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

Positive Political Externalities

As fellow blogger Nathan Smith has argued before, the basic problem of political externalities is an essentially solved problem. To summarize, giving immigrants the vote is not a necessary addition to giving them the right to immigrate here. But can immigrants actually be a beneficial political externality? I’m going to try to examine the argument in favor of that. I should note that I will be working on the assumption that an increase in support for capitalism is a positive externality, so this argument is primarily for those with more conservative or libertarian views given that  they tend to show more support for increased immigration restrictions.

One can point to certain anecdotal examples. David Henderson for instance has fairly recently blogged about his efforts in blocking local tax increases in his community. Here is an example of a Canadian immigrant helping to improve (at least from a perspective of economics) political outcomes in the place he has chosen to move to. However, Dr. Henderson is also a very particular kind of high-skill immigrant, namely an economist. So are high skill immigrants more generally likely to improve the political situation of the country they move to? Some examples, both current and historical might be useful in this case.

To start, let’s examine Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia has a long history of Chinese immigrants, often including many high skill emigrants such as merchants and businessmen. Today though, three countries stand out as having a large proportion of ethnic Chinese in their populations (in order from most to least): Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand (with nearly 77%, nearly 24%, and 14% of their populations being Chinese respectively). Singapore may be an unfair example due to its small size and location as a convenient port-of-call going through the Straits of Malacca, so in the interest of looking at a more “apples-to-apples” type comparison, let’s forget about Singapore. Even discarding Singapore however, the institutions and economic success of Thailand and Malaysia stand out compared to the rest of South East Asia. Of all the countries in Southeast Asia (for this discussion that area including Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia) only Malaysia and Thailand manage to qualify for the label “moderately free” on the Heritage Foundation’s index of economic freedom, the rest of the region being labeled “mostly unfree.” Turning then to economic performance, the results are also significant.

On the general Human Development Index, Thailand and Malaysia both easily beat the rest of their region. This is also reflected in their GDP per capita numbers, with less wealthy Thailand having three times the GDP per capita as the richest country of the rest of the region, Vietnam. This result does not come from a sending country with superior institutions thereby simply bringing Malaysia and Thailand up to China’s level. Malaysia and Thailand both currently outperform China on GDP per capita, are far higher ranked on the economic freedom index, and while Thailand and China have similar HDI rankings, Malaysia clearly surpasses China.

This “immigration leading to better institutional outcomes than was the case in either the sending or receiving country” outcome makes sense once one remembers that immigrants are self-selecting. This is especially the case with high-skill immigrants whose education will tend to be correlated with more pro-capitalism conclusions (full text should be freely available, worked for me anyways). While it should be emphasized that education is not necessarily the cause of pro-capitalist conclusions, the correlation can be used to the advantage of immigrant-receiving countries. Large numbers of educated immigrants with the ability to impact politics would tend to lead to outcomes that libertarians would tend to prefer.

So the upshot for those worried about killing the goose that lays the golden egg, allow me to offer a different keyhole solution. Maintain open borders for the economic benefits, and then require immigrants to attain a certain level of education before being allowed voting rights. The result can then be that countries receiving immigrants can not only improve their economies, but their political structures as well.

Thankful for Immigration

Here in the United States it’s Thanksgiving. When the Pilgrims celebrated their first Thanksgiving (not the actual first Thanksgiving in North America, the Spanish beat the Pilgrims in that by over 20 years), they were being thankful for their move to a new land (despite its numerous hardships). Furthermore, it was a celebration attended by immigrants and natives alike (the problem of later conflicts between the two groups I’ve discussed previously).

As is traditional, I’ll be taking the chance to be thankful for a few things enabled by immigration.

– I’m thankful that the early United States maintained open immigration so that my own ancestors could move here.

– I’m thankful for immigrants who come to this country and help strike blows for individual liberty.

– I’m thankful for immigrants who pick the foods I’m about to devour.

– I’m thankful for non-Americans crossing the borders of the United States, who give me the chance to blog about important issues.

– I’m thankful for the immigrants who start search engines that let me get all these neat links.

