EconLog comments policy and open borders

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

Open borders advocate Bryan Caplan recently forayed into citizenism with a blog post titled A Question for Steve Sailer’s B-School Professor. Caplan quoted from Sailer’s VDARE piece on citizenism and then proceeded to make two points:

  • Citizenism, which involves giving more weight to the preferences of current citizens as opposed to prospective future citizens and other foreigners, must operate within moral side-constraints (a point made at the citizenism page and in Nathan’s blog post on the subject).
  • Just like those using the nation as family analogy, citizenists need to not merely acknowledge these side constraints, but seriously consider whether the actions they propose (such as immigration restrictions) violate these side constraints.

Caplan then invited citizenists to respond in the comments. I think Caplan’s post was well-written and to the point, but I have one point of contention with Caplan: his use of the word “monster” to describe hypothetical people who took citizenism to its logical extreme. Caplan believes that few citizenists take citizenism that literally, so he wasn’t calling any actual people monsters. But the use of the word “monster” is not exactly an invitation to civil debate, to put it mildly. Caplan’s commenters were quick to critique him, and some went beyond critiquing to offering candid thoughts on what they thought of Caplan. A lot of these comments were deleted, and the commenters banned, from EconLog. Fortunately for free speech and the Internet, the commenters found refuge in Steve Sailer’s blog. But the most fascinating and hard-to-rebut critiques among those deleted seem to not have made it to Sailer’s comments either — either because they weren’t posted, or because Sailer deleted them. Fortunately again for free speech, the commenters found yet another forum that would prove more welcoming and tolerant of their unorthodox views. Here’s page 1 and page 2 of the thread. Here are some of the best examples:

The masochistic morality of Caplan’s argument is merely the symptom of a late stage complex society with a parasitic elite, plus politically correct radiation treatments, which have obviously rendered Caplan’s brain into a vestigial organ.

To anyone of above feeble intelligence, it’s obvious that large migrations of people will lead to conflict, instability, social dysfunction, and other not very nice things. It’s obvious that employers who seek to bring in illegals so they can pay sub-middle class wages are not acting out of moral impulses to better the lives of foreigners. The rhetoric is all hypocrisy. When Caplan opens his mouth about moral imperatives, something retarded and offensive pours out. It seems to be a condition he should seek treatment for, although I understand it’s difficult to cure libertarianism.

MikeP is a racist! He thinks I should have to fill out a form when I say Bryan Caplan enticed me to post here–but what about those who were born here, like MikeP? Did they fill out any forms? Now I have to evade some Jewish woman who is patrolling the posting border with extreme prejudice! Ay caramba, I’ve been hit!

Underneath the oppressive Bush administration, little-known anti-liberty regulations prevented HIV positive immigrants from crossing so called “borders” and entering into employment contracts at my exclusive nightclub, wherein they displayed their micros to paying clients. Now, however, thanks to noted micro-American ALLAH HUSSEIN OBAMA, that regulation has been revoked, and a beautiful scene of international GDP growth ensues.

Naturally, if he were to answer these, Caplan would bluster and babble about comparative advantage and the lump of labor fallacy while dismissing cultural concerns as being of the ignorant, unwashed masses. Ultimately, Caplan is so dull that he can’t think beyond libertarian talking points to realize that importing a bunch of browns to do cheap labor is going to backfire horrendously when those same browns vote straight ticket Democrat and their elected representatives raise the minimum wage, strengthen environmental regulations, and raise taxes.

Oops. I wonder if Caplan would short-circuit on the lawgic trap.

(Not an EconLog comment)

Libertarians are basically liberals with less self-awareness, they lack even the liberal’s simple ability to project empathy onto niggers and other non-humans, perhaps because they lack any emotional capabilities whatsoever.

(Not an EconLog comment)

Kill this fucking thing with fire, tia. [referring to the EconLog comment moderator]

And revealing images such as this.

One of the comments that didn’t get through was by Dr. Stephen J. Krune, but he posted a similar comment on Open Borders:

This is far and away the spergiest discussion among the usual libertarian spergmeisters. Of course people react to overcrowding around them–typically in cities–regardless of whether there is a giant desert available somewhere else (and where they would prefer these immigrants to go and die in).

And so it is possible to have overcrowding in cities while there is “plenty of land” (I understand that spergy libertarians see no point to land other than paving it over and erecting a business park.)

Why do we favor descendents, asks the chief sperg? Because they are genetically related, which is the basis for most social behavior and cultural development. (Which is why our off-the-rails society is in a state of pre-collapse, using Tainter’s definition of collapse.) All social animals are nepotists. This isn’t “curable” because it isn’t an illness, it is the normal functioning of animals. We are animals, not replicas of Data from Star Trek, which is how most of you faggots come off.

There were also some gems among the comments that did get through. James Bowery:

Both Caplan and AMac are inhuman monsters that would deny the right of people to join together under mutual consent to pursue their strongly held beliefs about causal laws of human ecology by excluding from their territory those whom they consider incompatible with testing of those laws.

That these inhuman monsters call others “monsters” should be expected since, however inhuman they may be, they do possess the gift of gab.

If I were on a jury that was trying someone for having done harm, of any nature whatsoever, to AMac or Caplan, I would vote to acquit.

Moreover, there is no greater cause for liberty than to identify such inhuman monsters, whether they call themselves “libertarians” or “liberals” or “neoconservatives”, as the primary enemies of liberty that today wield the power of tyranny over mankind.

