Deport All Troublemakers

Bryan Caplan frequently draws parallels between open borders and natalism. The comparison is intuitive: If we accept the argument that more people are a boon to society, then it follows that we can enjoy that boon whether newcomers are infants or immigrants.

Critics of immigration, however, frequently cite sundry “differences” between locals and foreigners as reasons why immigrants qua newcomers might be less of a boon – and indeed, more of a bane – than babies qua newcomers.

One of the reasons that I, personally, find the critics’ reasoning unpersuasive is that any trait that might convince me to deny an immigrant entry into the country is a difference that likewise ought to convince me to deport any native who held the same trait. In other words, I believe that differences between populations ought to count as much as differences across populations.

Why so?

The first reason is a simple matter of prejudice: If you believe a low-IQ “Ruritanian” is more destructive to American life than a low-IQ American, then it’s hard to avoid allegations of overt racism. Perhaps “there is more to it than that,” but if so, then the real problem isn’t actually the person’s low IQ, but rather whatever “more” there might be “to it.” Low IQ becomes a red herring, and the real issue becomes a prejudice against “Ruritarians.” If the issue is IQ – or any other particular difference – then the issue must apply equally to natives and immigrants alike. If it doesn’t, that is strong evidence of prejudice.

Another reason is a matter of empirics: Before we can even consider designing immigration policy around the differences that exist between human beings, we must first establish the following:

  1. That the differences between people really do translate into a reduced quality of life.

  2. That locals are inarguably more different from foreigners than they are from other locals.

  3. That the government really is capable of testing for these proven differences in a way that does not threaten the rule of law for locals and immigrants alike.

Point #1 is often taken on assumption, but it ought not be. For one thing, it calls into question why any immigrant would choose to emigrate from his/her fellow natives in the first place, since the differences s/he will encounter abroad supposedly make life worse for him/her, not better. For another thing, while it’s easy to merely allege that “the immigrants” caused crime to increase in your neighborhood or property values to decrease, it is substantially more difficult to prove it. I leave the burden of proof for Point #1 on immigration’s critics.

Moreover, that proof of Point #1 must necessarily account for Point #2. We must not only prove that, say, “religious differences” adversely impact local life, but also that I am more religiously different from a Russian immigrant than I am from my neighbor. A proof for Point #1 must also account for the many positive attributes brought to a community by outsiders, including (but not limited to) cultural benefits like food, music, and literature; friendship; genetic diversity, which as a matter of pure biology strengthens the population of any species; comparative economic advantages; and so on.

Proving or substantiating Points #1 and #2 should be extremely difficult considering the high degree of cosmopolitanism in countries that are attractive to immigrants. Today, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, China, Spain, Singapore, etc. are more cosmopolitan than at any other time in human history. The extent to which we are different from our neighbors has never been greater than it is today. This suggests that differences have more positive effects than negative effects, and that the residents of immigrant-friendly nations don’t seem to let their differences get in the way of a high standard of living.

Point #3 is an extremely high hurdle to clear for practical reasons. It involves first proving Points #1 and #2, and then demonstrating that we can indeed detect these differences reliably and empirically. Once we’ve managed to clear this hurdle, we must wrestle with the problem that any power transferred to the state for legitimate reasons is power that can potentially be abused.

This brings me to my third and final reason why differences within a population must matter as much as differences among different populations. If, as some have suggested, social contract theory entitles a nation’s government to sculpt the cultural make-up of its citizens, then deporting native cultural chaff is no less logical a method of doing so than refusing to import foreigners who hold the same traits. Assuming we manage to prove that differences are problematic, and that we can reliably test for them, doesn’t this imply that we can take action against our fellow natives just as easily as we can against potential immigrants? Why not deport all troublemakers?

If this suggestion makes you uneasy, I can understand why. Historical examples, such as Stalinist purges and various acts of genocide seen throughout history, give us reason to think twice. I’m obviously not suggesting that we really deport people who don’t mesh well with the rest of us; I’m suggesting that if doing so is ridiculous, so, too, must it be to deny an immigrant entry under the same rationale. That, too, leaving aside the even more practical considerations of how “we” might go about determining what “our” culture is, and who gets to decide which of “our” attributes are worthy of inclusion. In terms of actual policy, outside the ambiguity of social contract theory, designing policy guidelines that result in a cultural homogeneity that even the locals would prefer over the status quo seems impractical to the point of the absurd. As Paul Crider writes:

Who decides which aspects of “traditional” society are worth preserving (at the cost of more focused and observable individual freedoms, let’s not forget) and which aspects are merely parts of inevitable cultural evolution? …Should a committee of bureaucrats be set up to decide which foreign influences are acceptable cultural adaptations, the way the French have circled their wagons around the integrity of their language? Even if such a committee were popularly elected, it’s difficult to see how that democratic mechanism would achieve any greater legitimacy than uncoordinated individual actions…. There are other influences that will impact culture, influences that cultural preservationists are less willing to stifle by coercion…. Culture, including language, social values, artistic (literary, musical, etc) expression, and political values can and do all change as a result of younger generations challenging the ideas and practices of their forebears. This process of change over generations may be exacerbated by outside influences, but it would be hard to deny that at its core it is a natural phenomenon at work even in closed societies.

