Grappling with the Goose

The suggestion that open borders would (or could) “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs” is in my view one of the strongest arguments against open borders. The argument is that at some level or pace of immigration, open borders could alter a population’s characteristics in so that the very institutions that make the rich world rich could be changed, to everyone’s detriment. An appealing aspect of the Goose argument is that it doesn’t implicitly discount the rights and welfare of foreigners to the absurd degree that most other arguments for restricting immigration do. Indeed if immigration somehow destabilizes the prosperity-generating institutions of the rich world, then the global poor would suffer the loss of aid and technology transfer. The Goose argument has been discussed on this site previously, but mostly in the form of concern about the IQs of immigrants. I find this form of the argument unpersuasive, largely because the universal history of early humanity was one of low IQs and grinding poverty. Differential IQs are unable to explain the sudden onset of both rising economic growth and rising IQs. But you can read more about the IQ Goose from my cobloggers here (including the references therein).

In my view the strongest form of the Goose argument is that the valuable institutions of successful countries rely on certain cultural characteristics that immigrant populations may lack. The cultural traits in question could include general social trust level, religiosity, individualism versus collectivism, the importance of the family in society, beliefs about social mobility and poverty, and so on. Importantly, culture in this context does not refer to specific overall belief systems or ways of life. In other words, in this post I won’t discuss concerns about, e.g., Roman Catholicism, except insofar as such identifiable belief systems are predictive of the more abstract traits mentioned above, like religiosity and family importance.

This doesn’t have to be moralized (and indeed it shouldn’t be): the cultural characteristics of immigrants could be rationally adapted to the institutions of their home countries. An example of this is the oft-cited lower levels of trust exhibited by individuals within some African societies. Low-trust cultural norms among immigrants in developed countries may be mal-adapted, but those norms were optimally adapted to centuries of slave-trading, where there was a constant threat of abduction for enslavement by one’s fellows.

So the concern about mismatched cultural traits is legitimate. Establishing this leaves the question how to proceed with the argument next. The language of “killing the goose that lays the golden eggs” suggests a strong argument, stressing dire, possibly irreversible consequences of permitting an excessive number of culturally mismatched immigrants. But one could also pose a weaker form of the argument, suggesting that, ceteris paribus, permitting too many immigrants from problem cultures will lead to a gradual deterioration of institutions. Appropriate responses differ significantly between the two Geese. I will argue that a realistic treatment of the facts is more consistent with the Weak Goose over the Strong Goose. I’ll begin with the strong version.

If it could be shown with a high degree of confidence that allowing in immigrants from other cultures would indeed destroy the institutions responsible for economic growth, the rule of law, and other desirable characteristics of the rich world, then the argument would succeed in justifying the control of such immigration. There would remain the powerful libertarian and humanitarian cases for free migration, so even the Strong Goose would succeed only in establishing the need to restrict immigration to such limits as are consistent with preserving particular valued institutions. And the argument doesn’t apply at all to immigrants culturally compatible with rich world institutions.

Unfortunately for the Strong Gooser, good evidence for institutional-destruction-by-immigrant-culture doesn’t seem to be in the offing. I found Alberto Alesina’s recent review of the literature on culture and institutions relevant (and fascinating in its own right). First, it should be noted that the literature confirms cultural persistence among immigrants.

By isolating the importance of institutions, the evidence coming from the study of second-generation immigrants implicitly shows that some cultural traits travel with individuals when they move to a society with different institutions and values. Therefore cultural values are persistent, and moving to a place with different institutions does not change them immediately, certainly not within the timeframe of two generations. This finding does not contradict the possibility that the “melting pot” could work; the empirical question is, at what speed do cultural values converge?

The problem is that causality runs in both directions: institutions also affect culture.  Thus there are observable differences in beliefs and preferences between the former West and East Germany, despite cultural uniformity before separation. The market, as an institution, can change culture by shaping incentives and changing what values parents might wish to foster in their children to ensure their success. Longer term, institutional structures from several generations ago correlate to the cultural characteristics we see today. Specifically, the inclusive and democratic polities of yesteryear tend to have greater levels of general trust and universal morality today.

Institutions and culture affect one another, and can  lead to multiple equilibria. Alesina provides the example of the way family importance (culture) and labor regulation (institution) influence one another. “An inherited culture of strong family ties leads to a preference for labor-market rigidities, but the latter in turn makes it optimal to teach and adopt strong family ties.” A weak-family/laissez-faire labor market equilibrium is the other possibility.

Culture and institutions are both subject to shocks. Growing up during a military conflict or during an economic recession results in observable cultural shifts (the former leading to greater in-group egalitarianism and the latter leading to more left-wing political attitudes).  Shocks can come from technological change. There is some evidence that the plethora of new occupations requiring hard work and skill engendered by the Industrial Revolution caused parents to instill middle class values in their children. Shocks can also be purely cultural, as with the feminist and civil rights movements.

Institutions can adapt and transform without shattering. The USA, for example, had open borders for a large stretch of its history, including its earliest years, when its institutions didn’t have the advantage of years of establishment. While institutions changed in that time (a lot has happened in America’s 200+ year history), they still were capable of supporting economic growth and rising living standards. Likewise, there are a variety of societies with different cultural values that are more or less successful.

The point of the above is merely to show that there is no simple, certain, monocausal path from sub-optimal culture to institutional destruction. Culture is just one of many variables determining the fate of societies. Strong Goosers demand that liberal immigration advocates prove that institutions will survive a massive influx due to open borders, but this burden of proof is inappropriately high. The effects of cultural influence are far too vague to support such a deal-breaking requirement. In any case, what would constitute proof?