Any proper use of military force would have as its declaration of war that a state of peace may once again reign once these inhuman monsters no longer wield any powers of government.

EconLog comments policy

The reason I quote all these comments is not to critique them. When faced with critiques as penetrating as these, it is time to concede defeat and go home. There were a lot of other comments that made points that we’d be happy to address and discuss further on the Open Borders blog in the coming days. Steve Sailer’s own post, as well as Sonic Charmer’s thoughtful addition to the debate, are definitely more at our level and we can address these. I left a couple of comments on Sailer’s post, but haven’t had time to respond to his substantive points yet; Nathan left a comment on Sonic Charmer’s post. Other interesting critiques that we hope to address in the coming day include Maurice Levin’s critique (assuming it is written as sarcasm) and Dave’s comment. Jason Malloy’s analogy may also be worth addressing.

So why am I bringing up these comments? Because the banned commenters and others sympathetic to their plight discovered a novel and innovative way to expose the hypocrisy of open borders advocates. They drew a parallel between banning blog comments and turning away potential immigrants (or deporting illegal immigrants). For instance, Svigor:

Makes perfect sense to me. But why Caplan is willing to put up with this and associate with such egregious offenders of the rights of undocumented posters (thanks Alfonso, I love that) is beyond me.

Steve Sailer:

“Comment removed pending confirmation of email address”

All these poor undocumented commenters fundamental moral right to engage freely in discussion is being discriminated against!

Free the Undocumented Commenters!

And a presumably sarcastic comment from Hannah Levin-Rosenberg (my apologies if I misread sarcasm where none was intended):

I completely agree with [the comment moderator] [on banning commenters]. This is not a country with borders, it is an intellectual salon intended for use by those of a high IQ and/or penchant for social justice.

Essentially, the commenters are pointing out the moral inconsistency between arguing for open borders and denying people the right to comment on a blog that is open for comments. EconLog has a clearly outlined comment ban policy. Looking at the deleted comments quoted above, you can judge for yourself if the deletion of these comments was consistent with the policy. Although I personally found these comments thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating, I think their deletion was consistent with EconLog policy. Here are some elements of the policy that I think commenters find objectionable:

  1. The requirement to have, and fill in, a valid email address: Commenters consider not having an email address, or not filling in a valid email address, analogous to being an “undocumented” aka “illegal” immigrant.
  2. The requirement to not use words that are considered broadly offensive, or make personal attacks.

I will address both these points. But before doing that, I should point out that the analogy is less than appropriate. EconLog comments are a private domain managed to the editors. They are under no obligation to even allow comments. But, clearly, this seems like a distinction without a difference to those who believe in the collective property rights argument. So I will attempt to engage these critics on their own terms.

The email address and form-filling burden

What open borders advocates want is a presumption in favor of free movement and migration of people across national borders. This presumption is consistent with modest immigration tariffs and other keyhole solutions. It is definitely consistent with visa application procedures.

These are the typical steps that a person needs to take to legally migrate or temporarily visit another country today, in the best case:

  • Acquire a passport: In my opinion, for an average person in the world to obtain a passport is considerably harder than it is for an average person with Internet access to obtain an email address. I’d be happy to stand corrected. A Huffington Post article refers to a poll showing that 85% of people worldwide with Internet access have email addresses (this is the relevant fraction because anybody commenting on Caplan’s post must have Internet access to begin with — this is a technological limitation rather than a limitation imposed by EconLog). Even in the United States, the most optimistic estimates of passport ownership seem to be below 45%. The number is probably lower in other countries. An article in TechCrunch also suggests that more Americans are on social network Facebook than own passports. The author of the article notes that:

    50% of all Americans are on Facebook (155 million) while only 37% of Americans have a passport (115 million). To its credit, the Facebook onboarding process is a lot more streamlined.

  • For some lucky country pairs, acquiring a passport is good enough to travel between the countries for short trips. But acquiring a visa is still necessary in order to settle for the long term. For most other country pairs, the person needs to apply for a visa. This includes an application fee, a form that needs to be filled in accurately, and a number of proofs that need to be submitted. I’ve applied for multiple visas and filled in even more EconLog comments, and my impression is that, even ignoring the application fee, this process is at least as demanding as filling out EconLog’s comment form.
  • Some country pairs insist on interviews for every visa. And you have to usually go to the consulate personally and have the visa stamped on your passport, even if there is no interview requirement.
  • After doing all this, you can still be turned back at the port of entry. Although this is not usually done, the United States Border Patrol agents retain the right to reject anybody.

There are two more relevant points:

  • The visa application processes of most countries place a burden of proof on the applicant to show that he/she will not be a drain on the state, will leave the country, etc.
  • The visa application criteria for many countries, such as the United States, are far from transparent, unlike a fairly clear and generally consistently applied comments policy on EconLog.

The regime that open borders advocates hope for in the near future is perfectly consistent with the continued existence of passports and visas. The main difference we hope for is the elimination of quotas and restrictions, and a shift of the burden of proof away from the applicant and to the consulate if it chooses to deny the visa. The other difference we hope for is that the criteria become a lot more transparent. Even with these changes, the visa application process would still be considerably more demanding than posting an EconLog comment in every respect.

The abusive/offensive comment ban

Some commenters may take issue with the idea of banning comments considered offensive. Doesn’t this violate the ideal of free speech and a marketplace of ideas?

