Betting the Republic

UPDATE: After reading but before citing or linking to this post, please read the follow up where the author reveals his/her identity.

Open Borders note: This is a special and unusual guest post from an individual who contacted Open Borders with a request that the restrictionist case be presented clearly to the Open Borders audience. It is a one-off post and is not part of a general trend of similar posts. The opinions expressed here are often in contradiction with the opinions of Open Borders bloggers in general.

Open Borders note: The draft submitted by the post author had no links in it. Links have been added to relevant content across the web by the Open Borders staff (with no change to the post text). These have been added by the Open Borders staff to ease additional research, and not at the behest of the author.

Author’s note: Hello, and thank you for reading. Hopefully today I’ll be challenging your perceptions and your beliefs, and I look forward to hearing your replies. Since this is a guest post, I should give you some background. I am, to use your term, a “restrictionist.” I am anti-open-borders and I have written pieces related to immigration, specifically arguing against open borders, in the past. I have been in contact with this site’s administrator for some time. We’ve had numerous debates on the topic, and I’ve asked him if he would be willing to allow me to present my argument to his readership, in the interest of a fair and open debate. He has graciously accepted.

For a number of reasons, I am not using my real name on this post. Please don’t think that means I’m unwilling to stand by my arguments! Quite the contrary – in one week, I will reveal my identity in a follow-up post. However, I would like each of you to read and consider my words with a clear mind, instead of prejudging based on my previous works, which a number of you may be familiar with. I would like to hear your arguments in response to my words, not in response to my identity. I thank the good people at Open Borders for the opportunity, and I thank each of you in advance who read this. I look forward to reading your responses!

I am a libertarian, so I believe in freedom, personal responsibility, and mutual respect. I don’t believe that your freedom to own a gun means that you have the “freedom” to shoot someone, and I believe that in the perfect world, every interaction among people would be voluntary on all sides. Because allowing unfettered immigration expressly violates these principles, I am against it.

I’m not against immigration on the margin. I believe that we are a nation of immigrants and great because of it. But the presumption of open borders and unrestricted immigration poses a unique danger to the very aspects of America that protect that greatness. Even if I had no other personal concerns, the precautionary principle itself would put me squarely in the “skeptical” camp in regards to immigration. Since I do have other concerns, however (which I have debated with other libertarians before), I will present them here.

In any society, people – especially large groups of people – exert political influence. This isn’t a factor unique to democracies, though it may be amplified by that particular form of government. Even in a totalitarian dictatorship, enough people will invariably exert influence. I’m well aware that immigrants need not necessarily be granted citizenship and thus voting rights simply because they’ve been allowed to legally remain in residence. However, consider that the alternative is hardly better: when we see millions of people living in societies outside of America completely devoid of political representation we call it “oppression!” People have, throughout history, fought long and bloody struggles for the right to be represented in their government – do we really believe that immigrants here, even if they initially promise not to, will do any less? Even if every immigrant were to come with the express condition that they understand they will receive no representation in our government, their children will be bound by no such promise. And if they are bound by it, would they not rightly complain, and struggle for the very representation their parents were willing to forgo? Whether it’s this generation of immigrants, their children, or their children’s children, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a massive influx of people from a radically different culture would radically change our nation. And what would they eventually change it into? The very societies and cultures they’re so eager to escape – and that we should be equally eager to keep out, if we believe America to be an example of a better way to organize society.

So what are our options as natives? If we allow unfettered immigration, we have only three real options when it comes to establishing the political influence of the immigrants: we can grant them full representation, we can grant them no representation, or we can grant them some form of partial representation. None of these three options seem politically viable. Granting full voting rights to people that have not been raised and educated to understand the nuances of our culture seems akin to handing a driver’s license to someone that has never even seen a car before. Even more accurately, it would be like granting citizens of foreign countries the right to vote in our elections! In fact, even pro-immigration advocates recognize this, and my understanding is that for the most part, they advocate instead for the so-called “keyhole solution” of immigration without citizenship. But that’s no better. Even the eleven million illegal immigrants currently in America exhibit political influence. Would we assume that possibly many times that number of legal ones wouldn’t, voting or no? It would only be a matter of time before a coalition formed to demand voting rights, and in an exact repeat performance of the period between 1869-1964, those immigrants will get those rights, just as black people did. The American democracy will tolerate nothing less; in fact, I’d bet that it would happen much faster this time around.

For the same reason, granting some sort of partial representation seems unlikely to remain politically viable. Any such effort would be uncomfortably reminiscent of racially-charged historical facts like the Three-Fifths Compromise, and it’s unlikely that such levees would hold against the rising tide of a concerted effort to overcome them, especially when the numbers in such an organized bloc would swell by the day from immigration itself. Other halfway measures exist as well, but each has its own version of this political dilemma. Allowing something like “free immigration zones” within America sounds reasonable – allow unfettered immigration, but only into certain areas both to prevent harms to a broad selection of natives and to limit political power to a small number of districts – but words like “ghetto” will surely be bandied about politically until the barriers are overwhelmed. The American electorate howls constantly for equality (or at least the appearance of it), and I sincerely doubt they would tolerate any appearance of deliberate inequality, even if the alternative was actually worse for everyone involved.

As a libertarian, I accept that there should be a strong presumption of allowing freedom in all forms, and I concede that this moral presumption means that we should try to allow as many immigrants as is reasonable. But “reasonable” should mean “in a manner consistent with protecting the very liberties these immigrants are seeking, and that natives already enjoy.” My solution, such as it is, is as follows: I do not believe that we should be screening potential immigrants for skill level or wealth, “stapling green cards to diplomas,” as it were. Instead, I believe we should be screening them for values consistent with maintaining a free America, and basing our immigration numbers on that statistic. An unskilled farm worker who believes in maintaining freedom and liberty is much more valuable to the nation than a skilled surgeon who would seek to emulate the failed policies of his or her homeland. If the potential immigrants were capable of governing themselves into freedom and liberty, they would not be trying to come to America to begin with. If there were a perfect way to measure political attitudes, then that could easily be an entrance criterion, but since it’s so easy to lie about such matters (especially if it becomes common knowledge that your immigration status depends on it), it is likely that some other measurable quality may be necessary. IQ stands as the most reasonable quality: it’s relatively easy to measure, and while IQ by itself need not matter, it stands as a reasonable predictor of income, which in turn is a fairly reliable predictor of education, which is positively correlated with better voting habits. Combined with the simple fact that higher intelligence makes you more likely to be more open to sound economics and libertarian ideals, it’s entirely possible that systematically lower IQ among third-world natives prevents liberty from taking root in those nations. If that’s the case, there is little that cultural assimilation will do to change that. So it stands to reason that despite the other benefits they may offer to Americans, allowing them to influence the political landscape of America is a potentially ruinous proposition.

If there were a politically viable way to divorce immigrants themselves from the political influence they could wield, then I would be far more likely to accept the open borders stance. Ultimately, I believe that immigration helped to make this country great, and that immigration will be an essential part of this nation’s even greater future. But in order to preserve this nation for the generations upon generations of immigrants to come, we need to ensure a single generation of immigrants does not overwhelm and destroy it.

Land Of The Free

48 thoughts on “Betting the Republic”

  1. This is an excellent post, and I hope it generates a lot of discussion. I am an advocate of open borders (or at least borders that are drastically more open than they are today), but I think this is perhaps the best argument against that position.

