All posts by Joel Newman

Joel has a bachelor’s degree in history from Pomona College and works as a teacher in Beaverton, Oregon.

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our blog post introducing Joel
all blog posts by Joel

Help American Manufacturing With Open Borders

A major theme of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was decrying the loss of American manufacturing jobs to other countries and pledging to bring them back. He plans to accomplish this by changing U.S. trade policy. Ironically, open borders, which is anathema to Trump, could be the best way to increase manufacturing in the U.S.

Few Americans work in manufacturing today, mostly because automation obviates the need for large numbers of workers. (See here and here.) However, according to the Economic Policy Institute, manufacturing is a vital component of the American economy: “Manufacturing provides a significant source of demand for goods and services in other sectors of the economy… The manufacturing sector supported approximately 17.1 million indirect jobs in the United States, in addition to the 12.0 million persons directly employed in manufacturing, for a total of 29.1 million jobs directly and indirectly supported, more than one-fifth (21.3 percent) of total U.S. employment in 2013.”

Some argue that the key to bring more manufacturing back to the U.S. is the availability of a skilled workforce in the U.S., given the high tech nature of manufacturing today. However, there apparently aren’t enough American workers with the necessary skills for manufacturers to relocate to the U.S. A Brookings Institution report stated that “employers in the manufacturing sector report difficulty filling available high-skilled positions. Even at the height of the Great Recession in 2010, companies reported 227,000 open jobs. Factory owners note that is difficult to bring manufacturing jobs back when they cannot find the talent they need to expand.”

One of the recommendations of the Brooking Institution report is to have skilled workers from other countries fill these positions.  An open borders policy would make it much easier for American manufacturers to find workers for their vacant positions. Manufacturers would literally have a world of workers from which to choose. By helping to fill manufacturing positions, open borders both would encourage manufacturers to return production to the U.S. and discourage them from moving current production abroad. As previously mentioned, the expansion of manufacturing in the U.S. would ripple throughout the economy, creating more jobs for both citizens and immigrants.

In addition to manufacturing, the Brookings Institution report identifies other areas of the American economy which have a shortage of workers. (CNN also notes that there are millions of unfilled jobs in the economy, indicating that often employers can’t find people with the right skills.) These sectors are agriculture, health care, and technology. Finding workers for vacancies in all of these areas would enable companies “to better compete, grow, and create more jobs for American workers.” Again, open borders would facilitate this dynamic.

Filling vacancies through the current restrictive immigration system is difficult. The Brookings Institution notes that the American immigration system “is not designed for today’s economy” and admits immigrants on employment visas at a rate much too low to meet America’s needs. Their report states that “regardless of whether the field requires low or high skill levels, industry officials say the process doesn’t work well and is overly bureaucratic.” For example, “surveys have found that three-quarters of foreign graduates of American universities with degrees in
science, technology, engineering, and math would like to stay in the United States but have few opportunities to do so. They have the skills required to fill the job vacancies noted above, but can’t get timely visas. The result is that many of them return to their native countries, where they innovate, build businesses, and create
jobs that otherwise might have taken place in the United States.”

For those concerned that open borders would harm American workers, the Brookings report argues that immigrants should be seen as complementing rather than competing with American workers. However, there isn’t agreement on this point among economists. Pia Orrenius of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank states that while many citizens benefit from immigration, including complementary workers, some workers do compete with immigrants and experience falling wages, at least initially. These negative effects mostly impact low-skilled workers. However, other economists contend that immigration has little or no effect on workers without high school degrees. And should some workers be negatively impacted by immigration under open borders, they could be compensated by the government, such as through taxes on immigrants.

The Brookings report on worker shortages states that “a smart immigration system can help prevent (worker shortages) by filling needs so companies can expand operations in the U.S. and don’t have to move them overseas.” Such a system also would encourage some manufacturing in other countries to return to the U.S. Open borders would be a smart way to address U.S. worker shortages, which would strengthen manufacturing and the overall economy while benefitting immigrants themselves.