Many critics of immigration base their case against open borders on the differences between groups of human beings. I have attempted to show why this problem is not unique to immigrants, that we are in fact different from other natives, too. Eliminating differences in a community of peaceful people presents prejudicial, empirical, and practical problems that most would find unsettling. Those critics who point to “differences” as a justification for restricting immigration thus have a steep burden of proof assigned to them. Until they meet it, I remain unconvinced.

Ryan is a software consultant originally from Utah. His interest in immigration is the natural result of its ubiquity in his life, but his embrace of the open borders paradigm is the result of the many conversations he has had over the years with friends about their pre-immigration lives.

See our blog post introducing Ryan, or all blog posts by Ryan.

21 thoughts on “Deport All Troublemakers”

  1. It is to almost everyone’s advantage to ensure that, by default, everyone has a country to call home. Existing international conventions on this are logical–country A has more influence over births from its own citizens on its territory than other types of births, so it obviously makes sense to assign it initial responsibility for the resulting kids. Treaties exist to handle corner cases like jus soli vs. jus sanguinis ambiguity, and refugees from civil wars or pariah leaders. Violation of these conventions is correctly regarded as an attack on the international community.

    In contrast, selecting which would-be immigrants get to enter your country generally has no destabilizing effect, since there are over 200 countries for them to choose from. This breaks down at the corner case of astronomically high rejection rates, but we are not close to that corner case.

    So, yes, you’re correct that differences within a population are as relevant as differences between them. But it’s generally globally optimal to permit countries to deny entry to foreign troublemakers while preventing them from indiscriminately deporting their own; both rules promote stable equilibria with minimal incentives for creation of more troublemakers.

    1. Hi Christopher. You say: “…it’s generally globally optimal to permit countries to deny entry to foreign troublemakers…”

      This statement does not seem to logically follow from the rest of your comment. Can you offer a defense for why denying entry to immigrants is in any sense “globally optimal?” Which metrics are you thinking of “optimizing” when you say this?

      1. Suppose country A has a wealthy elite which largely controls government policy, and a large preexisting underclass which (from the elite’s perspective, at least) creates net negative externalities. Consider two scenarios:

        1. Country B only permits immigration which can be expected to benefit its own citizens.
        2. Country B allows unrestricted immigration of country A’s underclass.

        In scenario 1, unless the country A elite plans to leave, they are compelled to set policies that improve the underclass’s human capital to the point where they don’t mind living with them even if other countries are still unwilling to take them then (due to arbitrary racism, etc.). And if the current elite doesn’t plan to stay around for the consequences of their irresponsible policies, at least that means there’ll be a new elite in the future, and they might suck less.

        In scenario 2, country A’s elite can get away with underinvesting in its people for as long as it wants; this is a standard case of privatized profits and socialized losses.

        Note that, when country B is actually capable of consistently making good use of these underclass immigrants, you’re effectively in the intersection of scenarios 1 and 2. Unrestricted immigration makes sense there precisely because country B would be likely to voluntarily permit it. (Random historical contingencies get in the way sometimes, but as long as the problem isn’t some immutable characteristic of the would-be immigrants, it’s practically certain that *some* country B will find the deal acceptable even if not all of them do.) The contentious case is where country B’s citizens would also experience net negative externalities from the immigrants.

        1. Thanks Christopher. I agree that – under the assumption that immigrants create negative externalities for people who would not otherwise experience them – immigrants are a bad deal. Likewise, under the assumption that anything is bad, then therefore that thing is bad by assumption.

          Indeed, the whole question is whether this assumption is sound. In my post above, I have attempted to lay out the burden of proof required to establish that fact. Can you meet it?

          1. If there were only two or three countries in the world, would-be immigrants who do not actually throw off net negative externalities might still be refused entry by all foreign countries due to various forms of bad luck. But because there are hundreds, this is far less likely, especially given the existence of countries like Singapore which have demonstrated a willingness to snap up good human capital deals at all wage levels. Collective assessment by all foreign countries meets any sane burden of proof; keep in mind that only ONE country, not a majority of them, has to dissent for the would-be immigrant to have somewhere to go.

