Open Borders Logo Contest: Finalists

Today, we are announcing some finalists for our Open Borders Logo Contest. The finalists are arranged in chronological order (earliest first). The winner will be announced next week. Feel free to use the comments space to share your thoughts on the finalists.

#1: Global access, by Alexandria Fraga

Author’s description of the logo: The logo represents the right and access to move freely without restrictions.


On Facebook here.

#2, by Niklas Blanchard


On Facebook here.

#3, by Katie Hartmann


On Facebook here.

#4, by Katie Hartmann


On Facebook here.

#5, by Martin Sykora


On Facebook here.

#6, by Kelsey Crockett


On Facebook here.

#7, by Niklas Blanchard

Author’s description of the logo: As a passionate advocate of open borders, and the free movement of people between countries, I wanted to create a logo that exemplified the breaking of barriers. The rotation of one of the links of the “fence” symbolizes this, while also creating an arrow, signifying movement. I flipped the logo at the suggestion of another member to point toward the words “open borders”, subtly suggesting that free immigration is the way forward.


On Facebook here.

We were also alerted to an image showing fence chains becoming birds shown below (original here) that could be combined with our final logo to create a good Open Borders T-shirt.


Weekly link roundup 16

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

Contra Tyler Cowen, closed borders should scare people

Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution recently graced us with a pretty bracing set of criticisms:

In my view the open borders advocates are doing the pro-immigration cause a disservice.  The notion of fully open borders scares people, it should scare people, and it rubs against their risk-averse tendencies the wrong way.  I am glad the United States had open borders when it did, but today there is too much global mobility and the institutions and infrastructure and social welfare policies of the United States are, unlike in 1910, already too geared toward higher per capita incomes than what truly free immigration would bring.  Plunking 500 million or a billion poor individuals in the United States most likely would destroy the goose laying the golden eggs.  (The clever will note that this problem is smaller if all wealthy countries move to free immigration at the same time, but of course that is unlikely.)

Co-blogger Nathan Smith has already taken Tyler to task on the economics, asking Tyler specifically if keyhole solutions like immigration tariffs would address his concerns about the risks of open borders. Tyler issued a laconic response, which referred to Nathan’s suggestions as “surrender”, presumably because any sort of immigration restriction is inconsistent with open borders. Nathan has already  updated his post to address Tyler’s riposte. Since we have covered the economics around Tyler’s thinking fairly comprehensively already, I want to tackle something different: exploring what we mean by open borders, and why an open borders agenda (as opposed to some generic “liberal immigration policy”) matters.

But first off, as reasonable as Tyler’s critique may be, I find it strange in how it implies that restrictionist myths and urban legends deserve more credence than any economist would give them. The tone of Tyler’s criticisms about the risks of open borders strikes me as slightly reminiscent of Paul Krugman’s tone on macroeconomic policy: worded just so, to avoid falling afoul of the economics, without really dissuading people from mistaken beliefs about what the economics says. Paul Krugman hardly ever directly contradicts the mainstream economist consensus that monetary policy can be effective at the zero lower bound. But if you ask any layperson reading Krugman what Krugman believes about the efficacy of monetary policy when interest rates are low, I’d bet you the median layperson thinks Krugman believes monetary policy is totally ineffective, making fiscal policy the only game in town.

Likewise, if you ask him, Tyler is all for liberal immigration policies (as he said himself, right before launching into his critique). He doesn’t buy into the myths that immigrants are fatal drains on the welfare state, or deadly threats to the working class of the developed world. The prevalence of these two myths, in the face of all the economic evidence, is depressingly common; it is as if the lay person believed “all Chinese are opium addicts” or “deporting Jews will reduce the prevalence of poisoned wells”.  Like numerous other economists, Tyler has explicitly declared he repudiates the popular scaremongering myths about immigration’s economic effects. It is all the more surprising then that he declares “people should be scared” of open borders — when, as he’s said time and time again, the main reasons people fear immigration have nothing to do with fact.

