US-Canada open borders referendum bleg

I define “open borders between the US and Canada” as meaning that US and Canadian citizens are free to enter the other country not just for short-term visits but for long-term visits and can settle in the other country to live, work, marry, or do other stuff, without needing to go through any immigration bureaucracy. Border checkpoints may still exist. One might define open borders more expansively to include all permanent residents of either country. As co-blogger John Lee noted in this post, the US-Canada border is not completely open in this sense: while citizens and even permanent residents can move freely between the countries for short-term visits, they still need to go through a bureaucratic (and uncertain) process in order to take up a job or settle long-term.

My two bleg questions:

  • If the United States had a nationwide referendum among citizens (with simple nationwide vote-counting, unlike the complicated electoral college system used for presidential elections) on whether the US should have open borders with Canada, would the referendum pass, and by what margin? Feel free to provide probability distributions, and if necessary, indicate sensitivity to framing, timing, and contextual factors that affect the outcome. Note that “pass” here is based on a majority of those who vote, not based on a majority of the entire citizenry.
  • If Canada had an equivalent nationwide referendum, would it pass? Again feel free to provide probability distributions, and if necessary, indicate sensitivity to framing, timing, and contextual factors that affect the outcome. Note that “pass” here is based on a majority of those who vote, not based on a majority of the entire citizenry.

UPDATE: A friend on Facebook had pointed me a while back to Annexation movements of Canada.

Open borders, crime and targeting the natives: the case of South Africa

Two objections to open borders are that under open borders (1) recipient countries are likely to experience an increase in crime and (2) natives, since they are on average richer than the new comers, are likely to bear the full brunt of crime. The two objections are not necessarily related: one can think of a scenario whereby the crime rate falls following open borders but the residual crime is disproportionately borne by natives. This post does not confront the first objection, namely that open borders might lead to an increase in crime, because others on this site have done so. In addition, I have speculated in a previous post that the increase in crime that immediately followed the collapse of apartheid in South Africa (to all intents and purposes an “open borders event”) was due to the fact that background checks were never performed on the “new comers” to isolate those with criminal records. (In that post, I also noted that it was impossible to perform such checks in South Africa’s case without upsetting an already delicate situation). My intention in this post is to confront the second objection, namely that natives are likely to bear the brunt of any crime that takes place under open borders. I will do so by appealing to South Africa’s post apartheid experience.

The dominant narrative on South Africa is that crime increased and has continued to increase in the post apartheid period and whites have largely been the victims of the crime wave. I took on the first part of this narrative in this post and showed that it was largely false — homicide rates (the most reliable measure of crime) have been declining every year since 1995 (apartheid officially ended in 1994). As a matter of fact, homicide rates are 50% lower today than they were in 1995. The second part of the crime narrative has a common sense appeal: whites are disproportionately the victims of crime because the average white South African is many times richer than the average black South African making him/her an attractive target for criminals. Official confirmation of this narrative seemed to have arrived when in 2009 Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) granted Brandon Huntley, a white South African living in Canada, refugee status on the basis that “[Huntley] would stand out like a ‘sore thumb’ due to his color in any part of [South Africa]”. Huntley “reported being the victim of several assaults by black South Africans. He alleged that those assaults were racially motivated, and stated that he did not seek police or state protection because the authorities [were] unwilling or unable to help white South Africans…The [IRB] found [Huntley] credible and accepted his evidence with regard to the attacks. One of [Huntley’s] witnesses, Ms. Kaplan, whose brother was victimized by black South Africans, also testified that the police [were] corrupt and [do] not help white South Africans, and that a genocide is occurring against white South Africans” (source). The ruling by the IRB sparked off a series of heated debates in South Africa with some seeing the decision as vindication of their long-held suspicions and others condemning it as unfounded. This prompted James Myburgh, the editor of Politicsweb, a popular local news and opinion website, to analyze several rounds of national victimization surveys whereupon he found that “whites were somewhat more likely to fall victim to crime than other race groups”. Myburgh’s conclusions were regarded as the final verdict on the matter by many since national victimization surveys were nationally representative and were conducted by Statistics South Africa, the Institute for Security Studies and the Human Sciences Research Council, bodies widely regarded as credible. The matter did not rest there, however. In December 2009, Gavin Silber and Nathan Geffen published an article in SA Crime Quarterly arguing that national victimization surveys (or NVSs) were not the best tool to use in answering the crime victimization question because they relied heavily on people’s opinions. Silber and Geffen advanced the following reasons [footnotes omitted]:

Firstly, the very concept of crime or criminality can be relatively subjective, as indeed is the case with ‘victimhood’. Some respondents to NVSs classify the threat of violence as a criminal act, while others might only classify its use as criminal. In addition, the distinction between perpetrator and victim can also be somewhat blurred in cases such as assault.