One analogy in the open borders scenario would be to deny people entry into the country for their political views and beliefs. Although I personally oppose viewpoint-based immigration restrictions, I am more sympathetic to these than to most other forms of immigration restrictions, and am ultimately ambivalent about these. Many other open borders advocates have conceded quite a bit to the restrictionist side when it comes to viewpoint-based immigration restrictions. See, for instance, my co-blogger Nathan here.

My view regarding comments is similar. Definitely, the Open Borders blog (as of now) has a far more accommodating comments policy than EconLog. Even though EconLog has a fairly restrictive comments policy, there is a lot of leeway:

  • People who filled in an incorrect email address can have their comment restored by sending an email from a correct email address.
  • Even after one comment of a person is deleted, the person can usually post other comments. Only repeat offenses lead to long-term bans. Even these long-term bans tend to be shorter than the time period between successive visa applications for many country pairs.

What about illegal immigrants?

Astute restrictionists would be quick to point out that my analysis has one gaping hole in it: illegal immigrants often don’t follow these rules. But I find it a little hard to believe that the costs of migrating illegally are lower than the costs that people who can migrate legally face for migrating legally. At any rate, it seems a stretch to say that migrating illegally is easier than posting an EconLog comment with a valid email address. If restrictionists have some personal experience or data in this regard, I’d be happy to stand corrected.

Some reflections

For all the reasons above, I find the analogy drawn by these commenters to be insufficient to make the point I think they’re trying to make.

I wish to take this opportunity to reflect a little more deeply on the fact that so many commenters, including the erudite Steve Sailer, found the analogy convincing. Clearly, these are commenters who know and have read and thought about immigration policy. They have some awareness of the complexity of getting passports and visas. Some of them may even have traveled to countries other than their country of birth, in which case they have had to deal with visa application procedures (unless they were lucky enough to be making a short-term visit to a country that did not require visas from their home country). A little reflection would reveal to them the inappropriateness of the analogy.

I’ll be far more uncharitable than I would ordinarily be, because I want to make this point as bluntly as possible: I think part of the explanation is that some restrictionists live in a privilege bubble. This privilege bubble insulates them from actually thinking about the costs of getting a visa and making a realistic comparison between these costs and the costs of posting an EconLog comment without using offensive words. Hopefully, such a blase attitude is a minority attitude within restrictionist circles. I definitely know a number of restrictionists who don’t share this blase attitude. But it’s ironic that such arguments go unchallenged by fellow restrictionists who then turn around and critique Bryan Caplan for openly admitting that he cherishes his own beautiful bubble while explicitly stating that he has no authority to trample on the free association rights of others.

My apologies if the preceding paragraph offended the sensibilities of any restrictionists or other readers.

43 thoughts on “EconLog comments policy and open borders”

  1. FWIW (not that this should matter) I have direct experience of family members who are foreigners and have all sorts of issues with getting visas, etc. I am more than familiar. As well as with the naturalization process.

    This tends to make me more not less ‘restrictionist’ at the margin though and I bet you can guess why.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I definitely wouldn’t count you in the minority of restrictionists whom I wished to critique in the last para.

      Also, as I noted earlier in the post, your “neighborhood watch” analogy is something I hope to address in due course. I think you’re raising some very good points here, although as you can predict, they haven’t led to an overall change in my position. But we may be getting closer on understanding the fundamental nature of our disagreement.

  2. Non-Americans are like “Jim Crows,” and we’re making them ride on the back of the planet. Any efforts to stop this should be applauded, not condemned.

    1. Does your definition of “Any efforts to stop this” acknowledge moral side-constraints? I think it’s important not to use language like “Any efforts to stop this” without acknowledging the existence of side-constraints.

      1. I’m not convinced that there is any valid restrictionist argument, yet. Even things like IQ decline don’t convince me, and I’m a firm believer that our primary moral obligation is non-interference. Restrictionists remind me of wealthy suburbanites that don’t want “those people” to move into their neighborhood. If you try to stop people from bettering themselves through hard work, you not only lose the moral high ground, but you’re cheating yourself out of all the benefits that immigration -whether local or national – brings you.

        1. “Restrictionists remind me of wealthy suburbanites that don’t want “those people” to move into their neighborhood.”

          The ironic thing is that its the open borders people that are the wealthy suburbanites trying to keep “those people” out of their neighborhood. Your typical restrictionist is a prole white who can’t afford to move away from the effects of immigration. Your typical open borders zealot is a Bryan Caplan who makes posts about “living in his bubble.”

          Your average open borders person falls into three camps:

          1) They are themselves from an immigrant group that would benefit from looser immigration. In this case its just obvious self interests with whatever reasoning is necessary.

          2) They are not really aware of all of these arguments but just sort of go along with whatever is fashionable in the zietgiest which is pro immigration for most social climbers. This describes the vast majority of the population. These people will be generally pro immigration but afraid of any big changes to the status quo.

          3) They are a high IQ white male nerd with low social awareness. This is most people on this site probably for or against. People like us get off on having these kind of arguments. We are a tiny minority of the population (who, thankfully, have little effect).

          I know the third group well because it fits my cognitive profile. The difference is that I know I have a problem. I know there is a part of my brain that is broken. A part that understands the subtleties of human interaction instinctively. Before I figured this out I might have done things like construct this website and set out to solve, by laborious argument, any “problem” I could think up. Now I realize how, as one commentator put it, “spergy” that is.

