Weekly OBAG roundup 09 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).

Thought-provoking general questions or general observations

Discussions of specific historical and current situations

Outreach and meta

Wielding Power

In the third issue of Wielding Power, the winning essay in response to the question “Should Nations Restrict Immigration?” is written by me. Open Bordersreaders, an intelligent lot as far as I can tell, might consider submitting to future competitions. The editor, Ryan K. Johnson, who blogs here, is an astute reader and critic, open-minded, and a lover of good arguments, who skillfully outlines the arguments of contributors in the margins. Interestingly, all three winners favored open borders! But Ryan Johnson himself doesn’t.

In a blog post introducing the issue and inviting further debate, Johnson offered me this challenge:

Nathan- I’m curious what you think about the risk of political instability or nativist backlash from open borders. Why do you think those aren’t serious concerns?

I wouldn’t say they “aren’t serious concerns,” I’d say that these arguments against open borders are overwhelmed by the case in favor. But it’s worth explaining why I give them limited weight.

“Nativist backlash” might mean different things, ranging from scattered grumbling to ferocious ethnic violence. Grumbling is of minor importance. People grumble about high gas prices and the inconvenience of complying with the tax code, but those are minor problems. Violence, of course, would be a dire concern, but first, I doubt it would come to that, and second, it’s ethically undesirable to reward violence-prone natives by giving them what they want.

My other response to the “nativist backlash” concern is that, as I explain in the article itself, I advocate taxing migration, and using the proceeds to compensate natives, and I think this would be quite effective in defusing nativist backlash. To the complaint, “They’re taking our jobs,” would come the answer, “Yes, but we’re getting checks in the mail from the IRS, financed by their taxes. Some of us may be earning less, but just about everybody’s living standards are higher.” I don’t think that would completely eliminate nativist backlash. Some would just hate to see the streets cluttered by impoverished foreigners. Maybe some would feel that a certain dignity associated with self-reliance had been lost, and that they’d prefer a lower living standard from one’s own wages to a higher living standard financed by foreigners via the government. On the other hand, one would hope that there would be at least some public understanding of the absolutely enormous power of open borders to raise global income and alleviate world poverty, and some pride in being part of that. All in all, if you could get over the huge hurdle of passing open borders (with migration taxes) in the first place, I doubt there would be all that much backlash afterwards.

Political stability is related to nativist backlash, but in some respects a distinct concern. Even if natives were wholly welcoming, on principle, or because they liked getting immigration-financed checks from the government, immigration might lead to political instability because immigrants would make public opinion more fragmented and multipolar, or because they were more prone to extremism, or tolerant of corruption. And since immigrants to a country like the US would be, on average, much poorer than natives at first, they might have an incentive to vote for distribution.

Except that they wouldn’t have the vote for a while. I advocate a rather long-drawn-out path to citizenship, involving mandatory savings which must be accumulated and then forfeited in return for becoming an American. Immigrants under this visa would have an attractive alternative to staying in America: return home, with a good deal of money to start a new life. Those who don’t especially like America, those unwilling or unable to learn the language and assimilate, and those whose economic prospects in America are poor, would probably find it in their best interest to sojourn in America for a few years, then return home to a life of comparative affluence on the money they were forced to save in the US. Those who chose to stay would likely have an economic profile closer to that of natives. How they would vote, I can only speculate; but I doubt they would deviate from natives in a radical or destabilizing way.

Of course, immigrants could destabilize the American polity through street activism or violence. Violence, I consider unlikely. Even if immigrants under open borders numbered well over 100 million, as Gallup has suggested they might (and I agree), they would still be outnumbered by natives, and more importantly, any immigrant group, e.g. based on ethnicity or nationality, would be vastly outnumbered by natives plus other immigrants, who would likely side with natives against violent activism. Fundamentally, immigrants would have agreed to come into the US under certain policies, and while not all of them would continue to accept the legitimacy of those policies, I think most would. People’s promises do generally mean something to them. But if systematic, political violence from immigrants were a clear and present danger, that would be a ground for restricting immigration by the groups most inclined to foment it. As for street activism, that wouldn’t matter much as long as natives are unpersuaded by their protest slogans. If crowds of immigrants march through the streets demanding equal taxes and voting rights, natives can just shrug and say, “Whatever. When you came, you agreed yourself to pay extra taxes and not have the right to vote. You’re a lot better off than you were in Bangladesh. Get over it.”

In his response to my essay in the issue itself, Johnson writes:

Is there no value in the group and its culture?

The short answer here is “Of course there is… but what does that have to do with anything?” I have a network of friends, family, and acquaintances that I value so much, that without them, life would lose much, perhaps most, of its meaning and value. But to suggest that that’s a reason to exclude immigrants is prima facie a complete nonsequitur. How do the immigrants impair my enjoyment of this network of friends at all, let alone significantly? Would they somehow clog the channels of communication, so that I couldn’t send my friends text messages or e-mails? Would they create so much traffic on the roads that I couldn’t visit my friends?

Yet it may the case– here, see Robert Putnam’s work on social capital and immigration– that immigration dilutes the population of people who are enough “like me” to have valuable interactions. Maybe there’s a lot of value in just being able to walk down the street and start socializing with the first person you meet, having enough in common with them to make this feasible and worthwhile. Let in lots of immigrants, and you have to start picking and choosing who to interact with, if you want to avoid the labor of constantly trying to bridge large cultural gaps. Maybe.

But my experience suggests otherwise. There just don’t seem to be many occasions where significant, valuable actions occur that aren’t filtered by some social setting. Thus, I make friends among colleagues, that is, among people selected for profession and institutional affiliation to resemble me. I make friends at my church, that is, I make friends with people self-selected for a highly specific set of beliefs and values. I have friends from grad school, that is, from a selective educational institution which we both attended. Etc.

I have a feeling that fifty years ago, the US was less fissiparous and fragmented, and that a kind of grass-roots solidarity with the neighbors was more of a reality than it is today. We may have paid a high price for that in conformism and the suppression of creativity and authenticity, and a kind of cultural liberation has taken place which has been at once exhilarating and alienating. That may be the reason for my impression that mere neighborhoods are no longer an important kind of community, and the kinds of community that do matter are immune to geographical dispersion. Whether immigration restrictions would be justifiable if neighborhood solidarity were a more important form of community is a large too large a question for me to deal with just now. (But I think not.)

Meanwhile, never forget that immigration restrictions separate groups as well as binding them together (if they actually do the latter at all). Many people are separated from loved ones by borders.


The Use of Race As An Argumentative Tactic

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

Advocates of immigration reform occasionally feel tempted to use accusation of racism as an argumentative tactic. Most recently Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Attorney General Eric Holder, and other high ranking Democrats have suggested that the reason their Republican counterparts oppose immigration reform is due to the race of most migrants.

There is certainly a subset of open border opponents that could be classified as racists and oppose open grounds either due to a belief that migrants taint their superior race or that racial homogeneity is itself desirable and  migrants pose a danger to this. Even if this is the case calling out our opponents as racists is counterproductive.

Accusing opponents of racism is a poor argumentative strategy because it antagonizes them. More importantly this strategy antagonizes those who were previously sympathetic but who identify with open border opponents. In the current immigration debate in the United States it causes pro-reform Republicans to defend their peers out of political tribalism. Open border advocates in the US are reminded that several leading Republicans support immigration reform including: the Bush family, Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, Governor Rick Perry, and many others. Using race as an argumentative tactic could very well cost us these allies.

In an earlier post Vipul Naik discusses similar points to these and elaborates on why accusations of racism make for poor argumentation. I agree with Naik that accusing open border opponents of racism directly is poor strategy, but leading your opponent to reveal themselves as racists might be good strategy if done properly.

In argumentation one is considered to have conceded a point to their opponent if they do not attempt to refute claims made. As such, while I do not favor directly calling our opponents racist, I do not believe we should implicitly concede to them that migrants and natives are significantly different from one another culturally.  A better tactic would be to emphasize that migrants aren’t significantly different from the native population and that it is the burden of our opponents to prove otherwise.

For example I personally advocate that the largest current migrant group to the United States, Hispanics, are ‘westerners’ and that the perceived differences between Hispanics and natives are smaller than they first appear. I use the term ‘westerner’ here to refer to a set of cultural pillars that are associated with Western Europe and those nations that have been influenced by the region through colonialism or other forms of prolonged cultural exchange. This includes the Americas, Australia, and certain regions of Africa and Asia such as South Africa and Japan respectively.

The United States views itself primarily as a ‘western’ nation, but what is considered ‘western’ and who is considered ‘western’ varies throughout time. There was a time when the Irish, Germans, and other Europeans weren’t seen as westerners and only Christian Anglo-Saxons from the United Kingdom and their American descendants fit the bill.  Jews weren’t considered westerners even if their ancestry was firmly entrenched in the US or the United Kingdom, but today they too are considered westerners.

The definition of ‘westerner’ has since changed and will continue to change but today the major prerequisites are:

As I often remind friends who are skeptical about open borders, Hispanics are primarily Christian and speak a European language (Spanish, Portuguese, or English) as a native tongue. Hispanics all come from countries where republicanism is the norm. Mexico and Brazil both experimented with monarchies in their early histories, but have long since been staunch republics. The only extant monarchies in the Americas are Canada and the Anglo Caribbean.  A Queen of Jamaica exists, but no Hispanic country recognizes a monarch over them.

United States popular culture prevails throughout Latin America. Fidel Castro once remarked that Mexican children knew Disney characters better than their own history. The comment offended Mexican officials but it was made with merit. No one in my extended family, most of whom were born and raised in Mexico, know that Mexico was ruled by Emperor Maximilian during the early 19th century. They can easily list Disney characters and keep up with the latest American fads though. In my family’s defense the 2010 Civics Report Card released by the US Department of  Education showed that US residents weren’t that well versed in civics. Arguably this shared disdain for civics with their northern cousins is another example of how Hispanics are a western people.

Hispanics are westerners  as far as religion, politics, linguistics, and popular culture are concern. I further argue that the third largest current migrant groups in the United States, Indians, are also westerners.

The Indian subcontinent was invaded and colonized extensively by European powers beginning in the 16th century. British Raj reached its peak during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Indian subcontinent was ruled by European powers for nearly half a millennium and only recently did it gain independence in the form of various polities, the largest being the Union of India. By no means should this post be taken to mean that European colonization of the Indian continent was morally right. However it cannot be denied that it changed the subcontinent and left it western character.

Politically India is the world’s largest democracy, a title that it has openly embraced. The last vestiges of India’s attachment to monarchy were severed in 1950 when a republic was proclaimed.

India today has twenty two official languages and several more with varying degrees of recognition. The working language of the Indian Union however is English with 350 million speakers, most of whom speak it as a second language. Hindi, the official language of the Union, has a larger amount of speakers at 422 million. Despite this English enjoys a preferential status as it is a neutral language that doesn’t favor any linguistic group and facilitates trade abroad.

Knowledge and use of English among Indian migrants in the US is greater still. According to the US Census’ 2012 American Community Survey approximately 80% of Indians in the US speak English ‘very well’. This is superior to the Mexican community’s 68% or Argentine’s 74%. These results shouldn’t be surprising as migrants self-select and those most likely to migrate and settle in the United States long term are those most likely to already have a deposition to become western.

The only measure by which Indians fail to qualify as westerners is in terms of religion. Arguably this is the least important qualifier as Judeo-Christianity is being challenged by secularism for dominance in the west. Linguistically English still enjoys a favorable position in India proper and among Indian migrants in the US. It is extremely doubtful that India will be trading its democracy for a new Mughal Empire anytime soon. As a matter of fact India is currently engaging in an five-week national election consisting of 814 million voters.

None of this should be misunderstood to mean that there are not differences among the world’s cultures. My point here is that we should emphasize similarities instead of differences when discussing immigration policy. As an argumentative tactic we should force our opponents to elaborate on what they mean by cultural differences and fight them for every inch. If they claim that Hispanics are different because they speak Spanish instead of English let us ask if they have similar views in regards to Germans. Germans are the United States’ largest ancestry group in no small part due to massive migration and various German languages still persist to this day, including Pennsylvania Dutch among the Amish people. If our opponents claim their concern is that Hispanics are primarily Catholics, ask them if they have similar views towards the Irish or ask them to elaborate on which sect of Christianity they believe the United States should adopt. Mormon?

It is well possible that our opponents will retort that they would have opposed both German and Irish migration. This is okay. If our opponents do this they will isolate those of German and Irish descent who might otherwise have been inclined to listen to them.  Ultimately the goal of public debate is not to convince an opponent but to persuade the minds of those yet undecided or who are on the fence.

Asking an opponent to elaborate on how migrants and natives are different culturally is a good tactic when an immigration debate moves away from economics and towards culture as it causes opponents to attempt to get specific without offending natives who fail to meet the prerequisites for being considered western. In comparison calling our opponents racist ends the conversation or isolates those who might otherwise be sympathetic to open borders.

When using this tactic one should attempt to make it clear that they don’t necessarily support basing migration policy on whether a group is western or not. Co-blogger Chris Hendrix has addressed this issue previously. The purpose of this tactic is to get your opponent to expend energy on detailing on what grounds migrants are different from natives culturally and to hopefully have him isolate himself.

Finally, when using this argumentative tactic one should not forget to make the economic case for open borders. Immigration debates tend to start off discussing the economics of immigration. If the open borders advocate makes a strong economic case then the debate will move onto more abstract reasons for opposing open borders, including the above concerns of cultural differences between migrants and natives. If the debate takes this turn then using the above tactic can be useful. However if the open border advocate fails to make a compelling economic case then he should not move onto other areas. This tactic should be used to supplement, not substitute, the economic case for open borders.

The virtues of borders

Post by Paul Crider (regular blogger for the site, joined June 2013 as an occasional blogger, promoted to regular blogger July 2013). See:

Much of the philosophical discussion of open borders focuses on the rights of the parties involved. Is there a presumptive right to freedom of movement? Does the state have a presumptive right to restrict, via freedom of association or some other avenue? Rights, in either direction, probably attract the most attention because each side would like to head the other off at the pass and avoid the murkiness of empirical facts and conflicting values. If some right is established, it will foreclose a lot of argumentation.

But perhaps it’s useful to remember there’s still a discussion to be had whichever way the rights question is decided. And just because one might believe a nation has a right to restrict entrance, it hardly follows that exercising that right is the best option, either ethically or economically. Christopher Heath Wellman, author of one of the most well-regarded essays defending the right of a nation to restrict immigration, himself actually favored more liberal immigration rules.

[I] doubt that any one-size-fits-all immigration policy exists, and I, qua philosopher, have no special qualification to comment on the empirical information that would be relevant to fashioning the best policy for any given state. However, if anything, I am personally inclined toward more open borders. My parents were born and raised in different countries, so I would not even be here to write this article if people were not free to cross political borders. What is more, my family and I have profited enormously from having lived and worked in several different countries, so it should come as no surprise that I believe that, just as few individuals flourish in personal isolation, open borders are typically (and within limits) best for political communities and their constituents. Still, just as one might defend the right to divorce without believing that many couples should in fact separate, I defend a legitimate state’s right to control its borders without suggesting that strict limits on immigration would necessarily maximize the interests of either the state’s constituents or humanity as a whole.

With this post I’d like to suggest we ponder what a virtuous approach to migration policy would be, setting aside the important question of rights. This approach risks immediately running aground. Does it even make sense to talk about “virtuous policy”? Can virtue only be discussed in terms of individual behavior? Maybe. But I suspect questions of virtue come up in policy considerations whether it’s appropriate or not. Consider Adam Gurri’s recent thoughts on courage and security.

Everyone, as either a driver or a pedestrian, or both, has had a moment where things could have gone a little differently and ended in severe injury or death. It does not take a great deal of experience with the roads of most metropolitan areas to have such moments. Yet we do not hide in our homes, we do not give up on driving. After feeling the risks acutely, we go on with our lives as before.

We certainly do not demand that the state step in and enact a set of intrusive, byzantine measures to make us feel safer. We simply find the courage in ourselves and continue with our lives.

Whether it’s airport security or mass surveillance, we have sacrificed a great deal of not only liberty, but dignity, for uncertain and unquantifiable gain. The citizens of this country need to find the courage to take that liberty and that dignity back. This does not seem too much to ask of a people who find such courage every single day, when they step into a car.

Ben Franklin famously wrote, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” The motivation for this pronouncement of desert is that such a people want for courage. Can we make similar observations about borders?

