# Paul Collier’s Exodus and the risks of migrant diasporas

Paul Collier, a professor of economics at Oxford University and author of The Bottom Billion, among other recent popular works, believes that, unless checked by unbiased, data-driven policies in the rich world, immigration from the global South to the global North will accelerate to point where both the rich and the poor worlds are harmed by it. In his new book, Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World, Collier describes a model of how large and persistent diasporas can fuel immigration, namely by lowering the natural barriers to migration (a diaspora is a little more like home). Moreover, his model predicts that, absent migration controls, there is no natural equilibrium point; i.e., immigration will continue to add to the diaspora community and the growing diaspora will catalyze more and more immigration.

Given his model, one of Collier’s concerns is that immigration from poor countries will involve “settling” diasporas of immigrants who have anti-social norms and low levels of trust. Indeed low trust and bad norms go a long way in explaining why those countries are poor in the first place, and by settling in the rich world without assimilating, the poor will keep their anti-social norms and risk spreading them to the host population as well.

Throughout reading Exodus, it seemed as if Collier had forgotten what he wrote in the Bottom Billion. In that book, he identified several “traps” that hindered substantial social and economic progress in the poorest countries. The poorest countries usually suffer from a cocktail of these traps. But it isn’t until near the end of the book that he mentions these causes of persistent poverty.

The underlying difference in incomes between rich and poor societies is due to differences in their social models. If Mali had a similar social model to France and maintained it for several decades, it would have a similar level of income. The persistence of differences in income is not inherent to differences in geography. Of course, differences in geography matter: Mali is landlocked and it is dry, both of which make prosperity more difficult. But both have been made more of a handicap than they need to be. Being landlocked is greatly compounded by the fact that Mali’s neighbors also have dysfunctional social models: the war currently raging in Mali is a direct spillover of the collapse of Mali’s neighbor Libya. Being dry is made more difficult by heavy reliance upon agriculture: Dubai is even drier, but it has diversified into a prosperous service economy where the lack of rainfall is of no consequence.

This is not to say that the problems Collier highlights in his newest book aren’t real. I reckon they are, and he provides a useful discussion of some research on trust levels of different societies, citing, for example, a study showing differences between countries of the strategies adopted in cooperative games. But it seems, given his own previous contributions to the understanding of global poverty, that social models are but one facet of the problem. It also seems difficult to tease apart cause and effect in the relationship of trust and the structure of institutions. It is plausible that a large influx of unassimilated low-trust immigrants could impair the smooth functioning of institutions requiring social trust. But it also seems appropriate (or at least strategic) that low-trust norms would arise in environments that lack strong institutions of markets and private property.

Related to the problem of low-trust immigrants is the effect that greater diversity may have on trust in the host society. Collier offers several anecdotes about how the social norms of immigrants from poor countries can lower trust among all parties in society. The anecdotes are typically news stories where immigrants have committed crimes and, instead of condemning the criminals, the immigrant community and its advocates among the indigenous protect the criminals. In such cases, he characterizes the advocates as “supervillains” who damage societal cohesion more than even the anti-social criminals themselves. In the cooperation games I mentioned above, prevalence of defending bad behavior (punishing the agents who themselves punish uncooperative behavior) makes cooperative strategies unstable. Collier frets that punishment of antisocial behavior among immigrants will be viewed as discrimination, and condemnation of behavior misconstrued as discrimination is dangerous to social cohesion.

For all the pages he spends on these dire warnings, he scarcely acknowledges at all that honest-to-goodness discrimination actually exists. The flip side of bleeding heart indigenous liberals and clan-first immigrants defending co-ethnic criminals is indigenous authorities implementing policies that discriminate against minorities. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, in defending “Stop-and-Frisk” policies disproportionately directed at black and Hispanic males and promoting police spying on Muslim communities, is a supervillain every bit as threatening to social trust as any of Collier’s defenders of bad immigrants.

It was interesting to read such a negative view of the functioning of migrant diasporas, having just read (and written about) Robert Guest’s book.  In Collier’s view, a migrant diaspora is something that will quickly grow out of control and possibly begin to etch away at the norms and attitudes that keep society cooperative. In other words, diasporas can hinder the formation of social bonds within society. Guest, by contrast, tries to illustrate that far-flung diasporas can facilitate the formation of social bonds between societies. I am ultimately unconvinced by Collier’s depiction of diasporas as entities to be feared, largely because the incentives to fit in with the host society are extremely powerful, examples abound of host societies coping perfectly well with large diasporas (especially in America), and most importantly, I view immigrants as just regular folks trying to get by. But even supposing Collier is right that large diasporas can hurt intrasocietal bond formation, I would be inclined to view Guest’s intersocietal bond formation story as the more important of the two. I suspect the world faces a greater deficit of international goodwill than it does of intranational goodwill.