    So let me explain why I think that increased immigration will not undermine our national values. First, let’s distinguish between basic constitutional values and political preferences. Some things, like the right to freedom of speech and association are non-negotiable American liberties. Other things, like the ideal tax rate, limits of the welfare state, and size of the military are open for debate and existing political parties and citizens have differing views. I think it is important to debate whether immigration will undermine basic values, but I am not too impressed by arguments that immigration will increase the power of the democratic party vs. the republican party and lead to an increased welfare state.

    So why is this distinction important? Because I think different aspects of our politics have different degrees of momentum. Immigration might shift the balance of power a bit within the scope of things that are currently up for debate within our political framework, but I think our basic constitutional system is too well established to be undermined by more immigration, even vastly more immigration.

    Consider the case of states in the Southwestern US. Texas and California both have a lot of resident immigrants of Hispanic descent, both legal and illegal. Yet they have very different political cultures. Has immigration impacted the politics of these states? Yes. Has it wiped out their identity? No. New Mexico is even friendlier toward immigrants than these states, and has the highest proportion of Hispanic residents of any state. Yet there is no evidence that New Mexico is having any trouble maintaining basic American liberties.

    Of course, all of these examples exist under our current immigration regime. They can’t really tell us exactly what would happen if we had 10 or 20 times the rate of immigration we currently have. I would pretty much concede that if we gave everyone in the world American citizenship and allowed them to vote in our elections that many of our liberties could be undermined. That is why I think the details of how we open our borders are key.

    In particular, I favor one of the things that you argue is politically unworkable: giving immigrants restricted political rights. However, I think this option is much more viable than you suggest.

    Under our current system we allow many people to reside in this country with a status that grants them limited political power. For example, my wife is a permanent resident and she cant vote. before that she was here on a student visa, then on a work visa. One option is simply to expand all our visa programs so that anyone who gets accepted to a university or who lands a job with an american employer can get a visa. People in the US may be opposed to this because they think the influx of immigrants will take their jobs, but I don’t think that it will cause a crisis of political legitimacy.

    You mention the 3/5ths compromise, but I think the context is very different. In that case, millions of people were brought here as slaves and were not allowed to come and go as they pleased. The institution of slavery was evil and the compromise is repugnant because it legitimized that system. People coming to the US on work or student visas would still have political rights in their native country. They would be free to come and go. Basically, they wouldn’t be slaves.

    We could start opening our borders by increasing the limits on H-1B visas from 65,000 to a few million, and allowing workers of all kids to apply. I see no reason to believe that this would cause a constitutional crisis.

    1. As I said, I’m certainly not opposed to immigration itself. I’m not even opposed to increased immigration. My views could largely be summed up as “increased, but controlled.” And of course I’d like the criteria changed somewhat. If we started by increasing the limits on H-1B visas, but also added an additional political litmus test (the closest proxy for which would be an IQ test), that would be a good start. My concern isn’t actually the amount of immigrants, but the type. Texas and California might have reacted differently to an influx of immigrant culture, but I believe part of that is a difference in strength of native culture. I don’t have the numbers, but I’d be interested to see how many California legislators versus Texas legislators have been immigrants or children of immigrants, respectively. How resilient versus accepting a native culture is can be a factor in determining how much damage the immigrants do.

      1. I would be curious for you to address the Canada question in particular, with reference to the guest blog post I did which went online after yours about the specifics of opening that border.

  2. To what extent are your arguments specific to the United States, and to what extent do they apply to all countries? Are you in favor of open borders between the US and Hong Kong, for instance (Hong Kong is higher on economic freedom than the US)? Between the US and Canada (they’re comparable on economic freedom)? If you aren’t okay with restricting the movement or voting rights of US people within the US, why restrict the movements of people who come from populations that are broadly similar to the US in terms of their attitude to liberty, even if some of them are unrepresentatively anti-liberty?

    On a related note, would you favor a country like India or Indonesia opening its borders? These countries could well be havens of economic opportunity for people in other countries, but they don’t have a strong pro-liberty culture right now that is in danger of being destroyed. At any rate, the liberty differential is not too strong.

    Or, what about rich but undemocratic and unlibertarian countries like the Gulf states?

    1. My arguments are very specific to the United States. I believe that each country needs to set (often very different) immigration policies, based on the needs of the nation and the greatest good served to humanity. If you knew that letting in 50 million immigrants in the next five years would result in drastic closing of American borders for whatever reason, but letting a slower stream of 10 million over the next five years was a sustainable pattern for a century, wouldn’t you favor the latter? Each country has to measure this impact for itself. Obviously Hong Kong, Estonia, and Sweden all have different national concerns that require a specific policy.

      I might be in favor of specific county-to-country open borders (in a similar manner to the EU), but part of any such treaty would have to be a shared policy between the countries in regards to other immigrants, to avoid Hong Kong becoming a “back door” to America. It makes no sense to allow unfettered immigration from a friendly, free, first-world country if that country has much more lax immigration policies than we do. The bottleneck might be better than direct immigration to the US, but it would still pose a danger to the nation.

      In regards to countries such as India of Indonesia, I would have to do more research in order to answer that, but my first concern/question would be the impact on the cultural stability due to a religion that would likely not be shared by a majority of the immigrants. That could be a recipe for cultural conflict, but again, I’d have to do more research.

  3. I think the article presents a false dichotomy with regard to citizenship and immigration.

    We can have something between open immediate citizenship for all immigrants, and a permanent subclass of immigrants never able to attain equality. That thing in between is simply a waiting period of living in the United States (or whatever the host country is). This is what we do under current law, and I see no reason to get rid of it.

    Currently, to become a US citizen one has to be a permanent resident for a number of years, speak English, and pass a test on political and social values and the history of the United States. I don’t see a strong case presented here why that scheme of eventual franchise and equality once an immigrant has been here long enough isn’t acceptable.

    1. Peter – if the current law is so sustainable, why is it constantly contested from all sides?

        1. I don’t see the forces as equal. And they certainly wouldn’t be if we radically increased the amount of immigration we allowed.

      1. Current citizenship procedures for green card holders aren’t very controversial. The controversy has been over who gets the green cards to begin with.

  4. I want to add to Peter’s point. You tangentially say that: ” Even if every immigrant were to come with the express condition that they understand they will receive no representation in our government, their children will be bound by no such promise. And if they are bound by it, would they not rightly complain, and struggle for the very representation their parents were willing to forgo? Whether it’s this generation of immigrants, their children, or their children’s children, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a massive influx of people from a radically different culture would radically change our nation.”

    I think that in the US, it would be perfectly feasible to make it very difficult for immigrants to attain citizenship. At any rate, anything that is feasible for denying immigration is also feasible for denying citizenship. The interesting case is the US-born children of immigrants. Since birthright citizenship is enshrined in the US Constitution, and also for various other reasons, it is likely that these US-born children cannot realistically be denied US citizenship.

    However, these children will exert political influence only once they’re 18, so that leaves a gap of 18 years (and 9 months?) between the time of immigration and the time of political influence of their children. But the more important point is that while the children are undoubtedly somewhat influenced by their parents, they are more likely to be influenced by their peers (see The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris for a review of the evidence of the relative roles of parents and peers). For this reason, it seems to me that, prima facie, we’d expect the children to be closer to native-born Americans than to their parents. From the libertarian perspective, this may be a mixed blessing: the parents may be uniquely selected to cherish liberty and have good traits on account of having moved country, whereas many Americans may take liberty for granted and fail to cherish it (or even worse, blame liberty for their problems). But from the precautionary principle viewpoint, this seems to provide an upper bound on the damage immigration can do through the children of immigrants.