A Future of Stronger American Political Support for Immigration

Despite the enthusiasm of many in the U.S. for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has called for building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, for expelling undocumented immigrants from American soil, and for banning Muslim immigrants, there are reasons for optimism about a future of increased political support for immigration into the U.S. These include demographic shifts between the two major American political parties and demographic changes to the country as a whole.

As those who have followed the American presidential campaign know, two of Trump’s core policy positions are opposition to free trade and undocumented immigration. David Brooks of the New York Times suggests that Trump’s emphasis on these issues may “smash and replace the entire structure of the American political debate.”  He notes that the debate over the size of government which has dominated American politics for decades could be transformed into one in which a “right-left establishment that supports open borders, free trade, cosmopolitan culture, and global intervention” competes with populists who advocate “closed borders, trade barriers, local and nationalistic culture and an America First foreign policy… When the frame of debate shifts to open/closed, sometime soon, the old coalitions will smash apart and new ones will form.” He also suggests that even if Mr. Trump fails to win in November, this new “open/closed” framework will emerge as the new political norm.

It is apparent that the Democratic Party would be the “open” party under the new framework, while the Republican Party would be the “closed” one. Notwithstanding large numbers of deportations under the Obama administration, in general Democratic politicians have been more receptive to immigration into the U.S. than Republican ones. For example, in 2013 all of the Democratic senators  in Congress voted for a bill that would have legalized millions of undocumented immigrants and increased legal immigration levels by 50 to 70 percent, while most Republican senators voted against the bill. Moreover, rank and file Democrats feel more positively about immigrants than do Republicans.

With demographic shifts between the two parties, support for immigration within the Democratic Party will only increase. Better educated white voters, who traditionally have voted for Republicans, are more likely to support the Democrat Hillary Clinton for president, while less educated white voters are increasingly abandoning the Democrats and supporting the populist Trump ticket. (See herehere, and here.)

David Wasserman and Thomas Edsall of the New York Times suggest that this shift is occurring regardless of the candidates in the current campaign, although the contest has quickened the pace. This is significant because apparently the better educated a person is, the more likely they are to be receptive to immigration.  As Edsall notes, the changes in the composition of the two political parties “have contributed to sharp changes, at least for the moment, in the outlook of Democrats and Republicans. Democrats, including the party’s elite, remain decisively liberal, and have become more cosmopolitan — more readily accepting of globalization, more welcoming of immigrants, less nationalistic — and more optimistic about the future.”

Better educated white voters will join with two other groups that lean Democratic: non-whites and millennials. Non-whites are even more likely than better educated white voters to both support Mrs. Clinton and be more positive about immigration. (See also here.)  Millennials lean left politicallyfavor Clinton, and are more positive about immigration than other age groups.  (See also here.) The unification of these three groups (which often overlap) within the Democratic Party ensures that it will push it to become even more pro-immigration.

Moreover, these groups provide great political strength for the Democrats. Even though only 36% of the non-Hispanic white population aged 25 or older has college degree or higher, the well-educated are more likely to actually vote in elections than those who are less educated.  Millennials are becoming a larger portion of the electorate, now equal in proportion to the Baby Boomers. The percentage of the population in the U.S. that is minority is growing, and, among children under five, whites are in the minority.  (See here and here) Moreover, the Democrats have been making gains among upper income whites (who overlap with the well-educated), further strengthening the party. Edsall adds that, despite the economic differences between its constituencies, the Democrats also will be more united than the Republicans.

The comfort Democrats have with immigration was evident in the reaction to a document released by Wikileaks, in which Hillary Clinton referred to her “dream for a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders…”  When she was asked about it during a debate, she stated that she was only talking about energy. It is unknown what her thinking was when she referred to open borders,  but her possible support for open borders, at least in one hemisphere, apparently didn’t weaken her support among Democrats. Any discomfort from the left seemed to be about the free trade portion of her remarks in the document.

The increasingly pro-immigration outlook of the Democratic Party and its strong prospects for future political success should eventually translate into policies that legalize undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and increase legal immigration levels. An open borders America may not be imminent, but it is moving in the right direction.