          The reason I came to this conclusion about my mental deficiencies is that I had to. I didn’t want to. It’s uncomfortable. So unless you are forced to you never will. The biggest thing that helped me was being a trader. Traders don’t care about ideology. They don’t care about some mental construct of how they think the world should work. They care about reality. They are FORCED to deal with it. Eventually I realized the real world was different from my made up spergy world and I adapted because otherwise it would cost me money.

          And there are lots of other reasons. I was born in a prole white family unlike most pro borders spergs who come from professional families. I grew up in a minority white community. I’ve lived all over the country and internationally. I’ve been employed in a number of different and controversial industries. I’ve had to deal with lots of unorthodox situations and people. Those situations humbled me and made me realize my own deficiencies.

          Guys like Bryan Caplan don’t get that. They live in a bubble from birth to death and are proud of it. There is nothing more damaging to the brain then being in academia your whole life. The whole point of academia is building a bubble that keeps you from interacting with the real world or challenging any of your assumptions.

          1. The personal confession is interesting, but why do you think you can generalize from your own case? It seems like it would take a rather intimate knowledge of the personal lives of various open borders advocates to guess the motives for their positions. I’ve found that even my own family members go wildly astray when they try to psychoanalyze me and guess the motives for my positions. I know I sound like a broken record here, but it’s useless in such situations to try to guess people’s motives and attack them. Stick to arguing.

          2. While I’m sure you are a special little snowflake in many ways, there are patterns to people’s behaviors. You can notice general archetypes.

            The first experience I had doing so was in poker, which put me through college. People would only sit down with you for a few hours and you had to guess from their clothes, mannerisms, and some limited conversation what kind of person they were and what kind of actions they would take. It was never perfect and I’m sure there were plenty of things about them I was missing out on, but you can gather an awful lot of information about people awfully fast. People aren’t as unique as they like to think, there are plenty of people just like you. Spergy nerds are an archtype I have a ton of experience with.

            “I’ve found that even my own family members go wildly astray when they try to psychoanalyze me and guess the motives for my positions.”

            I’m sure they are wrong sometimes, and I’m sure they are right sometimes even when you disagree. Our actual motivations are often different then what we say or even understand ourselves. The same is true for my relationship with my parents.

            “but it’s useless in such situations to try to guess people’s motives and attack them”

            Very few people ever sit down at the poker table or trading desk looking to lose money, yet many do. And it isn’t necessarily because they don’t understand the game or the risks either. It’s because winning money isn’t their primary motivation. This may seem strange, but its true. You can watch very successful poker players go on tilt and lose plenty. Making money, despite continuing to be their stated goal and probably what they believe themselves, it not their primary goal anymore. Their primary goal is getting back at the guy that rivered them, or impressing the girl at the table, or feeding a superiority complex. In this case its the people sharp people at the table that have a better understanding of the players motivations then he himself has.

            People’s motivations are by far the most important thing in understanding them and their arguments. I know this is difficult because you probably think that you’re a very smart person with excellent emotional control functioning on pure logic like Spock or Data and your arguments are pure reason. They are not. You simply lack good emotional intuition, the kind most people have but spergy nerds like us don’t. That’s why the argument seems so simple to you, because its missing big parts of human nature. I’m not sure they can be explained, they have to be felt. It’s an experience based wisdom.

        2. Johnny, I think you misunderstood what I was saying. My question to you was: even if you believe restrictionism is wrong, do you see any moral side-constraints in terms of achieving your goals of combating restrictionism? Do you think, for instance, that restrictionists should be killed? Do you think that they should be imprisoned? That their speech should be censored? If not, you do acknowledge moral side-constraints in the treatment of restrictionists. And thus, your statement “Any efforts to stop this should be applauded” is overkill.

  3. “I think part of the explanation is that some restrictionists live in a privilege bubble.”

    Indeed. And the smart, altruistic ones support policies that asymptotically increase the global reach of privilege bubbles, to the point where practically everyone eventually lives in one. That’s what happens when employers actually directly employ, or indirectly drive the employment of, poor people in their own countries: this process has already gone a long way to improving the quality of life of ~1.5 billion East Asians, from a baseline of subsistence peasantry.

    Trade and immigration are, to first order, *substitutes*. Mass trade lets you capture the most important gains without the most dangerous disruptions associated with mass immigration. It is still objected to, and in specific situations there are legitimate strategic reasons to avoid depending too much on trade, but as a general mechanism to improve the welfare of poor foreigners at minimum cost to natives, trade is obviously more effective than immigration.

    There is still a place for immigration, of course. But immigration policy should be designed to asymptotically increase overall privilege, not decrease it. As soon as you talk about tearing down restrictionists’ privilege bubbles, you’ve lost the argument.

    1. Direct gains of trade aren’t that big. Technology and institution transfer through foreign direct investment, sale of capital goods, and competitive export-led growth as an on-ramp for development seem to have had much bigger effects.

      1. True, I was very imprecise in my usage of the term as a shorthand for an established development model which does not require much immigration (though some education of foreign students, etc. is still necessary).

        1. Christopher and BK, even in today’s highly restrictive migration regime, it is still the case that a large fraction of the people born in poor countries who escape poverty do so through emigration. The paper Income per Natural: Measuring Development as if People Mattered More Than Places – Working Paper 143 by Michael Clemens and Lant Pritchett, referenced at the income per natural page on this website, goes into many details. Clemens’ The Biggest Idea in Development that No One Really Tried video also touches on this topic in minutes 18-20, noting that 82% of the Haitian-borns who escaped poverty did so through emigration, and even in the much larger country India with no land border with a rich country, about 28% of those who escaped poverty did so through emigration. Note that this is with fairly closed borders.

