The moral foundations of immigration restrictionism

It recently occurred to me that it would be interesting to try to interpret the seemingly irreconcilable differences in worldview between open borders advocates and restrictionists in terms of moral foundations theory. This theory has been developed by Jonathan Haidt, Jesse Graham, Ravi Iyer, and others. It attempts to identify the different foundations that people draw upon to make moral judgments and how people differ in the extent to which they draw upon the foundations. Quoting from the website, there are six moral foundations:

  1. Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
  2. Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
  3. Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.
  4. Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”
  5. Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
  6. Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

A crude summary would be that welfare-state liberals are focused on (1) and (2), libertarians are almost completely focused on (3) (with a bit of (1) and (2)) and conservatives are somewhat concerned about all foundations.

How does this picture fit open borders advocates and restrictionists? A first guess is that since restrictionists have tended to be more on the conservative side, restrictionists draw significantly upon all moral foundations. In contrast, open borders advocates tend to be either libertarians or liberals (and some economic conservatives) which indicates that they draw upon foundations (1)-(3). This suggests that there are a number of arguments that restrictionists would make as moral arguments but which open borders advocates wouldn’t consider “moral arguments” at all because they draw upon foundations that aren’t recognized as sources of morality.

I think the data bear these out. In the rest of this post, I consider the three moral foundations that are employed to much greater effect by restrictionists.

Loyalty/betrayal (in-group)

This foundation is employed quite a bit by restrictionists. Most of the objections to the libertarian case as well as the philosophical bases for anti-immigration arguments such as citizenism, territorialism, and nation as family employ the foundation of loyalty to one’s nation. Obviously, many open borders advocates spend time touting the benefits to immigrant-receiving countries. But possibly due to negativity bias, and the fact that the harms claimed by restrictionists are far more dramatic than the gains claimed by open borders advocates, the restrictionist arguments seem more salient.

There is another factor at play here. Most open borders advocates are (rightly) unapologetic about considering the substantial benefits to migrants when making the case for open borders. But strong in-group loyalty coupled with a zero-sum mindset might make this argument backfire. More indirectly, it might lead some of those with strong national loyalties to suspect that those advocating for open borders are traitors of some sort and that even their arguments about benefits to the nation are the result of spin.

There is also a huge divide between restrictionists who see loyalty to one’s nation as paramount and some open borders advocates who view national loyalty as no more a deep moral requirement than loyalty to one’s sports team. Continue reading “The moral foundations of immigration restrictionism” »

Garett Jones responds to my intelligence post

[UPDATE: Check out Nathan’s related post Immigration and Institutions]

In my previous post on intelligence, international development, and immigration, I referenced some of the writings of Garett Jones. I sent an email to Jones asking him for his thoughts on the post, and he replied with the following email:

A very nice, thoughtful post. Thank you for giving my writings a careful reading. Much appreciated.

I’d have one critique of your claim, one that is common to many supporters of freer low-skill immigration.

You claim that institutions are important, something I agree with. And you claim that low IQ populations tend to have bad institutions, partly because of the low IQ population, again something I agree with.

But from there you conclude that low-IQ immigrants should be allowed to come to countries with good institutions. That might be reasonable as a moral case but I’m no expert on morality so I’ll leave that to others.

I would emphasize a different conclusion: That the low-IQ immigrants will tend to worsen the institutions of the higher-IQ countries they move to. Low IQ immigrants will, to some degree, tend to make the country they move to more like the country they came from.

Partly this will be due to MRV and Caplan/Miller reasons: low IQ groups vote for bad policies. Partly it’s because they will tend to elect individuals from their constituencies, which will, on average, tend to lower the average IQ of the legislature. And partly it’s because the bureaucracy will tend to hire individuals from low-skill groups, which will lower government quality.

For these and other reasons, new low IQ citizens impose a tax on the nation’s institutions, and this institutional cost should be counted in a candid cost-benefit analysis.

*Shorter version: Good institutions are rare treasures, and institutions are endogenous with respect to (among other things) citizen IQ. *
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Again, many thanks for drawing attention to my work, much appreciated.

I think Jones is correct, particularly for those aspects of institutions that are determined through electoral political processes (for more on the political externalities arguments made by restrictionists, see political externalities). I should have acknowledged more explicitly in my original post. This concern would have less applicability to market processes or to those aspects of the law that are deeply entrenched and less subject to political change. [UPDATE: Nathan Smith’s comment below reminded me that I should mention the following: even for those of you who consider the political externalities case to be serious, there are keyhole solutions to the problem such as guest worker programs that allow people to migrate to work but don’t given them voting rights. The focus of this post, however, is to consider the strength of the concern per se, not to propose remedies.]

I still stand by the key point of the original post, namely, that sustaining high quality institutions is a lot easier than creating high quality institutions, and even low IQ people would be able to discern that institutions in the country they migrate to are better than institutions in the country they migrated from, which would limit (but not eliminate) their desire to recreate the situation of their source country.

To make my point a little clearer, I’m arguing that it’s a lot harder to improve a country’s poor institutions by importing a lot of high IQ people than it is to sustain a country’s good institutions even allowing low IQ immigration (importing the institutions themselves might work — that’s the hope behind charter cities). In a sense, I’m arguing that institutions have their own inertia. This argument can be thought of as a version of status quo bias, and it has been made by Bryan Caplan in his digest version of the political externalities of open borders, where he writes (emphasis added by me):

2. The political effect of immigrants on markets and liberty is at worst modestly negative. The median American isn’t a libertarian, and the median immigrant isn’t a Stalinist. We’re talking about marginal disagreements between social democrats, nothing more. Immigrants’ low voter turnout and status quo bias further dilute immigrants’ negative political effect.