– And finally, I’m thankful for the internet that allows dialog and communication across the world as if there were no borders at all.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

The Constitution, Citizenism, and the Natural Right of Migration

The moral case for open borders is universal. Most of the practical arguments can also be made in a country-independent fashion. If our case for open borders stands, it applies to all countries, not just the US. However, when arguing for open borders against restrictionists who use American documents for the purpose of arguing for restrictions in the United States, their arguments must be met, inherently, in an US context. These documents can be mistaken in their moral prescriptions and thus talking about them should not be considered as a definitive case for or against open borders. But what this discussion does do is help shed light on the context and history of immigration debates. In so far as an individual believes these documents to hold moral truths, a discussion of what they truly argue for is appropriate. If American history and legal theory are not your cup of tea you may want to just skip this post. Otherwise, let’s have it!

Steve Sailer in discussions of citizenism has pointed to the preamble of the Constitution to help justify a citizenist philosophy in regard to the United States.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

(emphasis mine)

The key being those five words. So does the preamble, and perhaps the Constitution in general, support a citizenist philosophy and allow anti-immigration policies? Fellow blogger Nathan Smith has touched on this issue before. I intend to tackle the issue from a somewhat different angle, specifically whether the Constitution, and indeed other founding documents of this country, justify a citizenist restriction of immigration. But enough prologue, let’s dive into this question.

The Constitution was set up so as to try to compel the government to follow the will of the people within certain limitations. Thus one might legitimately argue that a limited citizenism is somewhat evident within the document, though of a limited sort that also takes into account individual rights. Other portions of the Constitution strongly suggest that individual rights do no stop with American citizens. Take for example the Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

(emphasis mine)

This amendment’s terminology would indicate that this right is not restricted to citizens or else the Constitution would say “citizen” as it does elsewhere (see page 370). So the Constitution does provide that non-citizens have rights that must be respected by the government. But does this include the right to migrate? In the powers granted to Congress there is only mention of the obligation to establish a “uniform Rule of Naturalization.” This is not, and was not seen at the time, as debates over naturalization rules in the 1790s show, as the same as establishing a rule on who can live in this country. Yet, in the very next section there is this statement:

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.

The fact that there was a limitation on Congress would seem to indicate that after that twenty years Congress does have a right to limit migration. However, there are other ways to interpret the constitution. Lysander Spooner, a nineteenth century abolitionist and legal theorist offers this rule for interpreting the Constitution:

Where rights are infringed, where fundamental principles are overthrown, where the general system of the laws is departed from, the legislative intention must be expressed with irresistible clearness, to induce a court of justice to suppose a design to effect such objects.

Continue reading “The Constitution, Citizenism, and the Natural Right of Migration” »

Future Citizens of All Kinds

We here at Open Borders have made a bit of a history questioning the value of citizenism. This post is a contribution to the debate from a somewhat different focus: the problem of future citizens.

Citizenism advocates like Steve Sailer have been clear that citizenism is a philosophy for promoting the interests of current citizens. For instance, in his article on citizenism versus white nationalism, Sailer explicitly writes (emphasis added):

By “citizenism,” I mean that I believe Americans should be biased in favor of the welfare of our current fellow citizens over that of the six billion foreigners.

Let me describe citizenism using a business analogy. When I was getting an MBA many years ago, I was the favorite of an acerbic old Corporate Finance professor because I could be counted on to blurt out in class all the stupid misconceptions to which students are prone.

One day he asked: “If you were running a publicly traded company, would it be acceptable for you to create new stock and sell it for less than it was worth?”

“Sure,” I confidently announced. “Our duty is to maximize our stockholders’ wealth, and while selling the stock for less than its worth would harm our current shareholders, it would benefit our new shareholders who buy the underpriced stock, so it all comes out in the wash. Right?”

“Wrong!” He thundered. “Your obligation is to your current stockholders, not to somebody who might buy the stock in the future.”

That same logic applies to the valuable right of being an American citizen and living in America.

Just as the managers of a public company have a fiduciary duty to the current stockholders not to diminish the value of their shares by selling new ones too cheaply to outsiders, our leaders have a duty to the current citizens and their descendants.