The empirical cases for and against open borders often implicitly rely on prudential reasoning, as does much economic argumentation. Prudence is here conceived as no-nonsense self-interest. So advocates of open borders point to the massive economic gains to be had by liberalizing migration while restrictionists point to those who might lose out, whether they are unskilled natives in the host country or those rural poor left behind in the sending country.

Solidarity (an instance of faith or loyalty) matters here. The restrictionist may be unimpressed with the prudential calculations of the mobilitarian who downplays the importance of communal solidarity. The unskilled poor natives of the host country may not be as poor as those in the Global South, but they are our poor, and it’s our obligation to look after them. The restrictionist concerned about the poorest of the poor, left behind in remote villages, likewise condemns the relatively well-off emigrants who fail to uphold their obligations of solidarity to their poorer fellow nationals. (I’m leaving to the side for now any discussion of the empirical reality of these concerns.)

The mobilitarian might respond that solidarity is well and good but it is grossly disproportionate to the scale of justice at issue. It is unjust that the citizens of rich countries are privileged by right of birth to enjoy successful institutions that they played no part in creating. Injustice is visited upon the poor of the world when they are forcefully imprisoned in their countries for no other reason than that they were born there.

As to the question of whether emigrants fail in some solidaritous duty to their poorer fellow nationals, one might respond that the individual should have some choice in choosing her identities, where her duties of solidarity lie, and further that this is a matter better left to the emigrant and her co-nationals, rather than outsiders. Certainly chaining an individual to her country of birth for any reason seems to diminish her autonomy, and thus disrespects her dignity.

Speaking of successful institutions, the restrictionist has another appeal to prudence: the institutions of the rich world must be protected, and exposing these institutions to foreigners with very different cultures is simply too risky. This is the familiar Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs critique, which I have considered previously. Like Gurri’s approach to terrorism, the mobilitarian can counter this fear of institutional degradation with an appeal to courage. Are the institutions of the rich world really so fragile that they will fall apart if we open them to the world’s huddled masses, yearning, as they do, to breathe free? One can’t know for certain, but ours is a world of uncertainty, and it’s against precisely this reality of uncertain danger that we gird ourselves with courage.

One can sense between the lines an exhortation to courage in the great Frederick Douglass’s criticism of anti-Chinese sentiment among his compatriots (my emphasis):

The apprehension that we shall be swamped or swallowed up by Mongolian civilization; that the Caucasian race may not be able to hold their own against that vast incoming population, does not seem entitled to much respect. Though they come as the waves come, we shall be stronger if we receive them as friends and give them a reason for loving our country and our institutions. They will find here a deeply rooted, indigenous, growing civilization, augmented by an ever increasing stream of immigration from Europe; and possession is nine points of the law in this case, as well as in others. They will come as strangers, we are at home. They will come to us, not we to them. They will come in their weakness, we shall meet them in our strength. They will come as individuals, we will meet them in multitudes, and with all the advantages of organization. Chinese children are in American schools in San Francisco, none of our children are in Chinese schools, and probably never will be, though in some things they might well teach us valuable lessons.

The question of whether borders should be closed or open would likely not inspire such controversy if it weren’t for the desperate conditions of much of the world. Those favoring open borders often do so out of compassion and, indeed, love for humanity. Such a bleeding heart appeal might risk a kind of macho scoffing retort from those adhering to a politics of toughness. But surely love and compassion play some role in our policy making, lest social welfare programs could never get off the ground. It’s helpful to remember, as always, that opening borders does not impose charitable obligations on anyone, but instead removes barriers standing in the way of migrants bettering their own lots.

Virtues must be balanced against one another. So courage without prudence and temperance is just machismo or foolhardiness. Compassion without prudence is a recipe for exploitation. And justice without temperance and love might give us a Tarantino revenge fantasy. From a virtue perspective, closed borders is all solidarity and jealous prudence, unbalanced by any sense of universal justice or compassion for the stranger; it lacks courage, and maybe even faith in supposedly hallowed institutions. The open borders position is better balanced atop multiple virtues, exhibiting justice and compassion in spades, plus a little faith and courage for good measure, and–if the economists are to be believed–ample prudence in the form of trillion dollar bills waiting to be picked up off the sidewalk. Regardless of whether it is obligated to do so or not, a nation that opens its borders does the virtuous thing, the right thing. And the citizens of such a nation would have reason to take pride in that.

End note: While I found no excuse to reference it in the post, I have only begun to think seriously about virtue ethics since I started reading the Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, by Deirdre McCloskey. I have drawn from it here.

Weekly OBAG roundup 08 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).

Thought-provoking general questions or general observations

Discussions of specific historical and current situations

Outreach and meta

A critique of the “assimilation” concept

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

The idea that immigrants fail to assimilate is a major critique of immigration offered by restrictionists, and one that is widely popular. Unfortunately, the concept of assimilation has suffered from a form of mission creep as people cram more and more into the idea.

There are four broad kinds of things that people mean by assimilation. I will argue that only the first two categories genuinely deserves the “assimilation” label — and the second category only applies to citizenship, not to guest worker/student status or even to long term residency. The use of the term “assimilation” for the other two categories obfuscates more than it illuminates.

#1: Assimilation to the culture-specific, value-agnostic norms of the host country

There are some conventions that differ from country to country, but people living in the same geographic area benefit by following the same convention. Language is an obvious example. What side of the road to drive on is another. In this context, assimilation by immigrants to the host country’s conventions and norms makes life easier for everybody. Thus, I take linguistic assimilation seriously. An immigrant from the US to France should learn French in order to better communicate and interact with natives, even though a tourist might be able to get away with English and a few broken French phrases.

For similar reasons, an immigrant from the UK to the US had better assimilate quickly to the idea that automobiles drive on the right side of the road. All the more important if he/she plans to drive a vehicle, but probably useful if he/she plans to use the roads as a pedestrian, biker, or transit user.

The point here is that no claim is being made about the superiority or inferiority of the languages or conventions regarding the side of the road to drive on. Claims are being made about the coordination costs of deviation from the norms of the community, making a strong case for assimilation. So far, so good.

Note that for this category of assimilation, a significant fraction of the gains from assimilating go to the migrant himself or herself, although there are social spillovers. People with poor language skills are locked out of many jobs. Potential employers also lose out, but the bulk of the loss is experienced by the migrant. People who drive on the wrong side of the road endanger themselves as well as others (in particular, they endanger themselves more than they endanger any single other person). The positive externality of conforming to culture-specific, value-agnostic norms does suggest that there is a case for government or philanthropic help to people to assimilate into the norms.

However, there is no fundamental conflict of interest between the migrant’s goals and those of the rest of society. Further, there will be some people for whom learning the language just isn’t worth the benefit, even when externalities to society are considered. So, beyond making sure people understand the very basics, restricting migration based on these is not appropriate. However, the host society is not obligated to go out of the way to make accommodations for migrants’ linguistic differences:

  • private employers should be free to restrict access to jobs to migrants (as well as natives!) based on language skills, and to the extent that laws against private discrimination get in the way, they should be reconsidered.
  • Government institutions providing public services do not have an obligation to serve migrants in their own languages, although it may still be beneficial or appropriate for them to do so under certain circumstances (depending on how the costs and benefits compare).

The point is simply that individuals and institutions in the host society can decide how far they will personally accommodate different languages, and then leave it to migrants to decide whether they should work hard to learn the native language or can get by without.

#2: Emotional assimilation

Emotional assimilation and attachment to one’s adopted homeland is also something a lot of people have in mind when they talk of assimilation. The emotional assimilation and patriotism complaint has been made against immigration by many of the leading lights in the restrictionist movement, including Mark Krikorian, Steve Sailer, Peter Brimelow, and many others.

I’m not much of a fan of patriotism, but I think that a case could be made that immigrants who want to settle permanently in a land should at the very least not hate that land, and should have at least moderately fond feelings for it. At any rate, such feelings help to a modest degree. Again, this is a claim that can be made both for Mexican immigrants to Chile and for Chilean immigrants to Mexico. It makes sense for most immigrants to most lands.

#3: All the “good stuff”

A lot of people use “assimilation” in the looser sense of being statistically similar to the natives of the host country along various normative dimensions such as income, education levels, crime (scored negatively), and other indicators. Obviously, these are important things to look at when assessing the effects of immigration. But I question the use of the word “assimilation” to describe such comparisons.

My chief objection is that “assimilation” incorrectly sets the native standard on these matters as the aspirational norm. It ignores the fact that many immigrants are already better than natives on these normative indicators. On many of these indicators, their children move away from the better immigrant average and assimilate downward to the native norm. In the US context, crime is an example: immigrants (both in total and across ethnicities — including illegal immigrants) have lower crime rates than natives, but their children “assimilate” to the higher native crime rates.

There are also some ethnic groups of immigrants that, even after several generations, maintain higher normative averages than natives. Eyeballing the data suggests that Japanese, Chinese, and Indian immigrants to the US may be in this category.

There are obviously many categories where immigrants start off worse than natives and assimilate “upward” — Mexican immigrants to the US are one example. In many categories such as income and education level, descendants of immigrants assimilate upward from their parents to the native norms.

I’m quite okay with measurement of these, but question the “assimilation” jargon for its focus on natives as a normative ideal to strive toward.

#4: Immigrants do or think stuff I don’t like

A lot of the complaints about immigrants’ “failure to assimilate” are centered around the religious and political beliefs of immigrants, their tastes in food and music, the fact that they know foreign languages, and a variety of other things. Frankly, I find these complaints bizarre. If the person making this complaint wants to make an argument that certain religious or political beliefs are normatively better than the others, then the person should make that case — and be prepared to call out the large numbers of natives who hold the opposing view. This would reduce the objections to the second category. But the people making these arguments often don’t want to actually make this broader case. They simply define certain sets of views as the “norm” and then say that immigrants need to strive toward attaining that mix of views.

Some other random thoughts

  • See point #7 (first in the post) in Joseph Carens on the ethics of immigration: part 2.
  • In Europe, the term “assimilation” has given way to the term “integration”. There are also some conceptual differences, at least on paper: assimilation means that migrants merge into an existing native culture (perhaps adding some contributions of their own, but the focus is on migrants joining the native culture), whereas integration focuses on peaceful coexistence of different cultures with some shared values and understanding. You can get lots of information on the alleged differences between the models by Googling assimilation versus integration.
  • The United States model of assimilation has been called the “melting pot” — see my co-blogger Nathan Smith’s blog post on the subject.
  • A number of people I respect have suggested that a classical liberal minimalist state is conducive to integration and peaceful coexistence without any necessity for heavy-handed government policy to promote either assimilation or integration. There are cases where groups stay aloof from mainstream culture while coexisting peacefully. Examples in the US include the Amish, Mormons, Hutterites, Mennonites, and Jehovah’s Witnesses (I owe this point to co-blogger Hansjoerg Walther). In her blog post reflecting on her experience as a migrant to Sweden, Ladan Weheliye noted that she favored the liberal model as described by Chandran Kukathas.

Weekly OBAG roundup 07 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).

Thought-provoking general questions or general observations

Discussions of specific historical or current situations


Outreach and meta

What will the rapid economic growth under open borders look like?

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

Open borders will lead to rapid economic growth in some countries, particularly the countries that receive migrants. This will be true even if the per capita income of natives doesn’t rise much (or even if it falls). The total size of the economy will grow. The situation with countries sending migrants is more complicated: the decline in population means that the size of the economy could shrink, even if per capita income rises. On the other hand, very high remittances or reverse migration and joint multinational businesses could offset the huge population loss. This blog post explores the sorts of things that could happen under open borders.

A few historical and current examples worth considering:

  • The United States in the second half of the 19th century: The example fits well in the following ways: immigrants were quite poor, the economy as a whole was backward but improving fast, and the immigrants were from many different cultures and spoke many different languages. The example fits badly in the following ways: the US was at the technological frontier, the place premium wasn’t huge (both sending and receiving countries were poor), and the whole event occurred in a time when many other aspects of global culture and technology were different. In particular, due to greater costs of transport and communication, and many other reasons, the total foreign-born proportion of the population was not too high: it peaked at 15% in 1910, compared to about 13% now under fairly closed borders in the US (more here).
  • China from after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 (we expect to write more about China later; for now, check out our blog posts tagged China): The very rapid “catch-up” economic growth in China is comparable to the sort of growth we’d expect to see in migrant-receiving countries under open borders. The scale of rural-urban migration over the preceding and coming decades is in the hundreds of millions, comparable to the levels we’d expect with a decade or more of open borders. The proliferation of cities in China in recent years provides a model for what might happen under open borders. On the flip side, migration in China is happening across a far more homogenous linguistic and cultural milieu than what we’d expect under open borders. Moreover, China has a single government that can (and to some extent does) coercively restrict and coordinate migration in ways that wouldn’t work for global open borders unless there is world government or some supranational body that exerts heavy control over the coordination of international migration. China is also unrepresentative of global open borders because the place premium isn’t that huge.
  • India since its economic liberalization beginning in the late 1980s and with the main big step around 1991 (more on India here; see also all blog posts tagged India): India offers an example that’s both better and worse than China in terms of predicting what will happen under open borders. On the “better” side, there’s the fact that India is linguistically more diverse, so that many of the global challenges faced by migrants are experienced on a smaller scale in India. Although India is also religiously diverse, the religious diversity isn’t too strongly linked to location (the major religions are dispersed over many locations). India also offers a better model of a situation where the government does not plan either to stop migration or to prepare to accommodate it, unlike China, where both national and local governments have taken a more proactive approach to regulating flows. As of 2001, India measured 191 million internal long-distance migrants, about 20% of the population then. This number is comparable with the sort of migration magnitude we’d see under open borders, though it’s somewhat less than the amount of rural-urban migration in China. As with China, the place premium isn’t big enough to test some of the concerns associated with open borders. On the “worse” side, India is an even poorer country than China, so the parts of India that receive immigrants serve as bad models of how the destination countries under open borders would look.
  • The European Union today (see this related post by Hansjoerg and all our posts tagged the EU): This example is better suited in the respect that the target countries of migration are wealthy First World countries, which we expect will see a lot of immigration under open borders. But none of the source countries is too poor: the poorest countries in the EU are Romania and Bulgaria, which are middle-income countries (things will become more interesting once Albania joins). Quantitatively, migration between EU states on the whole is much lower than intranational migration in India and China, and much lower than what we’d predict under global open borders. About 3.2% of EU residents were born in another EU country, compared to 6.3% who were born outside the EU (see here and here).

The following table provides a comparative summary of the four cases considered above in terms of how good they are in their similarity to how we expect open borders to unfold (so “good” here means “good as a model for figuring out how things will be under open borders”, not “normatively good” or “desirable”):

Attribute 19th century US China India EU
Scale of migration Moderate Good Good Bad
Absolute poverty in source countries Good Good Good Bad
Absolute wealth in target countries Moderate Moderate Bad Good
Place premium Moderate Moderate Moderate Moderate
Cultural heterogeneity Moderate Bad Moderate Moderate

A few other examples that aren’t quite as good because the scale involved is too small, but are still interesting in some respects:

  • Open borders between Puerto Rico and the United States (see this blog post by Bryan Caplan): The place premium was moderate, the cultures were different (English versus Spanish). The scale of migration, over the long term, was huge relative to the sending country, but small relative to the receiving country. This example isn’t so helpful for our purpose because the US is too huge relative to the Puerto Rico for the migration to have had huge effect; however, some parts of the US (such as New York and Florida) have been influenced by Puerto Rican migration.
  • Israel has had open borders of sorts for Jews from around the world. A large number of East European and Russian Jews have migrated to Israel. Joel Newman crunched the numbers in this blog post. Although this is open borders of sorts, the small absolute size of the experiment makes it uninteresting in terms of figuring out how migration works at scale and can lead to rapid economic growth.
  • South Africa’s end of internal apartheid (discussed by Grieve Chelwa here) is also interesting, but again the scale of migration is insufficient to provide a clear sense of how things will proceed under open borders. The South Africa example is more interesting in that it involves a significant policy change in the open borders direction, but the focus of this blog post is more on the economic growth facilitated by mass migration than on the suddenness of the change.

The mix of labor and capital

Economic growth has been classified as intensive growth and extensive growth. Intensive growth involves changes in the mix of inputs and/or changes in the production technologies, i.e., the introduction of new ideas or new methods to produce more from the same inputs. Extensive growth involves an increase in inputs.

