of rebuttal and concession. “Q” represents my impression of an intrigued, but sometimes confused or skeptical, reader. “A” is me in my role as author of the paper.

Q: Does your paper confirm the well-known claim that open borders would “double world GDP?”

A: Basically, yes. “Double world GDP” was always a kind of very rough midpoint of disparate projections. I present two scenarios, with Scenario 1 predicting an 80% increase in world GDP, and Scenario 2 predicting a 69% increase in world GDP. That’s less than doubling, but it’s in the ballpark.

Q: How many people would migrate?

A: Very many. Scenario 1 predicts well over 5 billion, Scenario 2, a little over 3 billion. This is one of the respects in which I think Scenario 2 is more realistic. By this account, international mobility under open borders would actually be similar to current levels of mobility among US states. That might sound odd, since, policy aside, the cultural and linguistic barriers to international migration are obviously much larger than for migration among US states. But the economic incentives for international migration are also larger. Wages and the general level of economic development differ far more among nations than across US states.

Q: Would open borders end world poverty?

A: That’s a little complicated because “poverty” is not well-defined. Have we ended poverty in the USA? Probably almost any American would say no. A development economist might be tempted to say yes, because even Americans below the “poverty line” tend to have plenty to eat, electricity, shoes, indoor plumbing, and all sorts of other things that would be luxuries in sub-Saharan Africa. Granted, people in homeless shelters may not have even that, but (a) they’re a tiny proportion of the population, and (b) since other factors like mental illness or substance abuse, or mere lifestyle choice, often account for homelessness, it’s not clear that “poverty” is the right diagnosis of the problem. Still, it would be too odd to claim that poverty has been eliminated in rich countries, and the lesson one learns in being forced to concede that is that poverty isn’t just a matter of not having enough money or material resources. It’s partly a matter of relative living standards, of social status, of character and mentality.Refugee in Uganda who repairs cellphonesSo, I would not really want to claim that open borders would end poverty. I would almost want to say it would eliminate “world poverty” but not “poverty” because when we say “world poverty” we mean something more extreme than when we say “poverty”… but that seems like verbal hair-splitting. Let’s say that open borders seems likely to eliminate, or at least to render rare to the point of negligible, the kind of extreme poverty that development economists usually have in mind when they talk about poverty, e.g., in Paul Collier’s book The Bottom BillionUnder my “Scenario 2,” the living standards of unskilled workers would converge to 44% of the current US level. If by “poverty” we mean $1/day or $2/day, that’s pretty much the end of world poverty.

Q: What’s the deal with “sigma?” Does the model really assume that unskilled workers have to be paid 1,000 times more to live in a big metropolis, compared to a small village? Is that plausible?

Sometimes economists have to use unrealistic assumptions to make a model work. Milton Friedman argued that the value of an economic theory depends on the accuracy of its predictions and, in effect, that it doesn’t matter how unrealistic one’s assumptions are. Someone pointed out (I can’t find the citation) that by that standard, “giants paint the sky blue every morning” is a valid theory, because its prediction– that the sky turns blue in the morning– is true, and the falsity of the assumption that giants are painting it is irrelevant. So, Friedman can’t be quite right… yet the idea of “market equilibrium” does seem to help economists understand the world, even if it’s never quite a true statement to say “this market is in equilibrium.”

At present, I need the unrealistic assumption of a high “sigma” in order to avoid imputing highly compressed distributions of local TFP to settlements in rich countries. Highly compressed distributions of local TFP within countries, mean small overlaps of local TFP distributions across countries, leading to extremely high total migration under open borders. By making “sigma” more realistic, I would make the model’s other predictions wildly unrealistic. Doesn’t that show that there’s something wrong with the model? Well, yes… but, what’s the alternative? Build a better model? Easier said than done. Just guess, without a model. No thanks, I prefer a flawed model (used with good judgment) to mere verbal hand-waving.

That said, I’m working on changes that will hopefully eliminate the need for an implausibly high “sigma.” Currently, the model has two extreme assumptions about how population density affects the cost of living. On the one hand, the elasticity of the raw wage with respect to settlement size (i.e., sigma) is 0.6. On the other hand, the elasticity of the human capital premium with respect to settlement size is zero. These assumptions are unrealistic in opposite directions, and may even cancel each other out in some respects, but it would be better if both the raw wage and the human capital premium were higher in cities. The elasticity of the human capital premium with respect to settlement size probably should be lower than the elasticity of the raw wage, since a lot of what cities have to offer, over and above what the countryside can, is of a luxury character (e.g., fancy restaurants) and/or more enjoyable to people with high human capital (e.g., museums). But it makes sense that lawyers and doctors should want to spend some of their extra earnings on backyards, not just on manufactured goods or foreign vacations or fine wines.

The question is: will the math still work? It’s almost impossible for laymen to understand this aspect of the alchemy of economic modeling. A non-economist, or even a well-trained economist, will suggest a plausible modification, seemingly simple and realistic, and the modeler stubbornly refuses to incorporate it. Little does the friendly critic know that his tweak breaks the solvability of the model. The difference between being able to solve for equilibrium, and not being able to, is like the difference between gliding along a bike path and hacking one’s way through the forest. Solvable means you can derive nice elasticities, and see how your variables and parameters are affecting your results. Not solvable means exorbitant computations to check any tweak of a parameter or a variable, and causation is still opaque.

But, I’ve started to work through this, and I think the math will work. So, in the next version of this paper, I may be able to dispense with the need for a high “sigma,” and the weird assumption about unskilled workers earning 1,000 times more in the big city than in the village. If not, I’m not above publishing a model that has a few giants painting the sky blue, if it enables me to perform mighty feats of plausible extrapolation.