Secondly, there is strong evidence showing that reported victimization levels tend to increase with education, which is obviously (and particularly in South Africa) linked to income. A study in the United States showed that people with university degrees recalled three times as many assaults as those with a high school education. It is conceivable that over-exposure to a particular crime category amongst certain NVS respondents (in this case people with little education) may result in lesser infringements – such as assault – not qualifying as ‘criminal’. This has also been observed in studies illustrating how various developed cities/countries have produced higher victimization rates than poorer countries with higher levels of recorded crime.

Thirdly, reporting of property-related and violent crime tends to differ significantly, based on various circumstances. When a given sample is questioned on exposure to violent interpersonal crimes such as assault and sexual abuse (particularly when it involves a non-stranger), the results are likely to reflect a significant underreporting of actual exposure, due to a reluctance to report sexual abuse, child abuse, general assault and domestic violence.  Moreover, there might be differences in the way poor and relatively wealthy respondents perceive property-related crime. Relatively wealthy people have more items of value, and are able to afford insurance, which requires reporting such crimes to the authorities. This might mean they are more likely to be conscious of, or remember, thefts they have experienced in the period covered by the NVS.

They proposed an alternative method that looked at trends in deaths from non-natural causes, and in particular homicide rates. Such an approach yielded a different set of conclusions to those arrived at by Myburgh. For instance [footnotes omitted]:

In 2008/2009 18,148 people in South Africa were murdered. This amounts to 37.3 people per 100,000, or just under 50 per day. The evidence we have examined indicates that the victims are disproportionately african and coloured working class people.  We examined Statistics South Africa mortality data to determine the breakdown of murders by race. Our analysis is inconclusive but it indicates that victims are disproportionately africans and coloureds.

More compelling data come from the Medical Research Council (MRC). In an investigation into female homicide rates in South Africa in 2004, the MRC used national mortuary data to determine that 2.8 of every 100,000 white women die as a result of murder, whereas 8.9 africans and 18.3 coloureds meet the same fate. This shows that, at least for women, Myburgh is very likely wrong […] Black women are disproportionately murdered.

Another recent study by the Centre for The Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) analysed homicide rates in high-risk areas in Kwazulu-Natal, Western Cape, and Gauteng, using a representative sample of police dockets. Of the sample 85% of homicide victims were black, 9% were coloured, 5% asian and 1% of victims were white.

Silber and Geffen also looked at mortality reports produced by Statistics South Africa going all the way to the year 2000 and arrived at similar conclusions to those reported above.

So using an approach that counts the actual victims of crime shows that, contra Myburgh, the burden of crime in post-apartheid South Africa has largely been borne by the country’s non-white population.

The above notwithstanding, it is still quite possible that the homicide rate of whites has gone up since 1994 even though whites bear a lesser burden of crime when compared to other groups. Unfortunately, race specific homicide data were not collected prior to 1994 making it difficult for us to  work out and compare victimization rates for whites before and after apartheid. But the information that exists currently suggests that homicide rates for whites have come down or at the very least stayed the same since 1994. For instance, South Africa’s homicide rate began rising in the mid-1950s and continued on this upward trend, with an additional 5,000 homicides per decade, until 1994 (see the figure on page 10 of this document). And this happened during the period when the definition of South Africa excluded the homelands where most blacks (who were the majority of the population) lived suggesting that the increase in homicide rates over this period must have been largely borne by the citizens of South Africa as it was then defined. This piece of evidence coupled with the fact that homicides rates for the country as a whole have fallen by 50% after 1995 suggests that the homicide rate for whites must have declined alongside the country’s homicide rate or at the very least stayed the same since 1994.