Collier’s actual policy proposals do not favor restricting immigration altogether, but aim to reduce the flow of immigrants by dispersing and absorbing diasporas.

A fit-for-purpose migration policy therefore adopts a range of strategies designed to increase the absorption of diasporas. The government cracks down hard on racism and discrimination on the part of the indigenous population. It adopts Canadian-style policies of requiring geographic dispersion of migrants. It adopts America-in-the-1970s-style policies of integrating schools, imposing a ceiling on the percentage of pupils from diasporas. It requires migrants to learn the indigenous language and provides the resources that make this feasible. It also promotes the symbols and ceremonies of common citizenship.

One can clearly see that Collier isn’t a hardcore restrictionist. He even suggests legalizing immigrants as guest workers, partly as a way to reduce the costs of having large numbers of immigrants living in the shadows. Some of the policies proposed here are rather coercive, and limit the very freedoms of movement and association that form the core of my open borders position, yet they are similar in spirit to some of the keyhole policies discussed elsewhere on this site.  And fundamentally, Collier does not want to end immigration, but only to slow–by technocratic means–the acceleration of immigration he foresees. It is perhaps a sobering assessment of the state of world migration policy that, if Collier’s favored policies were implemented globally, it would represent an improvement on the status quo.

# Orson Scott Card on Immigration

Orson Scott Card is a bestselling author and columnist.  His novel “Ender’s Game” has recently been adapted into a movie.  He occasionally writes columns on political matters, including immigration.  He has had some very cogent things to say about the topic, some of which I have excerpted here:

From his article “What is This ‘Crime,’ Really?”:

So what is this vile crime of “illegal immigration” that requires us to throw out hard-working people who do jobs that no American was willing to do (not at those wages, anyway, not while living in that housing)?

It consists of crossing over an arbitrary line that somebody drew in the dirt a century and a half ago. On one side of the line, poverty, hopelessness, a social system that keeps you living as a peasant, keeps your children uneducated and doomed to the same miserable life you have — or worse.

Wouldn’t you take any risk to get across that line?

…..

We Americans, what exactly did we do to earn our prosperity, our freedom? Well, for most of us, what we did was: be born.

Yeah, we work for our living and pay our taxes and all that, but you know what? I haven’t seen many native-born American citizens who work as hard as the Mexican-born people I see working in minimum-wage jobs in laundries and yard services and intermittent subcontracting projects and other semi-skilled and unskilled positions.

I have no idea which (if any) of the people I see doing this work are legals and which are illegals — but that’s my point. Latin American immigrants, as a group, are hard-working, family-centered, God-fearing people who contribute mightily to our economy

….

And if all you can say to that is, “It doesn’t matter, send them all home, give them no hope of citizenship because we don’t want to reward people for breaking the law to enter our country,” then here’s my answer to you:

Let’s apply that standard across the board. No mercy. No extenuating circumstances. No sense of punishment that is proportionate to the crime. Let’s handle traffic court that way.

The penalty for breaking any traffic law, from now on, is: revocation of your license and confiscation of your car. Period. DWI? Well, we already do that (though usually for something like the nineteenth offense). But now let’s punish speeders the same way. Driving 50 in a school zone — lose your license and your car! Driving 70 in a 65 zone on the freeway? No license, no car. Not coming to a full stop at an intersection? No license, no car.

No mercy, no exceptions, no consideration for the differences between traffic offenders.

Oh, you don’t want to live under those rules? Well, you can’t deny that people would take the driving laws much more seriously, right?

“But it wouldn’t be fair!” you reply.

That’s right. It wouldn’t be fair. Yet that’s exactly the same level of fairness that I hear an awful lot of Americans demanding in order to curtail the problem of illegal immigration.

The only thing that makes illegal immigration a problem is that it’s illegal. If we simply opened our southern border the way all our borders were open in the 1800s, then would there be any continuing burden?

In this country, we have a long tradition of punishing only the individual who does wrong, not his entire ethnic group. (Though, come to think of it, there are a lot of people who would like to change that — but that’s another argument.)