            If you don’t think this system is viable, I don’t see how you can believe markets work in general.

            1. Mr Chang, are you saying that the fact that there are hundreds of countries in the world implies that any unwelcome migrants must cause negative externalities?

              If so, I don’t think the argument works. There is good reason to think that there are systematic biases against foreigners. Nationalism and tribalism more generally are pervasive. “Collective assessment by all foreign countries” is a rigged game.

              One country dissenting and allowing immigration also doesn’t mean much. That set-up suggests that a migrant just wants to leave her origin country to go somewhere, anywhere. But imagine you’re a Guatemalan and you really want to go to America because you’ve heard of other Guatemalans who have made it big there. It doesn’t really help if Singapore or Dubai would allow you entry.

              1. “But imagine you’re a Guatemalan and you really want to go to America because you’ve heard of other Guatemalans who have made it big there. It doesn’t really help if Singapore or Dubai would allow you entry.”

                Boo hoo hoo. Suppose I have friends who’ve made it big at Google and Facebook, but they aren’t willing to hire me for whatever reason; according to your logic it “doesn’t really help if [other good companies] would allow me entry.”

                Because only one reasonable country needs to be willing to admit our hypothetical immigrant, even if 90% of countries contain populations irrationally biased against foreigners and governments which serve the interests of natives, that’s unfortunate but it ultimately doesn’t hurt much. As long as real competition for human capital from countries with low “taste for discrimination” exists–and we agree that Singapore and Dubai are real-world examples of this–Gary Becker’s work on discrimination indicates that results will tend to be efficient. In particular, in your example, any ex-Guatemalan who previously made it big in the US can then go ahead and hire other former Guatemalans in Singapore/Dubai/etc. Even if successful ex-Guatemalans have exceptionally low willingness to help their poorer brethren, non-Guatemalans have an incentive to pick up any human capital being left on the table, and it’s okay if 99.99% of them aren’t willing to do it as long as the remaining 0.01% know what they’re doing.

                Nobody’s stopping you or any of your fellow bloggers from being part of that 0.01%; if you really think there’s a lot of human capital being left on the table, there is sufficient opportunity* to pick up some of it yourself and profit in the process. I’ve repeatedly suggested behavior along those lines, and those who know what I do in real life know that I’m not being hypocritical. You’re the one who doesn’t trust a working market.

                *: Note that there was less opportunity before ~1990, since E. European Communists frequently prevented talented people from leaving before then. The US deserves more credit than any other country for bringing an end to that; it is the last country that deserves to be forced to make the sacrifice you want from it.

            2. I find it funny how open borders advocates are often accused of being blind, Aspergers-like utilitarians who focus solely on the pure financial economics of immigration. As Christopher illustrates, many of the retorts to our arguments are often hinge on the assumption that people and governments are blind economic actors. Equating sovereign nation-states with private actors in a market simply elides over all the differences between governments and private individuals or corporations. Who really believes that governments, individuals, and business have essentially identical authorities, powers, duties, and incentives? The outcome of a “market” where the primary actors are private individuals and/or businesses is very different from a “market” where the primary actors are governments.

              To wit: for centuries, governments across the world endorsed the segregation of human beings into slave and free, aristocrat and serf. Since this was the outcome we saw repeated again and again in countries across the world, would it stand to reason that this was, perhaps is, the most reasonable and optimal way for human societies to organise themselves?

              It’s impossible to say that most prospective migrants have been “collectively assessed” by the governments of the world and found wanting. Certainly, all but a tiny fraction of them have never been individually assessed by any immigration bureaucrat. Most countries don’t even have a transparent way for applicants to assess their suitability against a set of rules. The few countries who do have “points systems” are invariably biased to the highest-end of the human capital spectrum, and rely heavily on metrics for measuring human capital which are themselves biased to people who were born into wealthy societies (such as educational attainment), so they automatically reject the vast majority of the world’s population without further review.

              The simple fact of the matter is that the only meaningful way in which the people of the world have been “collectively assessed” by foreign governments is that they’ve been born with the wrong set of papers, and thus deemed an automatic “human capital externality” without any further review. There is absolutely no meaningful assessment one can speak of.

              You may argue that being a foreigner is a strong proxy for being a “negative externality”, to the point that it should outweigh virtually everything else about the applicant, barring some very high bar being met (such as obtaining a university education). But that is the whole point of Ryan’s post — the burden of proving that this is the case rests on the person making this claim.

