All posts by Chris Hendrix

Chris Hendrix is a Masters student in history in Atlanta, Georgia with an interest in the history of borders. See also: Chris Hendrix's personal statement blog post introducing Chris Hendrix all blog posts by Chris Hendrix

A Thought Experiment: Haitian Migration

As Vipul recently noted, one of the biggest questions surrounding open borders is just how many people would move to a new country. The estimates of doubling world GDP rely on this being a very large number. On the other hand, large numbers of immigrants moving to the first world also increase the concerns surrounding political externalities or the overpopulation and environment effects of migration. The number of immigrants who decide to move can potentially have important consequences for good or ill. At the same time precise estimates of how many people might move are likely to be impossible. We should probably expect at best to come to basic estimates.

But one way to help with that is to receive a multitude of informed opinions on the question and thus I come to you dear readers!

Since examining the entire world at once with this question is likely to be extremely complex, let’s use a particular country as an example: Haiti. Let’s get some basic facts about Haiti down as a way of making this task easier. Haiti’s current population is slightly under 10 million people with about a 1% growth rate under current birth/death/migration rates. The country currently has one of the highest emigration rates in the world at 5.5 people out of every 1000 leaving every year. Current income is also one of the world’s lowest with GDP per capita (purchasing power parity) at about $1,300 a year. This helps contribute to Haiti being one of the countries with the highest wage ratios with the US in a paper written by Michael Clemens meaning the potential economic gain to migrants is among the greatest (see page 11). The United States is home to currently over 500,000 Haitians with most in Florida and New York. According to Gallup polls, about a quarter of the adult Haitian population would like to migrate to the United States in particular. That would be about 1.5 million people (including everyone over the age of 15 as “adults” which depending on Gallup’s definition of adult is likely an overestimate, but then not including any children these migrants may wish to bring).

So my question to readers, if the United States were to open its borders tomorrow how many Haitians do you think would come here? Would everyone expressing an interest come or would economic factors stop them? Would the opening of borders increase how many would want to come? If other developed countries were to open their borders how many Haitians would that draw away from coming to the United States? And how much of a difference would at least partially French-speaking countries like France, Belgium, or Canada opening immigration have on drawing Haitians away from the US? Finally, would there be a difference in the amount of Haitian migration if the US opens its borders generally or if the borders are opened for only Haiti in particular? And would this emigration be a solution for Haiti’s numerous problems?

Immigration to US for whites only?

An argument that has been made by our friends over at VDare is that the entire idea of America being a nation of immigrants is misguided, at least immigrants of the multi-racial variety. After all, the constitution enshrined slavery (certain heterodox methods of interpreting the document not-withstanding) and the Naturalization Act of 1790 only allowed for citizenship for “free white persons”. Occasionally this argument veers off into strange directions. For instance when Peter Brimelow attempts to minimize the importance of immigration to American history:

It’s also true the intellectual elite tends to think America was Built By Immigrants because they live in New York or Los Angeles or somewhere like that—which are heavily immigrant cities, entirely immigrant cities.

But the last estimate that I saw, when I was researching Alien Nation, was that if there had been no immigration at all after 1790—none at all—the population of the US would still be about half of what it is now, through natural increase.

Having only half the population we currently have doesn’t seem like a way to ensure prosperity and minimizing the importance of cities like New York or LA (which make up a disproportionately large part of the American economy, these two cities alone accounting for about $2 trillion out of a total American economy of $15 trillion, or about one seventh , while combined of the only about 4% of the population, ~12 million people in the cities out of 300 million Americans) is even worse in that regard. But the primary focus of this critique of immigration is of the non-white variety. So, did the founders want only whites in this country (beyond perhaps slaves), and if so should we care?

Now the first and most obvious point is that the Naturalization Act of 1790 was an act about citizenship not immigration. We here at open borders have talked at length about the importance of disentangling these two concepts. But a modern understanding of the difference doesn’t mean that the Founders intended for this to be different. Perhaps they simply assumed that a path to citizenship was a necessary prerequisite for permanent residency in the United States. That’s what VDare would apparently like to argue anyways.

However, the Naturalization Act of 1790 could not have possibly been meant as an immigration restriction. After all article 1 section 9 of the United States Constitution states:

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

While this was primarily to prevent a blocking of the slave trade before 1808, the addition of “migration” as well as importation of “persons” seems to imply more than just slaves. Furthermore, the act which banned that trade did not attempt to ban voluntary non-white immigration. The text  only bans importing “any negro, mulatto, or person of colour, in any ship or vessel, for the purpose of selling them in any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States as slaves, or to be held to service or labour.” If the founder’s intent was to deny non-whites entry or the right to migrate to the United States they seem to have left enormous loop holes.