The voice of bigotry speaks: “But they’re dirty, they don’t speak the language, they live in such awful conditions.”

Hey, buddy! They’re dirty because they’re poor and exhausted and they work with their hands and they sweat from their labor! They don’t speak the language because they weren’t born here and in case you’ve never tried it yourself, learning another language is hard. And they live in awful conditions because they’re doing lousy, low-paying jobs and sending the money home.

Of course, these complaints are often disguised ways of saying, “We don’t want them here because they’re brown and most of them look like Indians.” Only we know better than to admit that’s our motive, even to ourselves. So we find other words to cover the same territory.

Efforts to “protect English” are the exact equivalent of those signs saying “No Irish Need Apply” or the rules limiting the number of Jews who could be admitted to prestigious universities or the laws telling black people where they could and could not sit in buses and trains. English doesn’t need protection. People need protection from those who would hurt them because they weren’t born to English-speaking parents.

From “Ethnic Cleansing or ‘Amnesty’” (This article describes a hypothetical scenario where all illegal immigrants are rounded up and deported.  When Card refers to a character as a “fuzzy headed liberal” he is being sarcastic):

When Serbians ask why we bombed them for trying to expel native Albanians from Kosovo, when we’re doing the exact same thing, we don’t bother answering. We don’t have to answer. We’re the world’s only superpower, and therefore everything we do is right.

It’s not ethnic cleansing, we carefully reply. It’s not because they’re Spanish-speaking brown-skinned people that we think they posed a danger to America. It’s because they didn’t have green cards.

The Republican spokesman nods wisely. “They broke the law even coming into this country.”

“What if it was a stupid law?” asks the liberal.

“It was the law, and they broke it.”

“Look,” says the fuzzy-headed liberal, “we made up these laws. It’s not like murder or theft or rape, where one person is infringing the rights of another. We just decided, arbitrarily, which people could come into our country and which could not. Our rules favored the rich; the poor in other countries weren’t welcome.

“But there they were, starving in their own country,” the bleeding-heart liberal goes on. “And the only thing holding them back from feeding their children was a border and a set of completely arbitrary rules. Stupid, needless rules that kept the workers in one country from getting the jobs that were waiting for them in another.”

“That’s treasonous!”

“No, sir, you are the traitor. You’re the one who declared that America was no longer a nation built around an idea, which accepted all who embraced that idea. Now it’s just like any other nation on Earth. It stands for nothing except for holding on to what we’ve got and making sure there’s no room for the people most desperate to come and join us.”

“They didn’t want to live under our laws!”

“Yes they did. All we had to do was change a law that made far less sense than the traffic laws Americans break or bend all the time! If you make breathing a crime, then yes, all the breathers are criminals, but the people who made the laws are the stupid ones.”

“How dare you! We’re the ones who wanted to keep America American!”

“America is a nation that thrived because of a constant infusion of eager new citizens. You have closed the door against the best and bravest of them. You have cut off the lifeblood.”

“At least we’re still speaking English!”

“That’s right,” says the fuzzy-headed liberal. “It takes a lot of brains and determination to learn to speak two languages fluently. We kicked out six million people who were willing to try to do that. And what we have left is … you.”

From “Homework and Perry’s ‘Mistake’“:

But what I kept hearing was that the main reason Perry stumbled was because he actually defended Texas’s policy of charging in-state college tuition rates to the children of illegal immigrants. What cost him, people are saying, is that he said to anyone who opposed that policy, “I don’t think you have a heart.”

Never mind that these are children who did not choose where they would live, or whether to come illegally into our country. Never mind that, legal or not, these children are still residents of our country and we all prosper if they get an education so they can get well-paying jobs instead of remaining desperately poor — a breeding ground for crime and welfare.

I mean, isn’t the anti-immigrant hysteria all about how these dark-skinned Spanish-speaking people don’t learn our language, go on welfare, and commit crimes? Wouldn’t getting an education for their children go a long way toward making sure they learn our language, don’t go on welfare, and don’t choose a life of crime?

But let’s just forget the rational arguments and think a little bit about who we are and what America means. Is it really the belief of significant numbers of Republicans that America will be a better place if we, as a society, punish children for their parents’ misdemeanors?

Now, there’s a thought. Maybe it would work! Suppose that instead of losing your license when you’re convicted of driving drunk, your children were taken out of school for a year!