    Undiverse immigration can still pose challenges: if there is a huge influx of immigrants from one region, then perhaps the immigrants’ children socialize only within the immigrant community. This could potentially be very good or very bad. An open borders scheme allows for sufficiently diverse forms of immigration that immigrants will find it harder to stay just within their specific immigrant community.

    You seem to believe that (i) immigrants are to some extent personally responsible for the failures of their homeland, in the sense of the values they hold, and (ii) they pass on these negative traits to their children. I wouldn’t say that both (i) and (ii) are completely false. Theres some truth to each: people are somewhat responsible for how their countries perform, and parents do pass on some traits (genetically and culturally) to their offspring. But each of the links is weak, and when you put them together, the combined, multiplicative effect is even smaller. Or at least, that’s how it appears to me. I’d like to know why you think otherwise.

    1. The problem is that voting is absolutely not required for political influence. Even if no immigrant received citizenship, and native-born children of immigrants didn’t automatically gain citizenship, those people would be an influence on native culture. The existence of millions of immigrants’ children would put strains on school systems, social services, etc. that would create an impact on native politics without any votes taking place. People can protest, voice concerns, petition, boycott, riot, and do a host of other politically-influential things without voting.

      I don’t think that the links are as weak as you do. I think that the largest factor in why a country succeeds or fails is the policy preferences of its natives. Things like natural resources play a part, but there are many resource-rich but unfree countries, and many free countries with nowhere near the resources of America. I also believe that generational linkage is significantly higher than you seem to (see the Telles and Ortiz study), which combined means that a massive influx of immigrants will be damaging, whereas the same number, spread out over a longer period, might not be.

      If we allowed 50 million immigrants in in the next five years, the 20 years after might be horrible to this country, which in turn makes it a less appealing choice for further immigrants. If that reduces the number of immigrants that attempt to come in those 20 years to, let’s say, 25 million more total, then we’ll have received 75 million immigrants over 25 years, with harmful results to natives. If we instead allowed only 3 million per year for the next 25 years, we’d still be allowing the same number of total immigrants over that time, but with likely far less disastrous results to natives, and thus everyone – natives and immigrants alike – are better served. In the short term it may seem like we’re harming non-natives for the sake of natives, but I’d say that we’re harming short-term non-natives for the sake of the long-term benefit of everyone, native and non-native alike.

  5. re: “However, consider that the alternative is hardly better: when we see millions of people living in societies outside of America completely devoid of political representation we call it “oppression!””

    We often do, but are we applying the right moral standards? Consider two cases. (a) A person lives under a regime that doesn’t let him vote but does protect his person, property, freedoms of religion, speech, and association, and sets rules for the economy competently enough that he enjoys a high standard of living. (b) A person lives in a crime-ridden, tyrannical, and desperately poor country, and the authorities of its democratic neighbor, whither he would like to emigrate, exclude him by force. Following the modern idolatry of democracy, we would consider (a) a case of oppression, and (b) not a case of oppression, at least not by the authorities of the democratic country. But that’s silly. In reality, the regime in (a) is not acting oppressively, whereas the democratic regime in (b) is.

    re: “People have, throughout history, fought long and bloody struggles for the right to be represented in their government – do we really believe that immigrants here, even if they initially promise not to, will do any less?”

    Well, the short answer is, yes, I really believe that huge numbers of immigrants would live on American soil without the vote pretty contentedly and without resorting to long and bloody struggles for political representation. But the key here is that the premise is wrong, or at least, highly misleading. Long and bloody struggles for political representation are actually pretty exceptional. It’s been far more common for people to live for generations and centuries under non-democratic regimes while regarding them as basically legitimate, and even when they do rise up in violent revolution against a regime, as sometimes happens, the cause is almost never the demand for political representation in the abstract. Rather, revolutions are provoked by particular grievances. The Russian revolutionaries demand peace, land, and bread, not democracy. The French revolutionaries were reacting to famine and high taxes, not so much lack of political representation. The British and Roman empires lasted for generations and were rather popular much of the time, without being democratic, for starters.

    More later.

    1. In your first paragraph, I agree that (A) is better than (B), but the American electorate doesn’t. Much of the American electorate has a pseudo-religious adherence to “democracy” as the highest ideal, even if democracy results in worse policies that other systems. As a result, I would expect both soft-headed natives and immigrants to clamor for voting rights. To the extent that women suffered in America before women’s suffrage, how much did suffrage alleviate that harm? The right to vote didn’t miraculously end sexism, but it was what women fought for regardless. People who don’t think too hard about it equate “democracy” with “equality/freedom,” and even though we know that not to be true, it doesn’t stop people from thinking it. So I believe that non-voting residents will eventually fight for that particular right no matter what – and even if they don’t, they can exert lots of influence without it (see my response to Mr. Naik, above).

      In regards to your second paragraph: I concede the point that bloody struggles are often for a different stated reason, and simply result in voting rights or representation. But is that much better? A massive influx of immigrants is still very likely to result in a large class of people, mostly immigrant, who will have a much lower standard of living than natives. To some extent they will perceive this as institutional, and a bloody struggle may result anyway, even if what they want is some nebulous concept of “equality” rather than direct representation in government. But having a good, well-thought reason to revolt is not a requirement for revolution! Protests can happen any time people just get mad enough. For example, take the Occupy movement. They had poor reasons for their protest, and even poorer proposed “solutions,” but they protested anyway. Now imagine an Occupy movement with 100 times as many people, who speak a different native language and have a different native culture than the people their rebelling against – and the police opposing them. It’s a recipe for disaster, and I think the chance of it happening is high enough (especially if more immigration makes natives nervous and angry as well) that we should be more careful, and allow a smaller, steadier stream in instead.

  6. LOTF, I agree with your arguments that restricting political rights of immigrants infringes upon their liberty in unacceptable ways. That leads me, though, to support open citizenship, not to oppose open borders. Open citizenship is harder to map out than open borders because it would involve more significant political and economic reorganization. But there are limited precedents–the evolving EU and the U.S. itself being two.

    I don’t know why you brought IQ into the picture, though, it detracts from your other arguments and opens the door to discredited theories on race and intelligence. Also, your assertion that “[i]f the potential immigrants were capable of governing themselves into freedom and liberty, they would not be trying to come to America to begin with” makes me wonder how well you understand the causes of systemic oppression, whether abroad or in the U.S.

    1. I’m not referring to the IQ’s solely of the oppressed, but also of the oppressors. Higher-intelligence people realize that there are better ways to get what they want than oppression, but lower-intelligence people can still run for office in America, and some might succeed. They can also lead movements and protests, riot, complain, organize, etc. I don’t have any prejudices against low-IQ people in and of itself, but since IQ can proxy to favorable attitudes toward liberty, it can be useful as a metric. Low-intelligence people might more readily organize themselves based on violence and oppression, because other concepts are harder to understand, even though they’re better.

      Open citizenship doesn’t address my most direct concern, which is that regardless of citizenship status, residents exert political influence in non-official ways.

  7. LOTF wants to make sure immigrants can accept the system of law we have here in the US. It is hard to tell whether someone can assimilate in this way, so he chooses something measurable that might correlate: IQ.

    I don’t think the concern about political and social assimilation is a bad one, I just don’t think that IQ is the best criteria to determine whether someone ought to be able to work here. IQ may have a correlation with political beliefs, but I am not comfortable with the proposal because I think the correlation is too weak.

    So I want to hear what people think about other ways to prevent people from immigrating who are unable to assimilate. The most obvious one is to deny people with a criminal record, and deport people who obtain a criminal record while they are here.