Now, to some extent, the change under open borders is extensive: a lot more labor is being added to the world economy. But in another respect, the change is intensive: the ratio of labor to capital shifts drastically worlwide, and even more so in countries that are migrant destinations. For more on this point, see Nathan Smith’s blog post on John Kennan’s paper on open borders. I quote a part of Kennan’s original paper that Nathan quoted; Nathan’s elaboration is worth reading at the link:

These gains are associated with a relatively small reduction in the real wage in developed countries, and even this effect disappears as the capital-labor ratio adjusts over time; indeed if immigration restrictions are relaxed gradually, allowing time for investment in physical capital to keep pace, there is no implied reduction in real wages.

I see two sorts of trajectories that could unfold:

  • The planned trajectory is one where borders are opened gradually and labor regulations are modified to better use the new labor mix. In this case, people have more time to accumulate more capital stock. I would expect that in this case, industry will play a big role in migrant-receiving countries: entrepreneurs and industrialists will set up large factories in anticipation of the huge migrant workforce they can have access to. They will undertake huge construction projects or expand agribusinesses.
  • The unplanned trajectory, where migration barriers are removed quickly with little coordination and planning, would probably see more of a shift to the services sector, which is less capital-intensive and where new people can join quickly.

Indeed, of the examples of China and India, the more planned and controlled case (China) has had more reliance on industry whereas the more chaotic case (India) has had more reliance on services (see more here). Note that in the longer run, I’d expect everything to move in the direction of services, when industry becomes so efficient that adding more people isn’t worthwhile at all (even at zero wages). But we’re far from there yet.

What about growth due to technological progress at the frontier? It’s possible that the progress of the frontier will not be affected much by open borders, but I personally expect that frontier progress will happen somewhat faster under open borders than under the counterfactual. This is the basis of the innovation case and the one world vision of open borders. I do expect that sending countries are likely to experience intensive growth and technological progress due to the circulation of people and ideas, though whether their economies as a whole grow or shrink would depend on how the magnitude of this effect compares with the decline in population. For arguments that open borders impede the progress of the technological frontier, see our page on killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

The creation of new cities

There’s evidence to suggest that migrants who travel long distances tend to move to cities, for a variety of reasons. While living in one’s own village or small town may be preferable for many, living in a small town that one does not have connections with is hard. Cities are more conducive to strangers from faraway lands. They offer a wider range of job opportunities as well as amenities. The existence of a larger population allows for restaurants and supermarket products offering ethnic cuisine that wouldn’t be economically feasible in a smaller town.

It’s likely that there will be a lot of migration to the existing top cities of the world, but these cities have sky-high rents and are unaffordable to many poor migrants who don’t have enough skills to find jobs that could pay those rents. What I expect to see is many new cities crop up. Most likely, these cities will grow from existing small towns, potentially disrupting the lifestyles of residents of those towns. Natives are likely to have a mixed reaction: those who wanted city life but didn’t have the money for the big cities can benefit from the greater urbanization of their small town, and those who didn’t like city life may experience a decline in their quality of life (some of them may migrate to other places in their own country to get away from the overcrowding). Recall also Nathan Smith’s land value windfall argument: the price of new housing of a given quality can remain the same or even decline, even as the price of existing housing can keep rising due to an increase in the demand for living in established cities and towns.

It’s also possible that entire new cities can be created from scratch. One can imagine, for instance, a few companies setting up large factories in an area, and a huge amount of cheap housing for the people working in those factories. Another possible is that new cities will emerge in wasteland that is at the periphery of existing cities, or from suburban or exurban regions of existing cities.

A useful historical model is China, which is undergoing the world’s most rapid and large-scale urbanization. For more, see Wikipedia, the McKinsey Global Institute report, and this presentation for a Stanford University course. In 1976, about 18% of China’s population was urban, and now about 52% is. It is estimated that by 2025, China will add over 350 million more people to its urban population, of which 240 million will be migrants. That 240 million is more than the number of people who indicate the US as their first-choice migration destination. The following are some key features of growth in China:

  • The rate of migration itself has been accelerating and may be plateauing now, though it will eventually start decreasing once rural areas have depopulated. While part of the mechanism here is diaspora dynamics, the more likely explanation is simply the increasing rate at which the economy is restructuring to increase demand for labor in urban areas and decrease it in rural areas.
  • The creation of new cities is concentrated in the middle phase (city creation was most intense around 1990-2005) rather than very early (when migration is still just beginning, existing cities have enough room for the initial migrants, and it’s not clear where more people will want to settle) or very late (when the patterns of migration are already set).
  • New cities are generally created close to existing cities.

Increase in international trade and foreign direct investment

Immigration and trade can be both complements and substitutes, but I expect that, unless tariffs are raised havily, more migration will facilitate more trade. Multinational small businesses run by family members around the world will become more common. Larger businesses will find it easier to set up shop in a greater range of countries. Diaspora will be eager to invest or get their associates in their new countries to invest in ventures in their source countries, so there will be more foreign direct investment. As people become better connected, there will be a reduction in the anti-foreign bias that motivates restrictions on trade and FDI. Another relevant point is that the move towards open borders is likely to be accompanied by a move towards free trade and FDI, because both proceed through the gradual expansion of free trade and free migration zones (such as the European Union).

A somewhat different vision

I’ll quote below Nathan’s detailed questionnaire answer (this is answer #4 in this very long blog post):

Some of the major problems of developed countries today would be solved by open borders. Government debt becomes less burdensome when population and total GDP rise, even if per capita GDP falls. As mentioned above, long-term demographic problems of shrinking and greying populations would be mitigated or eliminated by open borders (this does depend on the composition of immigrants, but given the relative youthfulness of the world population as a whole and the greater propensity of the young to move, the prediction that open borders would help can be made fairly confidently). Almost all homeowners and owners of real estate would enjoy a windfall benefit from rising population as demand and prices rise. This effect would not be offset by losses to renters, or to people unwilling to sell, from higher rents and property taxes. As cities expanded, renters could still live in comparably dense, interesting places, and homeowners who stayed put would get the windfall not in cash but in being through the midst of more economic activity (i.e., more shops, restaurants, entertainment, interesting streets, jobs and business opportunities, etc.– all the amenities of urban living for which people pay high urban rents).

Savers and owners of capital would tend to benefit as well, from an abundance of investment opportunities, but there would be downward pressure on wages. Crudely speaking, “unskilled” workers would see their wages fall, while some “skilled” workers would probably see their wages rise. But then, some of the basic skills Americans take for granted, like speaking native English, cultural fluency, and driving cars, would become “skills” for which premia could be earned. Immigrants would help poorer natives as customers, by creating a mass market for low-price goods, and giving companies a stronger incentive to pursue “frugal innovation.” There might be more business opportunities for entrepreneurially inclined natives even without a lot of education. Overall, it is extremely likely that natives as a whole would benefit, but without deliberate efforts to prevent it via fiscal policy, a substantial minority of natives would be likely to see their living standards fall due to open borders.

I would both advocate and anticipate that policy would do much to protect the least fortunate natives against a fall in living standards due to open borders. Moreover, this would be fiscally feasible, because open borders would greatly expand the tax base. Some natives might find jobs scarce and/or wages very low, yet receive transfer payments from the government which would enable them to live a “middle class,” house-and-car-in-the-suburbs, lifestyle. Others would see their wages fall but find themselves more than compensated by a rise in the price of their home and the value of their stockmarket portfolio– while also, perhaps, enjoying new transfers and/or tax cuts from a government flush with revenues from immigrant taxes. The hardest part of adjustment would be the moral impact of labor falling in value. One tenet of what I call “the macroeconomic social contract”– that anyone who is willing to work should be able to find a job that enables them to earn a decent living standard– would be further undermined.

Also discombobulating for natives would be the emergence of vibrant shantytowns and ethnic districts on an enormous scale. Pre-assimilation would mitigate the problem of absorbing immigrants into mainstream society, though on the other hand the number of immigrants would be larger than in the 19th century both in absolute numbers and as a share of the population. But Americans would hear more languages spoken on the streets, see more holidays celebrated, see a wider variety of religious buildings and of clothing. There would be neighborhoods where native-born US citizens would have the experience, charming to some but frightening to others, of being on American soil yet feeling like they were abroad. European countries, I expect, would face a different problem, namely, that some immigrants would prefer to assimilate to an “Anglobalized” international bourgeoisie, rather than to Dutchness or Norwegianness or Italianness. They would have to cope with large populations of foreigners who seemed content to reside permanently in their countries, getting by with English. Sweden or the Netherlands might see their living standards rise under open borders, even as Swedish and Dutch faced displacement by English as the nation’s first language. (That might happen anyway, but open borders would accelerate it.)

While the native-born citizens of the rich world need not see their living standards fall and most to all would probably see them rise, likely by a lot, under open borders, there would be far more poor people in the rich world. Germans and Danes and Italians and Washingtonians and Californians would have to get used to seeing a lot more deep poverty on the streets, and content themselves with knowing that there was much less poverty in the world because there was a little more at home. The moral underpinnings of the national socialist models of society that prevailed in the 20th century would have to be abandoned. Territorialism as a meta-ethical prejudice would have to be refuted at the level of reason and then wrung out of people’s intuitions.

Selection effects for migrants: some a priori possibilities

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

This post combines many different threads I’ve explored in earlier posts. Back in July 2013, I wrote a post arguing that it’s important to get a handle on both the quantity and the selectivity of migration. Recently, I wrote a series of blog posts laying out a detailed conceptual framework for the empirical analysis of migration (introductory post here, describes and links to other posts). While laying out this conceptual framework, I noted that, under any policy regime other than complete closed borders, there is likely to be both a selection effect and a treatment effect for migrants. Specifically, in part 3, I considered a situation where we assume for simplicity that the people who do not migrate are not affected by the act of migration. In that case, we can concentrate on selection and treatment effects for migrants and ignore the treatment effects on non-migrants. Our goal was to discuss the rank-ordering and quantitative comparison of the following four values (where X is the indicator of interest):

  1. Performance of natives of target country B on indicator X.
  2. Performance of natives of source country A (who would not move under either policy) on indicator X.
  3. Performance of potential migrants on indicator X if they were allowed to migrate (i.e., in the migration scenario).
  4. Performance of potential migrants on indicator X if they were not allowed to migrate (i.e., in the no-migration scenario).
  5. Ability to plan and execute a move.

Note that:

  • The difference between (2) and (4) measures the selectivity of migration relative to the source country.
  • The difference between (1) and (3) measures the selectivity of migrants relative to the target country, or equivalently, to their failure of assimilation (the assimilation may be “upward” or “downward” depending on how the migrants compare with the target country natives).
  • The difference between (3) and (4) refers to the treatment effect of migration on migrants.

The goal of this blog post is to come up with a priori arguments on how migrants might be selected on various parameters. We’re not concentrating on the treatment effect directly, except insofar as beliefs about the treatment effect affect the selection of migrants. In some cases, we cite empirical evidence to support the claim. But the goal is not to make concrete empirical predictions, but to lay out general considerations that would help make concrete predictions for specific migration policy regimes.

Because of the vagueness of our analysis, we don’t distinguish heavily between selectivity of migrants relative to source countries and selectivity relative to target countries. However, our arguments, as stated here, apply a priori far more to selection relative to source countries than to selection relative to target countries. This follows from the nature of the analysis: we’re trying to figure out who, from a given bunch of people in the same environment, would end up moving. Therefore, these are best thought of as arguments about emigrant selectivity (comparing (2) and (4)) than about immigrant selectivity (comparing (1) and (3)). At the end of the blog post, we’ll discuss what we can infer about immigrant selectivity from the information.

Also, for the most part, I restrict attention here to considerations that would be relevant even under open borders. There are some forms of selectivity that arise from fiat: migration policy dictates that migrants must satisfy a set of conditions in order to be allowed in. We discuss these only in passing here, and will return to explicit policy selection in a separate post (more remarks on this at the end of this post). Note that I ignore explicit policies in the post but I certainly consider them quite important. I am not an economic determinist.

Costs of moving

Migrants are moving to a new place. Even under an open borders regime, moving requires nontrivial fixed costs in terms of time, money, and emotional energy. The magnitude of the costs depends on the geographic distance moved, the cost differential (moving to a place with a higher cost of living means one’s savings are less use for covering the initial costs of setup, even if one expects to eventually recoup those costs through higher earnings), as well as the cultural and linguistic distance between the source and destination. Note that all these apply even under open borders. In a regime with migration restrictions, there are additional costs of time, money, and uncertainty in applying for permission to move. Depending on the feasibility of return migration, one may also need to dispose off assets before making the move. Those crossing borders illegally need to incur coyote fees and undertake time-consuming and dangerous journeys to reach their destination.

What attributes does the high cost of moving select for? It’s hard to say, but here are some guesses:

  • Money: People who have more money can afford the costs of moving more easily.
  • Strong future orientation (i.e., lower discount rate): People who think of life a few years ahead are more likely to be willing to migrate than people who engage in hyperbolic discounting.
  • Willingness to break ties: People who are heavily attached to their family and home culture would find the move more difficult, whereas people who define themselves less by their present relationships can move more easily.
  • Adventurousness, openness to experience, and willingness to take risks

Opportunity costs of migration

When people migrate, they leave behind their home, family connections, and a culture that they are more familiar with and may be attached to. What sort of people are willing to leave that behind? Here are some guesses:

  • People who have little to lose by leaving are most likely to do so. This could be because they are at high risk of being victimized by violence, are heavily discriminated against by people where they live, are cultural misfits, or cannot find any use of their job skills where they currently live.
  • People who have skills or assets that cannot be transported easily and can be leveraged most in the homeland are least likely to leave. For instance, people who are good-looking by the standards of their culture may have the best prospects in their homeland (however, if a huge diaspora from the country already exists, they might be able to marry a member of the diaspora settled elsewhere through a family connection or other introduction). People who inherit a big family business that they can continue running, but aren’t particularly entrepreneurial, may just prefer to stay where they are to keep running the business. People with skills in politics have the best shot at politics in their home country, given that voters everywhere are likely to discriminate in favor of people who were born in the country and fit in culturally and linguistically. People who have completed expensive location-specific qualifications (such as in law) may prefer to stay in the home country because they’d need to re-qualify to practice law in a new country.

Note that there’s a contradiction of sorts between the little to lose criterion (which suggests that poor people may be more keen to migrate) and the observation that wealthier people can more easily afford to migrate. We’ll talk more about this later.

Benefits of migration

Migration generates huge benefits for some people, and scant benefits for others. The main benefit of migration from lower-productivity regions to higher-productivity regions is the place premium: one can earn more with the same skills simply by migrating to a new country.

The following attributes predict the benefits of migration:

  • Larger absolute wage gains predict migration. Highly skilled individuals, who command high incomes in general, are likely to have large absolute wage gains.
  • Larger proportional wage gains predict migration. Increasing one’s income from $1000/year to $10,000/year looks a lot more attractive than increasing one’s income from $30,000/year to $40,000/year.
  • Greater knowledge of, affinity for, or ability to learn, the language, customs, and culture of the new place predicts more migration.
  • Greater ideological or political affinity with the place they’re moving to (see Ilya Somin’s blog post on the subject).
  • Presence of diasporas from the source country in the target country can make migration more attractive. This is part of the diaspora dynamics model developed by Paul Collier.
  • Other geographical and health-related considerations could play a role. For instance, I’ve been told that in the 19th/20th century US there was a wave of migrants with lung diseases to the southwest to benefit from the dry air there. This was intranational migration, but presumably there could be international migration for similar reasons under open borders. The selection effects here are unclear, for instance, it may be that emigration of the unhealthy makes it such that the people who stay on in inhospitable climates are unusually healthy and fit.

Migration for one’s children

In my blog post on whether there might be too much or too little migration, I talked about how the costs of migration are borne by the migrant, but the benefits are shared by the descendants. I had noted at the time that, because migrants may not fully take into account the benefits to their descendants (even though they care somewhat about their descendants) this might lead to too little migration.

I want to bring up the same point, but with a focus on selectivity rather than raw quantity. People who strongly care for the future of their children and later descendants (including unborn descendants) are more likely to be willing to migrate. This probably selects for two things:

  • Strong future orientation (we already talked about this in the context of overcoming the costs of migration, but it takes on added importance if one is thinking of one’s children or grandchildren, particularly the unborn ones).
  • Greater love or concern for one’s future family. Note that this is in some tension with the fact that migrants are generally more willing to break ties with their existing families in order to migrate.

I’m planning to do a post on how migration can be considered a sacrifice for future generations, where I’ll explore this in more detail.