Q: What’s the deal with these “new settler societies?” Are they just data artifacts?

A: “Scenario 1″ makes some odd predictions to which I give the appealing name “new settler societies.” Thus, East Timor ends up with 478 million people (from just over 1 million), Botswana with 212 million (from a little over 2 million), and Swaziland with 138 million (from a little over 1 million). Under “Scenario 2,” the phenomenon is much less dramatic, but it’s still there. East Timor’s population soars to 43 million, Botswana’s to 36 million, and Swaziland’s to 35 million. I classify Qatar differently, but it would also see a surge in population, to 391 million.

Doubtless, these results are partly artifactual, and specifically, they reflect anomalously high “TFP” that is really just natural resource extraction, not extensible over a greatly increased population. I need better ways to quantify natural resource extraction and subtract it from GDP. (Currently, I have patchy data about oil exports, which I deduct from GDP, but I need a more refined and comprehensive approach.) It’s possible that if I had better data on non-natural-resource-extraction GDP, the “new settler societies” would disappear. Then again, a lot of resource-rich places didn’t show anomalously high TFP.Young European immigrants in early 20th c. USMy tentative guess is that the specific “new settler societies” that show up in my predictions are largely artifactual, but that there would be such a phenomenon as new settler societies under open borders. In certain places, a happy combination of natural and political circumstances would give rise to a fashionable migrant mecca, and a cosmopolitan settler community, self-selected to prefer the kind of society chance and circumstance had thrown up, would reinforce it. A virtuous cycle would ensue, and soon, some spot hardly anyone has heard of would be an admired and thriving city, with suburbs spreading out and skyscrapers surging up. And without claiming the site is specially probable, I see no harm in imagining the place to be East Timor, with lots of coastline, a tropical climate, and mountains. Why shouldn’t a flood of Chinese and Indians settle there, and found a string of Singapores?

Q: And meanwhile, there would be quite a few “ghost nations?” Sounds spooky.

Yes, it sort of does. This is one of the predictions of Scenario 1 that goes away in Scenario 2. Still, it has a certain logic to it. Why would anyone live in a place like Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Burma, unless they had to? According to Scenario 1, almost no one would. There would be a nearly universal exodus, leaving behind only a few half-mad beggars wandering among the deserted shantytowns.

According to Scenario 2, there are no ghost nations. The worst-off places would see a major exodus, but at some point they would be “rescued” by their diasporas. I think this is more likely. Large diasporas could undermine bad regimes and foster better ones. Some would return with skills and/or savings, start businesses, run for office, teach school. Migration would plug these countries in to world civilization, and they would change.

Q: But anyway, wouldn’t the governments of these countries restrict emigration, if they were on their way to becoming ghost nations?

Maybe, but the game is to predict what would happen if migration restrictions were abolished. So that’s ruled out by assumption.

Q: What’s the deal with “Scenario 1″ and “Scenario 2?”

Scenario 1 applies the model in a straightforward and literal way. The result is that the tail of TFP ends up wagging the dog of global migration. TFP, or “total factor productivity,” is a kind of residual or “pure place premium.” TFP is the differences in GDP per capita that can’t be explained by other systematically observable and quantifiable variables. Now, I actually argue that “factor endowments” can do most of the work in explaining GDP per capita, leaving a relatively small explanatory burden for TFP. I see the wealth of nations as arising mostly from (a) large international differences in average human capital and (b) substantial country risk premia affecting the risk of investment capital, with TFP varying across countries much less than average human capital. Still, under open borders, because everything else is mobile, a little bit of TFP can move a lot of people. Hence the new settler societies mentioned above.

For Scenario 2, I (a) assume that open borders promotes human capital development, with the average native of each country closing 20% of the human capital gap with the US; (b) assume that open borders facilitates international capital flows, cutting in half the risk premia faced by many countries; and (c) adjust TFP downward in receiving countries, so that it shifts in the direction of the TFP of source countries, and adjust TFP upward in sending countries, so that it shifts in the direction of the destination countries. Migrants affect TFP both where they come from, and where they go to, albeit with one-fifth the weight of non-migrants in each case, reflecting the greater influence on institutions of those who stay put. All these modifications are very plausible qualitatively, but theory and evidence don’t pin down how they should be quantitatively implemented. Still, for the moment, Scenario 2 represents my “best guess” about what a world with open borders would “really” look like, partly just because the TFP adjustment mechanism reduces the probably distorting effect of apparent high TFP outliers.

I could generate many more of these “scenarios.”  Scenario 1 is to some extent unique, representing “the” result of global market clearing in the labor market, albeit I had some discretion in how to describe the status quo. But for Scenario 2, I had plenty of room to choose the rules differently. In future drafts, I plan to have more “robustness checks” showing how results depend on how some of these discretionary elements are chosen.

Q: Would rich countries by “swamped” by immigrants under open borders?

What do you mean by “swamped?” In Scenario 2, the population of the West (the EU and the Anglosphere) rises from 872 million to over 3 billion. But assimilation would still mostly prevail, at least as far as TFP indicates. Revolutionary English stock a small proportion of the current US population? If the answer is “no, because those immigrants assimilated and didn’t fundamentally alter American society,” then that answer may apply to open borders, too. There isn’t a formal theory of institutions undergirding these results, however, and if you think 3 billion people in the West would lead to complete societal collapse, this paper doesn’t refute that, it just starts with more optimistic assumptions.

I don’t find predictions of 3 billion people living in the West either surprising or alarming. Life is good here. Why shouldn’t almost half the human race want to come? Admittedly, international polls show much lower demand for migration than my model, or, say, John Kennan’s, predict. But that’s just diaspora dynamics. Migration would snowball as early migrants wrote home that the grass really was greener on the other side.