    A more interesting method, and probably much more controversial, is to allow people to work here on a temporary visa for a period of a few years on the condition that they give a DNA/Fingerprint sample and consent for their communications to be monitored by the NSA for a probationary period. Basically, imagine that using modern technology we actually can tell whether people hold political and social beliefs that are incompatible with out own. Should we use those techniques to screen immigrants?

    Libertarians may be uncomfortable with this approach (I am not sure whether I support it myself). But if this is the real concern, why use something weakly correlated like IQ? Why not address the issue directly?

  8. re: “Whether it’s this generation of immigrants, their children, or their children’s children, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a massive influx of people from a radically different culture would radically change our nation. And what would they eventually change it into? The very societies and cultures they’re so eager to escape – and that we should be equally eager to keep out, if we believe America to be an example of a better way to organize society.”

    I think open borders probably would change the country rather radically, but it’s very unlikely that they’d change it into anything very like the societies and cultures that immigrants escape from. First, if the whole point of coming here is to escape from the place they’re from, it only stands to reason that changing America into what they wanted to get away from is the last thing immigrants should want to do. Second, since they’d come from all over the world, there isn’t a single “society and culture they’re eager to escape.” It doesn’t make sense to say immigrants will turn the US into Latin America and the Middle East and India and Russia and China: those countries are far too different. Third, this analysis greatly underestimates the importance of STRUCTURAL factors in determining the shape of institutions. People adapt. Sometimes they adapt pretty fast. If X was done in the mother country, they might do it in the US, but it’s very likely that they won’t, particularly if it’s illegal or socially disapproved of in the US, or if X is only possible given social structures that don’t exist in the US. Assimilation isn’t a one-way street, but it’s very lop-sided. Immigrants have always assimilated to America far more than the other way around. And if immigrants were coming from all over the world, the English language and American cultural and political norms would be the closest thing to a basis for communication the newcomers would have, in most cases. They’d assimilate not only to relate to the natives, but to relate to each other. There would be vibrant foreign niches all over the place for people from one particular country, but they’d be minority affairs within a larger social ecology that remained American in character. That’s what’s always happened before and that’s the most likely outcome under open borders today.

  9. Here is my request: Could you please quantify your argument?

    Let me illustrate via two extreme examples why I think this is important (I don’t think talking about dysfunctional vs. functional cultures is that meaningful, but I give you this for the sake of the argument and leave quotes out):

    Case 1: 1 person from a dysfunctional culture comes to the US. Old school US citizens are decent enough to grant him citizenship after some time, but he continues to be as culturally dysfunctional as he was back home. So now as a new school American, he tries to push his culture on all old school Americans.

    Case 2: 1 trillion people from a single dysfunctional culture come to the US all at once. Old school US citizens are decent enough to grant them citizenship after some time, but they continue to be as culturally dysfunctional as they were back home. So they now try to push their culture on all old school Americans.

    In Case 1 your argument certainly falls flat that there will be a problem. In Case 2 even an enthusiastic proponent of open borders might have to admit that the 1 trillion could ignore 300 million old school Americans and corner them with their dysfunctional culture. There could still be arguments that even the 1 trillion might adopt American practices, but I guess you can force your point through by sending the number of immigrants to infinity until there are so few Americans and the immigrants are so ubiquituous they don’t even get the point of what the American system is.

    So where would you draw the line where things start to look like Case 2 and not like Case 1. If they look like Case 1, it seems you would have no reason to object to so much immigration. Only past a certain point. However, where would you see this point and why? Depending on your answer, it might turn out you are pro-open borders for all practical purposes, at least when it comes to the argument you make here. And I think this is rather probable if I understand your argument right.

    Let me try and derive an estimate where such a point might be (I accept the rest of your reasoning for now although I am doubtful about it). A first stab would be: The critical point is when immigrants become a majority. That would leave room for about 300 million immigrants to the US (or 500 million to Europe). Yet, for those immigrants to push their agenda through, they would have to come (a) from a single dysfunctional culture or (b) from different dysfunctional cultures that can closely work together on an agenda.

    As to (a): No matter what you think counts as a dysfunctional culture, there are almost no candidates even if all the people from this culture immigrated all at once. The only candidates I can think of (at least by numbers) would be the Chinese (Han) and perhaps Indians (let’s say speakers of Hindi). Yet, not everybody emigrates even with open borders. Surveys place the number of people willing to emigrate at 700 million worldwide or roughly 10% of the relevant population. So actually, you might have to look for a homogeneous culture of 3 billion people. I don’t think there is one.

    As to (b): The same argument applies. Again I can’t think of such a set of cultures: neither “all Latin Americans” nor “all Africans” nor “all Muslims” would do if only about 10% actually emigrate. And even so, you would have to assume these are rather homogeneous groups that can easily agree on and execute an agenda over time, something I find not particularly obvious.

    Actually 300 million looks like an underestimate for three reasons:

    – (I) There would also be immigration from non-dysfunctional cultures (I suppose there are some outside the US in your view) which shifts the balance in favor of old school Americans. As a consequence you could manage with even more people from dysfunctional cultures.
    – (II) If there are several dysfunctional cultures immigrants come from and those cultures cannot agree on an agenda, the critical point would also shift upwards. Actually, different minorities could find it in their interest to agree on current American institutions and practices. E. g. when the question arose in the US whether there should be an established church at the federal level, different denominations might have been interested in becoming this established religion. But many realized that an established church could well not work out in their favor. So a majority agreed on separation of state and church.
    – (III) Practically all immigrants of a 100 hundred years or even 50 years ago and their descendents have become old school Americans. So one would have to plug in a rate of assimilation of at least 1% or 2% per annum if immigrants do not come all at once. Historically under open borders, rates of emigration from countries per annum were more like low single digit percentages (e. g. emigration from Germany peaked at about .5% in 1881) and not 10% all at once as assumed above.

    Maybe I am biased and tend to get a rather high estimate. But even a lower number that ensures a clear majority to old school Americans would be something like 200 million immigrants to the US or 350 million to Europe. This means ways between you and strong proponents of open borders would only part at a pretty high level of immigration, much higher than today. If you don’t agree, I would be interested in seeing your estimate of when things get critical and the logic of how you arrive at it.

    1. Here is the issue I take with your response: In order to assume that dysfunctional immigrants need to be a majority before they can impose their dysfunction on America, you’d need to assume that A.) all Americans interact with the political process and that B.) they’re all functional themselves, or at least comparably so. This is obviously untrue, for exactly the same reasons you cited about expecting “All Muslims” or “All Latin Americans” to do the same thing. People fall along a bell curve of political views. However, the right-left bell curve continuum measured among some countries is likely to be VERY far to the left of the American bell curve. So it wouldn’t take very many people at all to shift the average American bell curve further to the left. And since American politics are often very close as it is, even small shifts in the electorate could be disastrous.

      If there were an easily accessible bell curve for every country’s political views, with “pro-totalitarianism” at one end, and “pro-liberty” at another end, I would be in favor of immigration from any country whose bell curve was closer to the “pro-liberty” side than America’s, and oppose immigration from any country whose bell curve was the reverse. Since we can often approximate such a bell curve by simply viewing the actual policies of that country, I would say very few countries pass the test. A few would, and I’m in favor of more immigrants from those countries.