Selectivity of migration on income and wealth

The a priori considerations provided above paint a mixed picture of the role that income and wealth play. The following emerge:

  • Higher wealth allows people to fund their move more easily.
  • On the other hand, less wealth means people have less to lose and are more desperate to migrate.
  • Huge wage gains attract more migration. But huge wage gains in absolute terms are linked to higher incomes, whereas huge wage gains in proportional terms are linked to lower incomes.
  • Higher wealth may be correlated with other traits that predict greater or lesser ability to migrate. This is particularly the case for self-acquired wealth, but might also apply for inherited wealth to the extent that parental wealth correlates with parental attributes and via that with the person’s attributes.

As noted above, the nature of the income and wealth pattern may matter more than the amount. People whose income and wealth is heavily tied to their current location are likely to stay, whereas those whose income and wealth are tied to transportable skills or assets are more likely to move to places where their skills and assets can be best used to earn more.

One example of a “wealthy with little to lose” combination is (relatively) wealthy members of minority groups that are forcefully evicted as path of ethnic cleansing, or anticipate that this will happen. This was the case with Indians in Uganda, businessmen who found themselves on the wrong side of the border in the runup to the Partition of India, Tamils in Sri Lanka, and many others. Market-dominant minorities may in general fear hostile political environments and may be eager to leave when populist political parties or opinions are ascendant.

What does empirical evidence suggest about the relation between income/wealth and emigration? This blog post by Michael Clemens reviews the evidence and concludes that for countries below something like $6,000–8,000 GDP per capita (at US prices), countries that get richer have more emigration. The plot of emigration flow in terms of GDP per capita peaks at this income range, as does the plot of emigrant stock in terms of GDP per capita. Clemens writes:

Social scientists have six theories for this “mobility transition”. I review these theories and the evidence for them in the paper. Briefly: 1) Development is usually accompanied by a demographic transition that favors a corresponding mobility transition, 2) development means that more people can afford to emigrate, 3) development means that more people can access the information they need to emigrate, 4) development tends to disrupt economic structures that keep people immobile, 5) development shapes domestic inequality in ways that foster migration, and 6) development in country A means that people in country B are more likely to give visas to migrants from A.

The Zelinksy model of mobility transition is also relevant.

Selectivity of migration on criminality

The following are some considerations:

  1. The strong future orientation needed to migrate suggests that migrants will be less criminal, because crime generally involves short-term benefits and long-term costs, and criminals generally discount the future heavily. In addition to future orientation, the ability to execute the move might also filter for other relevant positive traits that predict lower criminality.
  2. The fact that migrants are likely to have more money (in order to fund their moves) and the fact that richer people commit fewer violent and property crimes, argues in favor of migrants being less criminal.
  3. The fact that migrants often need to cheat and lie in their visa applications in order to be able to migrate, or that they cross borders illegally, might lead to migrants being selected for higher levels of criminality.

In a later post series on crime and open borders, we’ll weigh these considerations against one another. The general bottom line will be that emigrants have substantially lower crime rates than natives of their source countires, and this is attributable in large part to selection.

Selectivity of migration on enterprisingness

People who move have strong future orientation, adventurousness, openness to experience, and willingness to take risks. This suggests that they are more likely to be enterprising in the general sense. In some cases, this translates to being more entrepreneurial (see here for more on existing research). The following are some other considerations:

  • To the extent that regulations on migrants make it easier for them to stay in standard, steady jobs, they are less likely to engage in entrepreneurship. This is a major issue for migration to the US: it’s much easier for high-skilled migrants to get a work visa working at a big company than to start a company. Note that this effect could operate at both a selection and a treatment level: entrepreneurial people may shy away from migrating to a place where it’s not that easy to start a business, and people who’ve already migrated may prefer to continue in an existing company than start a business.
  • To the extent that regulations (or societal discrimination) inhibit work in the formal sector, migrants are more likely to start their own small businesses. For instance, it may be easier for families to start a restaurant and have family members work at it so that younger members can contribute and they can circumvent labor laws. Note that this type of entrepreneurship isn’t the “create a billion-dollar business” type, and has lower value per entrepreneur, but it is still important to society. At the same time, artificial restrictions on formal sector employment may lead to too many family businesses and a more inefficient economy overall because family businesses cannot avail of the economies of scale.
  • The amount of wealth that migrants have affects whether they can afford to experiment with entrepreneurial ventures. As we saw, the relationship between migration and wealth is unclear.

Selectivity of migration on political attitudes

While there are many migrants who leave because of political persecution, this political persecution often has more to do with ethnic identity and religious beliefs than with specific political beliefs. (There is some relation between religious beliefs and political beliefs, but it’s very tenuous). The following are some general remarks:

  • The very fact that migrants left their home country suggests that they are not overly attached to the institutional or policy framework of that country. This doesn’t mean they actively dislike it. This creates a prior against migrants replicating the policies of their home countries. Empirically, there is little evidence of home country policy replication: people from communist countries aren’t noticeably in favor of communism and don’t seem to want to impose communism on other countries. At any rate, they haven’t been successful doing so. On a related note, see Ilya Somin’s blog post on immigration and political freedom.
  • People who have a strong aptitude or interest in politics (in the sense that they want to become political activists or politicians) are likely to stay in their home countries, because it’s easier to make headway in politics as a native.

Remarks about the distinction between selectivity with respect to source and target countries

The arguments above concentrate on what we expect regarding selectivity relative to the migrants’ source countries, because we’re trying to answer the question: of a given set of people in a given environment, who’d be most willing and able to leave? But people in the receiving countries are more interested in comparing immigrants to natives, in order to figure out how immigration affects the overall societal composition.

To what extent can the above arguments make predictions about how immigrants compare with natives? We need to know both how much the countries differ (the (1) versus (2) gap) and how large the treatment effect of migration is (the (3) versus (4) gap).

For instance, let’s say we have a low-productivity poor country A and a high-productivity rich country B. By our general arguments, we think that the people who migrate from A to B are likely to be more enterprising, more future-oriented, and more adventurous than those who stay behind in country A. How do they compare with country B? The conclusion we draw depends on what we think of the relative levels of these traits in the two countries.

One school of thought is that the distribution of traits in the populations of both countries is similar, so that the (conjectured) fact that emigrants do better on these traits than natives also implies that immigrants will do better on these traits. For instance, one might argue that there isn’t any difference between the levels of future orientation in China and Taiwan. Therefore, immigrants from (low-income) China to (high-income) Taiwan, who are selected relative to their source country with respect to future orientation, are probably also selected relative to their target country.

Another school of thought is that the reason country B is richer and has higher productivity is that the people there are more enterprising, more future-oriented, more adventurous, etc. For instance, one might argue that the United States is more entrepeneurial than the United Kingdom, and this accounts for the difference in their per capita levels of income and wealth. In this case, even though emigrants from country A score higher on these traits than natives of country A, it’s unclear how they compare with natives of country B. There are two separate issues to consider to figure this out:

  • How strong is the selection effect of migrants relative to their source countries, in comparison with the difference between source and target countries? Even if the US is more entrepreneurial than the UK, that difference on average might be much smaller than the selection effect for migrating.
  • How much of a treatment effect is there on migrants? The strength of the treatment effect arguably depends on the age of migration. Those who migrate as young children, and do not grow up in an isolated culture, are likely to be exposed to similar cultural influences as the natives of the target country, though they still experience a different home culture and prenatal environments, and are genetically close to country A. Note that though treatment effects are stronger for young people, selection effects may be weaker, because young people are often dragged along by their parents rather than being active participants in the decision to move.

Remarks on differences in selectivity of different migration policy regimes

The extent of selectivity depends heavily on the nature of the migration policy regime. Thus, the level of selection under open borders is likely to be quite different (and in general, much weaker) than the level of selectivity under the status quo.

The majority of the considerations outlined in this post apply to migration even under open borders. The main difference is that rigid legal constraints on whether one can migrate, and the amount of bureaucratic red tape one has to go through to migrate, both reduce under open borders. If we are trying to quantitatively ballpark the level of selectivity, we need to keep in mind its sensitivity to the policy regime. In a future post, I’ll explore ways that governments can (and do) affect the selectivity of migration through explicit migration policy.

A conceptual framework for empirical analysis of migration (part 4: models for migrant performance)

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

This post is part 4 of a series outlining a conceptual framework for the empirical analysis of migration. Read the introductory post to the series here, part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.

Migrant performance as a combination of source and target country performance?

A simple model against which we could compare reality is that migrant performance is a function of the native performance in their source and target countries. In other words, if we knew the performance of source country natives and we knew the performance of target country natives, we would be able to predict how migrants perform.

Qualitatively, here are some possibilities:

  1. Migrant performance falls somewhere in between the performance of their source and target countries. For instance, perhaps the performance of migrants falls midway between the source and target countries. Note in particular that if the source and target countries have identical values for natives, then migrants are also identical to them, suggesting that there is no effect coming from being a migrant per se.
  2. Migrant performance is nearly identical to that of natives in the target country, and is independent of the source country.
  3. Migrant performance is nearly identical to that of natives in the source country, and is independent of the target country.
  4. Migrant performance is determined by performance in the target country, but is not equal to it. For instance, perhaps migrants have incarceration rates that are 0.7 times the incarceration rates of natives in the target country, regardless of their source and target countries.
  5. Migrant performance is determined by performance in the source country, but is not equal to it. For instance, perhaps migrants have fertility rates that are 1.2 times those of their source countries, regardless of where they come from and where they go.

Mathematical digression: a linear combination model

As in part 1, denote by x_{ij} the performance of migrants from country i to country j on indicator X, and denote by x_{ii} and x_{jj} respectively the performance of natives of the countries who stay put. We claim that, to a reasonable approximation, there is a (nice enough) function F, independent of i and j, such that:

x_{ij} = F(x_{ii},x_{ij})

The simplest possible example of such a function is a linear combination. In this model, we have the following, where \alpha and \beta are nonnegative reals:

x_{ij} = \alpha x_{ii} + \beta x_{jj}

We now revisit the five cases above in terms of the linear combination model:

  1. \alpha + \beta = 1, i.e., the performance of migrants is a convex combination of that of natives from the source and target countries, and therefore in particular lies somewhere in between those two values. In that case, we can write x_{ij} = \alpha x_{ii} + (1 - \alpha) x_{jj}. The special case \alpha = 0.5 is the one where migrant performance is midway between the natives of the source and target countries.
  2. \alpha is close to 0 and \beta is close to 1.
  3. \alpha is close to 1 and \beta is close to 0.
  4. \alpha is close to 0 and \beta is positive but not close to 1.
  5. \alpha is positive but not close to 1, and \beta is close to 0.

Linear models are not the only ones possible: one can imagine more complicated functional relationships, including power relationships (which would be linear once you take the logarithm). Linear models are the ones people generally look for when predicting performance, and that’s what linear regressions are generally used for. Anyway, the best type of model to use depends on the type of indicator we have and what we understand about how it’s determined, i.e., we need a phenomenological story first (more on this later in the post).

End mathematical digression

Separating selection and treatment: potential migrant performance and actual migrant performance in terms of source and target country performance

The above discusses the performance of people who actually migrate in terms of their source and target countries. But, building on the discussion in part 2 and (more directly relevant) part 3, we’re also interested in how potential migrants would perform if they weren’t allowed to migrate. This allows us to separate out the selection and treatment effects.

Unlike the case of people who do migrate, it’s not a priori clear why the indicator value in the target country should be a predictor for people who don’t migrate. One argument that it should: the very fact that they are considering migration to the target country, or that a potential migration policy is considering them, suggests potential affinity with the target country. It may happen in some cases that the function doesn’t depend on x_{jj} at all.

Mathematical digression: two linear combinations

To stay similar to the earlier notation (from parts 2 and 3 of the series), we denote the “how migrants would do if they were’t allowed to migrate” quantity as x_{ij}^{n,o}. We are thus interested in understanding the function G such that:

x_{ij}^{n,o} = G(x_{ii},x_{jj})

The simple case is a linear function, i.e., we have:

x_{ij}^{n,o} = \alpha^{n,o}x_{ii} + \beta^{n,o}x_{jj}

We can now make cases based on the values of these numbers. We list some possibilities:

  • Suppose \alpha/\beta < \alpha^{n,o}/\beta^{n,o}. This means that for people who do migrate, their performance is predicted more by the target country than if they were not allowed to migrate.
  • \beta^{n,o} = 0 suggests that the performance of potential migrants, if they stay in their source country, is determined completely by their source country. In the case \alpha^{n,o} = 1, the potential migrants are indistinguishable on the indicator from others in their source country. In other cases, migrants differ from others in their source country, but by a constant factor.
  • \alpha = 0 suggests that the performance of people who actually migrate is determined completely by their target country. In the case \beta = 1, the migrants become indistinguishable from natives of the target country. In other cases, they differ by a constant factor.
  • If \alpha < \alpha^{n,o} and \beta < \beta^{n,o}, that implies that migrants score lower on the indicator if they’re allowed to migrate than if they’re not, regardless of how the source and target country compare on the indicator. The opposite conclusion holds if \alpha > \alpha^{n,o} and \beta > \beta^{n,o}.

End mathematical digression

Phenomenological stories

The above were purely mathematical models of migrant performance, and didn’t provide a story as to why a particular functional expression works, of why particular parameter values are right. But what’s going on? Why might we expect a functional relationship, linear or otherwise, between migrant performance and the performance of natives in the source and target countries?

Some possible stories:

  1. Migration policy explicitly selects for people based on how they fare relative to the native population of the recipient country, so that the similarity across countries between the relative performance between natives and migrants is largely because most countries’ migration policies revolve around similar explicit objectives in terms of how the migrants should compare with the natives.
  2. Immigrants self-select for countries where their performance will be at a particular level relative to natives.
  3. People self-select to emigrate if their performance relative to their source country is at a particular level relative to the natives of that source country.
  4. People’s intrinsic characteristics (that they transport with themselves when they migrate) only determine their performance relative to where they live, rather than in absolute terms. For instance, a person’s inclination to criminality may determine how much crime the person commits relative to natives of the region. Similarly, a person’s skill level may determine how much money the person can earn relative to natives of whatever country he or she is in, rather than in absolute terms.

Mathematical digression: translating the phenomenology to the linear combination model

(1) and (2) explain the parameters \beta^{n,o} and \beta^n. (3) explains the parameters \alpha^{n,o} and \alpha^n. In the extreme case that (4) holds completely, \alpha^{n,o} = \beta^n and \beta^{n,o} = \alpha^n = 0.

End mathematical digression

A conceptual framework for empirical analysis of migration (part 3: simplified model assuming no changes to non-migrants)

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

This post is part 3 of a series outlining a conceptual framework for the empirical analysis of migration. Read the introductory post to the series here, part 1 here, and part 2 here.

The model in part 2 for comparative statics was extremely complicated. The problem was that there were too many moving parts: there was a selection effect arising from differences in grouping, and there was a treatment effect arising from changes in migration patterns affecting both the marginal migrants and others. This part of the series considers a simpler model. Our first pass at exposition will lay out a very simple toy case, and we’ll then discuss variants and possible ways of ramping up the complexity.

We’ll keep focus on two countries: country A (a source country for migrants) and country B (a target country for migrants). We’ll assume there are no reverse migration flows, and no other countries to compete as sources and targets for migrants. We are considering a migration policy that would allow a subpopulation of country A to migrate. We have three relevant subpopulations:

  • A subpopulation of the population of country A that comprises the would-be migrants under the migration policy of interest. We’ll call these people the potential migrants.
  • The remaining population of country A, that would not migrate with or without the migration policy of interest.
  • The resident population of country B.

We are thus comparing the no-migration scenario with the scenario where an identified subpopulation of country A is allowed to migrate to country B, and takes advantage of the opportunity.

We are interested in providing a rank-ordering and quantitative comparison for the following four quantities:

  1. Performance of natives of target country B on indicator X.
  2. Performance of natives of source country A (who would not move under either policy) on indicator X.
  3. Performance of potential migrants on indicator X if they were allowed to migrate (i.e., in the migration scenario).
  4. Performance of potential migrants on indicator X if they were not allowed to migrate (i.e., in the no-migration scenario).

Note that:

  • The difference between (2) and (4) measures the selectivity of migration relative to the source country. In other words, it measures emigrant selectivity.
  • The difference between (1) and (3) measures the selectivity of migrants relative to the target country, or equivalently, to their failure of assimilation (the assimilation may be “upward” or “downward” depending on how the migrants compare with the target country natives). In other words, it measures immigrant selectivity.
  • The difference between (3) and (4) refers to the treatment effect of migration on migrants. In other words, it measures the premium of migrating.