              You may feel this is unfair, since we are the ones asking the public to seriously reconsider the status quo. After all, the point you’re making is that the status quo has been endorsed by almost every country (I would really say every country, since I’d dispute the suggestion that Singapore has open borders). But the point we’re making is that the status quo has never been seriously defended on an empirical basis. The status quo essentially rests on the assumption that foreign = useless, or worse, foreign = worse than useless. Nobody. to my knowledge, has ever proven this to be the case. Worse still, when you examine the reasons why the world’s governments originally implemented the status quo, they were invariably because of racist attitudes — equating “not our race” with useless or worse than useless. The sort of analysis used to justify the status quo when it was first established would never pass muster today. This is why the burden of proof rests on those arguing for the status quo.

              1. Yay, another person who doesn’t understand markets well enough to recognize a good one that doesn’t align with his political prejudices.

                It *does not matter* if 90% of actors are inefficiently biased, as long as some subset of the other 10% knows what they are doing; that subset, and its future imitators, win in the long run. This has happened over and over and over again in political, economic, and military history. Both you and Paul fail to comprehend the nature of “collective assessment” that requires only *one* yes vote. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, you can even provide much of the yes vote yourselves, and according to all your economic claims, this would be quite lucrative. (This does not mean that any particular individual’s failure to do so is damning; life circumstances frequently interfere. But the fact that *none* of you have done anything like this does, in fact, add up to a strong revealed preference against your claims. Your failure to even seriously openly discuss this among yourselves strongly implies that you do not actually want your rosy projections tested.)

                Bryan Caplan was at least decent enough to recognize that Singapore honestly tries to maximize gains from border liberalization, and arrange to talk to their policymakers about possibilities for improvement. Alex Nowrasteh… well, as Upton Sinclair famously said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it!” Most of you have neither followed up on one of the most constructive things Caplan has done in service of his beliefs, nor have Nowrasteh’s excuse for failing to perform Bayesian updates.

                1. Christopher, I feel as though we’re getting side-tracked by if-then hypothetical analysis.

                  I can’t speak for the others, but what I, personally, am interested in is knowing what specific “negative externalities” you are referring to, and whether or not you can prove (or even substantiate – but empirically) they exist and match the pattern you describe.

                  On my own blog, I often refer to “shotgun theories,” which are those that sound compelling only because they are vague. It would be impossible for me to deny that any immigrant does not come with some “negative externality,” but as I explain in the above post, it is not at all obvious that the same cannot be said of natives. Moreover, from your own example, it is not obvious that “the elite,” whoever they are, do not also incur some “negative externalities” on everyone else.

                  But this is beside the point. What we are really interested in is net benefits. If you have reason to believe that immigrants some with so many negative externalities that there are no net benefits to leting them migrate, then by all means let us know what evidence you have for this belief.

                  I advocate for open borders because it is the position that has the best evidence I have yet seen. If you have the better evidence, I would be very interested in seeing it. Do you have this evidence?

                  1. You and your fellow advocates *already have* opportunities to act on the evidence you describe and profit from it. Why don’t you do that, in cooperation with other people who share your values, and leave people with different values alone?

                    My personal preferences are similar to those of Singapore’s leadership. But having grown up in the US, I’ve made many friends who do *not* share my preferences. Crowding that I don’t personally mind would tend to reduce their quality of life. Being of Chinese ancestry myself, it’s unsurprising that I don’t mind being around other Chinese people, but I know that having too many of them around makes many other Americans uncomfortable. And for better or worse, the US is simply not culturally suited to the kind of rigid second-class citizenship represented by Singapore’s guest worker program, even though it represents a win-win under the right conditions.

                    When I know my personal preferences deviate from the norm, I don’t try to force them on others. I don’t push for the US to accept more Chinese immigrants than the average native wants; instead I try to bring American know-how and intellectual freedom back to China. I don’t demand that the entire US copy Singapore’s policies; instead I moved to a Singapore-like place myself. I’m happy with my city’s busy yet safe streets and excellent mass transit, many of my American friends are happy with their more open spaces. Things which amount to negative externalities for me sometimes aren’t for them, and vice versa.

                    But there some things we largely agree on, and when you come in and assert our common preferences are worth trampling on, I’m compelled to speak up. For instance, I’ve repeatedly given the example of the wrecked California public school system as a huge negative externality inflicted by overly liberal immigration policy. Until that’s solved, we’re guaranteed to see Mexican immigration to the US, at least in its current form, as an obvious net negative for us. (Note that I’m not asserting that it’s now impossible to get a great K-12 education in the state. It is clearly still possible. But the high-quality commons that previously existed has been destroyed, and I’m far from the only person who prefers to live in an environment with a high-quality commons.)