          1. I’m familiar with the paper.

            “it is still the case that a large fraction of the people born in poor countries who escape poverty do so through emigration”

            Your comment conspicuously fails to provide this fraction, and I think suggests that it is larger than it is.

            In estimating it, the big story in poverty reduction is development in the large population low-income countries, especially China so far. The Haiti statistic selects a unrepresentative subpopulation of the global poor in a country that has economically stagnated and is near the U.S.: of course if things aren’t improving at home the number of people passing a given income threshold will be biased towards those who leave. In China hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty, dwarfing emigration effects. And because the poverty metric use a single threshold, it doesn’t weight growth that hasn’t quite hit that level yet: for a long time you get no effect as you improve below the threshold, and then as you cross the region near the threshold income you get massive improvements in the statistic.

            And China was helped by export-led growth and FDI (however, it’s worth noting that much of that FDI involved the Chinese diaspora).

          2. Vipul, I did note that. The Haiti+India statistics are unrepresentative and weak.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_reduction#Growth_vs._State_Intervention:_Comparative_Perspective_in_China.2C_India.2C_Brazil

            “A 2011 World Bank research article, “A Comparative Perspective on Poverty Reduction in Brazil, China, and India,” looked at the three nations’ strategies and their relative challenges and successes. During their reform periods, all three have reduced their poverty rates, but through a different mix of approaches. The report used a common poverty line of $1.25 per person, per day, at purchasing parity power for consumption in 2005. Using that metric and evaluating the period between 1981 and 2005, the poverty rate in China dropped from 84% to 16%; India from 60% to 42%; and Brazil from 17% to 8%.”

            The population of China is 1.347 billion, and for India 1.210 billion.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population

            So if we took the India statistic at face value that would be 72 million people out of poverty by migration from India, 216 million by development in India, and 915 million out of poverty by development in China. The Indian emigrants would account for less than 6% of that group, far less than 24% and Haiti would be swallowed up as negligible. Since most recent poverty reduction took place in China, any analysis of the causes of poverty reduction that ignores it is going to be nonsense. Including the rest of the world would get a more precise figure, but it’s obvious that the examples in the Clemens video are selected for rhetorical effect and are strongly misleading on their own on the question of what share of poverty reduction can be attributed to immigration.

            And going forward India’s growth and poverty reduction, even if they slow down some, will pull that ratio down further, likely cutting the India-specific percentage by half again, so it’s not enough to describe China as a sui generis event.

          3. Correction: I used 24% at one point rather tan 28%, so the numbers are 84 million, 217.8 million, and 915 million, with the Indian emigrant share at 6.8%, not 6%.

          4. Vipul,

            I remain interested in hearing your thoughts on the representativeness of those statistics in light of the data I linked to showing that the “large fraction of the people born in poor countries who escape poverty do so through emigration” looks to be under 10%, as opposed to the 82% and and 28% in Clemens’ country-specific talk examples.

          5. Sorry for the delay in getting back on this. Basically, I think your stats are correct. My point was more to show that even today, with fairly closed borders, emigration is a non-negligible contributor to poverty reduction. That said, my India statistic was not a good quantitative indicator and would be an overestimate.

            In my ideal world, one would have free trade, good economic policy, and (largely) open borders. I think that economists and most other development specialists understand the importance of free trade and good economic policy, so what’s left to overcome is mostly institutional inertia. With open borders, on the other hand, we aren’t yet in the stage where people see it as a serious complement to be considered and debated. That might explain why I focus on open borders. I also think that the quantitative effect of open borders is more than that of free trade, though perhaps good economic policy would be far far better. I applaud the efforts of those who try to push for better economic policy worldwide; I just think that, relative to their potential, open borders are underrated (may be good economic policy worldwide is 3X as good as open borders, but gets 50X the attention — POOTA figures, just to illustrate what I mean).

          6. OK then. I agree that open borders is neglected relative to its potential importance. My intent here was negative: to reduce the propagation of misleading factoids.

  4. It is also worth noting that a direct comparison of EconLog comment policy-related delays with immigration delays, *without some sort of rescaling to reflect the enormously greater magnitude of the side effects associated with accepting one immigrant for life, vs. letting one blog comment*, is innumerate.

    1. Christopher, it is the restrictionists who are making the analogy and drawing conclusions based on it, not I. I am obviously not using the EconLog comments policy to make a case for open borders. My goal was to show that the analogy that restrictionists have developed is inappropriate for a variety of reasons.

      If we’re attempting to scale costs, we need to scale all costs. The cost to a person of having a visa rejected is much greater than the cost of having an EconLog comment rejected. The benefits of immigration, in so far as it is beneficial, are also much greater than the benefits of an EconLog comment.

      Moreover, visa requirements are necessary for the majority of international travel, not merely for long-term immigration. If you’re making a business trip to another country, or visiting friends or relatives, you need to apply for a visa, unless you happen to be traveling across a handful of rich country pairs. The US requires interviews for *every* type of visa, including business and tourist visas for short-term trips, and interview bookings often need to be made a month in advance. For many countries, only single-entry visas are provided, which means that a person needs to get a visa interview for every single visit. So your “accepting one immigration for life” arguments, while applicable to a subset of visa requirements, don’t reflect on the majority of visa applications.

      1. If both costs and benefits are scaled up by factors that aren’t obviously very different from each other, that means the analogy *is* reasonable as a starting point. It’s certainly not the final word because you can make a detailed case that the rescaling factors actually are very different. But your initial approach to dismissing it does not work.