Aspects of the rank ordering that matter from various normative perspectives

The following hold prima facie (here, weighted averages refer to averages weighted by population size):

  • The individualist universalist cares mainly about the comparison between (3) and (4), because that’s the main source of change to individuals.
  • The universalistically inclined analytical nationalist, who cares about how national averages change rather than how individuals do, cares about how (1) compares with the weighted average of (1) and (3) and how the weighted average of (2) and (4) compares with (2). Due to compositional effects, this is not always in agreement with the individualist universalist perspective. In particular, compositional effect paradoxes arise under rank orderings (1) > (3) > (4) > (2) and the reverse ordering (2) > (4) > (3) > (1). In words, (1) > (3) > (4) > (2) means that the migrant subpopulation is better at the indicator than the source country, that migration improves it further, but that even after that improvement, they still fall short of the natives of the target country.
  • A person driven by local inequality aversion cares about how the gap between (1) and (3) compares with the gap between (2) and (4) (and also the magnitude of migration relative to source and target country populations).
  • Assuming that the performance of people on indicator X affects the well-being of others in the territory (this is true for indicators such as crime), the citizenists and territorialists for country B care about how (3) compares with (1).
  • Assuming that the performance of people on indicator X affects the well-being of others in the territory (this is true for indicators such as crime), the citizenists and territorialists for country A care about how (4) compares with (2).

Recall that there are some rare indicators (such as resource use) where we care about the total rather than the average. For instance, in a country where water is scarce, we may care about total water use rather than per capita water use. In this case, we also need to know the relevant population sizes, and some of the prima facie claims above do not apply.

Mathematical digression: matrix description

Suppose country 1 is country A and country 2 is country B. Following the notation for part 2, our matrix for indicator X under the no-migration scenario, which we call the old scenario, is:

\begin{pmatrix} x_{11}^o & \text{undefined} \\ \text{undefined} & x_{22}^o \\\end{pmatrix}

Our matrix for indicator X under the migration scenario, which we call the new scenario, is:

\begin{pmatrix} x_{11}^n & x_{12}^n \\ \text{undefined} & x_{22}^n \\\end{pmatrix}

Note that we do have x_{22}^n = x_{22}^o, because the set of people is the same in both cases and the individual indicator values are the same for each of them. On the other hand, we do not necessarily have x_{11}^n = x_{11}^o. This is because even though all the individuals who stay put in country A under both scenarios fare the same under both scenarios, the no-migration scenario also sees the potential migrants stay put, thereby affecting the average value of the indicator (the compositional selection effect).

What we’re really interested in is the matrix:

\begin{pmatrix} x_{11}^{n,o} & x_{12}^{n,o} \\ \text{undefined} &  x_{22}^{n,o} \\\end{pmatrix}

This uses the groupings from the migration scenario (i.e., it separates the source country population into those who stay put and those who migrate in the migration scenario) but using indicator values from the no-migration scenario. We want to compare this with the migration scenario matrix:

\begin{pmatrix} x_{11}^n & x_{12}^n \\ \text{undefined} & x_{22}^n \\\end{pmatrix}

Our conditions now tell us that x_{11}^{n,o} = x_{11}^n and x_{22}^{n,o} = x_{22}^n = x_{22}^o. Therefore, the two matrices above coincide except in the top right entry. In other words, we’re looking at these two matrices:

\begin{pmatrix} x_{11}^n & x_{12}^{n,o} \\ \text{undefined} & x_{22}^n \\\end{pmatrix}, \qquad \begin{pmatrix} x_{11}^n & x_{12}^n \\ \text{undefined} & x_{22}^n \\\end{pmatrix}

We can now see the four numbers that we were attempting to rank-order and compare quantitatively: x_{11}^n (this is (2) in the list), x_{12}^{n,o} (this is (4) in the list), x_{12}^n (this is (3) in the list), and x_{22}^n (this is (1) in the list).

Adaptation to migration liberalization and marginal migration

For simplicity, the above analysis considers the no-migration scenario as one extreme. It can be adapted to a comparison of liberalizing an existing migration policy towards a subpopulation. We would then be interested in the question of marginal migrants: the additional people who can migrate under liberalization. However, there are complications introduced by the distinction between marginal and average: the average performance for the existing set of migrants who migrate under the less liberalized policy may differ from that of the performance for set of migrants who migrate under the more liberalized policy. The difference could be a difference in composition (selection effect) or a difference in treatment.

The place premium: an example

The place premium measures the gap (in proportional terms) between (3) and (4), i.e., the treatment effect of migration on migrants. It is one of the few such measures that people have attempted to compute for a wide range of source and target countries; see for instance this working paper by Clemens, Montenegro, and Pritchett that has computed place premium tables on Page 11.

What open borders advocates and scholars of migration and development can teach each other

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

I’ve recently been reading the scholarly literature on migration and development. In this blog post, I attempt to summarize my understanding of important ways in which researchers in the area are similar to and important ways that they differ from open borders advocates. Then, I’ll discuss what I think both sides can learn from each other.

For examples of the sort of things I’ve been reading, consider this 2007 report for the Department for International Development in the UK, this article on labor migration in India, the World Bank People Move blog, and the websites of KNOMAD and Migrating out of Poverty.

Who are the migration and development scholars who’ve explicitly endorsed radically freer migration?

Some scholars of migration and development are quite sympathetic to the logic of open borders, want the world to move as far as possible in that direction, and explicitly say so. One example is Michael Clemens. While he has expressed some terminological disagreement with “open borders” as a term, he accepts the basic moral logic, he’s all for the main aspects of open borders, and he supports moving as far in that direction as is feasible. Clemens is a co-creator of the place premium and income per natural concepts. He has raised the status in the economic development community of the idea that development is about people, not places. And he wrote the paper that prompted Bryan Caplan to come up with the double world GDP slogan. Note that Clemens isn’t famous solely as a migration researcher; he has also been at the forefront of critiquing some aspects of the Millennium Villages Project.

Another migration scholar who’s expressed considerable sympathy for the open borders position is Lant Pritchett. Pritchett co-authored the place premium paper with Clemens, and has also written a book advocating for freer migration. Pritchett is a renowned development economist who has done considerable work on many areas unrelated to migration, including the return to schooling worldwide and the relation between desired and actual fertility and the importance of contraception to fertility reduction.

How has the community of development scholars changed its views on migration?

I haven’t been able to get a very clear picture, but it seems to me that the international development community as a whole used to be more hostile to migration as a poverty reduction strategy, but they are now more open to it. The following are some general observations:

  • Brain drain was considered a major argument against migration among development scholars, but the balance of the evidence in recent years has moved scholars to the view that the problem is not severe, with many scholars believing that brain circulation and idea flows can be beneficial on net.
  • Historically, the dominant view in the international development community has been similar to the view of many mainstream moderate pro-immigration people that John Lee described here, namely, that migration is not natural, that barriers to it are natural, and that removing migration barriers creates an artificial subsidy encouraging people to move. They’ve also taken the view that suggesting migration as a solution to poverty is essentially a cop-out that accepts defeat in tackling the harder problem of how to get countries to develop. These views again seem to be declining somewhat. It’s more common now for development scholars to consider migration a legitimate part of a strategy that can facilitate improvements in the living conditions of people who migrate and people who stay behind.
  • Dilip Ratha’s work on remittances (see also this New York Times article) got people more interested in the idea that migration can benefit the people who are left behind. Robert Guest’s book on the importance of diasporas encapsulates the growing recognition among migration scholars of how migration can benefit people everywhere, not just those who migrate.

Some other people weighed in on the topic on the comments on this post on the Open Borders Action Group on Facebook.

How do the mainstream migration and development scholars differ from open borders advocates in their views and in their rhetorical emphasis?

In general, mainstream scholars of migration and development are quite similar to the mainstream moderate pro-immigration people John Lee described. In some respects, however, the scholars of migration and development come closer to the open borders position. In particular, compared to mainstream pro-immigration people, and perhaps even compared to some open borders advocates, they differ in these respects:

  • They have a clearer understanding of what poverty and wealth mean, and how rich and poor people are in different parts of the world. And they confront these facts on a regular basis in their work, so it’s harder for them to simply brush these under the carpet. Even somebody like Paul Collier, who wrote the book Exodus that took a lukewarm stance to migration, showed clear understanding and concern about just how big the differences in living standards are.
  • Even if they don’t use the term, they understand the concept of the place premium — the idea that an individual can improve his or her earnings just by crossing borders, with no change in skills, and that much of this improvement is attributable to differences in the value of what the person produces rather than a result of labor legislation or government redistribution.
  • They understand that governments often pander to nativist, citizenist, and territorialist sentiments to an extent that goes beyond what they think is morally appropriate, and also that the sentiments they are pandering to often rely on misguided economic logic. They themselves personally lean more universalist, sometimes in the additive utilitarian sense, sometimes in the egalitarian sense.
  • Even if they’re not themselves libertarians, the libertarian argument in favor of the right to migrate is something that stands out to them more than it does to moderate pro-immigration folks who haven’t thought much about international development. To them, it’s not just an armchair hypothetical. They are also aware of arguments based on human capabilities, even if they haven’t encountered the explicit framework.

On the other hand, they still differ from us “tear down the borders” folks:

  • Their more laser-like focus on poverty alleviation can make them seem somewhat lacking in moral qualms as they discuss issues of optimal migration policy, even when they favor freer migration.
  • Even when they do favor dismantling border controls or other regulations, they’ll frame it in language that suggests more government management of migration. For instance, a concrete recommendation like “get rid of Know Your Customer regulations that forbid migrants from opening bank accounts” would be framed as “facilitate migrant access to banking through reform in Know Your Customer regulations.”
  • Many of their recommendations are focused on strengthening existing patterns of migration that already exist, rather than on loosening border controls that could facilitate new patterns of migration. This may be partly because they’re too anchored to the status quo to consider radical changes. More defensibly, diaspora dynamics suggests that it’s easier to facilitate the expansion of existing migration patterns than create new ones.
  • Related to the preceding, migration and development scholars are a lot more focused on intranational migration as well as international migration among low-income countries and between low-income and middle-income countries.
  • For policy questions, migration and development scholars concentrate their energies on thinking about how to tweak existing systems rather than coming up with new systems from scratch (such as DRITI).
  • Migration and development scholars are very focused on other aspects of the welfare of migrants that are not directly related to open borders. These include migrant childrens’ access to schools, migrants’ access to government-provided and private sector services, and facilitation of communication between migrants and their relatives back home.

What can open borders advocates learn from migration scholars?

Here are some things I believe open borders advocates should learn from migration scholars:

  • More attention to the actual experiences of poor people who migrate: Open borders isn’t purely about poor people, and in particular I believe that there will be a strong imperative for open borders even in a world without poverty. But certainly, freer migration should be an important part of the toolkit to end poverty, and the current state of world poverty considerably raises the importance of the issue. To the extent that open borders advocates are interested in the issue not just theoretically but at a practical level, a closer empirical look at how poor people fare under migration is warranted. Migration and development scholars spend a large part of their life thinking about poverty, and we can be inspired to spend at least a few hours on it.
  • More focus on intranational migration, migration between low-income countries, and migration from low-income to middle-income countries: Open borders advocacy can sometimes seem like too much speculation about something that doesn’t exist at all. And to an extent, that’s right: open borders across a huge place premium (of 5X or more) hasn’t happened. But it might be worth looking at the huge amount of migration that already exists and understanding its implications. While still arguing morally for open borders worldwide, we can focus more on understanding what already exists and making changes to it. Often, there is little reliable data and little interest among readers in such matters (such as Nepal and India, or North Korean refugees), simply because blog readers are highly likely to be in First World countries and are more aware of First World issues. But I think that pushing more in the direction of better understanding migration as it’s actually happening is worthwhile, even if it doesn’t make us popular. We can be inspired here by migration scholars, who have worked very hard to compile data and collect anecdotes to further the world’s understanding of migration.

What can migration scholars learn from open borders advocates?

I think migration scholars can also take a few lessons from open borders advocates:

  • The moral case for free migration matters. It’s the foundation of everything else. Make the case boldly wherever possible.
  • It helps to consider the radical proposal that is open borders, and ask just how far one can get there. Bold policy changes can be useful to consider, even if they aren’t possible to directly implement. It’s not good to stay anchored to the present all the time.
  • When advocating for reductions in government restrictions on migration, it may make sense to not obfuscate this with the “more government management of migration” language. Further, in cases where the optimal policy comes very close to complete deregulation, consider advocating complete principled deregulation instead of trying to target the specific optimal policy. Complete principled deregulation, even if not optimal on paper, leaves less room for governments to re-institute the counterproductive controls seen in current policy.

A conceptual framework for empirical analysis of migration (part 2: comparative statics, multiple matrices)

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

This post is part 2 of a series outlining a conceptual framework for the empirical analysis of migration. Read the introductory post to the series here and part 1 here.

The questions discussed in this post are often difficult or impossible to resolve empirically, because one or more of the scenarios being compared is counterfactual. Techniques used include comparison of different time periods or different regimes. Regression analysis may be used to isolate the relevant factors. Conclusions drawn here are suspect even if the data collected is impeccable, because the theoretical model used for analysis may be invalid.

The simplest form of comparison is to consider the indicator values for various (source country, target country) pairs under the different possible migration policy regimes, and compare corresponding indicator values between the two regimes. For instance, how do French natives who stay in France under the pre-EU migration policy regime compare with French natives who stay in France under the EU migration policy regime?

Mathematical digression: multiple matrices

The earlier static framework considered a single matrix that encapsulated information on the performance of migrants as well as people who stay put for various source and target countries. Now, we’re trying to compare different scenarios. Now, each scenario has its own matrix. Our goal then is to compare the entry in one matrix with the corresponding entry in another matrix. In some cases, what we’re interested in is not a single entry, but a weighted average, or ratio, or difference, of entries. We then compute and compare that expression for the different countries.

For instance, consider the three-country scenario with France, Germany and the UK again (from part 1). Now, consider two policy regimes: the pre-EU regime and the EU regime. These are qualitatively different regimes: in the former, migration between the countries is not completely free, so there are stronger selection effects for migrants. Therefore, the matrices for the two regimes are probably different.

Suppose the matrix with the pre-EU regime is as follows (the superscript {}^o is not an exponent, but indicates that the matrix refers to indicator values under the old policy regime):

\begin{pmatrix} x^o_{11} & x^o_{12} & x^o_{13} \\ x^o_{21} & x^o_{22} & x^o_{23} \\ x^o_{31} & x^o_{32} & x^o_{33} \\\end{pmatrix}

and the matrix with the EU regime is as follows (the superscript {}^n is not an exponent, but indicates that the matrix refers to indicator values under the new policy regime):

\begin{pmatrix} x^n_{11} & x^n_{12} & x^n_{13} \\ x^n_{21} & x^n_{22} & x^n_{23} \\ x^n_{31} & x^n_{32} & x^n_{33} \\\end{pmatrix}

We can then compare the entries. For instance:

  • The comparison of x^o_{11} and x^n_{11} reveals how the French who stay in France under the pre-EU regime compare with the French who stay in France under the EU regime.
  • The comparison of x^o_{12} and x^n_{12} reveals how the people from France and in Germany under the pre-EU regime compare with the people from France and in Germany under the EU regime.
  • The comparison of x^o_{13} and x^n_{13} reveals how the people from France and in the UK under the pre-EU regime compare with the people from France and and in Germany under the EU regime.

End mathematical digression

Note that any such comparison between different policy regimes has two components:

  • Selection effect: The set of people in each of the categories is different under the two regimes. In particular, people who might not have been able to migrate under the pre-EU regime can migrate under the EU regime. Thus, even if the indicator value is the same between the two regimes for every individual (i.e., the changes to migration patterns don’t actually affect how any individual performs on the indicator), the difference in the labels means a different matrix for the two regimes.
  • Treatment effect: The marginal migrants under the new policy experience changes relative to what they would have if they had stayed put, and they may also influence the indicator values for the people who stay put, or the others who would have migrated under the old regime as well.

Separating the selection and treatment effects requires us to consider separate matrices of indicator values using groupings from one regime, but measurements from the other regime. For instance, we ask: how do the people who would have stayed in France under the EU migration policy regime fare under the non-EU migration policy regime? We then compare these matrices to the matrices where the grouping and performance are measured for the same regime.