The Strong Goose resembles the precautionary principle, which posits that some catastrophes are so severe that they must be prevented even at great social cost, and even before the magnitude and probability of the danger is properly understood. When viewed this way, it succumbs to the shortcomings of the precautionary principle. It is exaggerated by the cognitive bias that leads people to suffer (and dread) losses more than they appreciate gains. It’s also double-edged. The same fixation on a vaguely conceived, low-probability catastrophic outcome can be mirrored by vaguely conceived, low-probability positive outcomes. By expanding economic opportunities for individuals everywhere and enabling diaspora dynamics to fuel institutional reform in the poor world, open borders could plausibly end world poverty within two generations. The constant presence of viable exit options to safe and prosperous places already populated by diasporas could plausibly end major conflict in the world; people will leave instead of fight. Not opening borders and thereby ensuring the unnecessary persistence of poverty and conflict could be just as disastrous as the Strong Goose eventuality.

Any deleterious effects of cultural mismatch on institutions are likely to occur over generations. (Incidentally this is another reason why the cultural Goose is more compelling than the IQ Goose–IQs in the second generation will increase with better resources and education, fewer childhood diseases, and more stimulating environments, whereas cultural differences may persist). This is more in line with the Weak Goose, an argument which accepts that the malign effect of some immigrant cultures on institutions is one variable among many. The Weak Goose loses the urgency of the Strong Goose, but it’s far more valuable for its realism.

The best argument that Weak Goosers can make against open borders is that opening wide the gates all at once is unnecessarily risky. Societies with problematic cultural traits could be identified and immigration from those groups could be constrained so that their numbers never exceed some fraction of the native population. The irony with this approach is that individualism, one of the cherished cultural traits of the rich world, would be compromised. Aspiring immigrants would be categorized by their society of birth, regardless of their personal beliefs, histories, and merits. This could be addressed by using some other factor as a proxy for culture, such as a skills-based point system, as is currently done in Canada, or IQ requirements. While this would certainly be better than closed borders, the downsides would be the perpetuation of social class discrimination and the denial of those unskilled workers who could benefit most from immigration. The use of such proxies could also raise uncomfortable questions about how society values its native-born members who fail to live up to the standard.

Restricting immigration has social costs of its own. People will inevitably try to enter the rich world as long as it continues to offer opportunities. Keeping out immigrants who don’t have permission requires abandoning valued institutions like due process and equality before the law, as my co-blogger John Lee has discussed at length. It likely also requires changing the employment institutions to keep out unwelcome immigrants,  which could have deleterious effects on “middle class values” like hard work. In America, a more earnest effort to restrict immigration has turned ordinary law enforcement officers into immigration agents, effectively empowered to demand papers from anyone they suspect of being an immigrant, which often means ethnic profiling. This kind of policy can poison trust in communities with minorities. Deportations rip individuals out of their communities and sometimes even away from their families. This is inconsistent with fostering general trust in society.

One of the cultural traits of the rich world that is considered valuable for sustaining strong institutions and economic growth is “generalized morality”, to be contrasted with “limited morality”. The latter describes morality that applies to family or clan members or otherwise close associates while the former extends moral consideration to strangers. A market order of anonymous buyers and sellers requires this kind of morality, lest transaction costs blow up due to fears of defection. (Just think how easy it would be to shoplift if your scruples didn’t forbid it). Here is another tension with the valued cultural trait and its straightforward application to migration. The bodies of strangers strewn across the American southwest and lost at sea, shipwrecked in the Mediterranean illustrate the paradox of restricting immigration to preserve stranger-regarding morality.

Restricting immigration by appeal to the Weak Goose–warning that too much cultural influence from some societies could gradually weaken institutions–clearly involves some bullet-biting. But perhaps there are more helpful outlets for the Weak Gooser’s laudable caution. A diverse stock of immigrants from multiple source countries would reap the benefits of open borders while reducing the risk of cultural mismatch. Multilateral migration agreements in the style of trade agreements would likewise diffuse risk among several countries. Inclusive policies could more efficiently acculturate immigrants to the values and institutions of successful host societies. Natives of rich countries should also be discouraged from discriminating against immigrants, as such discrimination exacerbates social distrust.

Good institutions don’t necessarily stick around forever. Someone who has never considered the role of culture in the evolution and sustenance of institutions should revise their valuation of rapid border opening marginally downward, and favor somewhat more a selective and/or gradual approach. But the Goose argument isn’t decisive. In the end it must be appraised in the context of improving living standards, diminishing violence, and advancing democratic and market institutions all over the world. In other words, successful institutions do not seem to be on the retreat currently. Culture can and does change, and migration is one way for successful cultures and institutions to spread. It would be a shame if progress in the world were stymied out of exaggerated fears that the world’s best institutions are more fragile than they really are.


37 thoughts on “Grappling with the Goose”

  1. There are other “Goose” arguments aside from ones based on the IQ or culture of immigrants. The thing I am most concerned about is inequality. I think democracy functions better when society is dominated by a middle class. If immigration results in a huge class of people on the brink of poverty, it could destroy our institutions regardless of whether those people are particularly intelligent.

    Having said this, I also happen to think our society is fairly robust and we can afford to allow many more immigrants into the country. I also think the problems would be greatly mitigated if the whole world had more open borders. So I still classify myself as an advocate of open borders even though I see some risks that need to be considered.

    1. Something that might be related to that is social mobility. I could see how people might believe democracy would function better if people feel they–or at least their children–can move up in the world. I’m agnostic about what makes democracy work well, but I do think social mobility is valuable in itself. Mass immigration seems compatible with social mobility, at least.

