US visa policy: where everything’s made up, and due process doesn’t matter

In 1998, Robert Olsen successfully sued the US State Department, winning his claim that he had been fired for refusing to enforce racist and arbitrary immigration policies. The full judgment in Olsen v. Albright is worth reading. Olsen, who was stationed in Sao Paulo, was a law graduate working as a consular officer reviewing visa applications. He was troubled by the consulate’s policy. The Sao Paulo consulate’s visa manual explicitly documented common abbreviations used when documenting visa refusals, such as these gems:

  • LP = looks poor
  • LR = looks rough
  • TP = talks poor

Note that these determinations were not made on the basis of actual evidence, such as affidavits, bank statements, or letters. They were made simply on the basis of a consular officer deciding the applicant “looked poor” or “talked poor”. Imagine being denied your driver’s licence because the bureaucrat at the DMV felt that you just “look” like a bad driver. Here are some actual, documented reasons for visa denials:

  • “Slimy looking[;] wears jacket on shoulders w/ earring”
  • “LP!!!!!!”
  • “Look Really Poor”
  • Bad Appearance. Talks POOR”
  • “Looks + talks poor.”

Of course, if we’re turning down applications because of arbitrary things like someone’s physical appearance, it’s a short hop and a skip to turning them down because of race. The Sao Paulo visa manual further singled out various races and nationalities as especially suspect (ostensibly because of fraud). The manual explicitly states: “Visas are rarely issued to [Koreans and Chinese] unless they have had previous visas and are older.” One would assume that if fraud were the reason, the manual should have laid out ways to corroborate suspicion of fraud, instead of making blanket assumptions about people of a particular nationality or ethnic descent. Instead of providing any such guidance, Olsen’s superiors scolded him for issuing too many visas to people who fit certain unspecified “fraudulent” profiles, and arbitrarily demanded that he double his visa rejection rate from 15% to 30%. Judge Stanley Sporkin eventually found in Olsen’s favour, ruling (emphasis added):

The Consulate’s policies instruct visa officers to view members of these groups as far more suspicious and dishonest than applicants of other races and nationalities. In effect, the manual places a heavy additional burden on applicants of particular nationalities and races that other individuals do not have to face. Based on generalized stereotypes about their behavior, Koreans, Chinese, and Arabs are singled out and stamped with the ignominious badge of “major fraud” before any facts about them are known.

…Although the Court understands the difficulty of the Consulate’s task, greater efficiency is not a sufficient reason to justify the discrimination of people based upon their skin color or national origin. …The Court is aware of the State Department’s difficult responsibilities in adjudicating visa applications under strict time constraints. However, the Court is confident that the State Department can dispatch its duties effectively without using generalizations based on national origin. This nation’s officials once deemed it necessary to make the broad generalization that American citizens of Japanese origin were inherently suspect and likely to commit espionage.

Sporkin noted that Olsen’s superiors did not cite any actual instances of fraud in their evaluation of his performance; they merely demanded he arbitrarily reject more people who they viewed as inherently more susceptible to fraud: “the administrative record reveals numerous instances where Plaintiff’s superiors, in instructing Plaintiff how he should improve his performance, told him to rely more heavily on the profiles.” When Olsen was posted to a different consulate without Sao Paulo’s discriminatory policies, he received an exemplary performance review which noted he “appeared to apply consistency and good judgment to each visa case.”

Sadly, Sporkin’s decision did nothing for the hundreds of people refused visas for being born into the wrong race, or wearing the wrong clothes. Even more sadly, the New York Times noted at the time that “similar policies are in effect at American visa offices around the world.” And this was in a pre-9/11 world; it is a truth universally acknowledged that US visa policy has become even stricter since then. And US consular officers’ discretion has not shrunk: they remain empowered to use virtually any reason they like to deny you a non-immigrant visa, and they strongly oppose the establishment of any rules- or principles-based process, especially one that the public might rely on, citing fraud concerns.