Mathematical digression: the matrices that use grouping and indicator values from different regimes

We continue with our three-country representation: country 1 (France), country 2 (Germany) and country 3 (the UK). Recall that the superscript {}^o was used for the old policy regime (the pre-EU regime) and the superscript {}^n was used for the new policy regime. We now consider some new matrices that can be constructed in principle but are hard to measure because they require a mix of information about two policy regimes.

Consider the matrix that uses grouping from the EU regime but indicator values from the pre-EU regime, denoted with superscript {}^{n,o}.

\begin{pmatrix} x^{n,o}_{11} & x^{n,o}_{12} & x^{n,o}_{13} \\ x^{n,o}_{21} & x^{n,o}_{22} & x^{n,o}_{23} \\ x^{n,o}_{31} & x^{n,o}_{32} & x^{n,o}_{33} \\\end{pmatrix}

The matrix is interpreted as follows: it represents the average values of the indicators under the pre-EU regime but using the groupings under the EU regime. For instance, the entry x^{n,o}_{12} measures how the people who would migrate from France to Germany under the EU regime fare under the pre-EU regime. We can similarly consider another matrix with entries denoted x^{o,n} that uses the groupings from the pre-EU regime but the indicator values from the EU regime. Entry comparisons between the four matrices reveal different types of information. The various combinations are discussed below:

  • A direct comparison of x^o and x^n is comparing different regimes, using the grouping for each regime when considering it. This incorporates both a compositional selection effect arising from the difference in grouping and the treatment effect arising from a different set of people being able to migrate, affecting themselves and others.
  • The comparison of x^n and x^{n,o} isolates for the treatment effect using the grouping of the new regime.
  • The comparison of x^n and x^{o,n} isolates for the selection effect using the grouping of the new regime.
  • The comparison of x^o and x^{o,n} isolates for the treatment effect using the grouping of the old regime.
  • The comparison of x^o and x^{n,o} isolates for the selection effect using the grouping of the old regime.

End mathematical digression

Changes in weights

The number of migrants, as well as the number of non-migrants, differs under the various policy regimes. Therefore, the weights needed to take a weighted average (when computing average indicators — “per natural” for people born in a country or “per resident” for people living in a country) differ between the policy regimes.

Mathematical digression

The choice of weights depends on the grouping, so x^n and x^{n,o} use the same weights as each other, whereas x^o and x^{o,n} use the same weights as each other, but different from the other two.

End mathematical digression

Same set of people in the two regimes?

One of the points we’ve elided somewhat in our framing above is that we’re assuming that the set of people is the same in both regimes, and in fact, that the set of naturals for each country (i.e., the set of people with that source country) is the same in both regimes. What differs between the regimes is what country they land up in (the compositional selection effect) and how this affects the value of the indicator for them (the treatment effect).

But the assumption that the set of people itself is the same doesn’t actually hold water. People have children, and their decision of whether or not to migrate affects the identity and affiliation of the children. It might also affect how many children they have. Similarly, people may die, and migration policies may affect how long people live. We’re abstracting away from these issues for now, but will return to them in parts 5 and 6, before we start applying the framework in earnest to real-world migration questions.

Different normative perspectives

The individualist utilitarian universalist perspective is concerned with the weighted average of the indicator over the whole matrix for the two different policy regimes.

Once we leave the utilitarian universalist perspective, however, we have a bewildering array of normative choices. There are three big dimensions to the normative choices:

  1. The dimension of what particular indicator or weighted combination of indicators we care about. One may care about:
    • A particular (source country, target country) combination.
    • All naturals of a country (all people with that source country, including those who stay and those who leave).
    • All residents of a country (all people with that target country, including natives and immigrants).
    • All immigrants to a country.
    • All emigrants from a country.
  2. The method used for grouping:
    • We could use, for each regime, the grouping of that regime. For instance, we could compare the performance on indicator X of the French who stay in France under the EU regime, with the performance on indicator X of the French who stay in France under the pre-EU regime. This is problematic because selection effects can lead to the compositional effects paradoxes where all individuals are better off but some indicators still get worse due to the change in grouping. Territorialism has this flavor in practice, though it could in principle be of the other type below.
    • We could privilege a particular regime to determine the grouping. For instance, we could say “I’m interested in maximizing the welfare of the set of people who would be French natives staying in France under the pre-EU regime, regardless of where they go under the EU regime.” Citizenism, though it isn’t exactly in this framework (since it favors citizenship and not necessarily birthplace) has this flavor: citizenists explicitly reject changing the idea of “who are we” in the face of new migration policy when deciding ex ante what policy regime is favorable.
  3. Whether one looks at only a single instance, or at all. For instance, we could imagine somebody who cares about French natives only, or German natives only, versus somebody who cares about “natives” as a reference class, or “whoever gets to be resident in a country” as what we’re trying to improve, for each country. This could well be universalist (if the set of things we care about encompass everybody) and yet be different from individualistic utilitarian universalism, because we care about averages for particular groupings rather than about individuals qua individuals. While these different forms of universalism often agree, they don’t always do, thanks to compositional effects paradoxes.

First-order and second-order effects

The most direct treatment effect of migration is on migrants: they move to a new place, and experience a new environment. Assuming that migrants are a relatively small share relative to both their source and target countries, this effect will dominate at a per capita level, though possibly not at the aggregate (total) level.

An indirect, second-order, treatment effect is on the natives of the sending countries and receiving countries. Migrants leave the sending countries, thereby changing the nature of the society in these countries. They enter the receiving countries. and similarly change the societies there. Effects here are likely to be small on a per capita basis, but comparable in the aggregate to the effects on migrants themselves.

Note also that individual migrants affect other migrants, because a lot of migrants interact with fellow migrants to a greater extent than would be predicted by their proportion in the population. There is some terminological ambiguity on whether to consider this a first-order or a second-order effect. On the one hand, it’s an effect directly experienced by “migrants” as a class. On the other hand, it is an effect that people’s migration has on other migrants. This idea is closely related to diaspora dynamics, and we’ll get to it somewhere in parts 5 and 6.

Crossed dependencies: how the migration policy regime of one country affects migration between other pairs of countries

When we talk of a particular policy regime or scenario, we’re talking of a particular combination of immigration and emigration policy regimes for all countries. For any given country, its own migration policy is the most relevant when considering migration flows to and from that country. But the migration policies of other countries matter too:

  • The immigration policies of countries that may receive migrants from the country, and the emigration policies of the countries that may send migrants to the country, matter.
  • The immigration policies of countries that may “compete” with the given country for migrants also matter. Similarly, the emigration policies of countries that may compete with the country for sending migrants to a third country also matter.

To complicate matters even further, migration policies of countries are often linked with each other based on reciprocity and multilateral agreements (the EU is one example; temporary visa programs around the world are another).

Policies not directly related to migration affect migration

In a sense, all policies are relevant to migration, because they affect the economic, social, and cultural indicators of the country, and these in turn affect how attractive a destination it is for potential migrants. Some policies more directly affect migrants. For instance, high minimum wage laws might deter migration from places where workers are unlikely to have sufficient skills to get jobs that command the high minimum wage.

A conceptual framework for empirical analysis of migration (part 1: direct empirical measurement)

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

This post is part 1 of a series outlining a conceptual framework for the empirical analysis of migration. Read the introductory post to the series here. This post focuses on a particular form of comparison that can be carried out through direct empirical measurement. The questions directly answered this way aren’t the ones we are usually most interested in. But at least these are questions for which we can obtain precise answers in principle. That’s a start.

Questions about how different groups of people compare for a given regime at a given point in time (or over an interval of time) can be answered by direct empirical measurement, at least for existing regimes. They cannot be directly answered for hypothetical regimes. But the fact that they can be answered at all differentiates them from other, more speculative, questions.

(Source country, target country) pairs as the basis of aggregation

The conceptual model we use identifies two attributes of a person: the person’s source country (also known as the sending country, and defined as the country that person was born in) and the person’s target country (also known as the receiving country or recipient country, and defined as the country the person now lives in). For non-migrants, the source and target country coincide. For migrants, the source and target country differ. For every individual, therefore, we can write down a (source country, target country) pair. For instance, somebody born in Mexico who stays in Mexico gets the pair (Mexico,Mexico). Somebody born in Nepal who moves to India gets the pair (Nepal,India). (This is obviously a very crude simplified model, because some people migrate temporarily, some migrate to one country and then to another, etc. But it’s good enough to get us started).

We’re interested in the performance on indicator X both for people who stay put in their countries, and for people with particular (source country, target country) combinations. For instance, we may be interested in asking: how does the (Nepal, India) combination fare on indicator X? Explicitly, that’s asking: how do people who are from Nepal and living in India perform on indicator X?

Mathematical digression: using a matrix representation to store the information

We can use a matrix representation where the rows correspond to source countries and the columns correspond to target countries (both rows and columns should be the same list of countries in the same order for the observations below to hold). The entry in a given cell provides information on indicator X about the collection of people whose source country is the row country and whose target country is the column country.

Let’s explicitly consider the case of three countries. Let’s say country 1 is France, country 2 is Germany, and country 3 is the United Kingdom. The indicator X values for these source and target countries can be codified via a matrix:

\begin{pmatrix} x_{11} & x_{12} & x_{13} \\ x_{21} & x_{22} & x_{23} \\ x_{31} & x_{32} & x_{33} \\\end{pmatrix}

The nine entries are interpreted as follows:

  • x_{11} is the performance on indicator X of the people in country 1 (France) who stay in France.
  • x_{12} is the performance on indicator X of the people who migrate from country 1 (France) to country 2 (Germany).
  • x_{13} is the performance on indicator X of the people who migrate from country 1 (France) to country 3 (the UK).
  • x_{21} is the performance on indicator X of the people who migrate from country 2 (Germany) to country 1 (France).
  • x_{22} is the performance on indicator X of the people in country 2 (Germany) who stay in Germany.
  • x_{23} is the performance on indicator X of the people who migrate from country 2 (Germany) to country 3 (the UK).
  • x_{31} is the performance on indicator X of the people who migrate from country 3 (the UK) to country 1 (France).
  • x_{32} is the performance on indicator X of the people who migrate from country 3 (the UK) to country 2 (Germany).
  • x_{33} is the performance on indicator X of the people in country 3 (the UK) who stay in the UK.

Note that the entries on the main diagonal (the one from top left to bottom left), namely x_{11}, x_{22}, and x_{33}, correspond to the non-migrants, i.e., the people who stay put in their country. The off-diagonal entries, i.e., the entries x_{ij}, i \ne j, correspond to migrants. In this case, there are six such entries: x_{12}, x_{13}, x_{21}, x_{23}, x_{31}, x_{32}.

The three countries in the example above weren’t ordered in any particular way, so there is no significance of an entry being above or below the diagonal. If the countries had been ordered based on some criterion (such as GDP (PPP) per capita), then the entries above and below the diagonal would reflect different types of migration based on whether the sending or receiving country had higher GDP (PPP) per capita.

The simplified example here considers migration between three countries. However, if we want to study migration worldwide, we’d need to include all countries. If there are 200 countries, then we’d have a 200 \times 200 matrix, with a total of 40,000 entries. In general, if there are n countries, the matrix is a n \times n matrix with a total of n^2 entries, of which there are n diagonal entries (corresponding to the people who stay put in their respective countries) and n^2 - n = n(n-1) off-diagonal entries (corresponding to people who migrate from one country to another). Half of them (n(n - 1)/2) are above the diagonal. and the other half are below the diagonal, but the above/below distinction is of importance only if the countries are ordered according to some criterion.

Now, there may be cases where migration between two countries is so quantitatively small, or even actually zero, that it’s not meaningful to compute that particular matrix entry. For instance, I think there is zero migration from North Korea to Somalia. So, some entries of the matrix are not defined. This means that we need to be careful if we intend to subject the matrix to techniques of linear algebra. However, we’re using the matrix only to store information, and we don’t perform matrix operations.

End mathematical digression

Totals versus averages

In some cases, we care about the per capita level of an indicator. This is usually the case for indicators such as GDP per capita, crime, or unemployment. In cases where fixed resources are being used up, however, we may care more about the total use. An example may be water use in a country that has a fairly limited water supply. If we’re concerned about total use, then in addition to knowing the per capita value on indicator X for (source country, target country) pairs, we also need to know the size of the population.

The relative size of different populations may matter even if we are concerned only about averages, because we need relative sizes to compute weighted averages.

Weighted averages for residents, naturals, immigrants, and emigrants

In some cases, we are interested not in a particular (source country, target country) combination, but in combining information for all people in a particular source or target country. The following are four typical weighted averages we are interested in. If we are looking at a total of n countries, then there are n weighted averages of each type (one for each country) and therefore a total of 4n weighted averages to consider.

  • The weighted average for all residents of a country, including natives of the country who stay put and migrants from other countries to that country.
  • The weighted average for all naturals of a country, including natives of that country who stay put and people from that country who migrate to other countries.
  • The weighted average for all immigrants to a country, i.e., people who have that as their target country but are from other source countries.
  • The weighted average for all emigrants from a country, i.e., people who have that as their source country but now live in other countries.

Typical forms of comparison

After figuring out how various (source country, target country) combinations, or weighted averages thereof, fare, we can then ask how they compare with one another. Here are some typical questions that can be asked. We’ll use the letter A to denote a hypothetical source country and the letter B to denote a hypothetical target country, but you can replace these with concrete instances (such as France and the United Kingdom):

  1. How do migrants from country A to country B compare with natives of country B (the target country) on indicator X?
  2. How do migrants from country A to country B compare with natives of country A (the source country) on indicator X?
  3. How do migrants to country B compare with resident natives of that country on X?
  4. How do migrants from country A compare with resident natives of that country on X?
  5. How do migrants from country A compare with the natives of the countries they go to on X (combined analysis for all countries they go to)?
  6. How do migrants to country B compare with the natives of their source countries on X (combined analysis for all source countries)?
  7. How do migrants in general compare with non-migrants in general on X?
  8. How do natives of a country receiving migrants compare with natives of a country sending migrants on X? One advantage of this question is that it can be asked without collecting separate statistics on migrants, and can also be asked prior to implementation of migration policies, although the answer might change after implementation of the migration policies.

Mathematical digression: interpretation of the questions in matrix terms

Here is how each of the questions would look like in terms of the matrix representation. For illustrative purposes, we will continue to draw on the three-country setup above with country 1 as France, country 2 as Germany, and country 3 as the United Kingdom.

  1. Compare a matrix entry with the diagonal entry in its column. If we’re interested in studying migration from the UK to France, we compare the entry x_{31} (migrants from the UK to France) with the entries x_{11} (French natives who stay put).
  2. Compare a matrix entry with the diagonal entry in its row. If we’re interested in studying migration from the UK to France, we compare the entry x_{31} (migrants from the UK to France) with the entries x_{33} (UK natives who stay put).
  3. Compare the (weighted) average of the off-diagonal entries in a column with the diagonal entry of that column. If we are interested in understanding migration to Germany, we need to compare the entries x_{12} and x_{32} (migrants from France and the UK to Germany) with x_{22} (Germans who stay put). We would usually compute the average of x_{12} and x_{32} weighted by the respective population sizes.
  4. Compare the (weighted) average of the off-diagonal entries in a row with the diagonal entry of that row. If we are interested in understanding migration from France, we need to compare the entries x_{12} and x_{13} (migrants from France to Germany and to the UK) with the entry x_{11} (French who stay put).
  5. A bunch of pairwise comparisons of the type seen in Question 1 (with pairs in the same column). If we’re interested in figuring out how migrants from France compare with the natives wherever they go. Then, we will compare x_{12} with x_{22} (comparing French migrants to Germany with Germans who stay put), and separately compare x_{13} with x_{33} (comparing French migrants to the UK with UK natives who stay put).
  6. A bunch of pairwise comparisons of the type seen in Question 2 (with pairs in the same row). If we’re interested in figuring out how migrants to the UK fare relative to the natives of their source country. Then, we will compare x_{13} with x_{11} (French who move to the UK versus French who stay put), and separately compare x_{23} with x_{22} (Germans who move to the UK versus Germans who stay put).
  7. The off-diagonal entries represent migrants, and the diagonal entries represents people who do not migrate. This question therefore involves a comparison of the off-diagonal entries and the diagonal entries.
  8. This compares two diagonal entries. If we’re interested in comparing Germany and the UK, we’ll compare x_{22} and x_{33}.