      1. Okay, let’s see whether I understand your reply. My question was at what level you expect there to be a problem (or at least with a high probability) and why you draw the line at that level. So your answer seems to be:


        There should be no immigration from most of the world and open borders or something less for citizens from a few countries that have a political culture at least as pro-liberty as American political culture. Just curious: what countries would qualify in your view? My guess would be that those countries have a population of only some ten millions. And since they would have to be rich and free (the last by construction, the first by implication), the number of immigrants would have to be rather small, let’s say a few hundred thousand. So in sum: What you advocate is much less immigration than today, am I right? I find this an interesting point because in your original post there is a lot of talk about appreciating immigrants and being open-minded about more immigration.

        Reasoning where to draw the line:

        You switch between two different things: a left-right axis and a freedom-totalitarianism axis. This is not the same thing if you think of the Nolan diagram. Many on the left are pro-liberty on some issues, like many on the right are on others. There are also people on the left and on the right who are more or less totalitarian. Since you say you are a libertarian, I assume what you have in mind is the freedom-totalitarianism axis (or else you would have to hold a view that Republicans are perfectly pro-liberty whereas Democrats are perfect totalitarians, which I’d say is a rather strange assessment).

        You write that something disastrous might happen. I guess you have to be this alarmed if you advocate almost closed borders. So this would mean you assume that the American population (at least its politically active part) splits in two: pro-liberty people on the one hand and totalitarians on the other. Now the danger of a disaster would imply that you are thinking of the totalitarians as the real deal, e. g. Communists, National Socialists, Islamists, Shiv Sena, etc. Hence if immigrants were similarly totalitarian to a man, you would be afraid that they could tip the scales in favor of the totalitarians (which ones?).

        My conclusion from this is that you get nervous when domestic totalitarians plus immigrants approach about half the population. If that is your argument, here’s the problem: totalitarians of any stripe are a clear minority in the US of perhaps less than 5 or 10 percent. So you only cut down my estimate from 50% immigrants in the population to something like 40% or 45%, and the number of immigrants that you would have to consider as no problem would be somewhat less than 300 million, but still more like 200 million than 200 thousand. This is not consistent with the level you advocate.

        Actually, my guess would be that there are just as few pro-liberty people in the US (if that means something like libertarians) as there are outright totalitarians. And the vast majority are somewhere between, somewhat pro-liberty, but also somewhat statist. Your reasoning that adding people at the extremes would shift the whole distribution is not correct. It means that you have more mass in one of the two tails. However, what happens in a democracy does not depend on the _average_ voter, only on the _median_ voter. So it does not matter how far out you add something, only that you add it on one side. And hence you would have to expect only a small shift to having a slightly more statist government and some reduction in liberty, i. e. the US moving in the direction of a typical European country. You may deplore this, but it is hardly a disaster.


        Just some fun conclusions from your argument:

        – The US became dysfunctional a long time ago (and could not have gotten started in the first place). Why? There were only a few million people in 1776. Most Americans immigrated from cultures that were far less pro-liberty. Ergo: already in the 19th century, and early in the century at that, original American political culture and institutions should have broken down. If I understand you right, those immigrants would have established a system along the lines back home. So the best guess would be that the US became some authoritarian regime somewhere between Imperial Germany and Tsarist Russia.

        – You would have to regret there was so much immigration from Germany. German Americans are the largest ancestry group in the US at 17.1% (2009 census) or about 50 million people (my bet: you are partially of German descent, too). Millions of Germans immigrated to the US, and that should scare you in retrospect because German culture would perhaps qualify as the mother of all dysfunctional cultures that gave the world Marxism, National Socialism and anti-Western propaganda galore much of which is now being recycled by Islamists. So how did German immigrants shift the political culture of the US? Well, not all that much: you might count two Socialist members of Congress and the German Bund to the credit of dysfunctional Germans, and that was that.

        One last remark (sorry for the cheap shot): Actually, as a German I find it pretty dysfunctional how Americans tend to call a Gaussian function a “bell curve”. 😉

        1. Since we’re having the discussion in numerical terms, let me first say that I am a believer in empirical evidence. What kind of smaller-scale experiments could we do in other countries that might help convince me that open borders won’t be the disaster I imagine it to be?

          Since I am pro-immigration on the margin, I would like believe that this proposal could work. Honestly, I want to be wrong! But I can’t let that cloud my belief that I’m wrong. Have any other countries enacted such a policy in the modern age, and if so, what were the effects? Absent such evidence, the precautionary principle carries a lot of weight.

          1. Would you please address the question I have asked you:

            – Obviously there is no problem with political externalities if a single person immigrates, no matter how “dysfunctional” he may be (any definition of the term).
            – I grant you that there might be a problem if infinetely many immigrants come who transplant a “dysfunctional” culture.
            – So there should be some bound when things get critical.
            – Where do you think this bound lies in your view?
            – What is your reasoning for drawing the line there? And I grant that you want to err on the safe side.

            Your reply so far seems to be:

            – You don’t want any immigration from the vast majority of countries.
            – You might agree to immigration from countries that have a more pro-liberty culture than the US. (I guess that is greater or equal or else you would have to reject internal migration within the US as well 😉

            You claim you are pro-immigration at the margin. But that seems to be in the technical sense of “infinitely close to zero”. At most I can see that you might accept a few hundred thousand immigrants from certain countries, which is much less than it is today. So pro-immigration at the margin is almost anti-ethnic cleansing.

            Your argument seems to be:

            – You are afraid that immigration would tip the scales in American politics and lead to a desaster.
            – It is unclear what you mean by that as you equivocate between moving politics to the left (I guess: Democrats) and moving it towards totalitarianism, which is not the same.
            – Now I grant you that totalitarianism is a serious threat whether it be Communists, National Socialists, Islamists or any other such persuasion.
            – Totalitarians are a tiny minority in America. So for immigrants to tip the balance (whether by votes or by influence or even by violence) they would have to turn totalitarians into a majority or at least a sizeable minority. So practically all of them would have to be totalitarians and their numbers would have to be somewhere in the range of the currenct US population. (What’s even funnier: you have to assume that supporters of Al Qa’eda, Shiv Sena, white and black supremacists, Communists and National Socialists would be able to make a common front against all anti-totalitarians.)
            – Therefore your argument means that you infer a limit at perhaps 200 million immigrants, which is completely inconsistent with your stated policy preference. You are off by a factor of about 1,000, so slight changes in your arguments will not make much of a difference.

            I can leave it at that and don’t have to repeat myself. I would be grateful if you addressed my question, but I don’t think you will. And I understand why.


            Now what you do is change the subject as if it were up to me to answer a question. That’s okay. It is only a new thread starting. Your question seems to be:

            – Where would I draw a line so that below it I am confident there will be no problems with immigration?

            This is a much broader question, but I will answer it:

            – The US, Australia, Canada, etc. have had immigration comparable to or higher than the populations they started with (let’s say in 1800 or 1850). I would not claim that this was without any problems, but it was certainly not a desaster. So I’d say: if there is a problem it is way beyond such levels of immigration.

            Now things may have changed, conditions in the 19th century might no more apply, immigrants are differnt, etc. So it is fair to also some run hypotheticals that might be relevant under different circumstances.

            I focus on political externalities (that was the point of your post, and the main argument was that granting immigrants citizenship would make a real difference).