Or if you get too many points on your driver’s license, your children’s grades for that year would be dropped a full letter grade in every class, with no possibility of appeal or explanation.

Oh, isn’t that fair? You think it’s wrong to punish children and interfere with their future just because of their parents’ law-breaking?

Then you must be a Republican In Name Only … because apparently true-blue dyed-in-the-wool Republicans refuse to support a presidential candidate who thinks that the children of illegal immigrants should get the state-resident tuition rates for the schools in the state they reside in.

# Open borders advocacy: a Drake equation

The Drake equation is a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. The idea is to express the number of such civilizations as a product of quantities in a manner that’s true by definition, but also such that one can talk somewhat more intelligently about estimating the individual factors than one can talk about directly estimating the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations. XKCD has poked fun at the Drake equation in at least two comics. Viewed as an exercise aimed at obtaining precise actionable estimates, the Drake equation is probably futile. But viewed as a way to start thinking about the problem, it is arguably useful. The main reason it’s bad for estimation is that the multiplicative nature of the model means that the huge uncertainty in measurement for each of the factors is also multiplicative, leading to a gigantic uncertainty in the overall estimation.

Here’s my Drake-like attempt:

$latex \text{Utility of a particular form of open borders advocacy} = Wxyz$

Here:

• $latex W$ is the naive estimate of the gains from complete open borders (using, for instance, the double world GDP ballpark).
• $latex x$ is a fudge factor to represent the idea that “things rarely turn out as well as we expect them to.” If we set $latex x = 0.1$, for instance, that’s tantamount to saying that, due to all the numerous problems that our naive models fail to account for, the actual gains from open borders would be only 10% of the advertised gains. The product so far, namely $latex Wx$, describes what we really expect the gains from open borders to be.
• $latex y$ is the fraction to which the world can realistically move in the direction of open borders. The product $latex Wxy$ is total expected gain from however far one can realistically move in the open borders direction.
• $latex z$ is the extent to which a particular effort at advocacy or discussions moves the world toward open borders, as a fraction of what is realistically possible. For instance, setting $latex z = 10^{-4}$ for Open Borders the website would mean that the creation of the website, and work on the website, has moved the world 1/10,000 of the way it feasibly could in the direction of open borders.

The restrictionist or pessimist might well view $latex x$ as a negative number, making open borders advocacy a great disservice to humanity. For our purposes, however, we’ll consider estimates where the values are positive, yet sufficiently small as to account for considerable uncertainty. Let’s say that, for the Open Borders website, the numbers look as follows, with the numbers in US dollars (note that of the four numbers, $latex z$ is the only one that requires particular knowledge of the Open Borders website):

$latex W = \$ 50 \text{ trillion}, x = 0.01, y = 0.001, z = 0.0001$The 50 trillion figure can be calculated as just one year’s gain based on the double world GDP estimates. Note that there are some complications when considering potential delays in opening borders, as well as discount rates for the future and economic growth in the future. But since the starting numbers are anyway very rough guesses, there’s not much point in trying to do a very elaborate estimation exercise to calculate$latex W$(for what it’s worth, I did some estimates based on assumptions about discount rates and economic growth, and I got a figure of about twice that much in expected value even if open borders are delayed by several years and the gains are slow to arrive and temporary). Note also that the fudge factor$latex x$of 0.01 is essentially taking a very pessimistic view of the estimation exercise, by claiming that 99% of the claimed gains will not in fact materialize, or will be canceled by other losses. With these numbers, the value of the website comes out to 50,000 US dollars. That’s not huge, but it’s about the same order of magnitude as the cost of time spent on the website (about 1500-2000 hours). With these numbers, therefore, the site just about breaks even in terms of social value generated versus time spent. Here’s an optimistic version of the numbers:$latex W = \$50 \text{ trillion}, x = 0.1, y = 0.1, z = 0.0001$

