Welcome Atlantic readers! (And, how you can help)

This morning, Shaun Raviv published an article about open borders in The Atlantic, one of the finest magazines in the world, entitled “If People Could Immigrate Anywhere, Would Poverty Be Eliminated?” Atlantic readers: welcome. If you want to give us money to support the cause, sorry, you can’t. As far as I know, we don’t have an infrastructure for that. What you can do is comment on our posts. We love to get thoughtful, high-quality comments, so as to see what kind of impression our arguments make on outsiders. We adapt what we write about considerably in response to thoughtful criticism. In particular, see here, here, and here. We’re good listeners here. We’re Socratic and inquisitive.

Here’s Shaun’s description of Open Borders: The Case.

Vipul Naik is the face, or at least the voice, of open borders on the Internet. In March 2012, he launched  Open Borders: The Case, a website dedicated to the idea. Naik, a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, is striving for “a world where there is a strong presumption in favor of allowing people to migrate and where this presumption can be overridden or curtailed only under exceptional circumstances.” Naik and his two primary co-writers, Nathan Smith and John Lee, parse research into    immigration impacts, answering claims by those they call “restrictionists”–people who argue against open borders–and deconstructing writings on migration    by economists, politicians, journalists, and philosophers.

My favorite part:

In 2008, Clemens and his frequent co-writer, Harvard economist Lant Pritchett, came up with a new statistic called “income per natural.” Their goal was to show “the mean annual income of persons born in a given country, regardless of where that person now resides.” They found that large percentages of people from Haiti, Mexico, and India who live above international poverty lines don’t actually reside in their home countries. “For example, among Haitians who live either in the United States or Haiti and live on more than $10 per day–about a third of the U.S. ‘poverty’ line–four out of five live in the United States,” Clemens wrote. “Emigration from Haiti, as a force for Haitians’ poverty reduction, may be at least as important as any economic change that has occurred within Haiti.”

Getting this kind of coverage makes me think again about a question that’s sometimes come to us: What can I do to help? For example, Bryan Caplan blegged: “Suppose you wanted to spend your charitable dollars to increase the total number of people who migrate from the Third World to the First World.  What approach would give you the biggest bang for your buck?  Are any specific countries, organizations, or loopholes especially promising?”

A rather staid, cautious answer is that you might be able to join the list of sponsors of the IMPALA data project. They didn’t ask me to solicit money for them and I don’t even know whether they’d accept it, but I assume a large project like theirs would have things to do with financial support, and we could definitely use better data on migration policies around the world. If you want to learn about trade policy, you can go the WITS database hosted by the World Bank, and get very detailed information about volumes of trade around the world, broken down into very specific categories, as well as about tariff rates and other restrictions. There is nothing close to that for immigration law, but the IMPALA data, when available, should help. See this talk for more about IMPALA’s data project.

IMPALA is not agitating for open borders, of course. But as I argued a while back, good indices measuring the openness of all the world’s borders could be quite useful for advocacy:

Once constructed, these indices could serve several purposes. First, they could have a “naming and shaming” role, identifying the world’s most closed countries, while issuing surprising congratulations to countries that have probably been more permissive all along. I suspect people in the West would be surprised to see how well Russia would score. Second, they could be an input to research, e.g., establishing with statistical significance the link between policy openness and entrepreneurial vitality. Third, they could be a guide to business decisions, e.g., “Let’s establish the new plant in Georgia… Yeah, I know they don’t have all the specialists we need, but the Open Borders Index says that Georgia is the #1 right-to-invite country in the world.” Fourth, they could inform the decisions of prospective immigrants, e.g., “I really want to get an education and then move out of Sudan, but where could I go? Hmm, the Philippines is welcoming to sojourners…” Fifth, they could become an input to development-aid decisions, e.g., “Namibia deserves a lot of aid, they’re very open to migration.” Sixth, they could suggest the outlines of deals between governments, e.g., “Why are you so unwelcoming to our citizens?” “Well, why are you so unwelcoming to our citizens?” “Let’s make a deal…” Seventh, the periodic issuing of reports would give the media and bloggers something to write about, raising the profile of the immigration issue.

You could also donate to the Cato Institute. Whether they have ways to channel donations to immigration work specifically, if you don’t support the libertarian agenda in general, I’m not sure. I think Cato does pretty much support open borders, but if you read their position statement…

The overriding impact of immigrants is to strengthen and enrich American culture, increase the total output of the economy, and raise the standard of living of American citizens. Immigrants are advantageous to the United States for several reasons: (1) Since they are willing to take a chance in a new land, they are self-selected on the basis on motivation, risk taking, work ethic, and other attributes beneficial to a nation. (2) They tend to come to the United States during their prime working years (the average age is 28), and they contribute to the workforce and make huge net contributions to old-age entitlement programs, primarily Social Security. (3) Immigrants tend to fill niches in the labor market where demand is highest relative to supply, complementing rather than directly competing with American workers. (4) Many immigrants arrive with extremely high skill levels, and virtually all, regardless of skill level, bring a strong desire to work. (5) Their children tend to reach high levels of achievement in American schools and in society at large.

… the focus is more on making the narrow case that more immigration is in the US national interest, not so much on open borders is the right approach for the world as a whole.

Another very good option is to support Jose Antonio Vargas’s “Define American” project. Neither Vargas nor his organization have come out (so to speak) in favor of open borders, to the regret of Bryan Caplan. But I see Vargas as a civil disobedience leader– “A Face for the Faceless,” as I wrote last year in The American— and by driving home certain indispensable lessons about human rights, he tends to heighten the contradictions of immigration restrictionism in a society that wants to see itself as just, humane, and free. (See also my post on Why Jose Antonio Vargas Matters.)

