An interesting piece of anonymous feedback

A few months ago, Open Borders got an interesting piece of anonymous feedback from somebody who’d filled the effect on you survey. I’ll quote the feedback in full, with minor spelling and grammar fixes and some links added.

It actually didn’t change my mind in any way. The great effect was caused by reading Econlog, where Bryan Caplan recommended Michal Clemens’ article. When I first came here, I was already convinced that open borders was by far the most important issue in the world agenda. I do think, however, that the blog has many powerful arguments which I try to convey to other people, which is the main reason I am a regular reader.

I would like to use this space to make a topic suggestion: a discussion about economists priorities, bearing in mind the recent Economics Nobel Prize to Roth and Shapley. The last Nobel Prize is being regarded as one which was awarded for real impact in the world. Although I think that is the best standard for a Nobel Prize award, I disagree that the work of Roth and Shapley meet this standard. However important the facilitation of kidney transplants may be, and it indeed is important, it bears no comparison to doubling the world gdp. That made me think about how inefficiently economics, which is supposed to be the science of allocating scarce resources, allocates its scarce resources. It has been almost a year since a respected economist wrote that opening borders might double world gdp. There hasn’t been any reaction near to proportional. When it was reported that neutrinos might have traveled faster than the speed of light, all newspapers in the world had extensive coverage. The scientific community rapidly reacted, doubting it could be possible. With regard to migration, most economists never cared to address the paper. My suggestion, then, is this: you should not focus on converting non-influential people to the cause of open borders. You should focus on making economists speak about migration. Maybe post report cards of every economics blogger you can find on his/her stance on migration. If I were doing it, I wouldn’t even address whether or not the blogger supported open borders or not, but whether or not he gave proper attention to the issue. These people, like everyone else, are vain, and probably will read what you say about them. If they respond, their readers will become acquainted with your compelling case. Thank you very much.

Some thoughts on this:

I broadly agree with the fact that it’s disappointing that few economists, even labor economists, devote their energies to studying the global impact of migration. Despite the fact that there is an economist consensus in favor of at least somewhat expanded migration, there is not much interest in the empirics of radically more open borders than the status quo. Often, the energies of economists who study migration are devoted to more narrow questions, such as whether immigrants suppress the wages of natives, framed and addressed using an analytical nationalist perspective. In his paper (linked above), Michael Clemens suggested an agenda for research into migration that would be focused on people rather than statistical categories such as nations, and that would pay more attention to the overall effects of migration both as immigration and emigration. Clemens has co-authored papers on the place premium and income per natural, which are good conceptual tools for understanding migration. In his recent open borders autobiography, Bryan Caplan wrote about how both his undergraduate education and his graduate school training failed to convey to him the magnitude of the economic impact of immigration restrictions:

By the time I started my undergraduate education at UC Berkeley, then, I was a staunch yet shallow devotee of free immigration. I simply lacked the knowledge base to understand the magnitude of the issue. My subsequent coursework did nothing to alleviate my ignorance.

After finishing at Berkeley, I moved on to Princeton’s Ph.D. economics program. Although Princeton is known for its labor economics group, I learned virtually nothing about immigration from the Princeton faculty – or my fellow students. The budding labor economists were far more interested in estimating the effects of education on earnings than the effect of immigration restrictions on global prosperity.

Adam Ozimek also made the same point in the context of economics bloggers in a blog post on Forbes, to which my co-blogger Nathan Smith responded.

Although I personally haven’t discussed economists’ lack of focus on migration, I have dealt with a related issue: libertarians’ lack of focus on open borders advocacy (see part 1 and part 2 of my planned three-post series on the subject).

So I’m already quite sympathetic to this piece of feedback.

The suggestion to create “economist report card” suggestion is an interesting one, and one that Open Borders might pursue at some point in time, but we don’t quite have the manpower yet. But perhaps some other enterprising individual or group could do this, or point to a simple way of doing this.

The parallel with Roth and Shapley’s Nobel Prize on kidney donations is also interesting. As my co-blogger John Lee has pointed out in private correspondence, bans on legal sales of kidneys, just like immigration restrictions, prevent people around the world from engaging in mutually beneficial win-win transactions that save lives. Roth and Shapley figured out an innovative partial workaround that would help some kidney donors match some kidney recipients. Perhaps there is an economist, entrepreneur, or philanthropist who will similarly find more creative workarounds to help undo part of the damage caused by immigration restrictions, and will be admired in a later era for his or her contribution to humanity.

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