            – I would not deny that immigrants might and will exert _some_ influence.
            – It is not obvious that this influence is on net negative. It is also not obvious that even if it is, it is illegitimate.
            – It is even less obvious that it would be a desaster.
            – I can imagine that high levels of immigration could lead to a change in the political system that could be disastrous.
            – For this to be case the following conditions would have to apply: immigrants would have to be very homogenous and share an ideology, together with similar previous citizens they would have to become a majority or at least a strong minority.
            – I don’t think these conditions obtain for real immigrants: there are many different directions they come from, they are not uniformly driven by an ideology, they will assimilate at a certain rate, and there are probably not even large enough homogeneous blocks out there to supply so many people.
            – Even in a worst-case scenario, a strong minority of let’s say 40% would have to form (immigrants plus previous citizens of a similar persuasion).
            – Since there are very few current citizens who lean in a totalitarian direction in the US (but that would be different e. g. in a country like Egypt!), immigrating totalitarians would have to go it alone.
            – Therefore, I could imagine that at a level of 200 or more million immigrants within a short time, there might be a problem with political externalities that would deserve to be called a desaster.

            To sum up: There may be a real problem with political externalities for the US, but only at a very high level and under assumptions that may not apply in this world. It may be different under different circumstances, e. g. adding a few million Islamists to 80 million Egyptians could tip the scales and there might be enough potential immigrants. Or if you take a small country and some determined movement with a lot of people. E. g. there was a deliberate policy in the German Empire to divert emigration from North America to South America. The rationale was that it might lead to German influence there. It was never a strategy that was pursued with much vigor, but you could imagine Germany picking some smaller South American country and then swamping it with German immigrants, so it would turn into a (virtual) colony. Actually, Germans who left Germany did so for good reason, and it was not that they wanted to be a tool of the German government. In addition, they assimilated too fast. However, if you add in a lot of preconditions it could work under certain circumstances.

  10. I agree that voting is not required for political influence. Political participation, however, is. And effective political participation requires acculturation.

    Beyond that, I don’t think (m)any of the authors here are proposing immediate and unilateral open immigration. Let me give you an example of what I would consider a reasonable path to open borders, and see if it meets what you’re talking about.

    Schengen Area style treatment between the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Britain, Ireland, and the Schengen Area itself. These are all wealthy countries with basically free peoples, and institutional and cultural freedoms in the same general range as the United States.

    Uncapped migration from other countries, with a substantial fee or a bond attached to the immigrant’s behaviour in the US, a la some variant the don’t restrict immigration, tax it argument: As countries develop we can add them to the fully open Schengen list, once they’re wealthy and free enough that we’d expect net migration between them and us to be pretty flat.

    The financial cost would be higher for migrants from poor countries, but an expensive way of coming to the western world is much better than no way at all.

    Further, a DRITI scheme selects immigrants from poorer countries in a non-random fashion. It selects for people who are highly motivated and have a strong desire to live in the US, as well as access to some financial backing. These kinds of immigrants are extremely likely to be successes, relative to the population of the world at large.

    1. Peter: Your proposal is closer to my preferred “increased, but controlled” level of immigration. However, I’d be opposed to “uncapped migration from other countries, with a substantial fee or a bond attached to the immigrant’s behavior in the US” unless there were a politically feasible way to make that behavior include voting/political representation. In other words, if the immigrant votes for any candidate that wants to increase spending, any ballot initiative that increases spending, or joins any club/movement/organization that supports such policies, or donates to such organizations, etc. then the bond would be forfeit and used to counter such behavior. Unfortunately, I don’t see a politically feasible way of doing any of that.

      1. Immigrants who were subject to bond would be green card holders, not citizens, and therefore not permitted to vote at all, until after going through the full citizenship process. And restrictions on how people are permitted to vote are extraordinarily anti-freedom. In fact, it is much more pernicious to order a person to vote a particular way than to deny them the franchise outright.

        I think it’s extraordinarily anti-liberty for the state to use its power to tell people to participate in the political process only if they participate on behalf of favoured groups/causes, and not on behalf of disfavoured ones.

        1. Peter – I agree, it is very anti-liberty for the state to exercise power in such a way. Which is part of the problem: Since I don’t consider it right for the state to influence such political activity, there’s no reasonable way to prevent immigrants from engaging in it. I wasn’t necessarily advocating the state to engage in such behavior (perish the thought!) but was using it as an example of how difficult it is to prevent immigrants from engaging in politically destructive behavior.

          Green card holders can’t vote, but they can protest, donate, organize, and perhaps most importantly, be the primary influence on their children, who will do all of the above and vote as well.

          1. Yes, Green Card holders can protest, but (a) protesting, like voting, is as a rule irrational for any individual– free-rider problems– so we shouldn’t expect too much of it, and (b) the powers that be can ignore protestors, and routinely do. This isn’t a huge threat.

            1. Politicians ignore protesters, but the public doesn’t, and then they vote differently. Maybe no politician changed their behavior in response to Occupy Wall Street (though maybe they did), but do you think it had zero affect on the election? Even if no member of OWS voted and were all ignored by politicians, they had an impact anyway. That effect could be amplified significantly by a larger population.

          2. I think this is fundamentally a disagreement about sociology. You are basically assuming that people’s views are for the most part heritable and immutable. I think that they’re products of their surrounding culture, and malleable when their surroundings change. A new immigrant to the US will be a different person in 10 years by the time they’re becoming a citizen. Much more than they will change America, America will change them. And the children of immigrants will grow up wholly in American society, and I see no reason to expect them to fall outside the mainstream of American society.

            Now, as a libertarian, I expect that your views on the role of government are near the edges of mainstream, or beyond, and you’re looking to pull the mainstream in that direction. You believe that large numbers of immigrants will frustrate such efforts. They may well frustrate them a bit, but even if they do, that’s not a very good reason to impose the massive restrictions on freedom of movement we have today. I do not believe government policy should be based at all on what political beliefs a person or group of people have.

            Further, I want to emphasize my point from before that immigrants are not a randomly selected group of people. They are people who make an active and expensive choice to move to the US. The average immigrant from a country is not the same as the average person from that country. Immigrants self-select for intelligence, ambition, entrepeneurship, and adaptability, because that’s what it takes to successfully immigrate and transition. Those are the kind of people we want in our country, and the more of them the better.

            1. Peter – Immigrants aren’t a randomly selected group of immigrants now, but under open borders the self-selection effect would decrease significantly. I’m not against immigration, I’m specifically against open borders because it doesn’t allow us any control over type. I think even more immigration could be good, but we need to select better for pro-liberty. America is not as free as it once was, and while the responsibility for that lies mainly with natives, those natives are themselves the children of immigrants. We need to strengthen our institutions of freedom and have better selection for immigrants if we want to increase immigration overall.

              I would be very open to suggestions on how to better select when immigration is increased! Testing for IQ and looking at home country policies were only suggestions, I accept that there could be much better options. I’m eager to hear them!

              1. ” I think even more immigration could be good, but we need to select better for pro-liberty.”

                That is internally contradictory. You are saying you want the government to use the power of the state to sort people by a political preference. That political preference you want is for the government to refrain from sorting people by factors such as political preference.

                The belief that the government should provide special benefits (freedom to move) to people from favored political groups (people who support libertarianism) is an anti-liberty belief.

                I don’t want to suggest ways to select more immigrants by political preference because I do not want the government to treat people differently because of their political beliefs.

                Respect for the liberty of others means respecting those others as whole humans who you will have disagreements with. I respect people who want to move to the US as fellow human beings whose political and social views are no less important or valid than my own, and it is morally wrong for me or anyone else to use the power of the state to make some people second class because of their beliefs. The first amendment prohibits it, and any moral code which respects all people equally prohibits it.

                1. A pro-liberty government has a duty to protect its citizens from each other. You want government to interfere when it comes to murder, I’d imagine. This is different only in scale, not in kind. You wouldn’t want to allow an immigrant with a literal bomb strapped to them to enter the country, so why allow one that could do much more harm in the long term than a bomb ever could? Government has some legitimate functions, among them the preservation of liberty. But even such an ideal government would not be able to stand against a rising tide of people who wanted to continually expand it – as the American experiment shows.

