Six possible positions on a specific keyhole solution

This post is more of a utility post that grew as a spinoff of another post I’m drafting, which is getting a bit long. I hope to refer to this post in that other (forthcoming) blog post and in other forthcoming blog posts. I’ll be using the term “keyhole solution” a lot in this post, so if you haven’t already, I suggest you read the keyhole solutions page to get an overview of the term, and also check out all blog posts with the “keyhole solutions” tag on this website.

Consider keyhole solution A that has been developed to meet a specific objection to open borders. Suppose you are asked to specify a rank-order preference between three options:

  1. Open borders without keyhole solution A.
  2. Open borders with keyhole solution A.
  3. Closed borders and/or status quo.

Now, there are six possible rank-order preferences for this set of three options (we get the number 6 by taking the factorial of 3). I want to discuss each of these, and the kind of people who might want to take that position.

Open borders advocates who prefer open borders without the keyhole solution: rank-order (1) > (2) > (3)

These open borders advocates would prefer open borders without the keyhole solution. But, since the world is not an ideal world, they are willing to compromise and accept open borders with the keyhole solution. They are not genuinely convinced that the problem the keyhole solution addresses is a genuine problem that needs to be addressed through the keyhole solution. But they’re willing to go along with the keyhole solution as a form of dealism, or to placate existing interests and convert potential Pareto improvements into Pareto improvements.

John Lee seems to take this position with respect to the immigration tariffs keyhole solution. He writes in a comment on his own post:

Thanks Nathan. I think we agree on what’s probably the best achievable policy reform for now (immigration tariffs), but I am inclined to disagree with your moral preference for Pareto-improving policies here, as well as your characterisation of them as merely “a little unfair”. I think immigration tariffs would be a massive improvement, but remain a distant second-best policy (from a moral standpoint) to true open borders. I used to consider immigration tariffs the best policy here, but have been convinced by the economic evidence that I was placing far too much weight on natives’ welfare, and far too little on migrants’ welfare. (This change in my beliefs is something I plan to write more on, so I won’t elaborate too much on it here.)

The theme of compromise and the willingness to accept keyhole solutions to problems he’s not convinced are serious runs through John’s writings. For instance, in a comment, he writes:

Surely you’ve heard of the term “political compromise”? Keyhole solutions split the difference between restrictionists and hardcore open borders advocates. If you’re concerned about giving the other side a victory, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Open borders advocates who prefer open borders with the keyhole solution: rank-order (2) > (1) > (3)

Here, the open borders advocate would support open borders both with and without the keyhole solution — the case for open borders is too strong for a keyhole solution to make or break it. But the open borders advocate still prefers open borders with the keyhole solution. Many open borders advocates take concerns about political externalities seriously, and are willing to consider keyhole solutions that would limit voting rights for recent immigrants as superior to open borders with voting rights. But even if they’re not able to get that preferred policy, they would still support open borders. The same is true for making immigrants ineligible for welfare: a lot of libertarian supporters of open borders would prefer that immigrants be ineligible for welfare benefits, but would support open borders even if this were not possible. Continue reading Six possible positions on a specific keyhole solution