To solidify his critique, Tyler says that he is in particular worried about a scenario where:

  • The US is the only country that opens its borders
  • The US opens its borders essentially overnight (i.e., from highly restrictive one day to highly liberal the next)

But other than as thought experiments, I daresay you won’t find any blogger on this site who would say “Yes, that’s a regime I’d be happy with and world that I’d gladly sign up to live in, because the risks are so obviously worth it!” There’s more than one way to skin a cat.  There are plenty of ways to gradually open the world’s borders while mitigating their risks. Here, the three most obvious options off the top of my head, with links to prior Open Borders posts where we’ve explored them (those posts are far from the final word, but they show just how untapped an intellectual well this area of thought is):

  1. Have a steadily increasing immigration quota
  2. Establish free movement unions or areas, similar to customs unions or free trade areas
  3. Abolish deportation as a form of punishment, except in extreme cases

All three options are eminently practical ways of achieving open borders which address the perennial question, “But what on earth would you do with 500 million new American residents tomorrow?” And there are plenty of other practical ways to open the borders; I see no reason to wed ourselves to a particular approach. Maybe some countries will only be able to open their borders via guest worker visa regimes. Maybe others will only be able to open their borders via immigration tariffs or surtaxes of some kind. Still others may be able to get away with true open borders. And I’m confident many countries are capable of mixing and matching. You can imagine a North American free movement union between Canada and the US (or perhaps even, as Barry Goldwater envisioned, such a zone that includes Mexico) which imposes a different regime on immigrants from other countries. The destruction of all conventional immigration policies on some longer timeframe than “within the next 24 hours” is something I’d be happy to see. But even that is only one possible means to the end of open borders.

At this point, you’re probably either scratching your head, or nodding it in agreement with Tyler’s point from earlier about surrender, because what I’ve just outlined may well strike you as utterly inconsistent with the label of “open borders”; after all, what is open borders if not a total rejection of conventional immigration policies? But I don’t define open borders as one particular policy regime or one particular set of immigration laws. I define open borders simply as the principle that, subject to clearly-defined (i.e., not wishy-washy, unclear, or opaque) necessary constraints, people are free to travel, live, and work wherever they want. I am happy to accept any policy regime that satisfies this principle.

Tyler’s critique focuses on an airy-fairy type of open borders which any reasonable person can see is not going to happen, and likely shouldn’t happen at all. So while we’re at it, we might as well criticise a single world government too, since that’s also going to be an absurdly impractical and unreasonable way to open the borders. Where I find Tyler’s critique goes astray is that it focuses on one particular means of opening the borders, instead of the end itself — thereby lending more credence to restrictionist myths about the evils of open borders.

Ultimately, open borders is an end; it is the freedom to author your own life story. It is about being able to sleep safe in your own home, with your family, amongst your community of friends, knowing the government doesn’t have the arbitrary and unchecked power to take you away from all of them tomorrow morning. It is about being safe in the knowledge that the job your employer hired you to do can’t be eliminated by government fiat tomorrow because you made the mistake of being born in the wrong country. All of these are rightful ends for anyone to aspire to. They may well be unattainable on some level, but that is no reason to reject open borders out of hand, any more than the infeasibility of economic “perfect competition” constitutes a reason to reject economic liberalisation. Rejecting open borders because you reject one possible open borders policy is an oddly narrow-minded approach unworthy of an economist or thinker of Tyler’s stature. Even mainstream immigration liberals who remain skeptical of open borders like Matt Yglesias find Tyler’s stance here bemusing.

I can imagine no better label for a world with freedom of movement than a world of open borders. What else captures the sentiment so concisely? If Tyler is so unhappy about calling the goal of free movement “open borders”, he’s free to propose a catchier title. But I really don’t think freedom of movement is something Tyler opposes. He may well have ideas about how to achieve open borders that don’t jive with mine. That’s fine. I’m happy to have a debate about how to achieve open borders. I think Tyler’s on the same page with me here, which is why he kicked off this debate about whether rhetorically, the open borders label is tactically useful.

But while Tyler’s gotten to that point, what concerns me more right now is how far the rest of the world is from reaching that point. Most people don’t give a second thought to the fact that people die every day thanks to the governments we elect and the taxes we pay.  We so blithely accept that the state has total, virtually unlimited power to abuse innocent and unarmed civilians. It’s one thing to disregard a destitute person living in, say, Zambia. None of us is responsible for giving that person a job, or for preventing that person from finding work in Zambia. But it’s a completely different thing to disregard how our tax-funded armed forces treat that person as a life-threatening enemy of the state, simply because he or she tried to find work in our country.