                    Other examples can be given (Islam in Europe comes to mind). The broader point is that your insistence on a direct jump to *universal* open borders wipes out most of the room for different types of preferences to be satisfied in parallel. You demand that your idea of what “underpopulated” means is forced on *everyone*. You demand that everyone be subject to the reduced trust and other drawbacks of diversity identified by Robert Putnam, before we’ve worked out ways to mitigate them in a manner that satisfies even just a majority of the population.

                    This is not libertarian, or even remotely close to it. A framework where we can all try to improve the world in parallel, you aren’t forced to pay for my mistakes, and I’m not forced to pay for yours, is far more consistent with the values you claim to espouse. (And it was good enough to drive abolition; John Lee might want to take a closer look at exactly how that happened before he uses the slavery analogy again.)

                    1. 1 – In what way do you believe I am “forcing my personal preferences on others?” I readily admit that I hope to persuade others, but I am confused as to why you believe I am forcing you to accept my position.

                      2 – Can you convince me that it was immigration, specifically, that “wrecked” the California school system?

                      3 – When you say “Islam in Europe,” I assume you are referring to Muslim immigrants, specifically, not merely Muslims in general. (For example, you clearly do not mean the many white European Muslims that have inhabited Europe for centuries.) What negative externalities do you say these Muslim immigrants have had on Europe, and can you convince me that the problem is immigration, specifically? What is your evidence?

  2. 1. This may have been a mistake on my part. It applies to Bryan Caplan, Nathan Smith, and John Lee, who assert that the US is *morally obligated* to open its borders immediately, even though this very site has noted that support for border liberalization is substantially lower in the US than it is in many other countries, and far below the threshold the US political system considers necessary to legitimize change[a]. Apologies if you do not hold that type of position and are happy to leave the US alone until you have *actually* persuaded enough of your countrymen (a process that, like abolition, will benefit from working foreign examples).

    [a]: It’s far from a perfect decision rule, but as Churchill observed, it seems to suck less than the known alternatives.

    2. Other countries which implemented policies about as bad as Proposition 13 did not experience CA’s destruction of the commons. And I am not aware of anywhere in the world with similar student demographics to CA that has a great public school system (at least by my own standards, and many Americans seem to have similar standards). Whereas, with the old demographics, a great public school system was possible, and actually existed. Mexican-source immigration was pretty much singlehandedly responsible for the demographic change (and it represents a large break from the multiple-source immigration that helped build America in the 19th century).

    I believe that this is a solvable problem. But the problem should obviously be solved BEFORE we admit another wave of them. This is a common position; see e.g. :

    “Your characterization of the immigrant-restrictionist view is that they think the country would go down the tubes tomorrow if immigrants flooded in. But in fact what they’re talking about is the long-term effects this would have. And as far as I can see, they’re right.

    As for practical solutions, we shouldn’t let in loads more immigrants from low-achieving groups until we can find a way to raise their achievement among their counterparts who have been here for generations.

    If the full force of social engineering can’t raise Puerto Ricans in New York anywhere near the level of Irish in New York, despite their having been here for generations and often being so assimilated that they don’t even speak Spanish, how could we hope to avoid similar problems of persistent low achievement among would-be immigrants from Puerto Rico? Ditto for Hispanic communities in New Mexico.

    Once we find that cure, then there would be no problem — we’ll just apply it to their immigrant counterparts as well. That’s very practical: ‘We’ll let you in once we figure out how to avoid the problems you’d likely bring us. No offense — you’d say the same thing if our roles were reversed.'”

    3. I’m not a European, so I’m not the person you should ask this question to. Ask them. My position is simply that they have the right to act locally on such a preference at all. Some of your co-bloggers want to strip that right away from them.

    1. Christopher, I’m still confused on point #1. In what way does the assertion that open borders is a moral imperative force you to accept an open borders position. Can we not disagree about moral imperatives? Can we not argue that our sense of moral imperative is a powerful reason to believe in open borders? I don’t understand how this assertion compels you to do anything other than think about morality. Can you explain further?

      Regarding point #2 – I am still not convinced that you have established a direct causal relationship between Mexican immigration and the destruction of the California public school system. If you read your own comment as a third party, do you think you yourself would be convinced by what you’ve said?

      I am further disturbed by your statment: “If the full force of social engineering can’t raise Puerto Ricans in New York anywhere near the level of Irish in New York…” Let’s be more specific. What do you mean by “social engineering,” and what do you mean by “the level?” In what way do you believe Puerto Ricans are different from Irish? Be specific.