With this view, the naive estimate overstates the gains, but only ten-fold, it’s also possible for the world to realistically move 10% of the way toward open borders, and Open Borders the website has moved the world 1/10,000 of the way toward the theoretically possible limit. With these numbers, the expected value of Open Borders comes to about $50 million. Obviously, the above estimation exercises are very naive, and there’s a sense in which this might feel like Pascal’s mugging. The key point that emerges here, though, is that the position yes, open borders would have gains, but the gains from what’s realistically possible in that direction are too small to be worthwhile isn’t a very tenable position. Open borders is a radical proposal — for better or worse. To arrive at such a position, you’d need to have$latex x,y,z$all very small — but still positive. If you’re coming that close to zero, then you might as well offer some good reason why you don’t go all the way to zero — or beyond, to the negative territory. If the restrictionist position were right, then, it would entail showing at least one of these (or more precisely, an odd number of these, but never mind that): •$latex x$is zero or negative: Economists have badly estimated not just the magnitude, but rather, the sign of the effect of open borders. The best attempts in the direction of demonstrating that the expected sign is negative is the killing the goose that lays the golden eggs argument. And while I think there’s considerable plausibility to that argument, and it may well point toward certain keyhole solutions being desirable, I am not convinced that these come anywhere near toggling the expected sign of the gains from open borders. •$latex y$is zero or negative: It’s impossible to move in the direction of open borders at all. •$latex z$is zero or negative: Open borders advocacy (or at any rate, the specific advocacy effort being considered) hurts the move toward open borders more than it helps. Tyler Cowen took this sort of approach in his recent blog post that generated considerable response (including from Nathan and John). An alternative position is that we just don’t know enough to even estimate the signs of the quantities, and that more research is needed. I certainly agree about the need for more research, and I think a strong case could be made for an agenda that focuses extensively on research before clearly coming down on one side or another, while favoring continued experimentation with liberalization and keyhole solutions at the margin. But what’s not justifiable is the absolute certainty that many people seem to have that the status quo is approximately optimal, or that radical liberalization of movement simply isn’t a paradigm worth investigating because the gains are too small. # Myths and muddled thinking: the case for closed borders made at the Intelligence Squared debate I was lucky enough to personally be in the audience earlier this week when guest blogger Bryan Caplan and software entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa made the case for open borders at the Intelligence Squared debate on the motion “let anyone take a job anywhere“. Bryan and Wadhwa were up against Ron Unz, an American conservative intellectual, and Kathleen Newland, a migration policy wonk opposing the motion. You can watch a video of the full debate, read the transcript, or see our page on the debate and related links. The IQ2 organisers polled the audience before and after the debate on support for the motion; the winner was the one who moved the needle the most. No prizes for guessing how I voted. Still, I was surprised at how much the polling going on favoured the motion; a plurality voted for it, 46%-21%, with another third of the audience undecided. The restrictionist side more than doubled their vote share to a solid plurality of 49%-42% by the end of the debate, with another 9% still undecided. The hypothesis which makes the most sense to me, which I think a lot of folks, including Bryan, subscribe to is that a good deal of the audience going in did not fully appreciate the gravity of the motion: this isn’t about moving from closed borders to cracking the door open an inch. This is about truly liberating the workers of the world from the chains which keep them locked up in the country they happen to be born into. A relatively naive pro-immigration person going into the debate could well have voted for the motion initially, and realised after the debate that they may want a slightly more liberal policy, but nothing close to open borders, and voted accordingly then. Overall, I am heartened that almost half the audience remained in favour of open borders even after hearing out the case for and against; I’d rather have 42% who strongly favour open borders in full knowledge of the case for and against, than 46% who think it sounds good but aren’t sure what the case for either side might be. I am hardly an unbiased observer, but I felt Bryan’s opening and closing statements summarised well the best of the case for open borders: closed borders oppress innocent people. They treat people like enemies of the state simply because they were born in the wrong country — something they had no choice in. This is both manifestly unjust and incredibly inefficient. The world is losing the fantastic talents of billions, which could be put to so much better use outside the countries they are trapped in by happenstance. Having said that, I did enjoy the other side’s arguments. Although I was hardly persuaded by them, I felt both Unz and Newland very clearly crystallised almost every single argument, short of outright bigotry, that I’ve heard against open borders. Unz played a very effective restrictionist bad cop to Newland’s “we can let more in, but we can’t open the borders” mainstream liberal good cop. Unz trotted out a bunch of familiar populist right-wing arguments: immigrants depress wages; they’re scheming welfare parasites; and they will only be a boon for wealthy capitalists. Newland trotted out all the familiar left-wing arguments: admitting immigrants imposes an obligation on government to care for them and government’s resources are not unlimited; every government has the authority to impose its own restrictions on immigration as it sees fit; it is irresponsible to outsource immigration policy to private citizens like employers. Wadhwa was the only debater who disappointed me. He and Bryan came in seeming to have agreed to specialise; Bryan would cover the arguments for low-skilled immigration, and Wadhwa would speak to the arguments for high-skilled immigration. This arrangement turned out to be ineffective, I think largely because hardly anyone can oppose open borders for high-skilled workers: every single argument made by Unz and Newland was really against open borders for low-skilled workers. Wadhwa thus didn’t really have much to say other than repeat all the points for what, in my mind, is the virtual slam dunk of high-skilled immigration. Having said that, one thing that was new to me that night was finding that Wadhwa really favours open borders. I know I wasn’t the only one who, when I heard the line-up, wondered why Wadhwa was speaking, when all his prior activism has focused on high-skilled immigration. People standing up for the right of the privileged, educated classes to move freely around the world are a dime-a-dozen. But try talking to them about immigration from anyone