Q: Scenario 2 predicts huge gains in labor income for people in many poor countries? How exactly would that happen?

Open borders would enrich the world’s poorest in several different ways. First, many would move to more productive places. Second, open borders would increase both the incentive and the opportunity for people from poor countries to acquire human capital. Since unskilled workers are far more likely than skilled ones to be stuck in unproductive places under the status quo, open borders would increase the effective global supply of raw labor, relative to the effective supply of human capital. Human capital would become relatively scarcer and see its marginal product rise, giving people an incentive to study. At the same time, higher wages would give poor people more money to invest in their children’s education. And the experience of migration itself– permanent or temporary– would broaden the horizons of many and make them smarter and more modern. And people would get access to better schools in the West. Third, the poorest countries would benefit from having large diasporas abroad, becoming acquainted with better ways of doing things practiced in the rich world. Fourth, remittances from abroad would finance capital formation. Fifth, in some countries it would be important that emigration would raise the per capita value of extractible natural resources. People in the world’s most benighted countries would mostly improve their lot in life by moving abroad. In less desperate cases, such as India and China, around half the population would emigrate, but life would improve a lot for those who stayed behind, as well as for emigrants.

Q: Would Americans really see their incomes fall by 10% under open borders? Why?

Well, real estate would appreciate in value dramatically, so homeowners would see their net worth rise, and maybe their dollar incomes, too, if they went into business as landlords. There would also be a lot more capital in the world, so to the extent that Americans own a substantial share of that, that might also offset a drop in labor incomes. Finally, the US government would enjoy a much larger tax base, so depending on what it did with that, it might contribute something to natives’ disposable income through transfers and/or tax cuts. Also, I’ve left out of account the effect of open borders on technological change, but there are all sorts of reasons to expect open borders to accelerate that, which would bend all the model’s predictions in an appealing direction.

But yes, under Scenario 2, the average labor income of US natives would fall by 10%. And this applies across the human capital spectrum. Unskilled workers would see their living standards (not money wages though) fall to 44% of the current level. But, surprisingly, the human capital premium would fall, too, because the US would be such a magnet for human capital that average human capital would rise in the US. If the only effect of open borders were to increase population while keeping average human capital the same, money incomes would stay the same, though living standards would fall somewhat due to congestion disutilities. What causes a loss of labor income for Americans is that TFP falls under Scenario 2.

Q: How does the spatial model here relate to your OB post about “The Great Land Value Windfall from Open Borders?”

It is somewhat more pessimistic. In that post, I drew two land supply curves, one for existing urban land, one for new urban land. I treated the supply of existing urban land as perfectly inelastic, and the supply of new urban land as perfectly elastic. I treated these as separate markets, on the ground that what one is really paying for in urban land is precisely proximity to other people and centrality of location, so as urban centers grow, new urban land developed at the edges will have the same value as urban land at the edges previously had, but previously developed land closer to the city center will appreciate as the city population grows. In that model, there are no congestion disutilities, and no inherent scarcity of land as such.

In “The Global Economic Impact of Open Borders,” a scarcity of good city sites is a fundamental and important feature of the world. Consequently, mass immigration to the USA would reduce the living standards afforded by a given money income, due to congestion disutilities. In “The Great Land Value Windfall from Open Borders,” mass immigration would not reduce the living standard afforded by a given money income, because newly developed urban land at the margins of cities would be just as good as the formerly marginal land was. The difference between these models is not really accounted for by any change in my views of how the world works. It is simply that different assumptions proved analytically convenient for different purposes.

Q: This model pertains to universal open borders, right? What if open borders were implemented by just one country, say, the USA?

Yes, this model is for universal open borders. I don’t know what would happen if just the USA did it. I’d need to make fundamental changes to the model to answer that question.

Q: What about DRITI?

The paper contains no estimates of how much revenue could be raised by migration taxes, or how a world of open borders would change if governments sought to hold natives harmless through tax-and-transfer schemes.

Q: Do you think this paper should persuade policymakers to adopt open borders policies?

Yes and no. Yes, I think that if my predictions are right, or in the ballpark of right, they would be a very strong reason for benevolent policymakers to open the world’s borders to migration. But no, I of course don’t think it would be sensible for any policymaker to adopt such a radical policy on the basis of such tentative and speculative predictions as my paper contains.

Q: Why is there no literature review, no bibliography, and few citations in the paper?

A: Because it’s just a draft. I like to have a good idea where I stand before I really plow into what others have said. Sometimes you don’t even know what’s relevant until you’ve done a lot of your own exploration. And compiling bibliographies is tedious work. But I have read a good deal, and am reading more, and future drafts will reflect that.

I was an Unaccompanied Child

Post by Michelangelo Landgrave (occasional blogger for the site, joined February 2014). See:

Lately I have been avoiding the news as I fear catching a piece about the current unaccompanied children crisis. I like to think that over the years I have grown a thick skin when it comes to immigration news, but this recent event hits home hard. I was an unaccompanied child myself you see.

I was born in Michoacan, not far geographically from the starting point for today’s unaccompanied children. Unlike contemporary unaccompanied children my journey took me a day while theirs takes much longer. I am a proper illegal alien – I asked no one for permission to enter. Today’s unaccompanied children aren’t illegal aliens – they’re asking for humanitarian migrant statuses. In the end of the day though these differences are superficial. We were both children at the border.

I was two years old when I crossed over. I remember broad strokes of the incident, but most of the details come second hand. My parents did not accompany me, but I did have my eleven-month-old sister with me.