  2. As I’ve pointed out many times before, the Goose argument can be addressed by working with countries with cooperative natives and demonstrate there that the results are desirable (at least to some, if not all, other groups of natives) and the prophesied dooms are avoidable.

    It seems to me, though, that other policies are more broadly effective at alleviating poverty, and the most efficient path to greatly expanded freedom of migration is to focus on those other policies first, and then loosen the migration restrictions later. Caplan has conceded that this would probably work:

    It’s plausible that this approach dominates the “open borders first” strategy in the long run, *even for maximizing freedom of migration* (unless one heavily discounts the value of freedom of migration for future people relative to already-existing people). Caplan the religious zealot may still be understandably miffed by such an outcome, but Caplan the economist would be happy.

    1. Chris,

      Could you point me to what you consider the best argument for “working with countries with cooperative natives and demonstrate there that the results are desirable.” ?

      I am presently of the opinion that open borders is preferable to trying to change other countries because we are hopeless at changing other countries. Is there good evidence to the contrary?

      1. We are hopeless at changing other countries *against* the will of their natives. But, as this very site has noted, there are countries with natives which are substantially more receptive to policy changes in an open borders direction than the US and UK: . And Singapore isn’t in that survey, but it’s a very prominent case of a wealthy technocratic government which actually has the (grudging, but genuine and earned) trust of its people, and has an established track record of trying to push the envelope to maximize benefits from more open borders; so one is definitely not restricted to “hellholes”.

        Bryan Caplan himself has talked to Singapore’s policymakers and found them to be willing to judge his ideas on their merits:

        1. Singaporean policymakers may be fond of additional migration, but that doesn’t mean Singaporean natives are. Singaporean xenophobia is growing, and recent Singaporean immigration policy changes are moving in the direction of closed instead of open borders. In general I have many reservations about the way Singapore manages migration, because it promotes social engineering in the same way closed borders migration policies promote social engineering. Singapore literally mandates residential segregation of low-skilled workers, while it literally subsidises the migration of high-skilled workers. Subsidising migration is all well and good, but I don’t know that this is a good way to begin liberalising migration policy.

          in any case, while I am all for countries experimenting with open borders, I don’t think we have enough information to be confident that a particular country or set of countries will be the right ones to start experimenting with. (And in all seriousness, let’s say we did run with Singapore or Hong Kong or Vietnam as a guinea pig. Even if these countries were runaway successes, how likely is it that people would consider such success as proof that open borders won’t be a disaster, instead of rationalising it away along the lines of “Oh of course a city-state isn’t comparable to a ‘real’ country” or “You can’t generalise from Asian cultures to other cultures”?) If we’re going to do open borders by half measures to demonstrate feasibility, I think the more plausible operational strategy is going to be some combination of gradually-increasing visa quotas (cum experimentation with different types of visas) plus growing free movement zones similar to the Schengen zone. I certainly don’t see a good reason right now to say that the best or only acceptable open borders advocacy strategy is to tacitly agree to continued militarisation of the developed world’s borders while we take a couple developing or non-Western developed countries as open borders guinea pigs.

          1. “Singaporean policymakers may be fond of additional migration, but that doesn’t mean Singaporean natives are. Singaporean xenophobia is growing, and recent Singaporean immigration policy changes are moving in the direction of closed instead of open borders.”

            True. But note that the government was able to experiment as much as it did because it had far more trust from natives than, say, the US and UK governments currently do.

            To get further than Singapore did, it’s probably necessary to introduce more assimilation-promoting policies. (I share your distaste for heavy-handed social engineering, residential segregation, etc.)


            “Even if these countries were runaway successes, how likely is it that people would consider such success as proof that open borders won’t be a disaster, instead of rationalising it away along the lines of ‘Oh of course a city-state isn’t comparable to a ‘real’ country’ or ‘You can’t generalise from Asian cultures to other cultures’?”

            Sure, not everyone would be convinced at once. But it would almost certainly convince some other countries on the margin, and they’d copy and adapt policies that worked in the first guinea pigs. Rinse and repeat. This is what “marginal revolution”, as opposed to “REVOLUTION”, is all about. (Not sure how much longer it’ll last, but the Marginal Revolution blog currently has a semi-sarcastic title change to “REVOLUTION — Big Steps Toward a Much, Much More Moral World”.) Marginal revolution has a substantially better track record than REVOLUTION; has interesting anecdotes like:

            “The Qin Dynasty’s measures to eliminate the landowning aristocracy include the abolition of slavery and the establishment of a free peasantry who owed taxes and labor to the state. They also abolished primogeniture and discouraged serfdom. The dynasty was overthrown in 206 B.C.E and many of its laws were overturned.”

            “Wang Mang, first and only emperor of the Xin Dynasty usurped the Chinese throne and instituted a series of sweeping reforms, including the abolition of slavery and radical land reform. After his assassination in 23 C.E., slavery was reinstituted.”


            “I certainly don’t see a good reason right now to say that the best or only acceptable open borders advocacy strategy is to tacitly agree to continued militarisation of the developed world’s borders while we take a couple developing or non-Western developed countries as open borders guinea pigs.”

            I mentioned recently that I think you’ll want to borrow ideas from the software open source movement (and projects like Wikipedia). They’ve made a lot of progress in creating an open commons that is in many ways more appealing than the walled garden alternatives, without needing to strip away Apple’s right to behave like an asshole, etc.