                  1. Wait…what?

                    You’re saying that exercising free speech that you disagree with is fundamentally the same as murder? That someone bringing an idea you disagree with into the country is the same or worse than someone with a bomb strapped to them?

                    Free speech (even speech you disagree with) is not like murder; it is not like terrorism; and it is a good thing, not a bad thing.

                    What you are saying is creepily reminiscent of 1984. That government has a legitimate role in stopping badthink. And that the thought police should treat anyone who disagrees as a murderer or bomber.

                    I say government has no role in telling any people anywhere what to believe. You hold a twisted view of liberty, and I want no part of it.

  11. re: “If the potential immigrants were capable of governing themselves into freedom and liberty, they would not be trying to come to America to begin with.”

    Good essay in many respects but this statement is absolutely wrong on every level. For one thing, it completely ignores the role of legacy institutions in maintaining liberty. For another, it seems to assume homogeneity among people within particular foreign countries. That is, it ignores the probability that certainly individuals in a particular foreign country might be much more favorable to liberal values than the median person in those countries, and of course it’s highly plausible that those are just the ones who would want to come. It ignores the possibility that people could come and watch how things are done here and participate politically on American terms. But further criticism seems pointless. I’d rather simply ask, where did this crazy statement come from? What arguments of even the most minimal degree of subtlety and carefulness could be suggested in its favor?

    1. Nathan – people of today shape the legacy institutions of tomorrow. Would we have the constitution we do today if the Founding Fathers had been from an entirely different culture? No. And we can’t know whether or not it would have been better, but the success of America overall tells us that they probably did a fairly good job.

      I agree that individuals in very liberal or totalitarian countries could be individually very pro-liberty, just as there are some socialists here in America. And I’m even in favor of allowing those individuals to come to America! I’m not in favor of closed borders – in fact, I agree that more immigration than we have now is probably good. However, unless we can directly test for honest political beliefs, we need to be discriminatory along the lines of factors that may proxy for such beliefs among the immigrants we allow. Two such examples (and these certainly aren’t the only ones, just my suggestions) are intelligence and the average political belief of your home country.

      If we allow only immigrants from free, successful, first-world countries, we stand to gain a more liberty-friendly class of immigrants on average than if we allow immigrants from states with a more socialist government, even if a few of the immigrants from the socialist countries are pro-liberty. Likewise, we’ll get a better class of immigrant if we screen for intelligence. If we could directly screen for pro-liberty beliefs (accurately and honestly), then I’d favor that method more than the prior two. I’m open to suggestions on how to do so!

      1. Your Founding Fathers example has the opposite significance of what you give it. The English origins of the original settlers of the Eastern seaboard, whose descendants founded the American polity, is of the utmost importance for American history. US institutions are derived from English institutions. They have evolved considerably on their own power and thus diverged from English institutions in important ways, but they owe essentially nothing to the institutional traditions of Germany, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, or other major immigrant source countries. Even when certain ethnic groups have predominant partisan loyalties, those loyalties look very little like reproducing those of their mother countries. Just as an example, Swedish-Americans vote overwhelmingly Republican…

        … even though Sweden is a quite socialistic country and Swedes in Sweden overwhelmingly favored Obama. Institutions don’t arise organically from some inherent racial or cultural character of the people living under them, not even when the people enjoy democratic representation. They depend far more on structures, on elites, on traditions. The founder effect is very important. I actually find it odd that you seem to particularly favor immigrant from first-world countries, when most First World countries have large welfare states, whereas in Third World countries the government is often smaller, and even if it comprises a similar share of GDP in some cases it almost never provides the same level of services. So if anything Third World immigrants are likely to be less spoiled than First World immigrants. But the bottom line is that importing people doesn’t mean importing institutions. It never has, and there’s no reason to think it ever will.

  12. Overall, I think my response to this is similar to that of other people posting in response (Land of the Free apart). I appreciate Peter Hurley drawing attention to my DRITI proposal. I’ll do the same. That proposal does include a citizenship option, but only after a certain amount of money has already been accumulated in a mandatory savings account and forfeited. This would tend to filter out those who have low incomes and/or who aren’t particularly interested in American culture and citizenship.

    It’s highly plausible that DRITI immigrants would remain politically quiescent in this scenario, and I think quite implausible that they would engage in a lot of political activism with radical systemic implications, although I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of protests by particular immigrant groups concerning issues related to their homelands, e.g., Syrian refugees protesting in favor of the liberation of Syria.

    First, there would be a kind of explicit social contract between the US and the DRITI immigrants. They would know in advance that they were coming to a country where they wouldn’t immediately have political representation. They chose to come anyway. Awareness of this social contract would also fortify Americans’ resistance to depend. DRITI immigrants who demanded the right to vote without going through the process they knew about and agreed to in advance would not have a very compelling case.

    Second, political activism always involves solving severe coordination and free-rider problems. Among US citizens, rational ignorance about politics is very common, and while a narrow majority does seem to vote in most presidential elections, most people probably don’t do much more than that. DRITI newcomers will have their hands full adapting to their new country. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of them go to protests now and then, but at the end of the day it won’t be individually rational for any individual DRITI immigrant to do anything about politics, and political solidarity is unlikely to take shape among people who differ greatly by profession, religion, national origin, age, length of stay, and basically in every way.

    Third, the path to citizenship, even if it’s rather difficult and most DRITI immigrants, perhaps, wouldn’t follow it to the end, preferring to keep paying DRITI taxes or going home sometime, would prevent the emergence of any really permanent class system with a native overclass exploiting an immigrant underclass. By the time talented immigrants had learned the ropes of the American political process and settled in enough to feel America to be home and to feel entitled to demand equal political rights, they would be candidates for citizenship.

    Fourth, as Vipul says, the children of DRITI immigrants would be Americans, raised in America, and probably assimilated to US culture to a large extent. That said, the dilution of the population with so many DRITI immigrants might stretch and weaken the forces of assimilation, so that a lot of US-born children of immigrants might end up still seeming pretty foreign. Still, we’d be dealing with a variety of semi-foreign children of immigrants who are all minority groups, who are defined as Americans, and who have no common idiom across national lines except their nascent Americanness.

    Fifth, when people frame arguments based on the value of Americans’ shared commitment to liberty and the like, I’m always a bit puzzled. Along the lines of what Vipul wrote above, immigrants are often distinguished by their particular gratitude for and commitment to American traditions of liberty, while the American-born are often inclined to revert to the illiberal mean. If anything, I’d entrust the heritage of liberty to foreigners who made the large sacrifice of leaving their homeland in order to participate in the great experiment of America, more readily than I’d entrust it to the American-born, with their penchant for demanding government benefits while taking their precious liberties for granted.

    Lastly, I’d ask this: is there ANY historical example of peaceful immigrants entering a society and then wrecking its good institutions? The US experience is that immigrants from very different backgrounds, often from societies much more illiberal than the US, have come to the US and quickly and without much difficulty assimilated to the US model of freedom, and there is nothing in US history even close to being a precedent for what is being envisioned here, that is, immigrants changing the character of US society to make it more like their home countries through the exercise of political pressure.

  13. I want to thumbs-up and reiterate two comments above. First, David Bennion’s comment about how systemic oppression works. Second, Nathan’s point that immigrants come from all over the place, including places with different political systems. Just as importantly, individuals from each country can have very different beliefs.