When it’s our money and our political authority being used to prevent that person from finding or holding down a job someone in our country is willing to hire them to do, I have a huge problem with that. The use of armed force against armed force is one thing. The use of armed force against civilian job-seekers or civilians seeking to be with their family is another; it is galling. We would never accept it against those born in our own country. Why do we so easily accept bringing tanks and gunships to bear against those innocents born outside our own country? Once we accept that this is a problem, we might still conclude that there’s no reasonable solution to the immigration problem, and that current policy to risk the lives of unarmed civilians is the best we can hope for. But most people, unlike Tyler, aren’t even willing to accept that this is a problem!

Given Tyler’s libertarian leanings, I imagine he won’t disagree much with me on these points. So it’s all the more puzzling to me then that he slips into the trap of encouraging popular fallacies used to justify the torture and slaughter of innocent immigrants. As Tyler points out, people fear the risks of more liberal immigration. But they will be fearful whether you call it “amnesty”, “comprehensive immigration reform”, or “open borders”. And their fears, in almost every single case, will be far more grounded in speculation and conjecture than any empirical fact. Tiny, statistically insignificant effects on a subsegment of the native working population will be blown up into “They took our jerbs!”-style paranoia. Economists quite bravely stuck their necks out for the cause of free trade, despite knowing the popular fears and risks. What keeps them from preaching the same consensus they’ve reached on immigration?

Putting modern economics aside, reasonable people in the US once feared letting blacks into the labour market (they had this “reasonable” fear that freed blacks would lynch them in retaliation for centuries of slavery — for what it’s worth, a more reasonable fear than the notion that Latin American immigration would turn the US political system into that of Chavez’s Venezuela). Pretty reasonable people once feared the impacts of letting women into the labour market. People fear any kind of change. Citing fears instead of facts is no way to make a reasonable policy argument.

It’s not news to anyone that the notion of open borders is scary. Dramatic policy changes should scare any reasonable person, because that’s only human. But scariness in of itself is not a plausible reason to come down firmly on one side or another. Many historical struggles for justice and human rights were shockingly frightening. Abolishing slavery or allowing women into the labour market constituted far more radical and scary reforms than would be dramatically liberalising immigration quotas, or dramatically halting most deportations. You tell me, what’s more dangerously untried and radical: allowing an illiterate, newly-freed black to buy his own land and farm his own crops in 1870; allowing a woman to build an aeroplane in 1940; or allowing a Pole to work on a UK construction site in 2010?

And on the flip side, it’s impossible to ignore how radically totalitarian is the immigration status quo. None of us can condone an immigration system that bans a woman from attending her daughter’s wedding because it suspects she’ll want to immigrate (never mind that, legally present or not, she won’t be eligible for most state entitlements). None of us can condone a legal system that gives government uncontrolled, unchecked, arbitrary power to destroy jobs, families, and homes in one fell swoop. I can’t see anyone signing up to defend a legal system that arbitrarily decides who you can love or who you can work for based on which emperor technically ruled the piece of dirt your ancestors happened to live on two centuries ago.

As the recent tragedy at Lampedusa, Italy illustrates, our legal systems often as good as murder people — people whose lives are so full of suffering that they willingly risk death to immigrate to our jails. We force people to choose between dying in sweatshops or dying at the hands of our border patrols. As some Syrians trying to flee chemical warfare are learning first-hand today, our ostensibly humane laws declare that it is better to force people to be gassed by a dictator than to let them try to make ends meet in our countries. How is any of this not radical? How is it not frightening that we supposedly have to resort to these measures to make the world safe for “civilisation”?

Are we truly happy and safe today because our border guards force Bangladeshis to die in sweatshops and Syrians to suffocate under clouds of sarin? Yes, inasmuch as today’s policies are inefficient and inhumane, the right solution isn’t tearing down every guard post and every border fence in the world within the next 24 hours. But beginning to think about a good alternative to closed borders consistent with both security and dignity is surely a moral imperative. I don’t think any of us want to live in a world that has to destroy human rights in order to preserve them. The problem with the traditional liberal approach towards immigration reform is that, implicitly or explicitly, it embraces closed borders. It might want to open them a little, but it has no sound reasoning (other than “this feels right, I guess”) for picking a trade off point between open and closed borders.