We know that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As immigration lawyer Angelo Paparelli notes, US consular officers literally have the final say on who gets a visa: it is a decision not even the President can overturn. One immigration lawyer has a heartrending tale of how the absence of any appeals process destroyed her client’s life. Another immigration law blog from Thailand puts it more bluntly: “Many people mistakenly believe that legal concepts such as due process apply to matters going before US Consular officers.” The end result: a US visa policy that denies you a visa simply because you “Look Really Poor.”

The scary thing is, we have no idea how many such cases like these there are. The only reason this matter became public and went before the courts is because of the following chain of events:

  1. The Sao Paulo consulate explicitly documented their racist and arbitrary visa policies
  2. Olsen was stationed in Sao Paulo
  3. Olsen had the moral courage to refuse to apply racist and arbitrary visa policies
  4. State fired Olsen for his courageous stance
  5. Olsen sued State for wrongful termination, and did not accept a private settlement

If any one of those had not happened, we would never have heard about this. Under US law, consular decisions are not subject to judicial review, and there is no appeals process. The racist and arbitrary nature of visa policy only came before the court because it was at issue in Olsen’s allegation of wrongful termination — not because the court was reviewing visa policy or specific visa denials, something the court had absolutely no legal right to do.

There is literally more due process and transparency involved in applying for a US government secret security clearance than there is in applying for a tourist or student visa. Anyone who has their clearance application denied is allowed to appeal, and the findings of these hearings are documented and made public. Until the courts told the US government that they were simply going too far, immigrants were not even allowed to see the evidence that the US government had used in deciding to deny their visa. The US government’s position until 2011 literally was:

  1. Appeals against denied security clearances are public matters, and the evidence behind the government’s decision needs to be public by default
  2. Appeals against denied visas are a threat to national security, and the government should not make public any evidence without undergoing the tortuous Freedom of Information Act process

The people whose visas were denied by the Sao Paulo consulate are in all likelihood the tip of the iceberg. Because there is no appeals process and the US government hides the visa adjudication and decision-making processes behind a veil of “national security” that doesn’t even apply to top secret security clearances, we have no way of knowing how many other US consular outposts might be enforcing similarly arbitrary or racist policies. Considering the opacity and dictatorial discretion here, it would be surprising if Sao Paulo was the only one. Every year, 1 to 2 million people are denied US visas for no real reason — they’ve passed criminal background checks, they’ve passed medical checks — the consular officer reviewing their application just felt like turning them down.

The victims of racist and arbitrary immigration policies here are not just immigrants — people who want to be with their friends and family, people who want to earn an honest living. They are also people who simply wanted to visit or study in the US. They had family they needed to see, places they wanted to visit, business partners they needed to meet, classes they needed to attend. And all because they “Look Really Poor” — not because they posed any sort of threat to the US. US policy is that they have no channel for appeal — even if, as one immigration lawyer puts it, “the denial was based on a consular officer’s mistake of fact or a misunderstanding of the law, or even if the officer acted capriciously, arbitrarily, or maliciously”.

Yes, we can improve immigration policy by limiting consular discretion, and guaranteeing more due process. Making the evidence used to deny visas public, and allowing visa denials to be appealed would be a good start. But even these improvements are playing at the margins. We need to abolish immigration policies that assume all foreigners are evil or criminal until they prove conclusively otherwise. As long as we continue to make the assumption that billions of people around the world are guilty until proven innocent, we cannot have any true “due process.” Perhaps the benefits of this manifest injustice outweigh the costs. But there is no evidence, no analysis, truly showing that that is the case. Until you can show me why we should throw fundamental due process protections out the window — why the benefits of making visa decisions in secret behind closed doors, based on arbitrary criteria like race or physical appearance, outweigh the costs — I can only conclude that the immigration policy status quo is an affront to the most basic principles of any civilised justice system.