Open Borders and the Golden Rule

Last year Pope Francis visited the United States and addressed Congress. A significant portion of his speech was devoted to how people should respond to immigrants. While not appealing for specific immigration policies, Pope Francis reminded his listeners that immigrants deserve to be treated humanely:

“… thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.”

Open borders supporters can highlight certain remarks that appear to support our cause, especially the sentence “Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves.” For immigrants from developing countries to enjoy the same opportunities as people living in developed countries, they must be allowed to enter and remain in advanced countries. And it seems impossible to treat immigrants in a way that is “humane” and “just” under a policy of restrictions. (The group No One Is Illegal states that “the achievement of fair immigration restrictions… would require a miracle.”) At the same time, those opposed to open borders could reference a remark in the Pope’s speech (not quoted above) in which he states that the world refugee crisis “presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions.” One might infer that those decisions might involve accepting some migrants into destination countries and refusing others.

But what about the Golden Rule itself? Is it a foundation for open borders? One approach to the Golden Rule would seem to support open borders. Consider Bryan Caplan’s remark that all that we really owe strangers is to leave them alone. If this is applied universally, “Do unto others…” could mean that you wouldn’t have anyone block you from shopping, living, or working where you please, even if it’s in another country, so you shouldn’t interfere with others’ ability to do the same, regardless of their nationality. This seems to be what the Pope means when he says, “Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves.”

The Golden Rule also could be seen as supporting a limited version of open borders. It would support open borders for citizens of countries with comparable economic prosperity. For example, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay have roughly the same per capita GDP.  It would make sense that citizens of any one of these countries would have the other two countries allow them to migrate freely to those countries to pursue economic opportunities, so they should have open borders for citizens of the two other countries to enter their country.

However, the Golden Rule’s support for open borders could founder when applied to citizens of countries with wide economic disparities. This is because citizens of the Third World generally have much more to gain from moving permanently to the First World than citizens in the First World have to gain from moving permanently to the Third World. Citizens of developed countries, who generally have little desire to migrate to developing countries, probably wouldn’t have developing countries open their borders to them, especially if it meant they would have to, under the Golden Rule, reciprocate. Therefore, they wouldn’t be obligated to open their borders to citizens from developing countries. For example, most Canadians likely would be okay with Bangladeshis telling them that they couldn’t migrate to Bangladesh, so Canadians wouldn’t have to open their borders to Bangladeshis. On the other hand, most Bangladeshis probably would have Canada open its borders to them, so they would have to open their borders to Canadians. This difference in perspective reflects a weakness that others have noted about the Golden Rule: the difficulty of applying it to “differences of situation.

Pope Francis’ comments about treating immigrants with compassion are inspiring. However, I disagree that the Golden Rule “points us in a clear direction” about how to respond to immigration. It is too malleable to provide a moral foundation for immigration policy.

Luck and Open Borders

In a previous post, I noted that, in my opinion, the best argument for open borders is that it would allow people, not their birthplace, to control their lives. Open borders would offer people who had the bad luck of having been born in poor and/or unsafe countries the opportunity to escape their unfortunate circumstances and find a better life in a safer, more prosperous country. It is wrong for the lucky who were born in the developed world to deny this opportunity to the unlucky who were born in poor countries, to paraphrase the ideas of several other critics of immigration restrictions.

How persuasive is this argument? Research on the role that awareness of one’s luck has on one’s generosity suggests that the argument, by reminding people of their good fortune in having been born in the First World, could be effective.

A recent article in The Atlantic by Robert Frank of Cornell University focuses on this connection between being aware of one’s good luck and a willingness to help others. Mr. Frank notes that when people disregard the role luck plays in their success, they are less generous. However, “… when people are prompted to reflect on their good fortune, they become much more willing to contribute to the public good.” He cites experiments in which subjects who are induced to feel grateful or consider factors outside their control that have helped them are more generous towards strangers than subjects in control groups.