Open borders matters because it is the only paradigm that rejects the fallacious and unethical presumptions of closed borders, and the only paradigm that provides a sound moral basis for moving towards liberal immigration policies in the first place. Open borders presumes a right to move, one that can be overridden as necessary. Closed borders presumes a total ban on movement, one that can be overridden as necessary — a ban nevertheless so strong, it has to be enforced by punishments that destroy mutual employment, family, and community relationships; punishments that sometimes result in the taking of human life. Tyler may well draw a different line than I, or many others, do about what sorts of immigration restrictions are necessary. But I believe we are all on the same page: that people should be free to move, and that this right should only be denied when clearly necessary.

Defenders of the status quo ban essentially assert that a fascist totalitarian regime which kills unarmed civilians is the only way to preserve civilisation and safeguard people’s lives and property. Maybe they think our policies should kill slightly fewer people per year, but they otherwise are comfortable with the status quo as it is. Baldly saying ,”We need to open the borders”, forces a rethink of how readily we can accept the status quo. We know there’s a problem today, a problem that costs the human race thousands of lives and billions of dollars every year. Have we truly explored every possible alternative to the totalitarian border regime we have today?

Writing off open borders as an unattainable goal without exploring all avenues we have to get there I think amounts to saying “It is just and right that we force people to die under a cloud of poison gas or in a sweatshop’s fiery inferno, because that is an appropriate punishment for daring to be born in the wrong country.” Sure, that’s a strawman, since no reasonable person wants to sign on to that trade-off. But that trade-off is exactly the one our governments make in our name every damn day, and it’s a trade-off they’re making based far more on “scary” prejudices than it is on any evidence or fact. Opening the borders is the only way we can put an end to the unholy, inhumane slaughter of innocents — the slaughter of slightly less fortunate people who, same as you and me, just want a better life for themselves and their family. Before we reject open borders, and say there’s nothing we can do to stop the killing and dying, let’s at least be sure we’ve covered all our bases.

In response to Tyler Cowen

Tyler Cowen explains, in a post about a new paper on the effects of migration, why he does not favor open borders:

And no I do not favor open borders even though I do favor a big increase in immigration into the United States, both high- and low-skilled.  The simplest argument against open borders is the political one.  Try to apply the idea to Cyprus, Taiwan, Israel, Switzerland, and Iceland and see how far you get.  Big countries will manage the flow better than the small ones but suddenly the burden of proof is shifted to a new question: can we find any countries big enough (or undesirable enough) where truly open immigration might actually work?

What Cowen seems to mean, is that any rich country that opened its borders to unlimited immigration would get swamped. As an advocate of taxing immigration, I find this objection easy to respond to. Israel and Taiwan are special cases because they face immediate national security threats from groups that contest the sovereignty of the government in the territory it claims, so I’ll set those to one side. In general, I do recognize threats of violence as a legitimate, albeit rare, reason to restrict immigration. But Switzerland and Iceland will serve as suitable examples. So, what would happen if Switzerland taxed immigration but eliminated all quantity restrictions, and while making it clear from the start, of course, that immigrants would not be eligible for public welfare benefits, and had to pre-imburse the government for the costs of deporting them if they became destitute (see DRITI for details). Answer: the living standards of native Swiss would skyrocket. Swiss entrepreneurs would thrive, building factories galore and scoring massive export success in Europe on the strength of their lower labor costs. The Swiss government would enjoy an enormous surge in tax revenue, and would pour out generous largesse on Swiss citizens, thus raising the living standards even of those who aren’t entrepreneurs, or for that matter even those who lose their jobs to immigrants, as many Swiss would. Swiss households would also enjoy an abundance of cheap domestic servants, who would raise their standard of living still further. Against this, the Swiss would see far more poverty in their country (against which the border currently serves as a blindfold), but if they are enlightened, this would trouble them no more than poverty in developing countries does now. In fact, it would trouble them less, because they would have the moral satisfaction of knowing that they were not exacerbating world poverty through the closure of their borders, but on the contrary, that, occasional mistakes aside, all those hordes of impoverished immigrants were bettering their condition relative to what it would have been at home, else they would not have come.