BabyPhoto_ML

Our journey began in my town of birth, Morelia. We flew to Tijauna, accompanied as far as we could be by my grandfather. At this point we had already flown across half a dozen sovereign state borders. As Mexican citizens though we had the recognized right to freely travel within the federation. Unfortunately the right to freely travel is not yet universally recognized.

In Tijuana we met up with a smuggler who would get us through the US-Mexican border. My sister and I made the crossing by stowing away in a car. We had US passports prepared just in case but we never used them. The car we were in was waived in without inspection, we were lucky for that. When we were safely in California we were picked up by an Aunt and spent the next few weeks playing with our cousins. We were only unaccompanied for a few hours between being dropped off in Tijuana and being picked up on the other side. Nonetheless we could have been caught by border patrol, kidnapped by the smuggler who passed us through, or taken during any of the countless times when we were surrounded only by strangers.

When people hear about young children crossing the border on their own there is an understandable level of skepticism. It is difficult to imagine allowing children unattended for more than a few minutes in the United States. Abroad the cultural norms are different though. Shortly after I had learned to crawl I regularly made cross town between my parent’s and grandparent’s homes, accompanied only by my pet dog. At any rate a journey across the US-Mexican border was little different in principle to my two year old self and I took a disinterested approach to it. I do wonder how my sister kept quiet throughout the journey though – did she think it was a game of hide and seek?

Where were my parents during all of this? My mother was crossing the border on foot. My sister and I were young so it was relatively easy for us to pass through the safer path, but my mother had no such option. She had to jump over the border fence, crawl inside the sewers, and swim across the ocean. My mother had to do this several times before finally succeeding.

What of my father? He was crossing illegally into Mexico. The details of his journey are so unbelievable that I have given up trying to put them into written word.

During the current crisis some commentators have made a point to discuss how awful the parents of unaccompanied children are to allow their children to undergo such hardships alone. What these commentators fail to take into account is opportunity costs. My sister and I could have crossed over with our mother, but at the cost of having of going through the harder route with her. Likewise we could have stayed in Mexico but at the cost of my newborn sister.

I was born into poverty. My parents tell me that they often had only enough money to feed me and they would go to sleep starving if I didn’t leave any leftovers. When my mother realized she was carrying a second child she desperately wanted to get rid of it. She could barely feed one child! She changed her mind when my sister was born, but she was not delusional to think things could continue as they were. If she was to keep both her children we needed to migrate to the US. We tried entering legally, but there was no viable legal route to do so.

After making our separate ways into the country our family was reunited on March 3rd 1994, my sister’s first birthday. We settled down in Los Angeles and our lives have been largely uneventful since then. We tried self-deporting in the early 2000s, but Mexico did not recognize either myself or my sister as Mexicans since our names were not Hispanic.

After two decades in California I am still an illegal alien, albeit I am a DACA recipient. For two decades I could have been deported at any moment. If I am truthful with myself though I have never been in danger of deportation, why would I be? Los Angeles is a sanctuary city for migrants. California in turn has made great strides to protect its migrant population with the passage of the TRUST Act and related legislation. The Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has allowed me to travel across the US the past few years in relative safety. I have never lived in the shadows, although I have lived with restraints . In California proper I am little different from anyone else in legal rights, but this is only true in California.

My primary school teachers all knew I was an illegal alien. My friends and neighbors know I am an illegal alien. I even told my friends in the college conservative club that I was an illegal alien; they had been planning to go to a shooting range as a club activity and I had to explain to them why I couldn’t attend. It goes without saying that I have told all my employers about my migrant status and included a note about the matter when I applied to graduate school. Why should I lie about who I am? I have done nothing wrong.

I do not advocate open borders in the hope that it will lead to my being ‘allowed’ to stay. I have already migrated and lived in California for decades. I could have been deported countless times or ostracized, but instead I’ve been welcomed at each turn. No, I don’t advocate open borders for myself. I don’t even advocate open borders on behalf of other illegal aliens like me. If I advocate open borders for anyone it is that abstract concept known as ‘humanity’ which we are all part of me. I advocate open borders because it is both morally just and economically efficient.

Weekly OBAG roundup 25 2014

This is part 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).

Posts related to Nathan Smith’s draft paper on the global economic impact of open borders

For prior literature on the topic, see the double world GDP page on this website. For an earlier blog post by Smith that lays out an early version of his model (that he expands on in the draft paper), see The Global Economic Impact of Open Borders: My Take, published February 8, 2014.

Here are Smith’s OBAG posts this week about his draft paper:

  • Post by Nathan Smith, August 6, 2014, uploading the file to the Facebook group. The file can be alternatively accessed via Google Drive here. The post received 7 likes and 66 comments.
  • Smith has also uploaded to the Facebook group his raw data and the files with the STATA code he used for his analysis. You can access all his files under the Files section of OBAG.
  • Post by Nathan Smith, August 7, 2014, about the high correlation he found between his measure of human capital (inferred using a production function) and HDI. 1 like, 30 comments.
  • Post by Nathan Smith, August 7, 2014, asking for suggestions for places to present his paper and possible venues for publication of his paper (after he completes it). 2 likes, 9 comments.
  • Post by Nathan Smith, August 7, 2014, noting that according to his draft paper, open borders leads to a major reinforcement of the dominance of the West. 4 likes, 4 comments.
  • Post by Nathan Smith noting that in Scenario 2 in his paper, unskilled workers worldwide would see their wages converge to 44% of the current US level. 7 comments.