            Meanwhile, Hansjörg Walther pointed out a few months ago that Luxembourg is an ongoing open borders natural experiment of sorts ( ), and it’s definitely not “developing” or “non-Western”. I predicted in that comments section that the Luxembourg model probably doesn’t yet extend to the EU’s most unassimilable groups, but they should be able to handle everyone else (including e.g. poor but hardworking Eastern Europeans who seem to annoy many working-class Brits).

            My broader point is that the “marginal revolution” strategy (especially my “focus on countries with native support” flavor of it) is not politically controversial, while most of your other strategic options are. It should at least be seriously pursued in parallel with any political advocacy you consider justifiable at this stage (and, to someone like me, this would make your political advocacy a lot more credible).

            1. Christopher, thanks for the reply.

              “My broader point is that the “marginal revolution” strategy (especially my “focus on countries with native support” flavor of it) is not politically controversial, while most of your other strategic options are. It should at least be seriously pursued in parallel with any political advocacy you consider justifiable at this stage (and, to someone like me, this would make your political advocacy a lot more credible).”

              Do you mean to say that we (specifically, Open Borders bloggers) should publicly focus on a few countries where native support is high?

              I see many problems:

              1. We don’t have direct influence on governments, big or small (I’m not sure what influence Bryan Caplan has on Singapore; what I read on EconLog didn’t suggest a huge degree of influence).
              2. In any case, even if we did have the influence, such influence is probably best exercised privately. If I were trying to convince the government of Singapore to open its border more, I would probably spend my resources lobbying them behind closed doors, not blogging about my negotiations with them on Open Borders. It’s quite possible that some people are engaged in such negotiations at this very moment — I don’t have inside knowledge though (but then again, I’d deny it even if I did have such knowledge).
              3. To continue on the previous point, if I were convinced that lobbying specific governments or carrying out campaigns to target public opinion in already more pro-migration countries (such as Sweden) was the best strategy, Open Borders wouldn’t be the best forum for doing that. I’d probably just donate to groups that have a comparative (and absolute) advantage in dealing with the politics of the specific country.
              4. At the current margin, Open Borders is serving as a place to launch and discuss the ideas and issues surrounding free migration, and it intuitively seems to me that this is best done from a more general, universal perspective — thereby allowing for people to figure out both the “whether” and the “how” of a path to open borders. If we had chosen a very narrow focus (e.g. US immigration policy) it would have been hard to even consider or discuss Singaporean immigration policy. By keeping the discussion here wide-ranging, we make it easier for people reading us to come up with specific ideas they can then try to bring to fruition either within or outside the site.
              5. The key phrase above is at the current margin. If we had a million dollars at hand, then the current trajectory of the site would not be big enough to absorb the money. Strategies like trying to influence public opinion, or lobby governments directly, in particular countries might be better suited. I don’t think that Open Borders as a site would be best suited to that, though, given our brand — if I had that sort of money exclusively to use for migration-related work, and felt that advertising or lobbying was a more suitable use of the money, I’d probably redirect it to some other group that’s better suited to that goal.
              1. Thanks for replying, Vipul.

                The thing about actually having native support/trust is that there is no need to hide anything. Caplan publicly wrote about his trip to Singapore, didn’t hide the fact that he talked to their policymakers about further border liberalization (among other topics), and expressed confidence that they would evaluate his ideas on their merits and with minimal anti-foreign bias. This did not cause a mob of angry Singaporeans to show up on his virtual or real doorstep (even though, as John Lee noted, Singaporean citizens are generally more xenophobic than their policymakers).

                I cannot stop you or others from pursuing other strategies, including covert negotiations, *in addition* to this. But failure to pursue or even seriously discuss opportunities to cooperate with consenting natives, while continuing to push hard for change in places like the US and UK (where political elites have already been forcing more immigration on the public than it wants; is just the latest of many revelations demonstrating this is not a false “conspiracy theory”), sends incredibly bad signals:

                – It implies that you do not really believe “double world GDP”, but you still want to use a probably-invalid argument as a “soldier” ( , third paragraph). Frictionless Coasian bargaining may not be possible in the real world, but if the gains from open borders are anywhere near as large as you have claimed in the past, it’s implausible that nobody on your side can find *some* way to benefit from what can already be accomplished on the margin. (Granted, one valid response to this is to simply state that you no longer believe “double world GDP”, and think open borders are fully justified on other grounds. I’ve noticed you moving in this direction. None of your co-bloggers have followed you yet, though, and the site title still contains “Double World GDP”.)

                – Independent of that, it implies that you don’t want people to know about the actual consequences of your policy proposals. Even in the well-defined context of computer programming, where rigorous proof is actually possible, the importance of real-world testing is still universally acknowledged. (“Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it.” — Donald Knuth) Someone with your stated beliefs should want to seize opportunities to demonstrate the power of their ideas on a small scale, like Richard Stallman et al. did with open source software, and Jimmy Wales et al. did with an open-editing encyclopedia. If you are right, there is every reason to believe that (after a few tries, anyway) success will breed more success.

                Yes, you don’t have the power to singlehandedly change government policy to what you want even among generally friendly natives. But the payoff per marginal unit of effort for working with them (donating to “groups that have a comparative/absolute advantage in dealing with the politics of the specific country” would of course be an example of this) is not plausibly much worse than that of trying to pressure governments to work even more strongly against native interests, and it doesn’t come with the huge drawback of earning justified hatred from millions of natives.

                You have been taking the hatred for granted, and in doing so (despite the opportunities to avoid that), you position yourself firmly as a political advocate rather than a neutral altruist on this issue. I think you’re capable of changing your course, but for now, my advice to e.g. members of the Effective Altruism movement has to be to treat this blog as primarily political rather than altruistic in nature. (There are, of course, millions of others who have tried to present their political preferences as “altruistic”, with varying degrees of honesty and effectiveness. The categories are not entirely disjoint.)