Cowen is smart enough to figure all this out for himself. The communication failure occurs because we mean different thing by “open borders.” I mean simply that immigrants will be allowed to enter the country physically, and allowed to work. Not that they will reside there on equal terms with citizens, subject to the same tax rules for example. Certainly not that they will have access to the vote, which is a separate issue, or to welfare benefits, which I would strongly object to. Perhaps he would favor the DRITI approach to open borders, I don’t know. It seems as if taxing immigration, and keyhole solutions generally, are not on Cowen’s radar screen. I don’t particularly blame him for that: it seems like the more sophisticated ways of talking about open borders which have been developed in the conversations at this site haven’t filtered out into the mainstream yet. But that’s a shame, because it would be much more interesting to hear Cowen’s response to the sophisticated case to open borders. I don’t learn anything from comments like those above.

Cowen continues:

In my view the open borders advocates are doing the pro-immigration cause a disservice.  The notion of fully open borders scares people, it should scare people, and it rubs against their risk-averse tendencies the wrong way.  I am glad the United States had open borders when it did, but today there is too much global mobility and the institutions and infrastructure and social welfare policies of the United States are, unlike in 1910, already too geared toward higher per capita incomes than what truly free immigration would bring.  Plunking 500 million or a billion poor individuals in the United States most likely would destroy the goose laying the golden eggs.  (The clever will note that this problem is smaller if all wealthy countries move to free immigration at the same time, but of course that is unlikely.)

It’s possible that open borders weaken the pro-immigration cause by making it look scarier. In several years of advocating open borders, though, I’ve never had the impression that any of my interlocutors actually came to favor more restrictionist policies than they had before. The worst that happened was that some people seemed to become more self-conscious and articulate in their opposition to open borders, but if anything they seemed to stake out policy positions on immigration far to the left of the mainstream, in their effort to fend off my open borders advocacy while still feeling they have some claim to the moral high ground. For example, someone might say: Yes, we should take in all the immigrants we can handle, but not open borders, that’s crazy! “All the immigrants we can handle” is major progress compared to the mainstream. In this case, open borders advocacy might serve to expand the Overton window. See the post “How persuasive are open borders advocates? The case of Bryan Caplan” for more analysis of this.

There are a number of ways that open borders advocates might be helping the pro-immigration cause. For one thing, immigration advocates like Tyler Cowen can attack us in order to make themselves seem reasonable and moderate, while still supporting greatly increased immigration! For another, people who are aware of the case for open borders, even if they don’t come out in favor of it themselves, may start to feel less of a need to say “… but we do need to control the borders” as the bookend of a defense of amnesty for undocumented immigrants, or more high-skilled immigrants, or whatever. The more we become known, the less people will be able to say “everyone agrees we need to control the borders.”

Mainly, though, Cowen’s remarks make me really wish we could raise the level of debate. It would be nice if we didn’t have to explain ad nauseam that the fact that “social welfare policies of the United States are, unlike in 1910, already too geared toward higher per capita incomes than what truly free immigration would bring” is of no relevance, because of course any plausible open borders policy would involve denying immigrants most or all access to welfare, and of course it’s stupid to object to that on humanitarian grounds, since immigrants wouldn’t come here unless it made them better off. It would be nice if Cowen would feel the need to clarify his attitude to taxing migration and keyhole solutions.

UPDATE: Welcome Marginal Revolution readers! Here’s Tyler’s post linking to us. His comment:

On open borders, Nathan Smith responds, but I consider it a surrender.  What he calls “open borders” I call “not open borders.”  Price and quantity are dual.

Do we agree then? Good!

The comment “price and quantity are dual” is a masterpiece of laconic insight-cum-evasion. Here’s a way of unpacking it that stresses the insight part. In trade economics, it is often claimed that quotas are equivalent to tariffs, because limiting the quantity of imports via quotas and raising the price of imports via tariffs have the same economic effects. However, this is true only if the right to import under the quota is auctioned off. The same logic can be applied to immigration. See my post “Auctions, tariffs, and taxes” for more analysis of these distinctions.