Also while writers at VDare are quick to cite Federalist No. 2 to support the idea of the white American ethnic identity, whether John Jay is truly encapsulating the ideas of his fellow founders, or is even accurate in his description of the United States at the time, is questionable. The relevant quote from Jay being:

Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs

With religion for instance, allow me to quote Thomas Jefferson in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.

And over at the Huffington Post, David Bier present us with a number of quotes in favor of immigration generally and at least one quote from Thomas Paine directly in opposition to Jay’s view of the United States:

If there is a country in the world where concord… would be least expected, it is America…made up as it is of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and habits of government, speaking different languages, and more different in their modes of worship, it would appear that the union of such a people was impracticable.

And yet Paine still argues the country works as a propositional nation (the very thing VDare is attempting to deny). What this demonstrates is not the Founders were unambiguously denying that America had a particular ethnic origin, but that they were divided on the issue. Their ultimate actions however look a lot more similar to keyhole solutions we here at Open Borders: The Case might support than the close the border solutions of VDare. If the United States was meant by some of the Founders to be for whites only, it’s equally not clear that the men who warned against the dangers to liberty of standing armies would have supported militarizing a border against peaceful immigrants.

But this leads us to the question of whether in the modern world we should even care what the founders thought? The founders also failed to end the immense injustice of slavery or give women voting rights, things even conservative admirers of the founders should find to be major failings. Franklin’s own position on Germans in the United States would seem to be rather problematic now that Germans are the single largest ancestry for Americans to claim. Losing 17% of the US population that is almost entirely white probably would not be a preferred outcome for the VDare writers.

But ultimately the founder’s views can only be a proxy. They were certainly intelligent men and the opinions of intelligent people are generally worth at least considering. But in the modern world we have far more data and experience on how economics, politics, and just the way the world in general works. Thus both people asserting the founders supported immigration and those saying they opposed it are discussing a point of view that should carry very little if any weight in modern debates. The founders may have intended a propositional nation or may not have (or more likely some believed in one position and others in the other). But they no longer have to live with the consequences of such a choice and those who do should decide the issue.

Croatia, the EU, and Yet Another Experiment in Open Borders

Yesterday Croatia became the 28th member of the European Union. In doing so joined Europe’s great experiment in free trade and free immigration across diverse languages, beliefs, and cultures. The EU is not without its issues, but creating a large open borders region across Europe has not been the reason countries like Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Ireland have gotten into trouble.

Croatia is currently looking at a  18% unemployment rate and increasing options to move to a country like Germany with its 5% rate should be welcome. There are limitations still in place however. Croats won’t be able to go work in the United Kingdom for another seven years, and the country won’t enter the passport-less Schengen Area until 2015 at the earliest. Part of being able to do means clamping down harder on the country’s borders with countries outside the EU, a process that will require some significant investments.

Joining the EU probably won’t solve all Croatia’s current woes. But every person from Croatia who gets to try life somewhere else in Europe, and every European who finds a place to live or work in Croatia is a little improvement in the world. And every time a country opens itself up to freer migration without causing disaster the empirical case for open borders gets just a little stronger.

How Did We Get Here? The Origins of Immigration Restrictions: The Chinese Exclusion Act

As promised, here is the start of my historical examination of immigration rule changes, and we begin with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. For those interested in the text of the act itself it can be found here.

For a little background, the first restriction on immigration to the US was actually the Page Act of 1875. This act too focused on Asian immigrants attempting to limit people being brought over for forced labor or prostitution. In practice that latter provision was a significant limiting factor on Chinese women coming to the United States, less because of most emigrating Chinese women actually being prostitutes than officials being overly skeptical towards claims of virtue. This association of the Chinese with crime was one of the major arguments used by anti-Chinese restrictionists in the years leading up to the exclusion act’s passage and parallels modern arguments about immigrant criminality. To explore this (and other major restrictionist arguments) the internet has made easily accessible wonderful resources such as arguments made before the California State Senate (the state with the highest Chinese population) by State Senator Creed Haymond. On page 4 he argues:

The State of California has a population variously estimated at from seven hundred thousand to eight hundred thousand, of which one hundred twenty-five thousand are Chinese…The evidence demonstrates beyond cavil that nearly the entire immigration comes from the lowest orders of the Chinese people, and mainly those having no homes or occupations on the land, but living on boats on the rivers, especially those in the vicinity of Canton.

This class of the people, according to the castes into which Chinese society is divided, are virtually pariahs—the dregs of the population. None of them are  admitted into any of the privileges of the orders ranking above them. And while rudimentary education is encouraged, and even enforced among the masses of the people, the fishermen and those living on the waters and harbors of China are excluded by the rigid and hoary constitutions of caster from participation in such advantages.

It would seem to be a necessary consequence, flowing from this class of immigration, that a large proportion of criminals should be found among it; and this deduction is abundantly sustained by the facts before us, for of five hundred and forty-five of the foreign criminals in our State Prison, one hundred and ninety-eight are Chinese—nearly two-fifths of the whole—while our jails and reformatories swarm with the lower grade of malefactors.