It would be interesting to see what the results would be if a similar experiment were conducted in which some subjects were prompted to consider their good fortune at having been born in an advanced country and then asked their views on open borders, while other subjects were not given such prompts. The results of the aforementioned studies, even though the generosity was directed at strangers who were presumably fellow citizens, suggest that the subjects in the hypothetical experiment who were led to consider their good fortune would be more favorable towards open borders than the other subjects. (While he doesn’t express his views on immigration policy, Mr. Frank states that “the one dimension of personal luck that transcends all others is to have been born in a highly developed country.”)

As open borders advocates consider which arguments are most likely to convince more people in advanced countries to embrace open borders, this focus on making individuals aware of the huge role that their place of birth has had on their lives could be potent. Of course, this message would be received better by those who are prospering more than others. As the Brexit vote has shown, many of those who are struggling in the developed world are in no mood for increased immigration.

Mr. Frank observes that successful people in the First World tend to overlook the role luck plays in their success: “Most of them are vividly aware of how hard they’ve worked and how talented they are. They’ve been working hard and solving difficult problems every day for many years! In some abstract sense, they probably do know that they might not have performed as well in some other environment. Yet their day-to-day experience provides few reminders of how fortunate they were not to have been born in, say, war-torn Zimbabwe.” If the open borders movement can provide more such reminders, it could be significantly strengthened.

Open Borders Plus Reparations

Open borders is a tough sell in Western countries. Generations of closed borders and anti-open borders propaganda has led most Westerners to conclude that having open borders is reckless and potentially disastrous for receiving countries. My fellow bloggers and I have worked hard to reverse this current of thought, but much work still needs to be done to help realize our goal. So why burden ourselves by also pushing for reparations for immigrants on top of open borders, as I advocate in this post? Because it is morally warranted. (See here for my post that outlines why open borders itself is warranted. In this post the focus is on open borders plus reparations in the U.S. context, but the same arguments apply universally. )

In the United States, reparations for harm committed against certain ethnic groups by the government have periodically been considered. Decades after the government interned over one hundred thousand Japanese-Americans during War II, the U.S. provided monetary reparations to former internees. Reparations for African Americans and Native Americans have also been debated, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent article “The Case for Reparations” concerning African Americans.

The malign actions committed against these groups by the government and European American citizens have been horrific. Forcible relocation in the case of Japanese and Native Americans. Wars of aggression against and theft of land from Native Americans. Slavery, Jim Crow, de facto slavery after the Civil War, theft, unpunished murder, federal redlining of African American neighborhoods, and the mass incarceration of African Americans. The fruit of this oppression, in the case of African Americans, has been a huge wealth gap between African Americans and the rest of the country, as well as high incarceration rates.

Actions by the U.S. government against would-be immigrants have also been devastating. Millions of individuals have been deported from the country over the years, leading to immiseration, family separation, and sometimes death. (While not strictly a case of deportation, 254 refugees from the ship St. Louis, which was denied entry into the U.S. in 1939, died in the Holocaust. More recently, a man deported in 2012 to El Salvador, “dubbed by the United Nations as one of deadliest countries in the world,” was murdered earlier this year by assassins hired by a disgruntled former tenant. A forthcoming study shows that close to one hundred deportees to Central American from the U.S. have been murdered over the last two years.) Moreover, hundreds of thousands of people have been detained each year and others harmed, even killed, by immigration agents. In addition, thousands have died in deserts trying to evade border enforcement along the southern U.S. border, while others have suffered abuse by non-government entities in transit to the U.S. or after arriving in the U.S. due to their undocumented status.

Furthermore, immigration restrictions on would-be immigrants have kept many in the developing world from escaping poverty. Restrictions prevent would-be immigrants from benefiting from the place premium, which allows a person from a disadvantaged country to earn much more in an advanced country, even without an increase in the person’s skills. A paper by Michael Clemens and others concludes that “simply allowing labor mobility can reduce a given household’s poverty to a much greater degree than most known antipoverty interventions inside developing countries.” Restrictions also have blocked would-be immigrants access to a decent education in the U.S., which would increase their earnings potential.