Or perhaps certain types of victimization have increased since 1994 even though whites as a group are less vulnerable to crime when compared to whites before 1994 or when compared to other racial groups in contemporary South Africa. The typical case that is usually cited to illustrate this concern are the widely publicized attacks on white farmers. However, even here the current evidence seems to suggest that white South African farmers and their families are no more likely to fall victim to murder than the typical South African citizen. It is however important to point out that there is currently not a systematic and reliable way of collecting data on attacks on white farmers so the best analyses rely on data triangulations and assumptions implying that there is bound to be some dispersion in the conclusions. But be this as it may, all reasonable analysts of this story agree that there is currently no evidence to suggest that there is a genocide of white South African farmers, contrary to what some groups are claiming. Further, all experts agree that these attacks are not racially motivated nor do they have a political angle to them. According to a researcher who has had first-hand experience in investigating farm attacks, “most farm murders were criminal acts committed with a material motive behind them“.

What implications, if any, might this have for the open borders discussion since I have argued elsewhere that the fall of apartheid was an open borders event? Firstly, South Africa’s experience shows that crime rates do not necessarily rise following open borders — in South Africa’s case, the rate of crime has fallen in each year since 1995. And secondly, it is not clear-cut that the burden of crime will always be borne by natives following open borders — in South Africa’s case, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the victims of crime have overwhelmingly been the black (and to some extent, the coloured) population. In any case, open borders would present a way out for people such as Brandon Huntley who believed they were in danger of victimization. And under open borders, people like Huntley would not have to prove their case.

The specter of crime does not, in my mind, constitute sufficient grounds to overturn the presumption in favor of open borders — South Africa’s experience, with zero background checks, shows that crime is much more a concern for the new comers than it is for the natives. And I think it is possible to reduce the possibility of crime to a minimum by relying on background checks among other options. The alternative of consigning poor people to countries where they are perpetually the victims of crime, and to say nothing of poverty, is much worse.



Jason Riley makes the case for half-opening the US borders, but not a case for true open borders

A year ago, co-blogger Vipul briefly reviewed Mark Krikorian’s The New Case Against Immigration and Jason Riley’s Let Them In. I have not yet read Krikorian’s book, but I have finished Riley’s. Overall, I second Vipul’s sentiment that despite the radical book cover (the book’s full title is Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders), Riley’s book is incredibly weak because:

  1. It is overly focused on the US (I cannot think of a special reason why the US should be the only or first country to open its borders)
  2. It is overly focused on citizenist and territorialist arguments for immigration (while I think one can make a case for open borders using a citizenist or even nationalist worldview with appropriate moral side-constraints, the book does a poor job of confronting the inherently unethical tensions of these philosophies when they are used to justify closed borders)
  3. It really does not consider more than briefly the tremendous economic harm or moral injustice created by closed borders (Riley trots out the usual arguments about how immigrants benefit the US economy, but there is no reference to the true size of the closed borders problem — when closed borders is halving world GDP, this is a glaring weakness, although to be fair to Riley, I don’t think these estimates were available when he wrote this)

I don’t want to sound overly harsh; I actually would recommend Riley’s book if someone has already exhausted the most basic open borders literature. So if you’ve finished Lant Pritchett’s Let Their People Come (I would say that if you can only read one book about open borders, you need to make it Pritchett’s), maybe consider reading Let Them In. The main selling points for Riley:

  1. He comprehensively covers all the problems with current US immigration policy (its injustice from even citizenist and territorialist standpoints, its economic inefficiency, etc.)
  2. He does an excellent job of laying out the history of US anti-immigration activism (it will probably be news to many that Benjamin Franklin was complaining almost 250 years ago that low-quality German immigrants were refusing to assimilate and destroying the US)
  3. He uncovers some interesting historical facts about US immigration policy which really need to be widely known (for instance, he reveals that the problem of Mexican “illegal immigrants” in the US was virtually non-existent prior to the mid-20th century, because many immigration laws simply didn’t apply to Western hemisphere nationals until 1965 onwards)

In his conclusion, Riley states:

My primary goal in writing this book was to offer a rebuttal to some of the more common anti-immigrant arguments that I’ve come across while covering the issue as a Wall Street Journal editorialist.