The cartoon featured at the top of this post depicts a Chinese immigrant being refused entry to the United States, and was published in 1882.

Private discrimination against immigrants is morally fine, and should be legal

I’ve been reading Paul Collier’s Exodus, and plan to write a series of posts in response to it soon. Meanwhile, I might as well lay the groundwork for that by jotting down a few reflections.

Here’s one. I’ve commented before on Robert Putnam’s research about immigration and social capital, or really, about ethnic diversity and social capital. He finds that in ethnically mixed settings people tend to “hunker down,” become less sociable, not only with other ethnic groups, but even among themselves. Putnam suggests, and Collier expands on the idea, that immigration could harm social capital. See our page on social capital decline. Also related are the writings of Hans-Herman Hoppe on immigration as “forced integration,” which I have previously responded to here. Thomas E. Woods recently wrote in this vein at The Freeman. Woods’ article, which contains phrases like “immigrants and the American bureaucracy that serves them” (!), is basically silly, but it does contain some serious ideas. In particular, Hoppe and Putnam have a point about “forced integration,” though it’s not the one they think they have.

Hoppe’s starting point is a “pure private property” society in which even streets are privately owned. This is completely unworkable, since it would create endless hold-up problems, and also unjust, since there is no just way for this kind of property regime to originate. As my theory of streets Principles of a Free Society elucidates, natural easements arise from people’s need to move onto and off of their property, and where these easements coincide to form streets, there is a place where over-lapping non-exclusive transit rights prevent individual appropriation. Consequently, no one can be excluded, including immigrants. There is some scope here for gated communities and other explicit contractual arrangements to “privatize,” as it were, streets that serve functions that go beyond mere transit. If a road also serves as a place for your club to meet and socialize, and no one outside the club has any claims on it, you might be justified in restricting access to it. That leaves some space in which Hoppian local communes, so to speak, might be carved out. But to say that immigration should be left to local communities to decide and then use that as a platform from which to demand harsh national immigration restrictions is absurd. Local communities are not, in general, well-defined. There would rarely be local agreement on whom to let in. Enforcement would be an insuperable problem. Some communities would choose to be largely open to the world, and would expand. The Hoppe plan would basically break down, resulting in some combination of open borders and local squabbling lead to the arbitrary denial to many individuals of the full and proper use of their own property. It is completely untenable to regard the mere entry of foreigners into the country, without the state using force to stop them, as “forced integration” by the state. Nativists are lying to themselves if they think is open borders advocates, rather than themselves, who are using force.

But if the government not only permits the entry of immigrants, but also requires native citizens to interact with them on equal terms, on pain of falling foul of anti-discrimination laws, then a complaint of “forced integration” has merit. More generally, all manner of state-mandated equal opportunity and anti-discrimination rules amount to “forced integration.” That’s not to say we shouldn’t have them. Here my attitude is ambivalent. On the one hand, anti-discrimination law is an extremely sinister extension of the state’s jurisdiction. If a classic liberal state only enforces contracts, an anti-discrimination state micromanages what contracts you can sign, and, worst of all, does so on very subjective and non-transparent grounds. On the other hand, the evil which anti-discrimination law in the US was instituted to deal with– the vast historic crime of slavery, and its legacy of segregation– was very great. I am inclined to feel that the state’s act in prohibiting private discrimination was an intolerable affront to the rights of private contract, and at the same time, that it might have been worth it.