                Meanwhile, as long as many of your bloggers can’t resist writing about the US, you need to come to terms with the extreme importance of demonstrating good faith (“pretending to try”, as Ben Kuhn calls it, is not good enough); again, politicians and media elites have poisoned the well there, and you need to establish a clear separation between your tactics and theirs if you want to have a chance of convincing people like me. (And I can state with high confidence that I am biased in *favor* of your cause relative to e.g. the median US citizen.) I don’t see how you can consider behavior like Ryan Long’s ( ) to be acceptable, and I have recommended that he take the symbolic step of resigning from this blog for everyone’s benefit.

                1. Christopher, I think the reason Ryan is irritated with you is that you seem to believe we want to achieve open borders by undemocratic means, or otherwise circumvent existing political processes to achieve open borders. None of us have advocated for that. Some of us might question the legitimacy of particular political processes, but that is a question separate from open borders advocacy. The closest we’ve come at all to suggesting something similar is when we’ve touched on whether disobeying immigration law is morally similar to civil disobedience of other immoral laws. We’ve not said that the process used to create immigration law is inherently evil, nor have we suggested making immigration policy outside the regular political process. It is perfectly possible to label a particular policy or set of laws as immoral and appalling, while still working to change them within the existing political process. If your beef is with the rhetorical effectiveness of this strategy, that’s one thing. But it seems to me that the following argument stretches belief:

                  1. Open borders advocates want open borders;
                  2. Open borders advocates write about why a few different countries, which often happen to both be very influential and ones that these advocates are familiar with, should open their borders;
                  3. Open borders advocates don’t invest as much time in advocating that certain other countries should open their borders as an experiment first;
                  4. Ergo, this is quite likely a conspiracy to destroy the countries open borders advocates happen to be focusing on.

                  You may argue that open borders advocates must be treated with suspicion since politicians and amorphous “elites” advocate liberal immigration policies for their own ends. You can certainly believe that. But you shouldn’t be too surprised then if assuming bad faith about other people makes them likelier to do the same about you.

                  1. If you took *some* of the opportunity to put real skin in the game in a politically uncontroversial manner, and the amount was merely less than I thought optimal, I might perceive the mismatch but I wouldn’t find it particularly noteworthy. If anything, I might want to jump in and take advantage of that kind of “investment opportunity” myself.

                    But that’s not what’s going on.

                    Instead, you have not been taking *any* of the significant politically uncontroversial actions that would make sense in light of an actual belief in “Double World GDP”, or even seriously discussed what your options are. That claim has been an obvious rat for years (many other people have pointed out problems with it), yet it kept being uncritically trotted out by your side until Vipul recently questioned it. I don’t know if this was in response to my recent voicing of the “revealed preference” argument in several contexts (which has the important property of encouraging accurate estimates of gains from open borders, instead of the sadly common exaggeration vs. exaggeration dynamic), or if there was some other impetus; I’m just happy that someone you trust is finally trying to get this right, after years of neglect.

                    Meanwhile, you’ve acknowledged that a gradualist approach is likely to succeed at achieving the lion’s share of your stated goals with low risk ( ). At current rates, it wouldn’t even take that long. And surely you’re aware that free trade, technology transfer, and some of the other policies that are responsible for such a good status quo projection have significant political costs as well? Frankly, I think the US has done an amazing job at promoting worldwide prosperity in a politically efficient manner; US-led free trade has been conducted in an unusually unselfish manner ( ), and this has been critical in massively improving the lives of *over a billion* mostly-(initially, at least)-low-skill people, yet the associated domestic unrest is not clearly worse than that from absorbing less than 25 million low-skill immigrants. (Yes, I’m using the same links as I did in another recent comment, because these points are worth repeating.) It appears that the political efficiency of “exporting prosperity” from the US is more than FORTY TIMES higher than that of “importing poverty”.

                    I’m open to criticism of this back-of-the-envelope calculation, but I fail to see how it can be far enough off to justify Bryan’s “big [economic] letdown” comment. How much more explosively positive of a result does he think is reliably achievable? At least I can imagine a deontological ethical system which is compatible with your “moral letdown” comment, but I can’t see how many people would agree that those systems make more sense than the numerous other ethical frameworks which advocate the more conservative stance associated with the apparent payoff matrix.

                    This >40x ratio is, of course, not a magic constant that holds internationally. Other countries with less purchasing power, less native hostility to immigrants, fewer preexisting entitlements, etc. could have very different ratios. It’s entirely plausible to me that the ratio drops below 1 elsewhere, given the US’s unusually high level of foreign purchasing power. (I’ll note in passing that the “hostile elite” issue is mostly a wash when viewed from this perspective. I’m somewhat unusual in being pissed off about low-skill immigration while thinking free trade is awesome for efficiency reasons; more Americans are pissed off about both.)

                    Okay, I’ve meandered quite a bit. The bottom line is, I realize the majority of you are currently based in the US, and I’d expect some “irrational” focus on the US to result. But repeated calls for absolutist changes *starting* from the US? No interest, except from Carl Shulman who doesn’t blog here, in “open borders in one (developed, or at least reliably developing) country”, which goes an awfully long way toward solving the frequently stated “employer in country A, worker in country B, country A has hostile natives, country B has excessively bad government” scenario? I’ve seen too many arguments being deployed as soldiers specifically for the American political battle, and too few aimed at optimizing long-term global outcomes. I’ve seen too many highly relevant (for optimization of global outcomes) points made by “restrictionists” get repeatedly ignored by people on your side.