    LOTF, have you considered the possibility that immigrants, from wherever, may bring good ideas with them? Immigrants are sometimes sold as sources of technological innovation, but there’s no reason the innovation can’t also be political. Like you, I consider myself a libertarian, and one of the reasons for this is because I want to maximize the opportunities people have to discover those things that we have no idea we even want. I favor open borders for the same reason: expand the capabilities of more people around the world, giving them access to more resources, so that they in turn can expand our possibilities.

    While you seem very confident that the American way can’t be improved upon (even though it’s been constantly evolving for the past 200+ years), you seem fearful at how delicate it is, so much so that you are ready to limit democratic voice (in the case of immigrants already here) and curtail freedom of movement (in the case of aspiring immigrants). If the American way, as you understand it, is so great, why can it not stand up to challenges in the marketplace of ideas?

  14. LOTF, as a libertarian, you know it is morally wrong for anyone to interfere in a peaceful transaction between two willing individuals. You agree that unions, for example, shouldn’t utilize violence in order to keep their non-union competitors out of the market. But this is exactly what you are advocating when you want this Union of States to use the violent arm of government to prevent people from coming here to work, live, trade, etc. Your position amounts to one big pragmatic compromise against libertarian principles.

    One shouldn’t concern himself with the consequences of doing the right thing. Love your neighbor and leave the rest to God.

  15. Neither in the original post nor in the comments of the author have I recognized a lot that would remind me of libertarian arguments. There is quite a bit of “pro-liberty” as a word, but no reference to liberty itself and how it bears on the issue. The “pro-liberty” position seems to be more akin to conservativism: things should stay as they are and changes should be minimal, barbarians at the gates threaten the downfall of civilization, etc.

    That’s okay, conservativism has many good arguments in its favor, and should be taken seriously. So my purpose in making this comment is not that I want to conduct some libertarian purity test, and you can call yourself anything you want. But my question to LOTF is this:

    Is your position on immigration something that is at odds with your otherwise libertarian views (that I can’t see here) or is it a consequence of your libertarian views and how so?

    1. This is an excellent comment, and a sound question. My answer is that my views on immigration are a consequence of my libertarian views, which perhaps deserve more explanation. I believe that as much as possible, people should be free to choose their own path in life, and free to interact with each other peacefully. While government interference may seem counter to this goal, there are certain duties they perform that grant more freedom than they take away, increasing net freedom. A simple example is police protection. While you may be marginally less free in a direct sense due to a police officer’s presence and involvement in your life, you are actually much more free than if he didn’t exist, since he prevents substantially worse infringements on your freedom.

      Borders are another such duty, in that they serve to protect those that live in a pro-liberty environment from those that might destroy it. For this reason, I have no real opinions about the border policies of other nations. The least free and least functional countries would probably do well to have open borders, even if few people want to go there.

      A policy that I have considered (and perhaps you could comment on): Instead of an American immigration policy, fifty separate state policies. Each state could set their own immigration policy, including citizenship paths (within certain broad federal guidelines, perhaps, to avoid one state simply making citizenship automatic as a backdoor to the other states). States would be free to decide if they wanted closed borders, open borders, or somewhere in between. Obviously a non-citizen immigrant that wanted to move between states would be subject to the receiving state’s policies. In this way, the libertarian view of federalism, competitive government, and more freedom is preserved in a way that may provide useful data in the open borders debate.

  16. First off, I would like to commend you for your willingness to debate other views, especially one against many, which is always hard.

    As for borders:

    I agree that a government is entitled to use border enforcement to protect the population. A rather extreme example, but not an uncommon one, is an invading army. Actually, the government can stop such an army at the border. But it can also stop it after it has entered or even before. Usually, it is not the best route to stop a foreign army exactly at the border because that is not feasible, and e. g. retreating before counterattacking may be more efficient. The government could throw the invading army out or they might intern them.

    Likewise I’d also think that a government is entitled to bar similar groups from entering its territory or removing them after they have entered. This would apply to terrorist organizations. I would not consider it part of open borders that Al Qae’da could set up a training camp within the US and use it as a base for attacks. Again you can stop such activities at the border, after and even before they enter. It is in my view completely analoguous to a single assassin trying to enter. And there are also alternatives whether to deport or to jail. Again, I am not sure putting most of the effort into stopping them at the borders is the best way. Actually, I’d argue that letting them in, though counter-intuitive, could be more efficient. Many of the terrorist plots that were worked out in Western countries were betrayed, surveillance is much easier. Al Qae’da seems to share this view, so they have not set up their training camps in the US, but in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

    In such cases the government should have something like probable cause, and standards should apply that accord with the rule of law. So if you only come from a country where some people are terrorists and there is no specific and founded reason to suspect you are one, I’d say the case is analoguous to a court case where you cannot convict someone because he happens to belong to some group of whom some commit such crimes. True, that may mean some sneak in that you do not spot. But again, it might be easier to spot them when they are within the country, than identifying them at a border post. Closed borders would not imply denying tourist visa I guess. So they can sneak in anyway, like the 9/11 hijackers did.

    As for federalism:

    In a way, the European Union is such a construct although there is strong pressure to “harmonize”. Immigrants are under the law of the country they first enter. If they go on to another country, they can be sent back to the country they came from. Likewise, it varies how hard it is to become a citizen or whether you can vote without being one. E. g. it is not particularly hard to become a German citizen (contrary to Jan Ting’s claim when he debated Bryan Caplan; as far as I can tell, you can become a German citizen in about seven years, much faster than in the US).

    Within the Schengen area you are free to move (if you are a citizen). Actually, Germany does have nine neighboring countries and no border checks on land. Europe is pretty closed even though for anyone coming from the outside, also Americans (but then 200% of Americans immigrating to Germany are die-hard Democrats, so you would argue for it despite their pro-liberty culture). Within the Schengen area you have steep inequalities with GDP per capita (PPP) in Germany at about $40K and in Bulgaria or Romania at $16K. Bulgarians and Romanians have been free to move to Germany only for a short time, and there was and is, of course, some handwringing on how Germany would be swamped by poor Bulgarians and Romanians. In 2012, there were about 170.000 immigrants from those two countries, which is about .2% of the German population. As far as I know, 80% of them work, a higher percentage than for Germans, many of them are well-educated. There are perhaps a few frictions where some immigrants camp out in public places, but on the whole it has been anything but a desaster.

    Yes, I think such a flexible system is a good idea. As in other areas, I wish the European Union had more of it and less “harmonization”. In Germany there was about 1.2% gross and .4% net immigration in 2012. And German politicians (the government is center-right!) is actively encouraging more immigration at least from other European countries. I was a bit astonished because the conservative Christian Democrats also know how to play xenophobia, but then I think it is a pretty smart move. If the US doesn’t need enterprising people, there should be more competition also on the global level.

  17. This is what results in just semi-open borders: Numbers of illegal aliens in the U.S. by Fred Elbel – THE AMERICAN RESISTANCE FOUNDATION – Information on immigration counters – causing over burdened societal and governemtnal structures. To close them would end the problem. Open Borders=allowing any to access the USA anytime. Closed Borders=allowing legal immigrants to enter when and if the USA wants them.

  18. The persistent use of open-borders euphemisms championed by Vargas and Company once again serves as the perfect illumination of the agenda-driven, dominant progressive media. They’re as activist inside their newsrooms as Vargas is out in the open. Vargas won’t rest until the legal definition of American citizenship is obliterated. And neither will his “journalist” colleagues cheering him on, whitewash brushes in hand.

Leave a Reply