else, and these people’s positions often change either to apathy or outright restrictionist antipathy. From his comments during the debate, Wadhwa showed he is on on side of open borders for all, and rejects all the apocalyptic predictions which Unz so ponderously repeated that night. As Wadhwa so simply put it, “if an employer thinks that this Mexican gardener is more qualified to do this job than someone else they can hire locally, let them do it.” My favourite moment of Wadhwa’s was when he took to the stage for his opening statement and showed himself clearly speechless at Unz’s demagoguery: I’ve read Unz’s work, as have Bryan and Wadhwa, and we know Unz is far more intelligent and nuanced than the caricature of restrictionism he appeared that night. Unfortunately, Unz’s demagoguery clearly worked. All you have to do is trot out the laundry list of myths about the evils of immigrants, and dramatise the scenario out of any proportion to the actual facts. Unz repeatedly declared that open borders would “convert America’s minimum wage into its maximum wage” — a prediction I’d gladly bet with Unz on, if only we could somehow open the borders. Economists have repeatedly found that more immigration actually has hardly any impact on wages for most workers, and may even boost low-skilled natives’ incomes. Even if you multiply the most pessimistic estimates of immigration’s effects on wages several times over, you cannot come close to driving wages down to the level of the minimum wage. Unz knows none of this; he happily opened with the cheerful declaration that he doesn’t know anything about economics. But populist demagoguery is quite an effective debating tactic, especially when you’re dealing with a non-technical audience. Unz harped on how open borders would cause class warfare, ostensibly because a massive influx of foreign labour would harm native labour tremendously, to the benefit of capital. But the economist consensus is quite clear: Unz is wrong. As one economist, Ethan Lewis (who, full disclosure, is a former teacher of mine) has said: “Calculations often include native ‘capital owners’ as additional short-run beneficiaries, but there is ample theoretical and empirical support for the idea that such benefits do not last beyond a few years – the short run really is short.” Moreover, Lewis has looked at how industrialists actually respond to inflows of foreign labour — and he has found that they respond by cutting back on their investments in capital and investing more in low-skilled labour, in turn driving up low-skilled natives’ incomes! Unz’s arguments are superficially appealing, but they simply cannot withstand scrutiny when you look into the ideas and thinking which Unz purports to back him up. I thought Unz did exactly what a debater looking to persuade people to the restrictionist side should do: choose what people are likeliest to believe, and hammer away at it. But convincing as he might have sounded, I think that Newland likely was the one who won the debate for their side. To be fair to her, Newland is no lover of closed borders: she’s an advocate for more liberal immigration policies and clearly cares for migrants. But she was the speaker who took the positions that I feel appeal the most to any layperson in the mainstream who is asked to consider open borders: well, it’s good to help poor people by letting them in, but we have to be careful to ensure we don’t admit too many, since it creates an obligation for us to care for these people, and we don’t have limitless resources. She elucidated these positions clearly. I also felt that she made perhaps the most frank and revealing statement of the evening: when asked if she favoured government discrimination against the foreign-born, she responded: “I think our governments are obliged to discriminate in our favor“. As she so clearly says, the case against open borders rests in large part on denying the assertion Bryan made in his opening statement that banning foreigners from seeking honest work is no different from banning women, Jews, or blacks from seeking honest work. It’s different, you see: discriminating against women, Jews, and blacks is wrong. But it is so right to discriminate against foreigners. Much to my dissatisfaction, after opening statements, the debaters spent a lot of time arguing about whether a minimum wage should apply to immigrant workers, and if so, how high should it be. Here, Bryan was alone in insisting there was no need to set such a precondition on opening the borders. The rest of the panel agreed that the US ought to raise its minimum wage, and spent a good deal of time going back and forth about how this impacted the motion. To me, this question is entirely irrelevant, and I think Bryan could have tried harder to shut down this red herring by following up on a point Wadhwa made: the debate is about whether we should let anyone take a job anywhere. The debate has nothing to do with other labour market regulations. Any government has the authority to regulate its domestic labour market. Whether those regulations are appropriate or need amending is a completely different issue. All Bryan and Wadhwa are saying is that governments do not have the authority to discriminate against foreigners in the labour market — to impose one set of labour laws on foreigners that do not apply to natives. To put it differently, there are different laws governing the labour market in the US, the UK, Bangladesh, and Brazil. But nobody’s saying that they all should have the same set of labour laws, the same minimum wage. The point of open borders is that people who want to move out of one labour market, out of one set of labour laws and regulations, and into another one, should be allowed to. People should be allowed to seek work anywhere, and people should be allowed to hire anyone from anywhere, in compliance with all the same labour laws that apply to native workers. Restrictionists in Unz’s camp may favour a high minimum wage to price unskilled foreign workers out of the labour market — but that’s a very different kettle of fish from favouring the use of tanks and gunships to threaten unskilled foreign workers with violent force. The scope of the motion was fundamentally about ending the global war on immigrants — not raising the US minimum wage. One thing I liked about how the IQ2 moderator, John Donvan, set up the debate was that he made clear open borders is already being tried in the EU, and can readily be accomplished on a larger scale today via multilateral open border treaties. I thought it quite funny how Unz and Newland argued that we shouldn’t count this a success for open borders, because EU policy poured aid into poorer EU countries prior to opening the borders in hopes of dissuading economic migration. They made it sound like the EU only opened its internal borders once every country had more or less attained a similar level of economic performance. But EU countries range in per capita income (adjusted for purchasing power) from the$15K-$20K range (for countries like Bulgaria, Romania, and Poland) up to the$40K-\$50K range (for countries like Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria). The fact of the matter is, as Bryan and Wadhwa pointed out, that none of the catastrophes which Unz and those of like minds have insisted are sure to happen under open borders actually happened in the EU. And Mexico has a higher per capita income than Bulgaria, mind you!