General points related to migration and public opinion on migration

Opinions of others about migration: specific observations (including links to papers, videos, debates)

Specific current and historical situations

A Response to One of the Most Subtle Restrictionists I’ve Read So Far

Post by Nathan Smith

I sometimes get the sense that the open borders topic is a bit tapped out, because open borders advocates are so vastly superior to the most vocal immigration restrictionists in the quality of their arguments that it’s hard to have a conversation. Restrictionists can win public debates easily because they have a vast weight of status quo bias on their side. And it’s true that most casual friends of open borders just don’t appreciate how radical the policy is, so a half-decent restrictionist can move the debate in his direction just by explaining that. But when it comes to the big pro-open borders arguments, about how this is the best way to alleviate world poverty, expand economic opportunity and advance freedom for mankind, restrictionists not only don’t have answers to these, they don’t even really understand them. You rarely hear anything from the other side that should really make you stop to think, or question your position. You never find yourself thinking, “Hmm, why is that wrong?” Instead, you find yourself thinking, “What rhetoric will help me make the overwhelming reasons why that’s wrong clear and compelling to the average man-on-the-street who hasn’t thought about the issue, is massively misinformed about the facts, and whose prejudices go the wrong way?” That gets tedious after a while. One just doesn’t learn much that way.

So I thought it might be worthwhile to acknowledge and respond to the article “Immigration, Yes– and No,” by Gene Callahan, at The American Conservative, which is unusually high-quality on the restrictionist side, and shows some awareness of open borders arguments. As usual when I read restrictionist writings (which I usually don’t), I wanted to interrupt the guy with objections at almost every paragraph, but I still came away respecting him and feeling like he was actually worth talking to. He starts by arguing that the Roman Empire was overwhelmed, not so much by “invading” as by “immigrating” barbarians, and that “if Rome had adopted open borders… the Western Empire would’ve been overwhelmed earlier,” because it wouldn’t have had time to assimilate the incoming barbarians. Well, I’ve written about this before. Rome probably made a mistake in letting the Visigoths immigrate as a political entity, but not only did peaceful individual immigrants never cause any trouble for Rome, the last great defender of Rome, Stilicho, seems to have been a German, as were many of his troops. As I put it before, “it looks like Rome fell because nativist know-nothings murdered a talented immigrant general who, with his immigrant troops, was doing the jobs Romans wouldn’t do, namely, defend Rome.”

The author positions himself as immigration “trimmer,” i.e., a moderate who does want some immigration, and he writes that

As a student of Aristotle—hardly a man without principles—I generally suspect that extreme views are expressions of vice and that the path of virtue will involve holding to a course between their hazards.

I, too, consider myself a moderate supporter of open borders, inasmuch as I advocate taxing rather than restricting migration, and using the proceeds of migration taxes to protect the living standards of natives. So we’re both “moderates” if you gerrymander the spectrum in the right way, and of course, this is all rather silly. The problem with being compulsively “moderate” is that you make yourself a slave to whatever the distribution of opinion happens to be at any given time. A moderate in the 1840s might have said that slaves should be treated humanely, but that abolitionism was an “extreme view” and an “expression of vice.” A moderate in mid-1930s Germany might have said that the Jewish world-conspiracy isn’t as bad as extreme anti-Semites suggest, and to contain it, it’s sufficient to restrict Jews’ participation in national life and encourage them to emigrate. The extreme position today may be moderate in twenty years, and vice versa, as public opinion shifts. If you care about truth, you have to be less of a slave to fashion than the compulsive moderate, by definition, has to be. (Thomas Paine had an interesting take: “moderation in temper is always a virtue, but moderation in principle is always a vice.” Ayn Rand’s attack on compulsive moderates is also wise.)

The author writes that most immigrants seek “a better standard of living” and that “such a universal human aspiration surely should not be condemned.” Moreover, “there is little hard evidence that the troubles of lower- and middle-class America in recent years have been caused to any great extent by immigration.” Then he says:

But these economic facts are true in a world with controlled immigration. Would they still hold in a world of open borders?

A good question, and one that open borders advocates sometimes fail to ask. I have always thought that while immigration hasn’t reduced rich-world wages much if at all so far, open borders would reduce the wages of unskilled workers, probably a lot. He predicts that under open borders, “the equilibrium position we would expect is that immigration would continue until the wage differential between American workers and developing world workers disappeared,” which I think is true to a first approximation, though the big question is how much of the equilibration would come from poor-country wages going up, and how much from rich-country (unskilled) wages going down. He adds that “Franklin Roosevelt, hardly a hero to libertarian advocates of open borders, was elected in a large part because of the votes of immigrants or their sons and daughters,” but (a) it is well understood by open borders advocates that immigration can’t (and needn’t) automatically include the right to vote, and (b) a more obvious point to make about FDR is that he was elected shortly after the US closed its borders to most immigration. As long as the club was open to new members, membership was relatively thin in its duties and privileges. The early-20th century progressive movement closed the club and increased the duties and privileges. That’s what we want to reverse.

Callahan points out that immigration has a cultural impact, and that assimilation goes both ways: natives influence immigrants, and vice versa. He writes:

European emigration to the New World is an instructive case in point: if Native Americans had been able to limit the flow of European immigrants, they might have been able to preserve their land and cultures. But, lacking the idea of territorial sovereignty, they could only deal with these immigrants through unconditional welcome or violence. When violence failed, their culture was overwhelmed, and it has largely disappeared. If we value our own culture, we might not want this to happen to it.

But here, several points need to be made. First, if assimilation is a two-way street, the traffic is very lop-sided. Natives influence immigrants far more than the other way around, resulting in a phenomenon called the “founder effect,” where the people who found a society overwhelmingly determine the nature of that society. Case in point: Americans collectively have almost as much German as British blood in their veins, as a result of mass immigration in the 19th century. But US institutions aren’t some kind of weighted average of German and British institutions. They’re just British, plus native evolutions and adaptations. The same goes for culture to a slightly lesser extent.