        As for non-immigration visas, that’s a narrower technical question that’s independent of the open borders issue; I don’t oppose streamlining the process in a hypothetical world with no visa overstays.

  5. This comment attempted migration to Caplan’s Collective, but was cruelly apprehended at the border:

    When I come to visit the site of a reputable seminary like this, I don’t expect to be subjected to the droning of some econ cyborg in costume vestments. I suppose pastor (or it’s rabbi, no?) Caplan understands with all his wailing about morality and monsters that he’s not making an economic argument, but a theological one. And when I am being ministered to I expect a more exalted path to salvation than “turn your nation over to Pepe.”

    So please, offer the flock a more inspirational liturgy…Your glistening cheeks don’t get me to church on Sunday.

  6. My goal is not to make the issue immigration vs trade vs technology. I support all! And to my knowledge, none of the open borders advocates on this site, or the ones listed, oppose any of the things Christopher recommends. If any open borders advocate has, to your knowledge, opposed free trade on the grounds that immigration can substitute for trade, let me know, and I’ll be happy to write a critical blog post of that position. As you know, I don’t hesitate to critique open borders advocates or their putative allies for taking positions I consider wrong.

    Christopher’s position that immigration is rendered relatively unimportant because trade can substitute for it seems to me equally implausible, even if you are skeptical of the estimates in the double world GDP literature.

    I’m just pointing out that the direct role of immigration in poverty elimination is non-negligible even with today’s closed borders regime.

    I would also argue that immigration and trade have important complementary aspects, and the complementary aspects override the substitution aspects. But that is a position that would need more elaboration at a later stage.

    1. A *small* amount of immigration is complementary with trade; see BK’s comment about FDI from the Chinese diaspora.

      But China’s success (and the other East Asian successes that demonstrate that China is not sui generis in this context) proves that it does not take much immigration before the marginal utility of accepting more, for the purpose of reducing poverty, become negligible at best; other factors become dominant. The US has accepted far more immigrants from Mexico, and accomplished far less in doing so.

      1. So your position is that the median Chinese person who wants to immigrate to the US probably wouldn’t benefit very much from doing so? I think you need to tackle the question of the place premium directly. I am an Asian immigrant from a middle-class background working in the US at a white-collar job similar to a job I could do back home. My real income is substantially greater in the US than it would be back home; the higher pay trumps the higher price level.

        I think the open borders position on poverty is much more consistent with what the field of economics currently knows about economic development (that is, to say, not much). Historically, development economists have been sure the panacea for the developing world lay in one or more of the following:

        1. Investment in education and healthcare
        2. Redistribution of property
        3. Nurturing infant industries
        4. Eliminating barriers to trade and capital flows
        5. Democratisation
        6. Building institutions like the rule of law

        The only thing we’ve learnt about development economics in the past century has been that although some or all of these logically contribute to development, none of them is a magic bullet. We’re currently going through a fad with #6, but it remains to be seen whether it will prove to be any different from the other 5 fads. (Mind you, I’m not saying #6 is a bad idea — I’m just saying that if #4 turned out to not be sufficient, #6 may not be the promised cure either.)

        Basic macro implies that #4, free trade and capital flows, ought to do the trick. But it turns out that institutions play a critical role in development too. And a country cannot create institutions by fiat. Setting up shop in Zimbabwe is more likely to waste my firm’s time and money than it would be to hire bright Zimbabweans fleeing their country’s regime to work in my firm’s home office. An identical argument applies with respect to a country with less egregiously bad institutions, such as India, or even Vietnam. It’s a waste of human capital and human lives to insist people should stay where they were born and wait for the indeterminate date when their institutions will allow them to be the best they can be, when functioning institutions allowing them to be all they can be already exist and are within their reach.

        Note that I haven’t addressed the political externality argument w.r.t. immigration undermining institutions yet. That likely deserves a blog post or dozen all of its own. But at the very least, the case for open borders (or something close to it) for anyone with a post-graduate or STEM degree is a virtual slam dunk all on its own, unless you (or your society) just dislike foreigners of any kind and any number.

        1. I said “for the purpose of reducing poverty”. To the extent that there is a moral imperative for rich countries to allow nonzero immigration, that is how far it goes. Beyond that, it is a matter of MUTUAL taste, and the limiting factor there is the disposition of the natives.

          Nothing more than a comparison between Chinese and Mexican immigration to the US is needed to show that the dogmatic open borders position is ridiculous, regardless of what you may think about historical precedent before the era of cheap transportation. It’s called a proof of impossibility, and real mathematicians adjust their goals when confronted with one. You have to decide whether you actually care about reducing global poverty, and accept immigration policy as something with constraints on BOTH sides which need to be intelligently balanced, or if you prefer to continue damaging that cause while stubbornly sticking to your goal of squaring the circle.

        2. And as for fleeing Zimbabweans, I support schemes like charter cities that accelerate spread of good institutions. The huge difference between charter cities and immigration is that charter cities are controlled experiments that do not pose real risk of damaging existing high-functioning systems. In contrast, I attended a public school in a minority-heavy American city as a kid, as well as public schools in other cities and towns, so I have some firsthand experience with how sharply key institutions can be negatively impacted by immigration.

          1. “And as for fleeing Zimbabweans, I support schemes like charter cities that accelerate spread of good institutions. The huge difference between charter cities and immigration is that charter cities are controlled experiments that do not pose real risk of damaging existing high-functioning systems.”