Now for some subversive suggestions.

As an open borders advocate I love undocumented immigration. I’d rather that all immigration be legalized, but if governments outlaw it, I want to see those laws evaded, undermined, disdained, rendered ineffectual, thwarted, unraveled, marginalized, overcome, overwhelmed, etc. So I worry a bit about the increases in border security that tend to be announced and included in comprehensive immigration reform bills, since while I think they won’t work, I’m not sure. For example, if as Charles Krauthammer advocates, the US builds a fence along the Mexico-US border, how will undocumented immigrants get in? Tunnel under it? Fly over it in small planes? Go around it through the Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico, in boats? Climb over it with ladders? Probably so, but possibly those would all turn out to be too difficult. There’s some risk that physical enforcement would work.

One method of undocumented immigration is via shipping container. This has been done, but as far as I know, it is rare, because it is easier to get through the Mexican border, particularly for Mexicans, but to some extent for people from other countries who can get into Mexico more easily than directly into the US. Migration by shipping container should not be too expensive, in principle– water transport is very cheap– and a shipping container isn’t such a cramped space, but I suspect the main problem must be feces. If you’re stuck in a 40-foot by 10-foot container for two weeks, how do you make it not stink abominably? There might be room for a clever entrepreneur to design and mass-manufacture a nifty pseudo-container, with a chemical toilet in an airtight bathroom with two doors to keep the air in, room for genuine cargo in front in case the inspectors take a peek, a cot to sleep on and a good battery or small generator, so you can take a crash course in English during a couple of weeks at sea in a container, and maybe a week or so on trains or trucks before you’re dropped off at an inland destination where no one would think to look for you, and some US-based participant in the migration-assistance network would open the container and welcome you to your new country. With enough volume, costs could probably brought down to reasonably low levels.

Also useful would be some means of facilitating necessary domestic transactions for the undocumented. For example, if you can figure out a good way to set up a labor contracting business with a minimal footprint, to help people hire maids or plumbers or whatever without having to ask for Social Security numbers, that might be helpful. I wish I could be more specific, but I don’t have any personal experience with illegal activity. I personally believe in never telling any lies, so I won’t advise anyone to try these illegal methods of serving the open borders cause unless you can manage it without ever uttering a single falsehood. Silence is OK, though.

UPDATE: How could I forget to link to Vipul’s thorough discussion of “possibilities for philanthropy [in the cause of] open borders?”

Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith is an assistant professor of economics at Fresno Pacific University. He did his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University and has also worked for the World Bank. Smith proposed Don’t Restrict Immigration, Tax It, one of the more comprehensive keyhole solution proposals to address concerns surrounding open borders.

See also:

Page about Nathan Smith on Open Borders
All blog posts by Nathan Smith

4 thoughts on “Welcome Atlantic readers! (And, how you can help)”

  1. Persons may also be interested in checking out and supporting Giving What We Can, an international group focused on effective giving and eradicating poverty. GWWC is beginning research on whether open immigration is an effective means of reducing poverty and if so what the best means of supporting it would be! http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/blog/2012-12-07/migration-as-a-possible-way-of-helping-the-poor

    This is mentioned in Vipul’s post, but it is worth mentioning here as well.

  2. I just read the Atlantic article. Thanks for expanding the debate on migration! It’s not simply about allowing countries to access talent but giving freedom to people themselves. Recently politicians in the UK have been making dangerous statements to feed into the fear of migrants for their political benefit. We need more knowledge to break down these myths which are preventing migrants from living full and free lives. Please read UK Prime Minister Cameron’s speech to see the extent of the attempts: http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/david-camerons-immigration-speech/

  3. The article in Atlantic was excellent. I have been making the same arguments for a decade through a documentary film “Beyond Borders” a web site rational immigration. It appears that the tide has turned enough to slightly ease the currently restrictive US immigration laws but there is a long way to go. How do we turn this into the next human rights struggle?

    1. Sociologist Fabio Rojas penned a 3-part series on what we can do to further the open borders movement: http://openborders.info/blog/author/fabio-rojas/

      For now my personal approach is to try to interject these ideas into my everyday discourse — not that I frequently discuss migration or politics or international development, but these are topics which come up often enough that every so often one has the chance to discuss borders. I’m a big fan of dialogue; I think an idea needs to reach maturity via dialogue before it can truly become the status quo thinking, and we are clearly not there yet.

      The other thing beyond personal dialogue is more organised dialogue via media such as this blog/website, films, lectures, and so on. It’s I think a bit frustrating that this seems to be the most likely path forward in the short term — but I’m hopeful that within a few years (though I won’t rule out decades), we’ll see a lot of notable people beyond the utopian radical anarchist crowd who are willing to say “Closed borders are nonsense, and we should open the borders as much as we can.”

      All we need is someone like Mark Zuckerberg to decide this is a cause worth championing — and when we’re talking about doubling world GDP, and multiplying the wage incomes of some of the world’s poorest by 10 or 15 times, it seems impossible to me that smart people can go on forever ignoring the injustice of closed borders. Either some new research will reveal something the “double world GDP” and place premium estimates have been missing, or skeptical smart people will become converts to the cause. But before we can find and convert our skeptics, we first need to make more people aware of the Open Borders idea as something more concrete than just an utopian dream in the first place.

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