Second, some cultures are just more advanced and potent than others. If Europeans had never settled the Americas, Native American ways of life would still have been transformed beyond recognition by the cultural products and technologies Europe had to offer. Native Americans would have seen that Europeans had truer beliefs (e.g. in the natural sciences and economics), better ways of doing things, and more beautiful art and literature than they did. Since the mid-20th century, the physical emigration of Westerners to the rest of the world has largely ceased or gone into reverse, but the tsunami of Western cultural, ideological, technological, and economic influence has hardly abated at all. Open borders would not put American culture in jeopardy. If we’re assimilating the rest of the world even when we largely block them from coming, this would only accelerate if they could come here and get assimilated at close range. Probably there would be some influence in the other direction, too, most of it innocuous or beneficial. After all, culture is largely chosen, and for the most part, one doesn’t have to listen to the music or eat the food the immigrants bring with them unless one likes it.

Third, culture is dynamic, and doesn’t remain in stasis from generation to generation just because you hold the gene pool constant. The Sexual Revolution has, since the 1960s, radically altered Americans’ social behavior and family structures. This had nothing to do with immigration, it was a purely native development. Europeans largely abandoned Christianity in the course of the 20th century. That had nothing to do with immigration, either.

Indeed– fourth– immigrants may help to stabilize a culture by choosing it and assimilating to it. American culture seems to have been rather more stable in the 19th century than in the 20th century. At any rate, commitments to traditional family values and small government and Christianity seemed more like constants of American national life, then, whereas in 20th century America, the center could no longer hold, as repeated cultural revolutions swept aside traditional values and ways of life. It may be plausibly suggested that this was partly a result of the closing of America’s borders in the 1920s. Immigrants came here for relatively consistent reasons– to work hard, to practice their religions freely, to enjoy political freedom– and they helped to dilute the flux of generational fashions.

Callahan writes that “if we really value cultural diversity, there is no substitute for these diverse cultures flourishing in their native soil,” but, first of all, I don’t really value “cultural diversity” as such. It depends on the content of culture: whether the beliefs are true, whether the cuisine is tasty and nutritious, whether the customs are just and conducive to happiness, whether the art is beautiful and edifying. If not, let assimilation erase it. If so– second– there’s a good chance that it can hold its own in the cultural marketplace. Irish culture is a case in point, for mass emigration in the 19th century made Ireland a kind of global cultural powerhouse in a way it couldn’t have been if closed borders had prevailed then. Irish folk music really is beautiful and fun to listen to, so I’m glad that 19th-century open borders made it part of the heritage of mankind as a whole, and not just the Irish.

Next, ethics. Ethics tends to be a forte of open borders advocates and a weak point of restrictionists, who just don’t think clearly about it. There’s an interesting question about causation here: do restrictionists avoid clear thinking about ethics because it would lead to unwelcome conclusions, or do people become restrictionists because they can’t think clearly about ethics? Anyway, since one always has to grade restrictionists’ ethical reasoning on a curve, I was very impressed by this statement of Callahan’s:

The last of the issues on immigration is moral: given the modern consensus that no person counts for more than another one in ethical reasoning, can restrictions on immigration—which seem to privilege the existing inhabitants of a polity at the expense of those currently outside it—possibly be justified?

Yes! Good question! Of course, Callahan goes on to say that yes, they can, but that he can even get as far as stating the issue thus is a great leap forward for the restrictionist side. May it be a harbinger of more clear thinking and ethical seriousness on the restrictionist side in the years to come! And I think that we open borders advocates can take a little credit for this advance in the ethical education of the restrictionists. Gene Callahan has read Caplan and quotes him. I don’t know whether he’s read Open Borders: The Case or not, but if he’s familiar with Caplan’s writing, he probably has at least some inkling that Caplan’s not a lone voice in the wilderness, but a spokesman for a cause with a set of enthusiastic adherents.

In his answer to his own question, Callahan seems to be groping towards my argument for universal altruism plus division of labor. He argues that “we, as agents situated in a particular place and time, can… justifiably give more weight to how our acts will affect those nearer and dearer to us than those more distant,” and cites Hayek for the insight that “each actor is best situated to evaluate his own ‘particular circumstances of time and place.'” Yes. We shouldn’t ultimately accept any ethical calculus that places unequal values on human beings, or that segregates humanity into alienated groups with no obligation to care for each other. But the most effective ways for us to take care of each other will involve much division of labor, and within that framework, special obligations to kin and co-members of other natural groupings of people, including cities, churches, nations, etc., are a legitimate factor to consider.

It’s true, as Callahan says, that…

I am much more likely to be successful in my effort to help my next-door neighbor than I am likely to be in trying to help a homeless person in Latvia, because I can personally evaluate my neighbor’s circumstances, while I have little idea what are the real problems plaguing the Latvian indigent.

… but if the Latvian is trying to immigrate to the US, he’s not asking for help, merely that we do not use force to compel him to stay in a country he wants to leave. Our limited knowledge about the “real problems plaguing the Latvian indigent” is a good reason to be wary of taxpayer-funded foreign aid schemes to help him (though I’m not that much of a foreign aid skeptic myself), but can it seriously be suggested that ignorance of his circumstances justifies the use of force to keep him at home? Possibly we would be justified in forcing him to stay at home if we were extremely well-acquainted with his circumstances and knew for a fact that, unbeknownst to him, emigrating to the US would lead him to disaster. Ignorance of his circumstances is surely a reason to rely on his judgment in the matter and let him do as he likes, without getting in his way.