Leaving alone for the moment the argument that natives do in fact benefit from migrants, specifying current citizens is a necessary step for the citizenist position. For instance, Tino Sanandaji, in a blog post titled Open-Borders Daydreams, uses this citizenist logic to attack those arguing immigration benefits society:

Another amusing line of reasoning increasingly advanced by libertarian economists is that low-skilled immigration is good for “society”, as long as we redefine “society” to include the entire planet!

If the focus is not restricted to current citizens, then migrants might have to be considered future citizens, and therefore their gains would have to be considered in government actions. But this opens up a potential inconsistency: namely why include “descendants” under this system? If you want to include potential future citizens, why not also include migrants? Continue reading “Future Citizens of All Kinds” »

The Native Americans and Open Borders

Greetings and salutations Open Borders bloggers!  I’d like to thank Vipul for inviting me to participate on this blog, and with luck I can bring some interesting points to this discussion. I want to begin by talking about Native Americans. This is something of an elaboration on a point I brought up on econlog, the original comment you can find here (there is a lot in that comment but the part I’m elaborating on is conveniently labeled).

We can find on the Internet a number of images of Native Americans that satirize the position of closed borders advocates. Clever closed borders advocates embrace the analogy and note that the alien invasion by European immigrants was not all that beneficial to Native Americans. Thus, the downfall of Native Americans becomes an example of the potential problems of open borders. This is at first glance a convincing point. European immigration did lead to the downfall of pre-existing Native American societies. But in reality it is not the concept of immigration this historical example condemns. Two key factors were distinct about this immigration which were responsible for what might even be called genocide (there can be some dispute about this, but that’s not the argument I’m interested in having today). These are disease and invasion.

Disease is the first, and largest, problem arising from contact with Europe. Estimates have some variation, but books like 1491 by Charles Mann suggest that diseases could have killed in excess of 95% of the Native American population. This is devastation that often occurred simply on first contact, not when immigration began. Furthermore, the chances of such an apocalypse today are remote at best. Beyond the advances in modern medicine and quarantine techniques, the globalization of the modern world means that any disease that could now arise and kill that many people would not likely selectively hit certain groups sparing others. European diseases had the effect they did because Native Americans had been isolated for centuries. Now disease is already shared constantly across continents. There are no “privileged” groups with greater immunity.

However, that point may be readily accepted, but that does not fully explain the tragedy of Native Americans. If Europeans had restricted relations to simply trading then this may have allowed Native Americans time to adjust and recover from the (mostly) accidental genocide they faced. But the problem was not the immigration of Europeans to North America but the invasions they undertook. The difference between the two is simple. Immigration occurs when a group of people peacefully move to a new area. Invasion constitutes the use of force to conquer a region. The early Spanish colonies almost entirely were made up of invasions, as were many English and French colonies. However, there are compelling examples of simple immigration which did not cause the problems of invasion. Colonies such as early Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and the French Acadians moved into areas peacefully and interacting with Native Americans in mutually beneficial ways. These colonies were typically among the freest in terms of individual rights, and particularly in the Acadian case, created prosperous societies intermingled with one another. That superior European military technology alongside the weakness from disease losses made Native Americans easy to conquer is not the fault of immigration.

So does the Native American example teach us anything about the advisability of open borders? In the broad sense, not much. Most interactions between Native Americans and Europeans were of invasion, which inherently does not respect the border crossing policies of the invaded nation. This is clearly not applicable to the modern Western world whose military advantage over the countries sending migrants cannot be seriously doubted. But there were some instances of simple immigration which offer a tantalizing glimpse at what might have been. There were immigrants from often extremely repressive societies mixing with natives in societies with (generally in North America, if not Central or South) more respect for individual liberties, creating prosperous, peaceful, and free communities.

The upshot of this? Given that invasion is a separate issue from political externalities, the political externalities problem has failed to kill the goose that laid the golden egg not only in 19th century America, but as far back as European immigration to Native American areas. Is this a definitive argument for open borders? No, but it seems to me that when individual liberty is on trial, liberty should be considered innocent until proven guilty. And in contrast to those who use the example of Native Americans to warn against increased immigration, most of the evidence is invalid and that which is valid tends to the opposite conclusion.