Of course, we don’t know what would have happened if the state had simply abolished de jure discrimination on the part of the government, and left private discrimination to individual conscience and civil society. There has been a revolution in values over the past generation to the point where I highly doubt that much private racial discrimination would occur, even if it were absolutely legal. Perhaps the achievements of the civil rights movement could have been accomplished without the sinister extension of state power to micromanage private decision-making. Indeed, perhaps it would have been even more successful. After all, there is a sense in which affirmative action makes racism true. If a university deliberately seeks to hire a diverse faculty, it will face trade-offs between racial/diversity criteria, which favor minorities, and other criteria. Ceteris paribus, that will mean that minority faculty will be lower in quality in other respects. If that’s the hiring process, it will be quite rational for faculty to think, even if they wouldn’t dare say, “He’s black, so he’s probably not that smart.” That may not be a valid statement globally, but it will be valid locally, precisely because affirmative action engineers things to be that way. Of course, affirmative action violates the norm of color-blindness, and it would be difficult to imagine in what sense it could fail to be regarded as unfair. It may lead to resentment, but even if not, people are rational, and if conditions have been created such that there is a local negative correlation between minority status and intelligence, experience, conscientiousness, or whatever, then their beliefs will reflect that.

Discrimination is regarded nowadays as almost the one unforgivable sin. One is indoctrinated against it in school, as one is not indoctrinated against fornication, adultery, or even theft. This is very misguided. It’s highly questionable whether discrimination, in general, is even wrong. Consider the following three motives for discrimination:

1. Hatred of the other. You don’t hire, don’t want to work with, don’t want to be served by, don’t want to rent a room to, don’t want to sell to, etc., members of a minority group, because you hate them. You regard them as inferior and/or bad, and find interaction with them unpleasant.

2. Statistical discrimination. You are aware that many personal traits which are relevant to you as an employer, landlord, teacher, waiter, or whatever, and which are not easily observable, are correlated with race. You therefore make probabilistic assumptions about a person based on their race.

3. Desire to help. You feel particular liking and sympathy for members of your own group, however defined, and when you know that some action of yours, whether purely altruistic or partially self-interested, will benefit another, you are more eager to do it if the benefit is conferred on a group you specially love. You may or may not be a member of that group yourself.

Now, it seems pretty clear that discrimination which proceeds from motive (1) is bad. But it’s not clear that discrimination from motives (2) or (3) is bad, and it might even be good.

It can be proved that statistical discrimination is sometimes efficient. As an example, consider the well-known complaint that it’s harder for African-Americans to catch a cab. This might be because taxi drivers are racist in sense (1), but I doubt it. More likely, taxi drivers are engaged in statistical discrimination. Cab driving is a rather dangerous business, because among patrons there are a few bad apples who might rob or even kill you. Doubtless, the vast majority of black taxi customers are law-abiding, but it is nonetheless a statistical fact that crime rates are higher among blacks, so the cab driver runs a greater risk. From an economist’s point of view, a smart solution would be to allow cab drivers to practice statistical discrimination by charging black clients more! The higher price would compensate for the greater risk, and blacks would have just as easy a time catching a cab. By that logic, explicit racial price discrimination by cab drivers might make the world a better place. But we’re unwilling to tolerate that, so cab drivers probably optimize by avoiding black clients. The somewhat serendipitous nature of customer-taxi contacts– Did he avoid me or did he just not see me hail him?— makes statistical discrimination difficult to regulate. Statistical discrimination in hiring seems harder to justify, since a job application and interview would seem to provide better information than crude racial patterns can supply. But maybe not. If Irish, say, are particularly sociable, or Asians particularly conscientious, it might be a profit-maximizing strategy to discriminate in favor of Irish people for head-hunters and salesmen, and Asians for analysts and accountants.

As for discrimination in favor of one’s own group, this has several things going for it. First, it seems like a good thing if one’s job isn’t just a paycheck, but is about making the world a better place. One way you might make the world a better place is by giving someone a service, or a job, that they love. But knowing whether they love the service, or the job, will have a lot to do with knowing them. Maybe you know via ethnic networks that your co-national Mr. X really needs the job, whereas you have no way to find out whether outsider Mr. Y does. Second, working with someone you like and identify with might just be fun, in a way that working with a stranger isn’t. Third, there may be a tacit “gift exchange” dynamic in hiring an insider, which is missing in the case of an outsider. In short, discriminating in favor of insiders may build social capital, the merits of which Robert Putnam has amply explained in his writings even if he is too much of a cheerleader for it.