End mathematical digression

Remarks on selection and treatment effects

We’ll return to this in more depth in part 2, but here are a few preliminary remarks.

The significance of the migration policy regime and other aspects of the scenario (economic policies, economic performance, linguistic differences, etc.) on the indicator matrix is two-fold:

  • A compositional selection effect (for short, we’ll call this a selection effect or a compositional effect) for the groupings, i.e., the choice of the migration policy scenario determines who migrates and who doesn’t, and therefore affects what set of people get included in various (source country, target country) pairs.
  • A treatment effect for the groupings, i.e., some people being able to migrate affects their own performance on indicator X, and also affect the performance on the indicator of others who stay behind in their own countries.

In Part 2, we will look more closely at how to isolate selection and treatment effects when comparing different policy regimes.

Remarks on measurability

For existing policy regimes, the performance on particular indicators of particular (source country, target country) pairs can be computed in principle. Some methods involve complete measurement: for instance, census data that asks people to identify their country of origin, or computerized records of all residents along with their source country. Other methods involve the use of partial data along with sampling techniques to extrapolate to the general population.

Some challenges:

  • In some cases, there is ambiguity, both conceptual and empirical, on the source country of individuals, or on what it means to be a resident (for instance, do we count crimes by tourists?)
  • In some cases, people deliberately conceal or misrepresent information about themselves where the stakes are high. For instance, a foreign-born person may claim to be a native-born when arrested for a misdemeanor, in order to avoid deportation. On the other hand, those who prefer deportation to another country to spending time in prison may misrepresent themselves as foreign-born. People may lie to get access to welfare benefits. False identity documentation may be produced in order to be eligible to work.
  • In some cases, the population involved is so small that the indicator cannot be measured from small samples of the overall population. For instance, there are about 100 people in the US who were born in North Korea. A random sample would probably not pick any of them. Even if it did, statistical averages for the population would not be robust.
  • There are challenges when considering the comparability of indicators across different target countries (and in some cases even within a particular country), because different countries (and different jurisdictions within a country) use different protocols for measurement and have different sources of bias. For instance, the rate of crime reporting may differ considerably between countries, particularly for rape and minor theft. Similarly, when comparing income values, purchasing power parity estimates are not necessarily reliable.

Normative significance of comparisons

The measurements and comparisons here offer only a starting point for investigating the effects of migration: we’d need comparative statics between different regimes in order to tease out the effects of migration. We’ll talk about this more in part 2 and in part 3. But in many cases, our only reliable empirical measurements are the direct ones discussed here, and people often draw conclusions based on this evidence. The following are three typical styles of crude conclusion people draw.

  • Immigrants to country B do better (respectively, worse) on the indicator than natives of country B who stay in their country \implies immigration “good” (respectively, “bad”) for country B.
  • Emigrants from country A do better (respectively, worse) on the indicator than natives of country A \implies emigration “bad” (cf. brain drain) (respectively, “good”) for country A.
  • Natives of country A worse on the indicator than natives of country B \implies Migration from country A to country B good for country A and bad for country B.

Of course, put so bluntly, the claims seem obviously ill-substantiated, and they often break down in practice.

But apart from the need to do more sophisticated counterfactual analysis to actually talk about the effects of migration, there’s another important point: the overall levels of an indicator might matter more than how different groups compare on it. The relative crime rates of natives and migrants are not as important as knowing whether either group has a high crime rate. The relative fertility rates are similarly less important than the overall fertility level. Too much focus on the question of “are immigrants better than natives?” can lead us to ignore other questions of greater moral and practical relevance.

Open borders within India (part 1)

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

What are some examples of large multilingual zones with internal open borders? The EU (particularly the Schengen area) comes to mind, but it’s relatively recent, and most parts of the EU are quite well-developed. A perhaps more interesting example, particularly for those concerned about the Third World, is internal open borders and intranational migration within India.

I intend to cover India in a series of two blog posts, of which this is the first one. This post (part 1) discusses the size and diversity of India, whether India truly has open borders, relations with nearby countries, secesssionist movements, and overall migration statistics. In part 2, I’ll look more closely at local attitudes to migration, the economic data on migrant performance, as well as episodes with unusually high levels of immigration and emigration for specific regions, usually in the wake of natural or man-made disasters.

Size and diversity of India, compared with Europe and Africa

The population of India is a little over 1.2 billion. Compare this with the population of Europe (about 800 million), Africa (about 1.1 billion), and the European Union (about 500 million).

India is linguistically diverse. Hindi is the most widely used native language in India, and it is the main language of North India, though it comes in many dialects, many of which differ considerably from the version taught in schools. There are an estimated 180 million native speakers of Hindi, or about 15% of India’s total population, though probably a larger percentage of the population (perhaps up to 50%) has a working knowledge of Hindi sufficient for rudimentary oral communication (such as in shops or restaurants). Due to linguistic diversity, English is widely used as a language of official communication within the country, and English fluency is considered a marker of high status, opening access to a wide range of jobs. Wikipedia lists 22 major regional languages in India, each with its own well-developed script and grammar. Some of these languages, including Hindi, have well-developed literatures of their own, and some have movie industries (the biggest of these, Bollywood, is the world’s second largest movie industry after Hollywood, and might well overtake Hollywood on some metrics in the near future). The linguistic diversity of India is in the same ballpark as that of the European Union, which lists 24 official languages and 3 semi-official languages. India and the EU are also similar in that English plays an important role as a language for official communication. While English knowledge of the EU residents as a whole is greater than that of Indians, the most educated Indians probably have comparable English knowledge to the corresponding top slice of EU residents (outside the United Kingdom), because the bulk of higher education in India is in English.

Intranational disparities in income, wealth, and other indicators in India are comparable to those between EU countries, with the most extreme gaps being in the 2-3X range, except for a few very small and highly prosperous states (Sikkim in the case of India, Luxembourg in the case of the European Union). Compare the list of Indian states by GDP and list of European countries by GDP (PPP) per capita. (This post by my co-blogger Hansjoerg Walther might also be of interest). In the European Union, the most prosperous countries are in the northwest (UK, France, Germany) and the Nordic area (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark). In India, Punjab in the north is relatively prosperous due to agriculture, and the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and the southern states are prosperous due to a mix of proximity to sea ports and a relatively more educated and modern population. The poorest states are the north-eastern states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and others in the central part of India.

I’m not aware of research that attempts to compute place premia within India, but my guess is that they’d be somewhat but not much narrower than the gaps in GDP per capita. In other words, I do think that skill differences account for part of the wage difference, but the huge scale of internal migration (discussed later in this post) suggests that people do see wage gains upon migrating.

It’s more truly open borders than China

The Chinese government has heavily restricted migration in a fairly systematic way for quite some time via the Hukou system, although they seem to be relaxing these controls. In India, the freedom of movement within the country is enshrined in the Constitution of India (see Fundamental Right #2 in the list of fundamental rights), and there are, to the best of my knowledge, no generic de jure or de facto legal barriers to migration. There do exist barriers to effective access to welfare state privileges associated with residency, and access to some government services and privately provided services is hindered due to a lack of knowledge of the regional language (particularly so for people who lack fluency in English and even more so for people who don’t know Hindi either) — more on this later in the post. But as far as the physical act of movement and relocation goes, “open borders” is certainly the right term. It’s not different in any meaningful way from freedom of movement between the member states of the United States.

Border relations with nearby countries

India has open borders with two of its land neighbors, Nepal (more here) and Bhutan. Relations with other neighbors are somewhat more hostile: Pakistan and India have tense relations largely due to disputes over Kashmir. India also shares a border with China, Bangladesh, and Burma (Myanmar) but does not have open borders with any of them. Tibet, which is close to India, has also sent many refugees to India.

India is physically close to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a short distance over water from the southern tip of India. Relations with Sri Lanka have been tense and have fluctuated over the years (long story).

Anyway, with the exception of Nepal and Bangladesh, none of the other countries have sent significant numbers of migrants to India, either in absolute terms or as a fraction of their populations, nor have Indians emigrated to these countries in great numbers. So for the most part, India is a closed system with internal open borders but little human interchange with the nearby world. There is emigration to faraway places (skilled emigration to the First World, plus some emigration to the Gulf States and other parts of the world) but a discussion of that gets us too far afield.

Secession movements in India

How has India managed to survive as a single country for so long? That’s a puzzle with perhaps no satisfactory answer. There have been a number of separatist movements. See this Wikipedia page for more information. None of the movements have continued for a very long time, and the grievances expressed in the movements have usually been either suppressed or accommodated through “keyhole solutions” (such as carving out a separate smaller state for the aggrieved parties, allowing for official recognition of their language, etc.). Some of the nationhood demands may well have been ambit claims, though I don’t have enough subject matter knowledge to be definitive.

The main exception is Kashmir, where a non-negligible fraction of the population has been interested in seceding from India for a considerable length of time, some of them desiring independence and others wanting Kashmir to join Pakistan. Pakistan too has had a vested interest in Kashmir. Kashmir’s accession to India was accomplished via the decisions of an unelected ruler and a popular political leader back in 1947, but the decision may not have had strong support on the ground, and Pakistan’s government has had a vested interest in helping foment dissatisfaction against the Indian government.

With the exception of Kashmir and smaller movements in the North-East, secession movements have not been active in India of late. I expect that if India’s economic growth continues apace, popular support for secession will continue to fall, as people prefer access to a wider economy over forming a nation better suited to their ethnic self-concept.

A single state with open borders versus the benefits of many different competing states

I’m somewhat sympathetic to the ideas of federalism and subsidiarity — rather than having a single government catering to a large population, it’s better to have many smaller governments catering to smaller populations. This allows for more experimentation (e.g., Tiebout competition). But, in the world as it stands today, the fragmentation into smaller governments comes at a huge cost: the states inevitably put migration restrictions and trade tariffs, leading to economic inefficiency. Whether the benefits of “letting a thousand nations bloom” outweigh the costs of restricted trade and migration is a difficult question. In the case of India, my guess is that:

  • India’s overall prosperity would be lower (perhaps comparable with Pakistan or Bangladesh, though probably a bit better) if it had split up into multiple nation-states that had peaceful relations but imposed restrictions on trade and migration with each other.
  • There would be more variation between the economic regions of India. I expect that the most prosperous states of India would probably do about as well as the most prosperous states of India do today, but the least prosperous would do considerably worse. It’s possible, though, that politics would have moved somewhat differently, and some states would have done better as independent states. There is more uncertainty at the level of individual states.
  • There would be a higher probability of a few impressive success stories, i.e., countries with income levels similar to Mexico or Malaysia, under a split. But I don’t think any particular region of India could predict with high probability that that particular region would take off as a success story, so in expectation, I still think most regions would be better off staying as part of India.

Of course, in principle, there is no conflict between having separate nation-states and having open borders and free trade, and my intuition is that this might well be optimal, but the option is currently not really on the table. One possible move in that direction, without sacrificing national unity, would be to move towards shifting more responsibilities to the states rather than the central (federal) government. This is unlikely to happen because the manner of separation of duties is specified in the Constitution, and currently heavily favors the central government, even giving it precedence on items that are in a joint list (the Concurrent List).

Migration within India

There is a fair amount of internal migration in India, though the data isn’t of sufficiently high quality to judge how well it fits with economic models. The Migration Policy Institute article titled Internal Labor Migration in India Raises Integration Challenges for Migrants by Rameez Abbas and Divya Varma offers an excellent overview of what’s known, and includes references to other online and offline material on the subject. The following are some highlights:

  • A huge amount of intranational migration is rural-to-urban migration. Unsurprisingly, the states with the most rural populations (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) are the states that send the most migrants to other states.
  • In general, migration flows seem to go from states with lower per capita income to states with higher per capita income, and the same phenomenon is observed for intra-state migration. But this is closely related to the phenomenon of migration being rural-to-urban.
  • The 2001 census recorded 191 million people who had migrated to a faraway district or different state. This was 20% of the population at the time. About 70% of internal migrants were women, and their main motive for migration was marriage. Males who migrated were largely motivated by economic reasons (looking for jobs). The total proportion of migrants is close to 30% but this also includes people who migrate short distances to nearby places. (This UNICEF report from 2012 also gives the 30% figure).
  • A large fraction of labor migration is short-term migration. The migrants are generally not highly skilled, but it’s unclear how their skill level compares with the population as a whole, given that the Indian population in general is not highly skilled. Most labor migrants are employed in a few key subsectors, including construction, domestic work, textile and brick manufacturing, transportation, mining and quarrying, and agriculture.

The article identifies the following challenges for migrants:

  • Documentation and identity: Migrants often lack appropriate documents to establish their identity and establish residency and therefore have trouble accessing both government-provided and privately provided services.
  • Housing: Migrants typically live in slums in conditions that are often more crowded than where they came from. The informal nature of their housing adds to the challenge of establishing residency necessary for accessing various services.
  • Limited access to formal financial services: We’ll discuss this more in part 2.
  • Political exclusion: We’ll discuss this more in part 2.
  • Rampant exploitation: We’ll discuss this more in part 2.

Stay tuned for part 2, where I’ll look more closely at local attitudes to migration, the economic data on migrant performance, as well as episodes with unusually high levels of immigration and emigration for specific regions, usually in the wake of natural or man-made disasters.

Open Borders Allow People, Not Their Place of Birth, To Control Their Lives

Post by Joel Newman (occasional blogger for the site, joined January 2013). See:

Fabio Rojas has written that to convince the public to support open borders, advocates “need a simple and concise idea that undermines the belief that people from other countries must be forcibly separated from each other. This idea must subtly, but powerfully, undermine the distinctions that make people believe that only citizens have the right to travel and work without impair.”  He suggests that this idea must appeal to “basic moral intuition” and that “lengthier academic arguments,” while persuasive, are ineffective.  I propose the following intuitive, simple message to help convince people to favor open borders: Open borders allow people, not their place of birth, to control their lives.

The content of this message is not original, although the wording may be.  The content is borrowed in part from John Lee,  who has implored, “… let’s not use birth as a reason to deny those less fortunate than us some of the same opportunities you and I had.”  Similarly, R. George Wright of Indiana University has written, in “Federal Immigration Law and the Case for Open Entry,” how those with the “undeserved good fortune to have been born in the United States resist… accommodation of the undeservedly less fortunate.”

There are several reasons why this message may resonate with the public.  First, it refers to “people,” not “immigrants.”  Using Fabio’s language, this “undermines the distinctions” between those in immigrant receiving countries and would-be immigrants by emphasizing the common humanity between both groups.  Second, at least for the American public, its emphasis on “control” taps into commonly held values of individualism and self reliance.  Third, again at least in an American context, the idea that birthplace should not be permitted to negatively impact opportunity connects with the widely accepted notion that people should not be discriminated against based on congenital traits such as gender and skin color.

To humanize the message, examples of people constrained by conditions in their birth country must be provided. An powerful example would be the Dalits, or “untouchables,” of India.  A report   by two Dutch organizations explains the plight of this group:  “The caste system divides people on the basis of birth into unequal and hierarchical social groups. Dominant castes enjoy most rights and least duties, while those at the bottom – the Dalits–in practice have few or no rights. They are considered ‘lesser human beings’, ‘impure’ and ‘polluting’ to other caste groups. Untouchables are often forcibly assigned the most dirty, menial and hazardous jobs, such as cleaning human waste. Caste discrimination is outlawed in India, but implementation of legislation is lacking. It is estimated that in India there are around 200 million Dalits.” (page 9)  A Mother Jones article on abusive conditions for girls who work in garment factories in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu describes the situation in a village where some of girls come from: “Most of the tea workers are from the lower castes and make about $3 per day; it costs a month’s salary just to outfit a child with books and a uniform for school.”

Another example of conditions ruling lives is provided by Luis Alberto Urrea in The Devil’s Highway, which chronicles the suffering of a group of Mexicans who crossed into the U.S. through the Arizona desert in 2001.  Mr. Urrea notes the economic conditions at the time in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, where several of the individuals in the group came from:  “The people were killing themselves working the ranchos on the outskirts.  The fishermen couldn’t catch enough protein in the sea.  The cane cutters couldn’t cut enough cane.  The small peasant farmers couldn’t get good enough prices to cover the costs of planting and harvesting their coffee… Prices kept rising, and all families… were able to afford less and less.  Food was harder to come by: forget about telephones, clothes, cars, furniture.  Even chicken feed… was expensive.  Pampers, milk, baby formula, shoes, tuition, tools, medicine… Between Americanized prices for their frijoles, and the unpredictable spikes in the price of tortillas, the Veracruzanos sometimes didn’t even know how they would feed their families.” (pp. 44-45)

Beyond poor economic conditions, there are also numerous situations to be cited in which people’s lives are controlled by unsafe conditions in their home countries, such as the civil wars in Syria and Central African Republic.  Even without mass conflict, in many countries the average person has little protection from the violent whims of others.  In a recent column entitled “The Republic of Fear,” David Brooks notes that in many countries, especially in the developing word, unless a person is part of a wealthy, powerful elite, he cannot “take a basic level of order for granted.”  Mr. Brooks writes that “People in many parts of the world simply live beyond the apparatus of law and order.” As I have written previously, women especially have little protection from family members or strangers in many parts of the world.