                    I know that some of you are smart and knowledgeable enough to do better than this. I would be shocked if nobody here had seen the phrase “politics is the mind-killer” before reading my comment linking to Eliezer’s post. I am not the only person here who should understand that, with such a politically charged topic, a trusted politically neutral source of information has great potential for positive impact. I hate seeing this site’s potential for becoming that trusted source slipping away.

                    But I’m just one non-blogger who had particularly high hopes. This site belongs to you guys, not me. If you choose to continue finding the phenomenon mentioned in the fourth paragraph of “bizarre”, when it’s perfectly concordant with my statements about US political and media elites, which in turn reflect what many near-median American voters also believe, I cannot stop you from rejecting the message and instead using it as motivation to treat my own arguments as possibly being made in bad faith. If you choose to continue stating that I and others on my “side” have no “good” arguments, I cannot stop you. I can only give up.

                    1. I think the “40X” back-of-the-envelope calculation is wildly off.

                      Again: double world GDP. You may not believe it, though you don’t seem to give any reasons for not believing it. I do believe it, at least as a very rough best guess. That’s HUGE.

                      I can well believe that the US improved the lives of a billion people through free trade and being the universal buyer. I’m a huge fan of that. I don’t think it could do so AGAIN: that source of global growth has largely been tapped. Tariffs are already pretty low, and while I’d love to see the rest of them removed, the impact of that wouldn’t be huge.

                      But of course the main point is that there isn’t the slightest inconsistency between free trade and open borders.

                      On questions about where the marginal hour of advocacy will do the most good, I have no comment. I am absolutely agnostic. I can’t even begin to measure such things. My extremely crude guess is that just putting the idea in people’s heads that maybe it’s bad and detrimental to interfere with migration will move the world marginally in the right direction. So I act. But I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.

                      It’s encouraging that you’re not taking a particularly citizenist line here. You seem to be thinking about benefits to the human race as a whole. And I won’t say that you’re arguing in bad faith.

                      I just think you’re wrong.

                    2. Nathan, other parts of my comment (as well as other recent comments I’ve made) point out that “Double World GDP” implies that there’s potential to demonstrate explosively positive results just by working on the politically uncontroversial margin. I previously gave Richard Stallman and Jimmy Wales as examples of people who successfully demonstrated the power of openness in other contexts by working on the margin. Stallman is also given to moral harangues that sometimes go beyond what can really be justified, but I have enormous respect for him anyway because of what he has actually accomplished in the real world.

                      (Incidentally, I have taken one speculative step toward making such demonstrations easier: donating a few hundred dollars to The Seasteading Institute, which is trying to create a neutral platform for political experimentation. I’ll admit it’s a big gamble and the smart money may be on their failure, but I don’t see any downside beyond losing those dollars, and the upside seems awfully large if it actually comes about.)

                      Three closing notes, two on-topic and one off:

                      1. Caplan, at least, doesn’t seem to share your belief that the gains from free trade and other policies will stop coming. He seems to think that continued improvement of poor countries is likely if we merely stay on our current track (no need to lower tariffs even more, just avoid generating native backlash to risk the second coming of Smoot-Hawley and let today’s policies continue doing their work), and rapid opening of borders would merely speed up this process rather than get us past a critical bottleneck. I obviously think this is closer to the truth, but as mentioned above, I’d love to see parts or all of this proven wrong via real-world demonstration.

                      2. As I mentioned back in 2012 on this blog ( ), I see citizenism as a strategy for defending some types of commons. I believe that, on the current margin, it tends to improve global outcomes. If better strategies are developed to protect the commons I care about, I may become interested in encouraging their adoption.

                      3. I don’t see any problem with you asking Christians to live up to their stated ideals. It’s a very long shot, but if you succeeded in reaching some of your goals through that route, I think that’d be awesome even though I don’t actually share your beliefs.

                2. Alright, let me start by saying I do see where Chris Chang is coming from on the gradualism idea. But if I’m understanding your points Vipul, Open Borders functions better by being universal on more Hayekian grounds. Namely, the actual situations and countries where Open Borders has the best chance are not clear and local knowledge on strategy is likely best possessed by people in those countries. In keeping our argument more universal we make it more likely that someone who has the good local knowledge and can see an opportunity an outsider can’t is able to understand the arguments for open borders and adapt them to their situation. This is especially true because it’s not clear that there’s a high likelihood of actual open borders anywhere as far as I can tell. Since Mr. Chang is supportive of an experiment perhaps if he perceives such an opportunity he can help us. Singapore is likely a dead end in that regard and already listens to Bryan Caplan talk so there may not be much room for some random bloggers to help there.

                  As to the scuffle over Ryan, I admit Ryan may have been a bit terse, but there’s worse on EconLog every time immigration comes up not to mention on our own site. Immigration is a highly charged issue and keeping a totally charitable outlook and tone is difficult to say the least, but it’s also an important goal if for no other reason than to avoid viewing the other side as adversaries (which means we’re less likely to listen when they have a point and more likely to misrepresent their arguments). The resignation is over the top, but perhaps an apology for any misunderstanding and misattribution of arguments could be good?