American society has won a massive victory over racism in the past few decades. This is something to be proud of. It is, by and large, a step forward for justice. And yet in many respects it has gone too far, and impinged too much on freedom of association. I suspect that is part of the reason for the social capital decline that Putnam has exhaustively explored in the course of his career. Anti-discrimination norms in both law and personal ethics have severely restricted our ability to associate with those we like associating with. We have imposed an arm’s-length principle on the realms of commerce and to a considerable extent civil society as well, and paid the price in lost fraternity and neighborliness. It may be a price worth paying as regards blacks, who really were terribly oppressed for much of American history. That is something to atone for. But only in the case of blacks. Non-discrimination is not a general moral principle. It is only tenuously related to justice. It is not wrong to hire a family man, or a single mother, in preference to a bachelor or bachelorette, on the grounds that they need the job more, or are likely to be more stable. It is probably right to suppress the urge to engage in statistical discrimination with respect to blacks, even when that means sacrificing a bit of profit, though I think cab drivers who avoid a real risk of being crime victims by not picking up black customers are probably justified.

Now, let’s bring this back to immigration. With respect to immigrants, lots of discrimination with motives (2) and (3) will be warranted. Immigrants will often lack the language skills, cultural understanding, and perhaps values systems to be suitable for certain jobs or inclusion in certain clubs. More subtly but no less importantly, types of immigrants may tend to lack certain traits. It’s unfair, in a sense, if private discrimination denies to certain immigrants opportunities for which they are really qualified, simply because the groups of which they are a part tend to lack suitable traits. But we can’t make the world perfectly fair. And all the private discrimination on earth could never come close to the unfairness of migration restrictions.

It’s absurd to exclude a person from a country on the grounds that if he comes, he’ll face private discrimination. If that’s a price he’s willing to pay, let him. Very likely, the opportunities from which he is excluded, he wouldn’t have wanted anyway. Meanwhile, native citizens who are forced to integrate with immigrants– meaning, not just to see them on the street, which involves trivial harm and no violation of rights, but to be forced to hire them, rent apartments to them, accept them in a school, etc.– do have a valid grievance. Something has been taken away from them. Possibly– it’s an interesting question– the optimal world would involve both open borders and anti-discrimination laws, and native citizens should just be forced to integrate with all manner of immigrants, regardless of the psychic cost. One thing is clear, though: if we think native citizens should be spared from forced integration, the way to achieve that is to permit them to engage in private discrimination against immigrants, not to exclude immigrants by force from the territory of a country.

Open Borders editorial note: As described on our general blog and comments policies page: “The moral and intellectual responsibility for each blog post also lies with the individual author. Other bloggers are not responsible for the views expressed by any author in any individual blog post, and the views of bloggers expressed in individual blog posts should not be construed as views of the site per se.”

Immigration and Class Struggle

Consider the following paragraphs from an article in Salon about a recent immigration proposal:

“The proposal, then, is to turn most of today’s illegal immigrants in the U.S. into a new, legally resident class of non-citizen foreign serfs. They will be allowed (i.e., compelled) to work for American employers. But they will be denied all the benefits that go to the working citizen poor. And none of them will be eligible to vote for a decade and a half, at the earliest.

Quite apart from its inhumane treatment of illegal immigrants, this proposal is a direct assault on the rights and interests of native and naturalized American citizen-workers. American citizen-workers are threatened by anything that creates a multi-tier labor market inside U.S. borders. Allowing workers with different levels of rights to compete for the same jobs in the U.S. economy permits employers to pit one category of workers against another. And when one group has fewer rights and less bargaining power, many employers will prefer to hire them rather than the workers with more rights and greater bargaining power.”