Lack of control over one’s life is especially apparent in parts of the world where people cannot practice their religion, cannot choose what they wear, cannot marry whom they want, or cannot be openly gay.  In western countries that value such freedoms, emphasizing the opportunity open borders would provide individuals to acquire these freedoms should particularly resonate with the public.

The message emphasizing control also must be accompanied by evidence that open borders would not negatively impact the lives of most people in immigrant receiving countries and that there would be mechanisms instituted to compensate those who might experience economic losses from open borders.  (Vipul has summarized these mechanisms.)  The Immigration Policy Center site provides more such evidence, as does this site (Here, here, here, and here).

It is true that no one has total control over their lives.  Even in advanced countries, the family environment in which we were raised, our natural abilities, and our health often determine our options.  The idea in the message Open borders allow people, not their place of birth, to control their lives is to remove place of birth as a limiting factor.

Hopefully advocates will reach a consensus on a simple, powerful message supporting open borders that will resonate with the public.  The message promoted here can be a starting point.

Weekly OBAG roundup 06 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).

Thought-provoking general questions or general observations

Discussions of specific historical or current situations

A conceptual framework for empirical analysis of migration (introduction)

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

Is migration good or bad for indicator X (here, X could be wages, employment levels, self-reported happiness, crime, welfare state use, moral virtue, etc.)? The question, as posed, is ill-defined. The ambiguity could arise from different meanings or interpretations of indicator X. But there’s also considerable ambiguity in the “Is migration good or bad” part of the question. Good or bad for whom? Compared to what?

I was moved to write this post series after an aborted attempt at trying to synthesize what different people had said about the effects of migration. Often, the people were talking past each other, measuring slightly different things. There’s a question of what we should measure, i.e., what measurement is the most appropriate one. But a first step is knowing that it’s possible to be measuring many different things. This post series attempts to clarify the range of things one could be measuring and how they relate to one another.

The series is structured as follows:

  1. Part 1: direct empirical measurement focuses on something that can be computed through direct empirical measurement: the performance of people who stay put in their countries, and the performance of people who migrate from one country to another.
  2. Part 2: comparative statics, multiple matrices discusses how to compare different policy regimes or scenarios for migration. Such comparisons typically involve counterfactuals and cannot be settled completely by empirical data: we need a model, and there’s considerable model uncertainty even if the data is excellent.
  3. Part 3: simplified model assuming no changes to non-migrants considers a simplified situation where we assume that migration at the margin primarily affects migrants and not the natives of either sending or receiving countries. The question is then about how migrants fare relative to the counterfactual where they are not allowed to, or were unable to, migrate. We’ll consider rank-ordering and quantitative comparison of natives of the source country, natives of the target country, potential migrants if they can migrate, and potential migrants if they cannot migrate.
  4. Part 4: Models for migrant performance considers different models for how migrant performance might be predictable in terms of the performance of the source and target countries.
  5. Part 5 discusses the descendants of migrants, and in particular the interaction with diaspora dynamics.
  6. Part 6 wraps up by considering some subtleties that were omitted in the preceding discussion.

The series also includes a number of minor mathematical digressions. If you have a reasonable background in mathematics (up to basic calculus and linear algebra, to the level generally needed for social scientists) you should be able to follow these. But you can otherwise skip the mathematical digressions without loss of continuity.

Choice of analytical focus

Despite the bewildering array of possibilities we’ll consider, there’s a high chance that the model used in the series will remain wanting. We’ll defer a detailed (but still partial!) discussion of the shortcomings to part 6, but a few preliminary remarks might be helpful.

A broad remark worth making is that the analysis in the coming parts will focus heavily on the migrant’s country of origin/birth (the “source country”) as well as the migrant’s country of current residence (the “target country”). We’ll also consider the distinction between migrants and non-migrants. This suggests that there are only three important components to the person’s identity that carry importance in statistical aggregation: the source country, the target country, and whether the person is a migrant. While other attributes can vary, we’re not interested in using them as the basis for grouping, since we’re aggregating over them.

But the reality is more complicated. Religious and ethnic identities can be subnational or supranational. Lebanese Muslims and Lebanese Christians may be best viewed as separate groups (though there are some cultural similarities and they’re probably genetically close to identical). In the United States, the Native Americans (American Indians) may be better viewed as a separate subgroup. On the other hand, sometimes it may be better to consider ethnic or ideological groupings that cut across national lines, such as Scandinavian, Western European, Anglo-American, Arab Muslim, Sunni Mulim, Shia Muslim, sub-Saharan African, Hindu, or ethnically Chinese.

The reason for our singular focus on nationality is simply that immigration law as it currently stands gives extreme importance to national boundaries and national membership. It may be ironic that, on a website devoted to critiquing the existing global regime of borders and migration controls, and the rigidity of national identity enforced by laws, a series of blog posts so meekly follows the status quo. My only excuse is that one needs to start somewhere. But you should feel free to fill in your own variations of the ideas based on forms of identity that do not coincide with one’s place of birth and one’s current residence, rather than wait to get to part 6.

Where’s the data?

As I go over different aspects of the model, you might be tempted to ask: can one actually construct the data that’s needed to do the quantitative comparisons and answer the various questions I pose? Data does exist for some things but not for others. The data for the model discussed in part 1 is relatively good. For the model in part 2, there is considerable model uncertainty, so rather than standardized data, we generally have to rely on individual pieces of research that attack specific instances. Often, the absence of data will illustrate the underlying point, namely, that obtaining clear answers to some questions is hard. It’s best to view this conceptual framework more as a tool to encourage clear thinking than as something in which we can plug in numerical values and answer questions.

If you’re interested in learning about existing data sets on migration, take a look at the migration information web resources page on this website.

Open borders between hostile nations

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

This blog post is an expanded version of a comment I posted on the Open Borders Action Group. It’s about whether hostile nations can or should have open borders, and how close a world would be to open borders if countries had open borders for all countries except those where they had nation-to-nation hostility.

In principle, one might say that having open borders with all countries except the few that the nation is officially hostile to is almost as good as having complete open borders. In most cases, a given nation is hostile to only one or two other nations, so curtailing the freedom to move to those specific nations is not that big an imposition. After all, if two nations with populations of a hundred million each closed their borders only to each other, that still leaves the residents of each nation access to the remaining ~7 billion of the world’s population and over 90% of the world economy. Isn’t that close enough to open borders?

In practice, though, countries with hostile relations aren’t random pairings — often the hostile relations are linked with shared cultural elements, a common language, family ties across the border, and interest in specific geographic locations. This is partly because hostilities arise from war, secession, or controversial historical reconfigurations of boundaries that failed to account for realities on the ground, often because it’s intrinsically impossible (see here, here, and here for more on how borders have been drawn historically around the world). Thus, cutting off people’s access to the hostile nation is a disproportionately large imposition relative to what the population sizes alone would suggest.

Now, it could still be argued that in some cases, the existential threat of free movement is so severe that, unfortunate as it is, free migration between the hostile nations cannot be permitted. But, as with many arguments to close borders, such arguments should be examined critically and appropriate keyhole solutions worked out wherever possible.

An additional point: looking at the most challenging situations for open borders can help us test the limits of the strength of the case for open borders. It can help explain just how far we believe the right to migrate stretches, and just where people who claim to be open borders advocates draw the line. I carried out a similar exercise earlier when considering denial of migration for people based on their criminal records.

Special dangers

Special benefits

High levels of cultural exchange, family ties, and commercial interaction give people in both countries vested interests in the preservation and safety of members of the other country. Free migration and free trade can facilitate these and make the world safer and more prosperous.

It’s not clear whether government leaders want these benefits. Those who derive their power from aggressive hawkish stances may find their authority undermined by friendly ties with hostile neighbors. But not all politicians fit this category. Further, politicians can sometimes combine hawkish rhetoric with the promotion of cultural interchange, getting the best of both worlds: the economic and cultural benefits and the support of people who care about national pride.

Temporary diplomatic standoffs

In cases where nations have temporary diplomatic standoffs over the actions of national leaders that don’t necessarily have popular support in either country, it doesn’t make sense to curtail migration — it’s highly unlikely that individuals in the country bear each other much ill-will. Ending free movement might turn a temporary standoff into long-term rivalry. Examples of such temporary standoffs arise when a government in one country clandestinely (often without the knowledge or support of its own citizens) supports a rebel faction, or an incumbent who eventually gets deposed, during infighting in the other country. The focus in this post is not on such instances but rather on cases where there seem to be enduring feuds based on long-term grievances. This article on how the West should respond to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine makes a similar point.

Some examples

The following are some examples of hostile nations that may be considered tough cases for the open borders paradigm:

  • North Korea and South Korea: This example is perhaps too unusual, because the main constraint here is not immigration restrictions but emigration restrictions put in place by North Korea. For more on North Korea, see here.
  • India and Pakistan: The countries were created as a result of the 1947 Partition of India, with a lot of bloodshed accompanying the creation. There is considerable mutual hostility over the disputed territory of Kashmir. More on India and Pakistan in a separate blog post. You can also get a good historical primer on the countries here.
  • Israel and Palestine: This is a highly asymmetric situation in many ways. Israel is internationally recognized and has considerably greater military might. Palestine is not internationally recognized and does not have a strong government, but there have been many suicide terrorists from the area attacking locations in Israel. We hope to write more, but for now, you might want to check out this post.
  • Russia and its neighbors (Ukraine, Georgia): There are land disputes between Russia and some of its neighbors, due to inherently contested boundaries. You might want to check out co-blogger Nathan Smith’s post, and we hope to write more about these issues later. This article (also linked from the temporary diplomatic standoffs section of the post) has an interesting relevant quote:

    Georgian policy towards Putin is a good example, I think. The Georgian government abolished visas for Russian tourists in spite of the tough relations between the two countries. Lots of Russians had an opportunity to see with their own eyes what was really happening in Georgia and how the market-oriented anti-corruption reforms affected the society.

  • Armenia and Azerbaijan: There may be more about these countries on our blog later. Some good articles to read are here, here, and here.
  • China and Taiwan: We’ll have more about this pair of countries on our blog later. Some good initial articles to read are here, here, here, here, and here.

There are many other examples of countries that have disputes over specific territories. There are also some examples of intranational borders to keep competing factions within a country from attacking or getting into conflicts with each other. Examples include the peace line in Northern Ireland and the green line in Lebanon.

We hope to explore these situations in greater depth in future blog posts. Any other examples of hostile nations worth discussing? Any historical examples? Any general considerations I missed in my opening remarks above?

Thoughts on State-Based Immigration Reform

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

Yesterday the Cato Institute ran an event discussing a state-based approach reform with panelists Brandon Fuller (NYU Stern Urbanization Project), Reihan Salam (National Review Institute), Shikha Dalmia and moderated by Alex Nowrasteh (Cato Institute). The archived video can be found here. Regional based migration reform has been discussed previously on this blog including a discussion of Canada’s federal approach to immigration.

I must admit that I was disappointed in how the discussion developed. The panelists focused on concerns by Salam that a state-based migration system would essentially turn migrants into serfs tied to their employers. I would have preferred it if the discussion focused actions already taken by US states as it would show that Salam’s fears are unfounded.

Take for example the situation in California. Anti-migrant hysteria reached its peak in the early 90s when Proposition 187 passed and attempted to limit public services available to illegal aliens and increase domestic enforcement. Oddly enough public backlash due to the proposition lead to migrant communities, legal and illegal, to become more politically active and turn California into a sanctuary state for migrants. Last year the TRUST Act, which limits the local police forces from cooperating with federal immigration authorities unless the migrant is a violent offender or otherwise commits a major crime, was passed and signed into law by Governor Brown.  Driving licenses were also approved by the state legislature and will become available for illegal aliens in the golden state in early 2015. The California Dream Act grants state funding for those illegal aliens brought to the state as minors. At one point the state legislature even considered a bill that would grant work permits to illegal aliens working in certain sectors such as the restaurant service industry. At no point is anyone being tied to their employer.

It is true that some states have used their discretion to pass anti-migrant legislation but they’ve failed horribly. In Alabama anti-migrant state laws lead to an embarrassing incident where a Mercedes-Benz executive was locked up in jail for a minor traffic accident.  Arizona is struggling to change its public perception to appear pro-migrant after the fiasco of the Arizona Senate Bill 1070 lead to the exodus of migrants from the state and painted the copper state as bad for foreign investment. Even under the strictest state immigration policies no one is being forced into serfdom though, migrants always have the option to return home or migrate to a third country with more favorable policies. In order for Salam’s fears of serfdom to materialize migrants must be prohibited from leaving.

Some states, like Utah, have taken a middle ground by passing anti-migrant legislation similar to the Arizona bill but also passing a guest worker visa (HB 116) that would invite further migrants to the state and provide work permits for the illegal aliens already present.  The Utah bill asks that work permit holders attempt to learn English to the best of their ability, to acquire a driving license if they intend to drive in Utah, and to have health insurance unless they can prove they are not at risk of becoming a public charge. The worker permit is fully portable and can be used to work within the entire state – it even allows for permit holders to do some contract work for the state.

Salam did have a point when he brought up that some provinces in Canada were generous when it came to sponsoring migrants but failed to retain them. This is not however an argument against state based migration as it only shows that favorable immigration policies are an insufficient condition for economic prosperity if a region does not also adopt conditions favorable to growth. Easing migration policies might help cities like Detroit, but would need to be accompanied by real reforms to how they are run. In this sense pro-migrant state policies act partially as a signal that a region is serious about reforming itself.

What I truly wish the discussion would have covered is the situation in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNM). The Northern Mariana Islands are a collection of islands in the Pacific that have been held by the Spanish, Germans, and Japanese before ultimately falling in American hands following the conclusion of WW2. Instead of seeking independence the Northern Mariana islands entered into political union with the United States as a commonwealth, similar to Puerto Rico’s status. Natives of the Northern Mariana Islands possess US Citizenship and have a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives. When the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands joined the US they retained some powers, including the ability to settle its own migration policy independent of federal authorities. The Northern Mariana Islands used this to create a worker program to allow migrants from neighboring regions to come and provide much needed labor for the tourism and light industry sectors. The Northern Mariana Islands proved an attractive place for business as it had access to US markets, but labor costs were cheap.

In 2008 however federal authorities decided to revoke the Northern Mariana Islands’ regional migration policy with the passage of the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, which ‘federalized’ the commonwealth’s immigration system. Federal authorities and proponents of the federal take over of the commonwealth’s immigration system argued that labor conditions for migrants were poor since the CNM was exempt from the federal minimum wage. What proponents failed to realize was that migrants to the Northern Mariana Islands, which are overwhelming low skilled, were better off under such conditions than their alternatives. It is doubtful that the low-skilled workers who arrived in the CNM would have been able to migrate at all under the US’ federal immigration system.

The federal take over of the CNM’s migration system lead to a legal nightmare where many migrant workers found themselves in a limbo where they had fallen out of status through no fault of their own. At the same time economic conditions deteriorated as the islands felt the impact of the US recession.  The harm that federalization of the CNM’s migration system can be seen in its population alone. At its height the islands had a population of 70,000 but has slumped down to 50,000 (a reduction of 28.6%) after many of its workers left due to the reverse in migration policy and an economic recession worsened by the decrease in labor.

The Northern Mariana Islands are trying to do their best to handle the situation, but unfortunately are unable to do so without federal changes to the migration system.  Some pro-migrant groups are calling for a day of action on March 27 to urge temporary protected status (a status that allows migrants, regardless of current status, to remain and work in the US) to be extended to the estimated 200,000 pacific islanders residing in the United States, including those in the Northern Mariana Islands, who find themselves in this legal limbo.

The Northern Mariana Islands provide a prime example that a regional migration system can work if not hindered by federal policies but has thus far been largely ignored. With any luck further thought is put onto the issue of state-based immigration reform.

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

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