After the debate, I felt that the organisers had actually put together a fantastically representative panel:

1. Bryan, the open borders cum free market radical
2. Wadhwa, the open borders moderate
3. Unz, the restrictionist doomsday prophet
4. Newland, the mainstream liberal open borders skeptic

Each person represented a distinct side of the debate. Unfortunately, because of disagreements on rather irrelevant points (like the level of the minimum wage), Bryan and Wadhwa sometimes found themselves having to disagree. Moreover, Unz and Newland were careful to make points which complemented each other; even though right- and left-wing populism rarely agree on much elsewhere, it’s hardly surprising that they tend to agree on immigration. Both left- and right-wing restrictionists share the belief, so clearly articulated by Newland, that government is obliged to protect people from competition in a fair market by use of tanks and battleships — by treating innocent people who happen to have been born in another country as if they are armed, invading armies. It was not a huge surprise to me that the audience, by a slight margin, felt more persuaded by Unz and Newland, even if their facts and assertions were often way off base, especially in Unz’s case.

Newland dealt more in moral arguments that evening than she did in facts, which made her the more formidable opponent, even though you can certainly say the moral case for open borders is a slam dunk. Newland stated simply that people feel that admitting immigrants is to assume some sort of responsibility for them, and this makes it impossible to admit everyone, since our resources are not limitless. In other words, governments have an obligation to provide the same level of welfare and benefits for everyone in their territory.

Newland also harped on the claim that governments have the fundamental authority to set any immigration policy they like, no matter how unjust or arbitrary this policy may be. She never backed this up, moving on to argue that it’s undemocratic and unjust to place immigration policy in the hands of private citizens like employers. While I agree it would be concerning if we allowed private companies or citizens to grant citizenship to anyone they like, that clearly has nothing to do with open borders: open borders is not open citizenship.

Newland’s arguments amounted to assuming that governments have the authority to discriminate against foreigners in any way they like because foreigners are not citizens. This is extreme; surely Newland and I imagine Unz would draw the line at allowing the government to impose the death penalty on foreigners who illegally immigrate. But Bryan, Wadhwa and I would move that line a little more: we draw the line at allowing the government to force its own citizens to discriminate against foreigners in hiring and firing decisions. We draw the line at forcing people to face arbitrary rules and punishment simply to hold down their job or live with their families. Governments can discriminate against foreigners in all other sorts of ways; as Bryan proposed, governments can even charge foreigners a fee or surtax for immigration. If it is unjust to murder someone for the crime of being born in the wrong country, it is also unjust to use armed force to deprive them of a job they are qualified to do.