                3. Also re the exchange with Ryan, here’s my interpretation of what happened, chronologically:

                  1. You write a blog comment taking offense at the moral case for open borders, because you feel open borders advocates are condemning you as evil;

                  2. Ryan writes a post on his personal blog ranting about these types of responses to the moral case, suggesting that feeling offended or irritated about the moral case is not a good argument against it;

                  3. Tyler publishes his post on the Swiss referendum;

                  4. Ryan comments on Tyler’s post, saying that Tyler’s irritation with the moral case is not a good argument, and finds Tyler’s stance here befuddling considering that in the post itself, Tyler more or less conceded the moral case;

                  5. You respond to Ryan, pointing out that not all critics — yourself included — who are irritated by the moral case necessarily concede it;

                  6. Ryan responds saying that his comment was aimed at those critics who do concede it;

                  7. You post a longer response dissecting Ryan’s blog post and accusing him of being dishonest since Ryan’s post responded to you;

                  8. Ryan responds that his “irritating-but-true” characterisation was aimed at critics like Tyler, not you;

                  9. The conversation continues, but it basically has ended for all practical purposes.

                  I think the only thing Ryan may conceivably owe you an apology for is not explicitly clarifying in event #8, or earlier, that he never used the phrase “irritating-but-true” in his original blog post, and never intended to characterise you or others as holding that stance on the moral case. The first instance of such a characterisation of anyone popping up is Ryan’s comment on Tyler’s post (#4). I can see how, given the context of the discussion on Tyler’s post, that Ryan’s post might conceivably be taken to imply you or others believe the moral case is “irritating-but-true”. But as you point out, Tyler’s post didn’t exist when Ryan wrote his post, and reading Ryan’s post without the context of the discussion on Tyler’s blog, I don’t think it implies at all that you believe the moral case to be true.

                  I read Ryan’s post when it was published and I didn’t for a second take it to imply that you believe the moral case is “irritating-but-true”. I took it to be Ryan ranting that although the moral case is true in his view, rather than bite the moral bullets it might entail, a more typical response to the moral case is to characterise arbitrary border restrictions as a just and ethical exercise of one’s morally-entitled authority, and express irritation that open borders proponents don’t share this view. As far as I can tell, no one has been actually dishonest here. It’s just a misunderstanding because Ryan poked Tyler for expressing irritation with the moral case despite conceding its validity, and linked to his own post criticising those who are irritated by the moral case more generally, quoting you as an example of one who is irritated by the moral case.

                  1. Let’s start with #2. Do you know *anyone* who believes the moral case is “irritating-but-true”? This is a ridiculous argument; everyone I know who thinks the moral case is true accepts the consequences of that and actually supports open borders. To the extent that I find the “moral case” actually true, I do not find it irritating. What is the purpose of Ryan quoting me by name in that blog post, if not to make me look like a selfish prick to people on your side?

                    For #4, Tyler clearly states that he thinks Bryan gets crucial details wrong. I see no reason to believe that he finds the true parts of the moral case for open borders irritating, either. If anything from Bryan is irritating to him, it’s Bryan’s faulty inferences/extrapolations. Tyler appears to be afraid that Bryan (and Alex Tabarrok) do not understand that the consequences of quickly implementing everything they ask for would probably be considered disastrous under most moral frameworks people subscribe to.

                    Meanwhile, Ryan continues asserting that he sees no good arguments against open borders. In isolation, this is not particularly unusual behavior. But if he is reading my comments closely enough to pull a quote out of context and represent it as a far weaker argument than I actually made, it’s not unreasonable to expect him to address the actual content before he goes back to claiming that all arguments against open borders are bad. It’s certainly reasonable for me to hold him to that. (If he had misleadingly quoted someone else instead, that someone else would, with positive probability, be holding Ryan accountable right now. That’s the consequence of misrepresenting others; deal with it.)

                    Ryan has failed on a whole bunch of dimensions here. It doesn’t even matter if his comments were aimed at people like me or people like Tyler; in either case his representation of the other position is inaccurate, polarizing, and destructive. Par for the course when it comes to political behavior, but far out of bounds for altruism.

                    I stand by my request for a resignation. (This is not exactly a major request; Ryan is listed as “<5 posts" total.) If you don't agree with it, I will include this as additional support for my case to the Effective Altruists that this site is currently hopelessly political in nature, even while it pretends otherwise. You are, of course, free to ignore me and simply embrace political activism, but I think I'd be far from the only person who'd be disappointed; this site really was on the cutting edge of making an intellectually honest, politically neutral case for open borders.

                    1. Since we’re discussing intellectual honesty, it may be worth it to question why on Earth you would ever make claims about Mexicans “destroying” the California public school system without presenting actual evidence for this claim. It may be worth it question why you suggested in absence of evidence that Muslim immigrants were damaging Europe, and then refused to provide specifics when pressed on the issue.

                      In fact, it may be worth it to ask why someone who would voice these specific concerns would then offer suggestions to other Open Borders authors as to how they might better achieve their goal of open immigration. Since you bring up dishonesty and the possibility that we do not really believe our own claims, I think it’s fair to ask you to provide us with some explanation for your behaviors as well.

                      Your initial claim was that people like yourself take morals seriously, and that by making a moral case for open borders despite your opposition to it, we are effectively calling you “evil.” Now you further assert that the only reason I would dismiss this rather unreasonable claim is to make you look bad.

                      To be honest, Christopher, I really don’t think about you very much. When a number of people voice the same claim – as you and “Sonic Charmer” had both done – I take the time to think about those claims, and in some cases respond to them. You can’t be faulted for taking offense to what I wrote, of course, but the idea that you had been slighted and misrepresented in a way that would require some kind of public resignation frankly seems a little strange to me.

                      All the stranger since you insist on writing these lengthy accusatory diatribes only on public blogs. It seems to me this conflict could be easily resolved with a brief email exchange, Skype session, etc., and my original offer still stands. There is no reason for two intelligent people to be at each other’s throats.

                      You have an opportunity to put an end to this immediately. You have my contact information, but I do not have yours. It’s up to you to reach out if you’re really interested in a resolution here.