(Emphasis mine).

Continue reading How Did We Get Here? The Origins of Immigration Restrictions: The Chinese Exclusion Act

Will Natives be Blamed for Lack of Immigrant Success?

In a short post, Steve Sailer manages to both make a potentially true and not really relevant point about how some people respond to the “lack of success” among immigrants (Vipul Naik blogged about another of Sailer’s comments that were also along these lines). Sailer points out an article that argues that even high performing schools fail Latino students. Though he doesn’t explicitly mention immigration there is a point that can be made here. Namely, when do we stop saying that the problem is a native institution and the problem is the immigrant? Surely saying that immigrants have no agency in their own success or failure and are only shaped by institutions is wrong. After all, Asian students, many of whom are immigrants or the children of immigrants themselves and coming from linguistic and cultural backgrounds that are more distant than the average Hispanic child, do very well.

Of course, the problem could be a system set up that is specifically designed to fail Latinos but not Asians. That would depend upon the specific policies of the school. But even then a point could be made that redesigning the best schools for Latinos benefit could ruin what works for the rest of the student population. Thus if even the best schools fail to pull Latinos up the problem may not primarily be on the side of native institutions. This relates to a broader problem of natives being blamed for the lack of immigrant success.

There are a few points I’d make in this regard. First off, to those saying that if immigrants or their children don’t achieve parity with natives that there is a major problem, I think that view suffers from a problem my co-blogger Nathan Smith has discussed, the use of borders as a blindfold. Specifically, comparing immigrant success to native success is the wrong metric to use. Most low-skill immigrants come from countries and backgrounds which produce far poorer results in terms of education and income (even crime though immigrants may not under perform natives in that category). The real metric to use isn’t a comparison to natives, against whom they will likely under-perform for a variety of reasons beyond the failure of natives to accommodate, but a comparison to the outcomes they were achieving in their home country. Results here tend to show immigrants far exceed what results they might have gotten in their native countries.

This complaint is ultimately a problem of local inequality aversion and territorialism. The fact that individuals are better off than they were before and that global inequality is reduced is already a huge benefit to the world. This is related to the problem of compositional effects, where the average success of both sending and receiving countries can conceivably drop while still achieving a Pareto-improving outcome. We don’t need immigrants to match natives in results to make the world a far better place through immigration. As I’ve posted about before, we shouldn’t make local equality with natives a precondition for enabling people to make their lives better.

Can local inequality cause dissent? Potentially yes, though such issues are not so terrible as to necessitate banning immigrants from a country. Riots such as those that happened recently in Sweden may in part be due to local inequality (the fundamental causes still cause some dispute), but if so this may relate more to a change in inequality than absolute inequality as Sweden has had large increases in income inequality recently, but remains far more equal than most OECD countries. If the varying levels of skill and productivity immigrants and their descendants bring does cause some unrest, that is likely to be transitory. For instance, the United States didn’t see increasing violent crime in general during the major late 19th century immigration waves, and if anything immigration seems to be a factor in decreasing crime rates. If immigrant-induced inequality causes unmanageable amounts of discontent we should notice this is overall crime not simply in big flashy riots.

So no, the complaint that we need even our best schools to bend over backwards to create local equality isn’t a necessary idea for open borders. Outright hostility to immigrants isn’t justified (and that would be something to legitimately blame natives for doing), but at the same time if immigrant groups simply have less skills, productivity, or academic achievement that should not be automatically assumed to be the fault of natives. But will some groups still denounce natives if immigrants fail to match native outcomes without unfair discrimination being a major cause? Quite probably. For me however, I have to respond with a big “so what”? If such statements make a native upset, it is ridiculously easy to avoid in the modern media environment. Indeed, avoiding alternative view points might be something of a problem nowadays, but it does mean that it’s easier to avoid unfair complaints. However, to the extent people can’t avoid this though the effect might even be beneficial from Steve’s point of view. The end result may be average natives finding those who blame them for immigrant problems (or “problems” considering the gain immigrants get compared to where they came from) to be distasteful and oppose their policy prescriptions more.

Social integration isn’t a bad thing when it happens, and ideally natives shouldn’t deliberately act to exclude immigrants from society. And it can be unfortunate when the second and third generations of immigrant families feel excluded or like they don’t measure up. But I doubt even in the worst cases of feeling excluded many would wish their families still lived in poverty in the developing world. Even when adjusting for inequality, one of the most unequal countries in the OECD, the United States, is still a healthier, wealthier place to be than any major immigrant sending country. If the angst of not being fully integrated into a broader society is less than ideal, it’s also much better than being in a Starving Marvin situation. Not to mention that one of the beauties of open borders is a greater chance for everyone to find the kind of culture or society that works for them.