            I support charter cities as well, but until a charter city actually exists, we are going to have to make do with what we have. And even if a charter city existed, I would not fault many immigrants for still trying to get into other jurisdictions (not least because until there are hundreds of charter cities it will be unrealistic for them to accommodate most of the actual demand for immigration — and it will always be unrealistic for them to accommodate 100% of this demand, though they may get close). If people are fleeing repression or economic catastrophe, and the only option is to send them back to suffer or die, or let them out, it hardly seems humane or realistic to pick the first option.

            Obviously there are risks involved with permitting greater immigration. The appropriate thing to do is to quantify them (however crudely we can) and decide what level of risk we are willing to tolerate. There is obviously some nonzero number of immigrants which will not inflict damage on a country’s institutions, and I see little reason to believe that the upper range of this number is in danger of being reached by most imaginable immigration policies today. In fact, I cannot think of a single instance in modern (say, post-Treaty of Westphalia) history where immigration led to the destruction of domestic institutions, except in cases where the immigration would be fairly characterised as outright invasion.

            I and my siblings have attended public school in immigrant-/ethnic minority-heavy communities, both at home and in other countries, and I don’t think any of our experiences suggest an apocalypse for public education from a cultural/diversity standpoint. The lesson clearly is that neither your nor my anecdotal experiences are likely to be a reliable indicator of the impacts of high levels of immigration on the actual experience of a public school student.

            From a resource standpoint, yes, open borders would likely be taxing on school and health systems — which is why we on this site tend to be fans of immigration tariffs (and besides, open borders would also increase to varying degrees the amount of resources available, provided union restrictions don’t get too much in the way, as BK has previously pointed out about American doctors).

          2. @John Lee 11/11 11:16am:

            I currently live in what is effectively a charter city: it’s called Hong Kong. Granted, the circumstances of its founding cannot be replicated today. But its spectacular success, especially when contrasted with the large negative effect Mexican immigration has already had on American public schools, make it clear which approach is essentially reliable and which approach still has many, many bugs to work out.

            My personal experience is representative of a smart American kid exposed to a representative Hispanic immigrant population, even if it may not generalize to other combinations of natives, immigrants, and cultures. Just compare the ranking of the California public school system (relative to other US states) in 1962 vs. 2012; I’ve seen a domestic institution destroyed by immigration with my own eyes, so your claim that no such institution has been destroyed is beyond unconvincing. For open borders to be viable, it has to make sense across *all* such combinations likely to exist; certainly including the one which is actually most relevant in the US today.

          3. “In fact, I cannot think of a single instance in modern (say, post-Treaty of Westphalia) history where immigration led to the destruction of domestic institutions, except in cases where the immigration would be fairly characterised as outright invasion.”

            John, someone recently gave the example of initially peaceful Jewish immigration to Palestine/Israel. In this case the British permitted immigration despite the wishes of the locals. That probably isn’t a coincidence: society-wrecking immigration is rare because countries have actively prevented the kinds of migration flows that could do it thus far.

            1. Israel/Palestine is interesting, both for Jewish immigration to Palestine and modern Israel’s immigration policy. I’ve been discussing this with co-bloggers recently, and one of us may blog about it soon.

        1. The direct effect is deeply uninteresting compared to the externalities, because the latter has much greater magnitude in the controversial cases. If I ever see an open borders advocate present an accounting of first-order externalities experienced by middle class natives that is remotely fair, I will then take the second-order direct effect seriously.

  7. “I said “for the purpose of reducing poverty”. To the extent that there is a moral imperative for rich countries to allow nonzero immigration, that is how far it goes. Beyond that, it is a matter of MUTUAL taste, and the limiting factor there is the disposition of the natives.”

    The exact implications of the moral case depend on whether you’re coming at this from a libertarian, utilitarian, or egalitarian standpoint. Some standpoints imply more stronger moral obligations than others. In any case, given that most countries in the world are democracies, it seems obvious to me that open borders advocates are directly targeting “the disposition of the natives”. Except in a few rare cases, it’s difficult to accomplish open borders by fiat.

    It also seems to me that you’re making an odd argument by advocating restrictions on immigration for rich people from poor countries or people from middle- to upper-income countries (because it would be so terrible if the US hired more Filipino nurses or British doctors?) while accepting that rich countries should permit at least some immigration for poor people (though only from poor countries?). I’m not sure if I accurately understand your position; if I have understood it correctly, then it’s coherent and defensible, but unusual.

    “Nothing more than a comparison between Chinese and Mexican immigration to the US is needed to show that the dogmatic open borders position is ridiculous, regardless of what you may think about historical precedent before the era of cheap transportation.”

    Again, I’m not sure what you’re trying to draw attention to. The reasons why China and Mexico are at different levels and trends of development are complicated and accurately drawing inferences about the implications for immigration from just these two countries seems difficult. Given the levels of inequality in many Latin American countries, and their relatively easy geographic access to the US, it is completely unsurprising that there remain a lot of poor people in these countries who would benefit from immigrating to a richer country with better institutions, and find their way to the US. In a counterfactual world where the US and China were neighbours, it would not be inconceivable for Americans today to be complaining about illegal Chinese immigration. In fact, there are non-negligible illegal immigration flows from coastal parts of China to the US today. And in that counterfactual universe with greater Chinese immigration to the US, who is one to say that the Chinese would not be better off than they are in ours? It’s hardly less plausible than your claim that in a counterfactual universe where Mexicans didn’t immigrate to the US, they would not be much worse off than they are in ours.