I’m actually arguing something slightly stronger: institutions have their own inertia, but good institutions have more inertia than poor institutions, even with low IQ populations, because people can see the results and tell the difference, at least when it’s sufficiently dramatic. They may misdiagnose the causes, and may even misjudge minor differences. But they’re unlikely to undo all the gains achieved through improved institutions.

In Jones’ language, my framing of his assertions that “institutions are endogenous to (among other things) a country’s IQ” would be that it is changes in institutions that are endogenous to a country’s IQ.

That said, I do agree with Jones that, viewed solely from the angle of the quality of institutions in the target country, immigration of low IQ people could have a negative impact, or, even if not a direct negative impact, an “opportunity cost” (i.e., institutions don’t improve as rapidly as they otherwise might).

Intelligence, international development, and immigration

For background reading on the topic of IQ as an objection to immigration, see IQ deficit.

I recently learned from Arnold Kling’s blog post of a new book by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen titled Intelligence: A Unifying Construct for the Social Sciences (buy here). The book is an extension of earlier work by Lynn and Vanhanen, including IQ and the Wealth of Nations (Wikipedia page).

In IQ and the Wealth of Nations Lynn and Vanhanen introduce the concept of “national IQ” — the average IQ of a nation — and then attempt to demonstrate that national IQ is correlated with a number of measures of national per capita wealth. They then try to argue that at least part of the correlation is causal from IQ to per capita wealth. Controlling for IQ, they find that the extent to which an economy is a free market economy is the best predictor of national wealth. Roughly, they contend that national IQs explain about 1/3 of the variation in national wealth, market orientation explains another 1/3 of the variation, and the remaining 1/3 is explained by a host of other factors (which they don’t attempt to enumerate in full).

In Intelligence, Lynn and Vanhanen extend the analysis beyond wealth to various other measures of well being including health measures, water access, democratization, crime, and happiness. They argue that IQ can explain a significant portion of each of these (though in some cases it is not as significant) and conventional explanations such as market orientation and specific historical events can account for some of the residual. Their overall thesis is that intelligence should be treated as a unifying construct and explanatory variable across a wide range of social sciences, akin to the way that concepts from physics have explanatory power across all domains of the natural sciences.

While L&V’s thesis is new, I think that they make reasonable arguments and attempt to address all the prima facie objections one may have. How well they succeed, and whether their thesis withstands further empirical assault, is not something I feel confident to comment upon. However, I think that L&V sometimes draw the wrong conclusions from their data on the rare occasions that they try to discuss the implications for international development.

Although I don’t have any credentials in this area, I’ve relied, in addition to L&V, on the research of Garett Jones, who largely agrees with the L&V framework but tries to dig deeper into the mechanisms by which IQ might play a causal role in creating wealth. While the synthesis I present is largely my own, it relies on Jones’ work to quite an extent.

Also note: my critique of some of the conclusions that L&V (and others) draw from their work presupposes, for simplicity’s sake, that L&V’s overall framework is correct. Even if it isn’t, and IQ is not as powerful an explanatory variable as claimed, my arguments may still work in a modified sense (replacing IQ by whatever X factor is driving national differences).

National IQs versus individual IQs

Jones, L&V, and many other students of national IQs have argued that there is a relationship between national IQ and economic measures, and that this relationship is logarithmic: a one point increase in national IQ leads to a fixed proportional increase in productivity, hence also in per capita GDP and other measures. However, one of the remarkable findings is that the effects at the national level are much more salient than the effects at the individual level. Continue reading “Intelligence, international development, and immigration” »

Wars of liberation versus open borders

Open borders advocate Bryan Caplan talks about good and bad arguments for pacifism in his blog post How Not to Be a Pacifist. The blog post talks about the Vietnam War and the morality of US intervention in the conflict. Caplan argues that while there were strong humanitarian reasons to oppose the communist regime in Vietnam, these ends would have been better served through a policy of open borders in the US for refugees from Vietnam. He bolsters his case by considering the 300 days of open borders between North and South Vietnam.

The case that emigration is an important weapon in the battle against communist and other tyrannical regimes has been made elsewhere as well, but Caplan’s argument adds a new twist by comparing open borders with wars of liberation. My paraphrasing of his argument would be that if you think that a humanitarian injustice justifies a military intervention (war of liberation) you should also think it justifies open borders for the victims of that injustice. With this in mind, let’s look at the chart of possibilities for a person’s attitudes towards wars of liberation and open borders:

Rows represent attitudes to wars of liberations, columns represent attitude to open borders for victims Support open borders for victims of tyrannical regimes Oppose open borders for victims of tyrannical regimes
Support wars of liberation Uncommon, but consistent. Found among some neoconservatives and internationalists (liberal and libertarian). Example: My co-blogger Nathan Smith (his views on Iraq) Common, but inconsistent. Include significant fraction of mainstream US conservatives
Oppose wars of liberation Uncommon, but consistent. Example: Bryan Caplan (blog post) Uncommon, but consistent. Found among paleoconservatives, some isolationist liberals. Example: Steve Sailer (article)

The top right quadrant — support wars of liberation but oppose immigration — is the most interesting because it seems prima facie inconsistent, yet is widely held by a large number of people who identify themselves as conservative in the United States. Unfortunately, I don’t have any convincing theory or idea to explain this inconsistency.

UPDATE: See also the immigration and wars of liberation page on this site and a related piece by Jacob Hornberger.