Once I read this, I understood why Vipul and I felt the book had oversold itself as a case for open borders. Riley’s true intention was never to make such a broad case in this book. (In fact, Vipul goes as far as to characterise Riley as a political moderate — this is true of the book’s tone, but from its content, I would say Riley probably is pretty close to the liberal extreme on immigration.) If you’re looking for some good rebuttals to common mainstream anti-immigration US-specific arguments, I highly recommend Let Them In. But if you’re looking for the case for open borders, I would without hesitation point you to Lant Pritchett’s Let Their People Come.

The Lebanese diaspora, and victim-blaming of immigrants

The Economist recently ran an article about the Lebanese diaspora and its entrepreneurial bent. There are some interesting factoids in there I wasn’t aware of. Take the size of the diaspora for example:

More people of Lebanese origin live outside Lebanon than in it (perhaps 15m-20m, compared with 4.3m).

I am not sure what proponents of closed borders would have preferred to do about the Lebanese in the past century or so of human history. It is not quite enough to simply say “Let them alone in Lebanon,” when restrictionists quite clearly want to enact active policies to keep immigrants, Lebanese or otherwise, away. Given some Australian experiences with racial rioting, one can contend that there are restrictionists who would personally use physical force and abuse against the Lebanese.

But as the article notes, for all the “takers” in the Lebanese diaspora, there are plenty of makers (some of whom I did not realise were of Lebanese descent):

Carlos Slim, a Lebanese-Mexican telecoms tycoon, is the richest man in the world. Carlos Ghosn, a French-Lebanese-Brazilian, is the boss of both Renault (a French carmaker) and Nissan (a Japanese one). Nick Hayek, a Swiss-Lebanese, runs Swatch, the biggest maker of Swiss watches.

I am not sure if there are any panel or longitudinal studies which have been done on the Lebanese immigrant population anywhere, but it would be interesting to see the statistics. It would be especially interesting to see if they are bearers of “political externalities” or otherwise import arguably negative cultural/institutional aspects of their homeland. After all, Lebanon the state has not been faring the brightest:

In the past century and a half, waves of Lebanese have left for the Americas and west Africa. Lebanon’s long civil war prompted many more to pack. …the market is tiny. Lebanon’s GDP is about $42 billion, less than Rhode Island’s. Second, it is unstable. Conflict with Israel in 2006 temporarily shut down many of Ms Sfeir’s restaurants; the takeover of parts of Beirut by Hizbullah militants in 2008 disrupted them once more. … As if that were not enough, the Lebanese government chokes businesses with red tape. On average it takes 219 days to obtain a construction permit—assuming nothing goes wrong—and 721 days to enforce a contract in a Lebanese court, according to the World Bank. Patronage is pervasive and the internet is sluggish.

Gee, sounds like letting the Lebanese into my country would be a pretty bad idea, unless I happen to have worse institutions than they do. But the one meaningful statistic about Lebanese immigrant performance which The Economist cites is the Lebanese-American median household income of $67,000 (which is well above the median household income in the US; a rough approximation of that would be about $50,000, depending on how you slice it/round it).

To be explicit, a key assumption I often see in restrictionist arguments is that immigrants will import the “bad institutions” or “bad culture” of their homeland. True, sophisticated advocates of closed borders make more subtle versions of this argument, or avoid it altogether in favour of more defensible ones that barely bear it any resemblance (such as risk of technological slowdown). But it is this argument that often pops up as a reason to justify closed borders: people who are kept out get their just deserts because:

  1. Their country’s bad institutions are their personal fault
  2. They will inflict institutional harm on an ostensible superior country by virtue of simply living or working there

The Lebanese case is a concrete counter-example. How is the individual Lebanese seeking a better life outside his or her country personally responsible for any, let alone all of the following?

  1. The Lebanese civil war (and all its future repercussions for the state of the Lebanese socioeconomic environment)
  2. The small Lebanese market
  3. The Lebanese conflict with Israel
  4. The Hizballah insurgency
  5. Lebanese red tape

Perhaps via some roundabout way one can find a way to blame the typical Lebanese for some or all of these: in some sense, Lebanon has a participatory or democratic form of government, and so surely the individual Lebanese voter must bear some blame. On this basis, I suppose the rest of us trying to avoid getting sucked into horrible geopolitical conflicts, government bailouts of automobile manufacturers, or legislative gridlock should be doing our darndest to restrict immigration from the US then.