      Regarding point #3, this seems odd. You brought up Muslims in Europe, presumably for a specific reason. Why did you bring them up? You were arguing a specific point. Were you referring to someone else’s argument? Why not just summarize that person’s argument for me, rather than telling me to go ask someone else? I am asking you because you mentioned it. Surely you had something in mind when you brought it up.

      1. 1. I don’t know about you, but I take morals seriously. At least in my view, asserting that something is a “moral imperative” means that it essentially trumps all other considerations. If you instead think that there are even more important considerations, you should make it clear what those considerations are.

        For example, I believe that helping the poor and their descendants fully integrate into the rich world, if they want to, is a moral imperative. But there are many ways to try to do that, and some of them suck; I continuously update my analysis re: which strategies are worth pursuing toward the goal. Asserting that open borders are a moral imperative is much more specific, and among other things, condemns everyone (including myself) who honestly believes that letting countries voluntarily set border policies achieves better outcomes for practically everyone than forcing them all open immediately as evil. If that is not what you actually believe, don’t call open borders a moral imperative.

        For example, you could instead take the position that working toward a world where most or all countries are happy to open their borders is a moral imperative. I can’t speak for others, but my disagreement with you would essentially vanish, and I’d be happy to collaborate with you on tactics.

        Incidentally, if Bryan Caplan does this, that would also mark the end of my disagreement with him. His actual prediction is the same as mine:

        He just calls it a “big let-down”, but if he really thinks his ideas lead to better outcomes than that sequence of events, he’s still free to work with his acolytes to provide a concrete demonstration with willing natives. As long as he doesn’t do so, I’ll accept this as a backhanded concession that I’m right about free trade, foreign direct investment, technology transfer, etc. being the actual key policies for reducing poverty. (I am of course far from the only person who would be right about this, and not the originator of this line of argument. See e.g. David Brin discussing the unusual altruism of US postwar trade policy: )

        2. (a) Anyone who believes this hypothesis is incorrect is free to demonstrate how to educate kids of Mexican immigrants to the same standard as kids of Indian and East Asian immigrants who were similarly poor upon arrival in the US. I’d love to see the hypothesis proven wrong. Others might not be so gracious about this sort of thing:

        “Upon resigning, Kasparov immediately left by a passageway barred to journalists and photographers. Kasparov had once described Polgár as a ‘circus puppet’ and asserted that women chess players should stick to having children.”

        ( )

        but it won’t matter. I don’t know anyone who believes women are destined to be less capable than men at chess any more.

        But nobody has accomplished this so far. Even though media adulation would be guaranteed, and deserved, on success. A fairly well-known movie was actually made about Jaime Escalante 25 years ago; yet practically no educators have managed to replicate what he has done with other kids of Mexican immigrants. Meanwhile, similar and higher levels of achievement are commonplace among some other groups of kids of initially-poor immigrants; but they generally make significant effort to avoid the many bad schools.

        The day the underperformance problem is solved, I’m pretty sure that a lot of American resistance to increased immigration will vanish. And, as I mentioned in my previous comment, I believe this will happen someday, because 21st century technologies ensure this is a solvable problem regardless of what the true distribution of causes is.

        As far as I can tell, Bryan Caplan agrees with both my judgment about the current state of affairs, as well as the long-term goal described here; we just disagree on what should happen in between. You generally agree with him more, so you may want to ask him what else he found convincing. As a hypothetical third party, I’d certainly find what I’ve written to be convincing, but I don’t pretend that most other people interpret evidence in the same way I do. I’m perfectly aware that some of the people arriving at similar conclusions exhibit obvious biases in their thinking, and may be discreetly or even openly biased against my own race; but that doesn’t make them automatically wrong. ( ) (It does mean that I don’t want to associate with them.)

        (b) The “full force of social engineering” comment was not written by me; I was quoting the linked comment written by “agnostic”. I’m personally more familiar with Silicon Valley, which is essentially an adult version of the CA school performance problem. It’s the last paragraph of “agnostic”‘s comment which I consider the most important: let’s do a much better job with the underclass we already have, before we import more people who can be expected to assimilate into that underclass. Again, for better or worse, US culture is not compatible with the idea of second-class citizens in the way that Singapore’s is.

        3. That’s just the complaint I hear most frequently from Europeans. My point was that different groups of natives have different reasonable complaints, so it made sense for me to name an example.

        This is all ultimately tangential. It’s bets ( ), made with time and effort as well as money, that are informative when honest discussion is restricted ( ). If you think open borders today can lead to great outcomes, make it happen with people who are happy to try it; such people already exist. I’m not asking any more of you than I’ve asked of myself.