In addition to locking would-be immigrants into poverty in the developing world, restrictions force them to work for low wages in dangerous conditions in sweatshops they would otherwise avoid by migrating. Some commentators have argued that having sweatshop jobs in poor countries is preferable to not having the jobs available at all (Nicholas Kristof: “… the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they fail to exploit enough.”).  However, they fail to acknowledge that the fact that there are only these two alternatives is due to, as John Lee argued in a 2013 post on Bangladeshi sweatshop workers, “laws that ban Bangladeshis at gunpoint from working in our countries.” John’s post was published in the wake of a factory fire in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 people, some of whom might have migrated to the U.S. under open borders rather than toiling in the unsafe factory.

Consider also women living in countries where they are mistreated who might escape to the freedom of the U.S. under open borders. It is difficult to determine the number of women who have been forced to endure misogyny in other countries because of restrictions, but it may be many.

The harm that our immigration laws have visited upon would-be immigrants is cumulative. They not only prevent today’s would-be immigrants from improving their economic lives (not to mention that they kill and enable the abuse of some of them), they have been doing the same to their ancestors, leaving today’s would-be immigrants much less well off than they might have been had their ancestors been able to migrate to the U.S. People in each generation who are barred from migrating are prevented from accumulating the wealth and educational capital to pass down to the next generation, and so on. The poverty one sees in developing countries is often largely the result of an inability of multiple generations to have accessed the advanced U.S. economy. This parallels the African-American predicament: An African American man  told Mr. Coats that “The reason black people are so far behind now is not because of now… It’s because of then.”

The American government, and the people who have elected it, have caused immense harm, economic, physical, and psychological, to many immigrants over many years. Not only must we open our borders, some reparation is due to all immigrants. (Since most would-be immigrants have probably been negatively impacted by restrictions in some way, either directly or through their impact on their ancestors, reparations should be provided to all immigrants.) Determining the amount and nature of the reparation is complex, especially for those who have been killed or abused due to restrictions. As Mr. Coates suggests with regard to reparations for African Americans, “perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed.”

Nonetheless, here are some ideas for reparations for immigrants under open borders. Part of a reparations package would be to grant immigrants immediate, full access to the American welfare state: Obamacare, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, TANF, job training, Pell Grants, federal student loans, housing assistance etc. For those concerned about elderly immigrants arriving to our shores and claiming benefits to which they have never contributed, remember that they would have happily contributed earlier had open borders been available when they were younger, and besides their personal finances have often been decimated for years due to immigration restrictions. With a center-left perspective, I believe some of these investments could reap later rewards, such as making it easier for new immigrants to attend college, which would in turn enhance productivity.

Moreover, new immigrants would be provided a set amount of money (maybe $5000), the services of cultural counselors and English teachers to help them get settled and oriented in the U.S., and low cost housing, services similarly provided for refugees today. These measures could smooth the country’s transition to a significant increase in immigrants under open borders and bolster the economy by spurring construction of new housing and consumer spending. Finally, for those migrants who don’t have resources to finance their travel to the U.S., travel assistance could be provided.  (With regard to voting, I would continue to limit the franchise to those who have lived in the U.S.for a number of years to ensure that they fully understand the democratic foundation of our country before voting.)

Admittedly this all may be difficult for most people to accept: open borders and instant access to the welfare state, a cash allowance, low cost-housing, and travel assistance. Open borders plus reparations may not be popular even among many of my fellow open borders advocates. For example, it differs greatly from Nathan Smith’s DRITI open borders plan, which burdens new immigrants with higher taxes than native-born Americans.

Mr. Coates has written about the deeper value of advocating for reparations (in the case of African Americans): “I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced… An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.” Similarly, providing reparations for immigrants entering under open borders could eventually help instill the idea in Americans’ hearts and minds that restrictions have constituted a great sin against a large portion of humanity, hopefully incubating Americans against reverting back to immigration restrictions.

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