The most effective counter-argument from Bryan and Wadhwa that evening was their concrete illustration of how so many of the citizenist and doomsday-type arguments which Unz and Newland used were old replays of the arguments used against allowing blacks or women into the labour force. The labour market wouldn’t be able to cope. Capital would exploit the new workers at the expense of the old workers, who’d be laid off or see wage cuts. It wouldn’t be fair to existing workers, who society and its institutions have obligations to. None of these are convincing reasons to ban blacks or women from joining the labour force; neither should they convince you that it’s right to ban someone from working somewhere just because of where he was born.

Bryan also pointed out the moral tension in Newland’s seemingly compassionate argument. Her insistence on using armed force to keep out immigrants if the welfare state isn’t able to accommodate them seems self-defeating: if someone wants to do a job, because it makes them better off many times over, why ban them from doing it at the point of a gun? If this person is one of the most economically oppressed people alive today, and if leaving their current job is literally a matter of life or death, why are we so happy to ban them from taking a job that multiplies their income by leaps and bounds, saving them from a life risked working on the floor of a sweatshop that might just collapse one day? Even if we find it unpleasant to witness poverty in our country, how is it anything but cruel to use armed force to keep out those poor people who want to come here simply to better their condition with honest wages?

Ultimately, I think the main elephant in the room that wasn’t quite adequately addressed was the point Newland made about citizenism: that governments are obliged to discriminate in favour of citizens. I think that is quite true, yes, in matters of national security, as she herself said. But the labour market is not a matter of national security any more than the agricultural market or information technology market are. Those markets are surely sensitive and of national importance, which is the excuse the US government uses to impose farm subsidies and import tariffs, and the excuse it uses to ban the export of some encryption technologies. But the government imposes such restrictions selectively and only where warranted. It does not impose a blanket ban on trade. Let’s put aside the question of whether those other restrictions make sense; the point is, there is far more of an open border when it comes to markets of unquestionable national importance like farming and information security, than when it comes to labour. As Wadhwa said, it is crazy that we are having a debate about whether an employer should be allowed to hire whoever he likes, when the only disqualifying factor we can think of is the candidate’s country of birth. If the foreigner isn’t a terrorist or public health threat, what business is it of the government’s to ban its citizens from hiring him?

The citizenist point of view clearly resonated; it came up frequently in the audience Q&A. More than once, someone stood up to demand to know why the US should open the borders at all when it is beset by domestic problems. Nobody on stage seemed to clearly grapple with this to me. I think I can imagine what Bryan would have said if he wanted to thoroughly grapple with this thinking, but his preferred total rejection of all citizenist ideas is not, I imagine, a great rhetorical strategy, especially when you have limited time to make your case.

Yet, in my mind, this citizenist thinking is the most important barrier to break down. Sure, governments have obligations to their citizens that they do not have to foreigners. But governments do not have the obligation to ban foreigners from competing with citizens in a fair marketplace. What purpose does it serve to use armed force against innocent civilians? To call Unz’s apocalyptic scenarios if we open the borders “unrealistic” is too kind. There is no prima facie case for banning an innocent person from taking whatever job he can get in the marketplace in any country of the world. There is no reasonable basis for treating someone who wants to work in a restaurant kitchen or get an education as if they are a common criminal, or worse, an armed enemy of the state. Governments have the authority to impose immigration restrictions — but for the sake of the common good and in response to a clearly defined threat, not for the sake of simply “protecting” citizens from fair competition in the marketplace.

The organisers of the IQ2 debate billed it as a thrilling contest of wits and persuasion. As you can tell from how much space I’ve devoted here to discussing the debate, I’m certainly happy to give them that point. Although I can’t say I’m happy that open borders “lost” the debate, I am glad to have heard some of the best arguments that both sides offer, and glad that a broader audience was able to hear them too. The case for open borders rests on debunking the economic myths and muddled moral thinking which make closed borders so appealing to many. The open borders side might not have won this time, but we gave the closed borders side a good run for their money — and I look forward to seeing the progress we can make here the next time around.

Photo credit for picture of Bryan Caplan and Vivek Wadhwa at the debate: Samuel Lahoz, Intelligence Squared.