There are a few distinct strands here, but the basic idea is that we shouldn’t allow immigrants into the country under a system that affords them fewer rights than other citizens because a) it is inhumane to the immigrants and b) it hurts American workers.

Eventually, the article advocates giving “clean, swift amnesty followed by full, equal citizenship” to the undocumented immigrants that are here while hoping that “new waves of illegal immigration could be deterred in the future.”

The combination of preferring total amnesty for existing immigrants while deterring future immigrants seemed a bit contradictory at first to me.  Why consider the welfare of current undocumented immigrants over next years undocumented immigrants?

The answer is that I don’t think the welfare of immigrants is really the author’s driving consideration.  The author is considering immigration as one aspect of a class struggle between labor and capital:

Capitalists benefit from more unskilled immigration because it drives down wages. They prefer not to give the immigrants too many rights because this probably tends to raise reservation wages. Labor would prefer to keep out the competition, but if it can’t prevent immigration outright, they would rather have voting immigrant laborers join their side to bolster their political power.

In short, capital prefers high levels of  immigration and low levels of immigrant rights while labor prefers low immigration and high immigrant rights.

Of course, not everyone fits into these categories, so I present to you my two dimensional immigration Quadrant graph:

Immigrant Quadrants

Note that the origin of this graph does not represent zero immigration or no rights.  The axes just represent “more” and “less” along two different dimensions. Also, the representative groups are not necessarily the only inhabitant of their quadrant.  For example, territorialists also occupy the spot I have attributed to labor.  Finally, when I use the word “rights” I don’t necessarily mean that there actually exists a set of natural rights that everyone is entitled to. You can replace this axis with “privileges,” “entitlements” or whatever suits you.

Perhaps you don’t agree with my placement of labor in the lower right corner in the first place.  Before you object too much, let me concede that not all of those who identify with the labor movement would fit in this quadrant.  But I think there is a pretty significant trend in this direction.  See, for example, this rambling socialist essay noting that the AFL-CIO changed their position to one more in support of immigrant labor rights and sponsored a series of demonstrations in support of immigrant rights.  They go on to urge “immediate and unconditional amnesty for all undocumented workers” and even “a living wage of $12.50 and free universal health care.”  At the same time they concede that a demand for open borders would be an “obstacle to dialogue between socialists and native born workers.”  To help the poor in other countries they support “assisting in the economic and social development of poor countries.”

So, basically, they want to offer full citizenship and benefits to immigrants in order to achieve labor solidarity and prevent capital from pitting different groups of labor against each other.  But since high levels of continued immigration would drive down wages we need to slow the process down.  Granted, they don’t actually say we need to build a wall on the border.  Maybe they actually believe that global economic aid to poor countries will suddenly start to work.  But the overriding goal is labor solidarity and ultimately this requires accepting those who are already here and making sure that we don’t get too many more.

So, assuming you agree with my quadrants, there are a few things to note.  First, class struggle is relevant to the immigration debate, but it is orthogonal to the Open Borders/Nativism divide.  Second, open borders advocates usually don’t  insist on zero volume restrictions and full rights for immigrants — they often consider keyhole solutions that involve some trading off of volumes and rights.  And my sense is that most open borders advocates would restrict rights before restricting volume.  I am probably in this camp personally. The fact that so many people are willing to come here illegally is evidence enough for me that the benefits (for immigrants) of increased immigration are enough to justify sacrificing some political privileges.

So it seems my preferred immigration policy would probably be beneficial for capital and detrimental to labor.  Since I don’t really have a dog in that fight, maybe I should think more about ways of implementing immigration reform that explicitly favor labor, such as using immigrant fees to help support a guaranteed minimum income.

Or should I simply advocate the immigration policy I think is right and ignore the impact it might have on class struggle?


Weekly link roundup 17

Here’s our weekly installment of links from around the web (see here for all link roundups). As usual, linking does not imply endorsement.

