People on both sides of the open borders debate believe that their opponents often discount, or perhaps give zero weight to, the welfare of certain groups of people:
- Open borders advocates believe, with some justification, that the citizenist and territorialist perspectives used to justify restrictionism discount the rights and interests of non-citizens (respectively, non-residents) compared to citizens (respectively, residents).
- Restrictionists believe, again with some justification, that those on the open borders side discount the interests of less fortunate natives who are most hurt by competition from immigrants (see here for more).
Still, there’s something potentially worse than indifference — vindictiveness. Indifference is about placing a zero or small positive weight on the rights, interests, or utility of specific people or groups of people. Vindictiveness is about placing a negative weight on their interests. In other words, it is about deriving positive utility from doing things that hurt or injure those other people.
The vindictiveness analogues of the above claims would be things like:
- Some open borders advocates believe that a non-negligible minority of restrictionists are motivated by animus or vindictiveness towards current and/or potential immigrants. In most cases, this would not be a “first-principle” animus but rather, would be justified in terms of the immigrant having done something to deserve the animus. For instance, a restrictionist may argue that the bad behavior of certain immigrants (like taking natives’ jobs, going on welfare, or crossing borders illegally) means that they are evil and deserve to be hurt (this and this seem to be interesting blogs/websites that use similar rhetorical styles). Certainly, the claim is not that all restrictionist objections to these behaviors are motivated by animus, but rather, that some people are influenced to take restrictionist positions due to animus and vindictiveness towards immigrants for behavior that they disapprove of.
- Symmetrically, some restrictionists have argued that open borders advocates are motivated by animus towards low-skilled natives. In one narrative, open borders is a “revenge of the nerds” against the jocks who stole their lunches and bullied them at school. In another narrative, open borders is a way for natives (particularly conservatives) to stick it to low-skilled blacks and low-skilled whites by getting cheaper and more compliant Hispanic labor instead. Another narrative is that people dissatisfied with the status quo (including libertarians, anti-imperialists, anarchists) want to use mass immigration to “heighten the contradictions” in the existing system and destroy it from within to get a blank slate to create a new utopia. (This last claim isn’t necessarily an indication of vindictiveness, but it could be). I believe I’ve encountered variants of these arguments made by Steve Sailer and also by others in EconLog comments, but I can’t locate a comprehensive list of sources. Here is one: Sailer commenting on a Caplan post:
Dr. Caplan’s views on immigration differ only marginally from those of the editorial boards of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Barack Obama George W. Bush, John McCain, or Ted Kennedy. We should thank him for making explicit the hostility toward the American citizenry that motivates much of today’s conventional wisdom on immigration.
Here is another:
Indeed, much of current white conservative support for illegal immigration is a covert way of sticking it to African-Americans and their liberal supporters by importing harder-working Hispanics to drive blacks out of the workforce.
There is a key difference between indifference and vindictiveness. The former leaves a much wider door open for “win-win” keyhole solutions that work out to be Pareto improvements for all sides concerned. Restrictionists who don’t care about non-citizens can find common meeting ground with open borders advocates who are indifferent to the welfare of some subset of natives, by agreeing to a compromise keyhole solution that makes everybody better off. There are of course issues of feasibility and stability, but at least the possibility is there.
If either side is motivated by vindictiveness, however, the situation gets more complicated. Keyhole solutions may still be possible, but they’d be much harder to achieve. Continue reading “Vindictiveness versus indifference in the open borders debate” »