(As a sidenote, one can argue that the real reason Lebanon collapsed was because it permitted Palestinian and other insurgents to cross its borders, thus directly leading to the civil war, Hizballah insurgency, and conflict with Israel — i.e. loose Lebanese immigration policy created this problem. But as far as I know, no advocate of open borders endorses government inaction in the face of invaders bearing arms and ill intent. This seems to me akin to tarring a free trade advocate with the accusation that she supports unrestricted trade in assault rifles and nuclear weapons.)

The story of the Lebanese people and their diaspora is clear: open borders makes the lives of immigrants better. And by creating a global network, they make people in their country of origin better off too — and that’s assuming zero remittances, which is an unrealistic assumption. There may be good reasons for restrictionists to advocate keeping immigrants like the Lebanese out — but these good reasons need to be more clearly specified than some ridiculous assignation of blame to immigrants for the situation they are in. And restrictionists need to quantify just what’s being lost from potentially keeping out the next Carlos Ghosn, or the next immigrant demographic that actually raises the average household income.

Why open borders are the solution to brain drain

I’m intensely ambivalent about the new book by Paul Collier, Exodus, that’s scheduled to come out in October of this year. Of course, I don’t know exactly what’s in it. But I know the author: Collier is a respected development economist and author of The Bottom Billion, one of the best books on the world’s poorest people and the causes of the world’s direst poverty. And Amazon provides a preview of the contents of Exodus.

More than ever before, those in the poorest countries-the bottom billion-feel the lure of greater opportunities beyond their borders. Indeed, the scale of migration driven by international inequality is so massive that it could make nations as we know them obsolete.

In Exodus, world-renowned economist and bestselling author Paul Collier lays out the effects of encouraging or restricting migration in the interests of both sending and receiving societies. Drawing on original research and numerous case studies, Collier explores this volatile issue from three unique perspectives: the migrants themselves, the people they leave behind, and the host societies where they relocate. As Collier shows, those who migrate from the poorest countries, primarily though not exclusive the young, tend to be the best educated and most energetic in their cultures. And while migrants often benefit economically, the larger impacts of mass migrations remain unsettling. The danger is that both host countries and sending societies may lose their national identities– an outcome that Collier suggests would be disastrous as national identity is a powerful force for equity. Collier asserts that migration must be restricted to ensure that it helps those who remain in sending countries and also benefits host societies that make the investment on which migrant gains rely.

Sharply written and brilliantly clarifying, Exodus offers a provocative analysis on one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Interestingly, Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution linked to the Amazon page and apparently quoted it, except with slightly different words:

…bestselling author Paul Collier makes a powerful case for the ethical legitimacy of restricting migration in the interests of both sending and receiving societies… [the rest is the same]

I don’t know where Cowen got the text he quoted, which makes the book sound a little more restrictionist than the book description that actually appears at Amazon. Will Collier “make a powerful case for the ethical legitimacy of” migration restrictions, I wonder? Or not? Still, the Amazon book description still says that “Collier asserts that migration must be restricted to ensure that it helps those who remain in sending countries and also benefits host societies,” etc.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs here, but it does seem to matter whether Collier is simply arguing that it would be in poor countries’ interest to restrict certain kinds of migration, and lazily advising this as good economic policy without inquiring into whether it’s ethically legitimate or not, or whether Collier is actually going to try to defend the ethical proposition that it is licit for countries to cage their citizens inside and not let them leave. If he is going to argue that, he is, I think, breaking somewhat new ground. Article 13 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Soviet restrictions on their citizens’ right to travel abroad or emigrate were long recognized as a violation of fundamental human rights. The Berlin Wall was built for the purpose of violating East German citizens’ right to emigrate. I don’t know as much about this as I would like to, but other than North Korea, how many states today attempt to prohibit emigration? Certainly a lot of people lack the right to emigrate de facto because nowhere will accept them, and this is one of the systemic abuses that open borders advocates want to overcome; but how many states curtail the right to emigrate per se? Or is Collier simply going to argue that other countries should cage citizens of poor countries at home so as to promote the development of their homelands, thus backing into the curtailment of the right to emigrate without attacking it head-on? Continue reading “Why open borders are the solution to brain drain” »