Open borders and Gilded Age success

In an article at The Freeman, “Bring Back the Gilded Age” (part 1 and part 2), I argue that the Great Stagnation is a result of the exhaustion of the technological legacy of the Gilded Age, of which I claim that:

In the decades before World War I, sometimes called “the Gilded Age,”  institutions in America and Europe were more conducive to progress than they are  today. Old bonds of class and custom had lost most of their power to lock people  into traditional roles. Absolutist and arbitrary government had lost ground to  the rule of law. The limited-liability corporation had taken shape and was in  the ascendant. In short, capitalism had taken command. But socialism, communism,  progressivism, fascism, the welfare state, migration control, and other bad  ideas that bedeviled the twentieth century were still young and weak. The result  was a mighty wave of betterment of the human condition whose momentum carried it  well into the twentieth century—long after the eclipse of the nineteenth-century  liberalism that had set the wave in motion.

One of the features that made the Gilded Age more conducive to progress was open borders:

4. Open immigration. “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled  masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore /  Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me / I lift my lamp beside the  golden door.” The famous Statue of Liberty poem, written by Emma Lazarus in  1883, is still sometimes quoted with some patriotic feeling, but modern America  is unworthy of it. Not only does the United States turn away the vast majority  of applicants for immigration visas, but it especially discriminates against the  poor, homeless, huddled masses whom the Statue of Liberty welcomes in the poem,  in favor of the highly educated. In the Gilded Age, though, it described a  reality. Not only the United States but all of the world’s leading countries  kept their borders almost entirely open to immigration then, not so much out of  generosity, as because the bad idea that it is somehow acceptable to exclude  peaceful migrants by force from a country through a comprehensive passport  regime had not yet darkened the mind of man.

Considering that the United States was absorbing so many low-skill  immigrants at that time, the statistics probably understate the superiority of  U.S. economic performance in the Gilded Age, since productivity statistics do  not even capture the jump in productivity that occurs when a person from an  impoverished country in eastern and or southern Europe joined the population of  the much wealthier United States. But immigrants also contributed to U.S. growth  in several ways. First, then as now, some of the leading entrepreneurs, like  Andrew Carnegie, and inventors, like Nikola Tesla, were immigrants. Nowadays,  many advocate discrimination in favor of “high-skill” immigrants, but Carnegie  was not “high-skill” when he arrived: He was born in a poor weaver’s cottage in  Scotland. Immigrants also supplied a mass workforce and a mass market for  factory-produced goods. A great theme of nineteenth-century capitalism was the  drive for cheapness, as goods once enjoyed by the rich became affordable for the  masses. Today, the world’s poor are kept out of America, so it’s harder for  American capitalists to make fortunes by serving them.

It occurred to me after I sent the article to press that Henry Ford and Norman Borlaug might serve as symbols of innovation with and without open borders. The two men are arguably the greatest benefactors of mankind in the last 150 years or so. Ford, by mass-producing automobiles and bringing them within reach of the common man, was the single most important contributor to the upsurge in living standards which occupied the first few decades of the 20th century. Borlaug invented disease-resistant and high-yielding strains of wheat that vastly increased food production in many developing countries, and thereby averted the major famines that would have occurred due to population growth, without these increases in agricultural productivity. Borlaug has been called “the man who saved a billion lives.” But here’s the crucial difference: Ford was financed by venture capital, and ended up an extremely rich man; Borlaug worked with governments and private charities, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, and as far as a little online research has revealed, he never got rich. Why not? Because when poor people can come to America, as did millions of immigrants who became Ford’s customers, they become a lucrative mass market; but when they are scattered all over the world and living under governments whose respect for property rights is imperfect, you can’t make much money by serving them. Borlaug is a more appealing figure than Ford for not being in it for the money. But free-market capitalism with sophisticated property rights protection incentivizes individual effort and private capital to benefit the public. See my post “Innovation and open borders” for more on this.