By articulating sound ethical views, then, Callahan has put himself on a train that leads straight to open borders. How does he get off it? Here I didn’t quite succeed in understanding him. He quotes Bryan Caplan saying that “Third World exile is not a morally permissible response” to immigration, and finds it “bizarre” that people who stay put are referred to as “exiled.” Of course, restrictions usually involve deportation, for which the term “exile” is quite apt. And actually, I think “exile” might be a pretty good description of the state of someone who wants badly to live in America and is forced to live elsewhere, even if they were born there, especially if the person has been somewhat culturally assimilated by English, democratic principles, and the whole American cultural package, and is an ethnic or religious minority in the country where they were born. Be that as it may, the Caplan-baiting seems disconnected from Callahan’s main argument. We can concede the semantic quibble, but that doesn’t get us any closer to having a good reason to force foreigners to stay abroad.

Callahan then tries an analogy:

If, after a ship capsizes, we find ourselves on a lifeboat, surrounded by victims flailing in the water, we should save as many of them as we can. But how many is that? Only so many as will not capsize our own boat, a result that would help no one.

Er, okay… but what is the analog of capsizing one’s own boat? Yes, if open borders would lead to a complete societal collapse in the US or other rich countries, such that even the immigrants themselves would be worse off than under the status quo, that would be a strong reason not to open borders. My position is not that we must open the borders even at the cost of a complete societal collapse. My position is that while open borders are indeed a radical policy, and would massively change the US and other rich countries, complete societal collapse is an unlikely outcome even if open borders were implemented in the most reckless and ill-conceived way, and the likelihood of such a dire outcome is negligible if open borders are implemented wisely. There might be some serious negatives, such as a sharp fall in the wages of tens of millions of US-born workers, or a rise in crime. There would be some drastic apparent negatives, such as far more visible poverty in the US, as immigrants would find better lives in the US than they would have had at home, but still shockingly deprived compared to what the US-born are accustomed to seeing. There would also be some drastic positives: world GDP might double, world poverty would be greatly reduced, a lot of people would be able to practice their religions freely who now face persecution, democracies and liberal countries would be empowered in international affairs vis-a-vis autocracies and tyrannies, technological progress would accelerate. The balance of these effects would be positive and very large. If I am right about all this, would Callahan change his mind? Are we in agreement about the ethics, and simply arguing the facts here?

Callahan’s position really does seem to be rather moderate, and I was quite surprised to see the following paragraph, considering that the publication we’re talking about is The American Conservative:

The immigration trimmer is thus likely to reject the most extreme proposals of the anti-immigration camp: giant border fences and frequent requests by law enforcement officials to “show me your papers” are threats to the freedom of every American. Here we see a practical complement to our moral case for allowing as much immigration as we can bear: not only is it right to help the less well-off when we can do so with little harm to ourselves, but it turns out to be very costly, in terms of both physical resources and lost civil liberties, to reduce immigration. Therefore, we should not try to do so until the number of immigrants becomes a serious problem.

I think this places Callahan somewhat to the left of the status quo, which is very encouraging. It confirms my casual impression from years of debating immigration, namely, that in arguing against you, restrictionists tend to position themselves a lot further in the right (i.e., pro-immigration) direction than it seems likely they would have gone without your provocation. If we could establish consensus about “the moral case for allowing as much immigration as we can bear,” that would be major progress. It’s not a very well-defined criterion, and restrictionists would doubtless seek to define the “we can bear” clause in very limiting ways. Open borders advocates would explain why it’s unreasonable to call a large population of resident non-voters, or a significant drop in the wages of unskilled natives, “unbearable.”

Reparations are not a sound basis for making immigration policy

Post by John Lee (regular blogger for the site, joined October 2012). See:

The recent influx of child migrants into the US has put immigration and refugee issues in the limelight. Because many of these children are fleeing violence in countries like Honduras and El Salvador — countries where US foreign policy has empowered violent gangs and created political instability — the debate has also seen the resurgence of what I call the “reparations argument” for liberal migration laws.

In essence, this argument runs:

  • The US (or whatever potential host country is being discussed) created a bad situation in the migrant-/refugee-sending countries
  • Therefore, the US is actually responsible for creating the flow of migrants from these countries
  • Therefore, the US must do one or more of the following:
    • Welcome these migrants
    • Send more foreign aid to these countries
    • Change its foreign policy

This cartoon from the Facebook page Muh Borders is a good summary of the reparations argument:
If you didn't want to deal with refugees, you shouldn't have f***ed with their countriesNow, I think this argument does make logical sense and is a pretty decent framework for thinking about foreign policy. If one nation wrongs another, it seems intuitive that reparations should be on the table.

But I don’t think the reparations argument makes sense as a justification for the status quo plus limited liberal treatment of migrants from certain nationalities. It could perhaps be logical to say “We ought to recognise the right to migrate for all people. But if we can’t agree on that, we should at least agree that those people we have harmed have an especially strong claim on the right to migrate.”

But note that this reparations argument is pretty much orthogonal to the case for open borders — it doesn’t have much bearing on the question of whether we ought to recognise a right to migrate, which is probably why not many open borders advocates rely on it. Reparations are just a “second best” argument. Indeed, the only open borders advocate I’m aware of who regularly uses this argument as direct support is Aviva Chomsky, and as both co-blogger Vipul and myself have noted before, her arguments are actually not that sound.

The problem becomes acute once we depart from making the case for general open borders, and just attempt to marshal this reparations argument for selective openness as the very best solution. e.g., “There isn’t any such thing as a right to migrate, but we should at least let people from countries we’ve harmed come here.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how much suffering excluding and deporting innocent people might cause — you’re perfectly in the right to do this unless you’ve originally created suffering in their home countries.

This may sound appealing and consistent at first, but actually making this argument work in practical terms is maddeningly hard. Nobody I have seen making this case actually clearly articulates the exact details of how they’ve concluded open borders with a given country (such as Guatemala) are a moral imperative, while still rejecting open borders for other countries.