I added “-cum-evasion” because a reader might, just possibly, get the impression that what Cowen calls my “not open borders” position is the same as the status quo. In fact, not only is DRITI not the status quo, but the policy of auctioning visas, which could arguably be considered equivalent on the ground that “price and quantity are dual,” is also very far from the status quo.

At any rate, if you’re interested in parsing these distinctions between “open borders” and “not open borders,” in defining and refining the concept of open borders, and classifying the arguments for it and the objections to it, you’ve come to the right place! I daresay that no one on the web does that better than we do.

Feminism, open borders, and nannies

A while back, Joel Newman and Victoria Ferauge wrote a couple of posts on open borders and women. Joel argued that women would particularly benefit from the opportunity to escape countries where women’s status is low and their opportunities restricted. Victoria said that “open borders would be great for women,” for the same reasons they would benefit everyone but also because many women migrate to be with husbands, and in citizen/non-citizen marriages there is an inherent power imbalance which a generalized right to migrate would resolve.

My take is a bit different.

First, a little about myself. When I was single, I preferred younger women, and had a mild basis against careers. Younger women tend to be more beautiful, and promise more years of beauty to come, but that was a minor factor. More importantly, they have more years of fertility ahead of them, and I like big families. Careers were a minus for the same reason: a woman with a career is more likely not to feel she has time for children. A century ago, when contraception wasn’t the norm and childbearing a marital duty, I might have had less of a bias against career women, since fertility was an obligation, but nowadays, a man can’t assume that a right to get his wife pregnant inheres in marriage. She has to want it. She can’t commit, either. If she changes her mind, tough luck. At least, as far as I understand. My church (pious membership in which was an absolute precondition for me marrying anyone) quietly but definitely disapproves of voluntary childlessness, and that was some protection. Certainly, I would be safe from a church wife aborting my child. But I’d feel a little more comfortable with a wife for whom childrearing was the major item on her life agenda, than with a woman with her heart set on a career. I’m happy to say, I found one. It’s wonderful. I highly recommend it to other bachelors.

Now, these preferences of mine would be very retrograde and reprehensible from a feminist perspective. If all men had them, women’s opportunities in life will be quite different from men’s. Men have more time to pursue careers, which will then help them find wives. Women who focus on career in their 20s will sacrifice their most competitive years in the marriage market, and the hard-won career will continue to count against them. It might even be helpful to sacrifice careers pre-emptively to signal their housewifely ambitions to potential husbands. Universities, law schools, and employers may accept them on an equal basis with men, but if they take these opportunities, their prospects in personal life, unlike those of their male colleagues, will be deteriorating fast. Not fair! Yet my preferences were not only in harmony with my instincts and tastes, they were a wholly reasonable way to pursue a very natural and worthy goal. Truth be told, I am rather unsympathetic with the “gender equality” agenda. Yes, domestic violence is a problem, single mothers in poverty are a problem, Saudi Arabia limits women’s freedom far too much, and I’m all for women being allowed to enter the full array of professions and public offices. But I’m not troubled if few women choose to enter some professions, or turn out to be competitive in them, or if voters usually elect men; I’m not bothered by male advantages in average pay which usually reflect differences in work hours, risk tolerance, competitiveness, experience, etc.; I don’t think men who prefer housewives to career women ought to be blamed for it; and it’s absurd to regard housewives in comfortable suburbs as victims just because circumstances and childcare responsibilities haven’t given them the same opportunities to pursue careers as their husbands enjoy. I am sympathetic to women who, rather than demanding equal opportunity as a right, simply feel that childcare is too easy a job for them, and want to make more use of their talents for the good of humanity. To that, I’ll return.

For now, using my own experience/preferences as a point of departure, here’s a little exercise that may shed light on how open borders could affect the marriage market. It may be more amusing than insightful– when I first saw the old demand-and-supply model applied this way, I thought it was a hilarious joke, but nothing more– but at least it makes a certain interesting hypothesis clear. Continue reading “Feminism, open borders, and nannies” »