        1. Christopher, we’re reaching the point where it might make sense to continue this discussion one-on-one. If you’re interested, click on my name and follow the link to my blog, where you can fill out a contact form with the email address of your choice. I’m interested in pressing forward.

          Otherwise, let met respond to you one final time, and then I’ll leave you with the last word.

          1. I, too, take morals seriously, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard someone suggest that if I express my views about moral imperatives, that is an act of force against the audience. How might anyone discuss morality at all, if we’re precluded from listing our moral imperatives under the notion that doing so is an act of force? I can’t agree with you there. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’d imagine Caplan and others feel the same way. I do believe open borders policy is a moral imperative; but I do not believe saying so is an act of force against you. If this is the source of your disagreement with Caplan, I’d surmise that there is no real conflict at all.

          It’s worth noting that I am not Bryan Caplan, nor do I have any incentive to exactly match his views. I recently published a critical review of his most recent book on my blog. I disagree with all kinds of people about all kinds of things. But I agree with Caplan and my fellow bloggers about open borders. Perhaps my reasoning is different – attempts to lay out all cases for open borders, not a single, unifying theory that all people must accept.

          2.a. You’re unfairly shifting the burden of proof on to your opponents. Hypotheses aren’t to be assumed true until disproven. If you follow LessWrong, then you must already understand this. Demonstrate to me that your hypothesis is credible; I will be happy to discuss the merits of your supporting evidence.

          You also mentioned that you thought the problems with California schools could be solved, and you say that when they are solved, resistance to immigration will diminish. I covered this as the first point in my blog post: If there’s more to the school problem than immigration, then we are talking about school problems, not immigration. I agree that problems with school systems ought to be solved. If you believe school problems are more urgent than human migration rights, I can’t necessarily fault you for that, but it seems a weak reason to oppose open borders. I would prefer to solve world peace before solving the problem of what to eat for dinner tonight, but this preference isn’t an obstacle to my attempting to make either problem incrementally better. You might be more of an open border supporter than you think.

          2.b. Your point here is self-contradictory. In one breath you talk about dealing with an “underclass” and in the next breath you talk about American life being incompatible with second-class citizens. Perhaps the problem is that, when you look at groups of people – such as Mexican immigrants or Puerto Ricans – you see them as being somehow “different” from you in important ways. Yet you have not defined exactly how. If you wish to define and defend a hypothesis about in what ways you are different from Mexican immigrants, let’s hear your case.

          3. What specifically about Muslims do you hear from Europeans? And, of those specific complaints, which are you prepared to defend with evidence and reason? The mere fact that some Europeans you know express distaste for Muslim immigrants does not sway me much.

          I’d consider a bet if you had one in mind.

          1. The main value of this discussion is for anonymous readers, especially those familiar with Less Wrong-type ideas. They can judge the merit of our positions for themselves; it’s clear at this point that I’m not going to convince you because you’re demanding a level of “proof” that’s rarely possible in the social sciences. You’ve deliberately chosen a stance of tiny risk of type I error and large risk of type II error because of your judgment of the different magnitudes of losses inflicted by them.

            And I think this is often fine. This is the logic behind Caplan’s pacifism, and I don’t see anything wrong with it in that context.

            However, I claim that accepting a slightly increased risk of type I error in exchange for a large reduction in type II error probability makes sense here. Caplan himself concedes that “open borders are going to happen eventually” under my framework, and even that countries he calls “hellholes” won’t remain as such, because free trade/FDI/etc. have already been established as powerful enough to do that heavy lifting. Accepting fewer low-skill immigrants than the theoretically optimal level is not a catastrophic error; the only potentially catastrophic errors possible here are the ones which endanger the established process of lifting countries out of “hellholery”, like cutting off trade, and refusing to educate foreign students. This isn’t like starting a war, which is frequently a catastrophic error.

            If you think your type I/type II thresholds systematically lead to better decisions, you’re free to demonstrate that elsewhere. The US political system, which might be showing its age now but produced good results for long enough to make US citizenship valuable, is designed to aggregate all of our evidence thresholds/loss functions, and on this issue it’s far closer to my position than yours. (This is, of course, not true for some other issues.) I’m sympathetic to Caplan’s (and Peter Thiel’s) criticisms of democracy, but they justify work on building better systems; they do not justify subversion of an existing one.