After all, although most of the child migrants arriving in the US today are from countries like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, these three countries are far from the only ones in Latin America who have been wronged by the US. The US sponsored a coup in Chile; the US has a history of repeatedly invading Haiti; the US once invaded Mexico and occupied its capital city; in the lifetime of many of us, one of the biggest political scandals in the US was its funneling of arms into Nicaragua to destabilise the government. And if we’re going to talk about the harmful effects of the drug war, surely gang wars in Mexico and Colombia ought to be in the picture too. What’s the reason the US shouldn’t have open borders with — or at least adopt a more liberal stance towards migration from — these countries?

But wait, there’s more: we’ve only been talking about the countries of the Western hemisphere. Elsewhere on the globe, it wasn’t long ago that the US waged a war in Vietnam, and dropped bombs and chemical weapons over Cambodia and Laos. It colonised the Philippines for decades, imposing an initial harsh military occupation to subjugate Filipino nationalists bent on independence for their country. The US has directly sponsored the weapons used to murder hundreds of innocent Palestinians and subsidised the Egyptian and Israeli governments which prevent Palestinians from fleeing violence in Gaza or seeking work and opportunity outside a narrow strip of land. And, of course, it would be hard to argue the US isn’t responsible for much of the violence happening in Iraq and Afghanistan today. If we count the second order impacts of those recent American invasions, we could certainly argue these invasions have dreadfully harmed the people of Syria and Pakistan as well by empowering Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in those countries.

I don’t necessarily endorse the argument that because the US has pursued policies which have harmed the people of the countries I just named, the US is obligated to pay reparations to these countries, or offer reparations in the form of liberal treatment for their nationals who might want to migrate to the US.  My point in laying out these hypothetical arguments is that not a single person who wants liberal treatment specifically for El Salvadoran or Guatemalan asylum seekers on the basis of reparations owed has explained why their argument wouldn’t justify similar treatment for nationals of other countries who have been severely harmed by American policy.

That said, let’s assume we can resolve this tension somehow — either we find some intellectually consistent way to welcome El Salvadorans while deporting Mexicans (note that this is actually close to the status quo for unaccompanied child migrants in the US), or we choose to welcome the nationals of any country the US has harmed (within some reasonable and widely-agreed upon definition of harm).

The other leg of this argument tends to be some form of the following: accepting these migrants will be a temporary form of relief for these countries, while we figure out a way to help them and make proper reparation for messing them up in the first place. In other words, if the US dumps billions of dollars into El Salvador and shuts down the drug war, then deporting El Salvadorans and treating them as “illegals” will become morally acceptable.

I think people who advance this argument often believe that if the US stops its harmful policies and makes large enough aid payments to these countries, then these countries will bloom and prosper,

  • making it justifiable to deport people back to these countries; and/or,
  • reducing or eliminating any flows of migrants from these countries, since people wouldn’t want to leave.

Embedded in all this is the huge assumption that it would be possible for the US to magically destroy the problems of political instability, corrupt institutions, gang warfare, and rotten infrastructure that might plague these countries, if only the US were to do something different. I find this assumption incredibly questionable, to put it lightly.

But let’s say that the US were able to accomplish the incredibly-unlikely, and actually wipe out the worst poverty and violence that plague many of the countries whose people are desperate to seek a better life in the US. Would this reduce or even eliminate migrant flows? The evidence suggests that in general, such economic development would lead to more migration.

The reason is simple: people who are very poor can’t afford an expensive journey, even if the economic returns from taking a job in a much more developed economy would more than justify it. They simply don’t have the money to finance it. As countries become richer, their people become better able to afford the journey, and so more of them will leave in search of better work and fairer wages.

So in all likelihood, pursuing reparations for the US’s past harms to these countries will not markedly stem the pressure to migrate to the US or other developed countries in search of a better life. Advocates making the reparations argument don’t even present empirical evidence that throwing billions of dollars at these countries will fix their problems (whether or not the US created those problems in the first place) — they assume that magically the US can do something different, and all the problems will go away. Worse still, they ignore empirical evidence that assuming their proposed reforms actually succeed in helping these countries develop, the likely outcome will be even stronger pressure to migrate for better jobs and wages.

Rohingya refugee family beg the Bangladeshi coast guard to not deport them

What then? Would it be just and right to tell an El Salvadoran child fleeing rape or murder “You have to go home because we paid your government a few billion dollars — that you’ll be killed or raped because we’re deporting you is now not our problem”? Would it actually be honest to say that the US isn’t responsible for the death or rape of this child if the US government then sends this child “home” to be raped and killed? Heck, if the child just dies of starvation or illness because his home country doesn’t have a functioning economy or healthcare system — i.e., the child is just an “economic migrant” — would it somehow be any better that the US sent him back to die?

My answers to these questions is, of course, no. But the reason why I answer in the negative has nothing to do with whether the US owes any reparations to the people of the countries it has harmed — as important an issue as that may be. It is fundamentally unjust to exclude an innocent human being — especially one fleeing violence or murder — purely because of where they are from. Where these people are from simply does not matter — every government owes justice to every human being under its jurisdiction. Excluding innocent human beings purely because of their national origin is at its heart an act of barbarism and injustice.

Weekly OBAG roundup 24 2014

This is part 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).

Artistic and literary depictions

General points related to migration and public opinion on migration

Opinions of others about migration: specific observations (including links to papers, videos, debates)

Specific current and historical situations

Site content and meta

The Efficient, Egalitarian, Libertarian, Utilitarian Way to Double World GDP — Bryan Caplan

Creative Commons License Weekly OBAG roundup 32 2014 is licensed by Open Borders Admin under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.