    Your position that immigration either makes no difference at the margin or actually retards development after relatively low levels of immigration is, to the best of my knowledge, not one commonly held in the field of development economics. So for this reason if you have literature backing up this view, I’m not aware of it. I would certainly be interested in reading it to understand the empirical backing further, especially as I presume it would rely on either a more comprehensive set of countries than just China and Mexico, or use more thorough methods in comparing the impact of immigration on these two countries’ development.

    1. My view is that

      (i) It is immoral for the First World to forcibly trap the rest of the world in subsistence poverty. This should be pretty uncontroversial, and it’s the only assumption needed to establish a winning case for nonzero immigration, especially since the required level of immigration is small and minimally disruptive.
      (ii) Once permitted immigration levels are obviously sufficient to enable a poor country to fully advance, the moral obligation is met. From there, it’s a matter of mutual taste.

      There is nothing strange about this view. If you ask a good cross-section of actual Americans to compare my view to yours, they are practically certain to favor mine.

      1. “the required level of immigration is small and minimally disruptive.”

        I think this is the main part of your premise which I disagree with. At the same time, I don’t fault rich countries for fearing “disruptive” levels of immigration — my main contention is that high levels of immigration are not nearly as disruptive as is often suggested.

        BTW, when I was doing public economics in university, the general consensus amongst my professors on the destruction of the Californian public school system was that it has primarily been due to the unintended consequences of the courts ruling that surplus tax revenue from wealthy school districts should be redistributed to poor school districts. The consequence was a property tax revolt in 1978 which dramatically slashed spending for Californian public schools. Even if one disputes the causal link between the property tax revolt and falling public school spending in the state, the latter is quite clear to see. If greater fiscal/social burdens from immigration were the driving factor behind the collapse of Californian public schools, I’m not aware of public economics literature supporting this, so would be glad if you could point me to any.

        “Once permitted immigration levels are obviously sufficient to enable a poor country to fully advance, the moral obligation is met. From there, it’s a matter of mutual taste.”

        I am inclined to disagree with this as well. If a country’s GDP per capita is trending upwards, but inequality means virtually all the gains of this go to the country’s richest, should the appropriate moral response be “Well their country is getting richer, so their poor people can piss off”?

        Moreover, although I think open borders would help w.r.t. development, I don’t advocate it as a magic bullet for making poor countries richer. The strength of the moral case for open borders is not primarily that it helps make poor countries richer — it is that closed borders artificially create unsustainable wage wedges between rich and poor countries. There is no good reason why a statistically identical person should earn 10 times less if he is trapped in his country, compared to his twin in an alternative universe who migrated to a rich country. Closed borders basically amount to a mandate that people who aren’t born in your country should be paid multiples less for the same work. When there are Chinese citizens willing to pay $80,000 *and* risk dying in a desert or suffocating in a container to sneak illegally into the US, when 2 million Afghans are willing to risk death in the desert *and* being shot by border guards just to get into Iran, it’s a strong intuitive indicator that something is wrong with how the closed border system works.

        1. Vipul at least explicitly acknowledges that immigrant IQ is an issue, which is why I bothered to start commenting here in the first place. High IQ populations can usually get away with foolish policy like Proposition 13 without suffering that badly; California shows what happens when you take away the room for error. The strong correlations between population IQ and almost everything is well known, and links are present elsewhere on this site. If you are going to posit that Proposition 13 *caused* low IQ, suffice it to say that the burden of proof is on you.

          In addition, First World Western quality of life depends on reciprocal altruism on a level that does not exist in the economic “equilibrium” state guaranteed by open borders. Open the borders without very carefully designed technocratic measures that only Singapore and a very small handful of other exceptionally competent states can reliably pull off (“keyhole solutions”), and you kill the goose that lays the golden egg. And from what I hear, even Singapore is getting more social tension than it bargained for from its policies, though I think it’s government will eventually figure out a satisfactory solution.

          If you think there is “no good reason” why a statistically identical person should earn 10 times less if he is trapped in his country, that’s due to your failure to understand real-world engineering imitations. Your preferred policies demonstrate a preference for everyone’s wages to be beaten down to a low level (doing the math wrong on this is not an excuse; basically functional intuitions about reality are enough to make it easy to identify modeling errors), over proven policies that asymptotically deliver all the prosperity you ask for (most recent obvious example: Hong Kong -> Shenzhen Special Economic Zone -> other special economic zones -> rest of China). If somebody “opens the borders” of their body by removing their skin, some nearby organisms will benefit in the short run, but not many people would argue that this actually increases global utility.

    2. My claim is not that the Mexicans who immigrate to the US are, at least in the short term, no better off than if they stayed in Mexico. Nothing of the sort needs to be established.

      The relevant facts are

      (i) Mexico’s relative backwardness has nothing to do with immigration levels somehow being insufficient, or even remotely close to that.
      (ii) Thus, it is moral for existing US citizens to reduce the permitted immigration level if they find such a reduction in their own interest. They have a far better understanding of their own system than any group of immigrants who have so far failed to even replicate many of its obviously good features.
      (iii) Nobody is stopping an employer from doing business with Mexicans in Mexico. I, at least, have no opposition to them working together in a neutral third territory with more open borders, if Mexico itself is horrible. I just respect the concerns of Americans who rationally think that, if Mexico is horrible, importing too many Mexicans will bring in some of that horribleness.

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