            As for the moral imperative issue, I have no problem having a discussion with someone who holds *personal* moral imperatives that conflict with mine. The problem is when they proceed to engage in repeated moral condemnation of everyone who disagrees with them, like Bryan Caplan, Nathan Smith, and John Lee have. As you noted, I really am trying to work toward a world with much more open borders than today; I’m not a concern troll. Yet they still condemn me, merely for advising them to follow the roadmap that *actually brought about abolition* instead of a reckless and unpopular approach. Even when I point out to them how they could demonstrate the superiority of their approach in a manner that avoids political conflict, I’m essentially ignored. This behavior is far more consistent with desire to screw over Americans they don’t like than with interest in improving the lives of everyone, and it’s only Caplan’s excellent track record on other issues that makes me not believe that is his true motive.

            As for schools, you fail to comprehend the problem. In the past, it was generally unnecessary to make “good schools” a top priority when deciding on a place to live in California. Some people, like Bryan Caplan, don’t miss that. And they’re free to move to or set up a highly atomized country catering to their preferences. But the rest of us desire a high-quality commons, and it’s logical for us to set policies that protect the commons. For the time being, since we don’t yet know how to achieve good educational outcomes when a large share of students are Hispanic, it’s logical to at least not actively increase that share while we figure out how to handle the share that is already present. Those who demand that more and more stress be forced onto the system when it already isn’t working well are very strongly signaling that destruction is their true goal.

            As for US culture not being compatible with second-class citizenry, I’m at fault for not including an explanation, so I’ll fix that here. Singapore’s people, and Bryan Caplan, believe that it is reasonable to define and enforce a rigid legal separation between guest workers and citizens. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been serious discussion of a “path to citizenship” for guest workers or even their kids. As long as the citizens continue to want things to be this way, the government can most likely be trusted to maintain the status quo.

            American culture is more egalitarian, and this has both advantages and drawbacks. A crucial advantage is that just about anyone can make it big on their own merits. A drawback is that a Singapore-style guest worker program cannot last for long; it can’t resist cultural and political pressure for conversion into citizenship. (If you disagree, this may be a good subject for a future bet, depending on what happens in Congress this year.) A trait that I consider to be simultaneously an advantage and a drawback (more precisely, I believe it’s a drawback in the short-term and an advantage in the long-term) is that we’re not willing to leave the underclass alone; we expect it to rise. The earlier we stop unnecessarily adding to its size, the greater the probability of “uplift” of essentially the entire underclass we have and the sooner it is likely to happen. Caplan may consider this a silly goal, but it’s a very American one; he should move to one of the many less idealistic countries in the world if he doesn’t like it. Or he could accept that this sort of “irrational” idealism is a crucial part of why he finds America worth living in, and stop promoting policies that are discordant with American values even though they make perfect sense to him.

  3. Your conclusions rely on an argument that (a) “deportation of someone who has lived in a country” and “refusing someone entry to the country who has not” are basically the same thing (factually and morally) and (b) that if someone advocates the latter he must also advocate the former.

    I would see some problems with such an argument:

    (1) Someone could agree with both (a) and (b), but simply waive deportation from the country for other reasons. E.g. by the German Constitution it is practically impossible to revoke German citizenship which implies the right to stay in the country (the provision is an antithesis to Nazi practice where citizenship was freely revoked in many cases). So in principle, he could advocate also deportation of citizens, but still not follow through because he thinks it is more important to observe the intent of the Constitution. Or we could see problems with finding a country to dump citizens on.

    (2) Someone could agree with (a), but could refuse to draw the conclusion in (b). E.g. he could find both cases equally reprehensible, but advocate only “refusing entry to foreigners” because of some overriding concern with immigration. I don’t see how he would be forced to advocate also “deportation of citizens” then. (Okay, that’s your point that he should name the overriding concern that makes “refusing entry to foreigners” permissible.)

    (3) Someone could reject the equivalence in (a). E.g. he could argue that someone who has always lived in a country suffers much more serious harm when he finds himself in a foreign country that is alien to him than someone who would only lose an opportunity to live in a foreign country, but would go back to living in “his” country. Also for other reasons deportation of citizens seems worse, e.g. because they lose their social contacts, friends, family, etc. So he could argue that deportation of citizens is permissible only under more restrictive circumstances, and those circumstances could be so restrictive that they practically never apply. Again I find it hard to see how he would be compelled to conclude as in (b).

    Personally, I could relate to an argument that deportation of citizens (or anyone who has lived for a long time in a society, which would also include “illegal immigrants”) is a lot worse than refusing entry to someone who does not lose his social environment in the first place. I’d think that both are wrong, but come on different levels. Of course, there could be cases where refusing entry is particularly wrong, e.g. locking someone out who is under immediate threat from persecution (Germans trying to flee from Nazi Germany to Switzerland). But not all cases of refusing entry might be of this type. If Switzerland today refused entry to Germans, it would feel more like a nuisance: someone could not move from a rich country to an even richer country.

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