                    2. RPLong,

                      1. You can find more detailed comments from me about the impact of Mexican immigration on California’s school system in the late 2012 archives of this blog, though what I wrote directly in reply to you already outlines enough key points.

                      2. These details aren’t even important to the argument. You are basically claiming that, unless an argument for immigration restriction is satisfactory to YOU, it’s not legitimate. There have been political systems in the past and present that work like that, but they haven’t generally been associated with very good outcomes. Democracy has its own problems, but attempted alignment of public policy to popular opinion got the US to where it is today, which is generally accepted to be a better place than most dictatorships.

                      Also, I had noted earlier in the comments thread that suboptimal admission choices by individual countries are rarely a big deal when there are over 200 countries; a single country can only really screw things up by prohibiting exit, and the US deserves more credit than any other country for bringing the world to the point where exit prohibitions are universally frowned upon.

                      3. If my insistence on respect for sovereignty and native opinion actually locked you out of all opportunities to work toward open borders, it might be fair to suspect bad faith on my part. But that clearly isn’t the case. I agree that the Singapore experiment is winding down, but there are other opportunities, and some of them have been mentioned (though not followed up on so far) by your co-bloggers.

                      4. I didn’t expect you to think about me much. I was as surprised as anyone when I saw you link from a Marginal Revolution comment to a new blog post misrepresenting me; I had taken you at your word about the discussion being over, and thought we were done interacting.

                      When I saw the bad argument you had essentially put into my mouth, what the hell did you expect to happen? I don’t expect everyone to pass the Ideological Turing Test ( ), and sometimes I’ve been able to learn things from those who fail it. But are you capable of acknowledging *anything* good from the other “side”? I believe I can convince most politically neutral third parties that you’re currently too immature to do that in the context of immigration.

                      Maybe that’ll change later. If it does, I might be interested in private discussion then, and in the hypothetical scenario that you do step down from a blog you’ve posted on less than 5 times in more than half a year, I’d have no objection to you rejoining. But not now. I don’t see any real hope for this blog (when it comes to something other than political advocacy, anyway) if your *current* behavior is considered acceptable for an official blogger. You are free to try to convince your co-bloggers to ignore my opinion, and maybe you’ll succeed.

                    3. Chang:

                      1. The blog post in question was a request for evidence. Outlining key conceptual points in response to a request for evidence is not actually evidence.

                      2. Nothing you’re saying here appears to refer to my argument, specifically, which is that if we are to accept that “differences” cause “problems” then we need evidence for both the existence of these “differences” and for the causal relationship between them and the “problems.” Yes, this is a high standard of evidence. No, you have not met it. If I remain unconvinced in light of that fact, that is not a fault in my argument, it’s a fault in yours. And yes, I’m the one who needs to be convinced when I outline the empirical conditions required to be met in order to convince me.

                      By the way, I notice you didn’t provide any remarks about your claims about European Muslims. Again.

                      Your point here is all the weaker considering what we are talking about are conditions under which YOU will accept the resignation of someone who writes for a third party’s website.

                      3. You’ve misunderstood my last comment. I’m suggesting you’re arguing in bad faith because you are making empirical claims about the destructiveness of immigration one the one hand, and then offering open borders advocates advice on how to be better advocates on the other.

                      4. No one who would suggest that a moral case for Open Borders is the same as calling Christopher Chang, personally, evil has any room to lecture anyone on ideological Turing tests.

                      I’m not sure what else to say, other than that is getting silly. Despite repeat invitations for us to settle our differences civilly and privately, you continue to refuse and blow things out of proportion.

                      The fact that you have yet to leave a single comment on the blog post to which you actually take offense raises all kinds of questions about intellectual honesty here. I will note that my blog prevents comments to be made anonymously, except by going through the trouble of creating an anonymous Google+ account. Might this be the reason?

                      At any rate, I have said my final word on this. You may reach out to me at any time. The offer stands as always. Until then, there is not much more for me to say. I’ve said what’s needed to be said. Further comments from me are irrelevant.

                    4. Christopher, thanks for raising these concerns.

                      I asked a friend (who has not participated in the discussion or read it as it unfolded) to review the conversation and get back with his views on whether Ryan needs to apologize. His view was that Ryan doesn’t need to apologize, and that none of Ryan’s remarks were problematic. But he did suggest that Ryan could have engaged you (Christopher) more constructively and that this would have diffused the situation. In light of that, I don’t see an imperative for Ryan to apologize, let alone resign.

                      A few of my own thoughts:

                      1. The situation would be (somewhat) different if this had been a post on the Open Borders blog. If Ryan had suggested this post for the OB blog, we’d probably have given it somewhat more thorough scrutiny and asked him to clarify some relevant passages. The post was published on Ryan’s own blog. I don’t feel we have a direct responsibility for everything Ryan says outside of our blog (this isn’t to say that the off-site behavior of our bloggers is irrelevant, just that our degree of responsibility for it is lower). Although Ryan mentioned OB in the post, and it was a follow-up of sorts to a discussion on OB, he didn’t say anything to suggest he was speaking on behalf of OB. Our guest bloggers and occasional bloggers (a roster that includes Bryan Caplan, Eli Dourado, Fabio Rojas, Ilya Somin, and others who have copious output) write a wide range of things that we don’t keep close track of. (Also, I’m guessing that one reason Ryan chose to write this on his own blog rather than on OB is that he felt it wasn’t directly suitable for OB).
                      2. While the bloggers here who’ve been around since 2012 (Nathan, John, Chris, and myself) are familiar with your arguments, many of the new ones aren’t familiar with every comment you left in the past. That’s partly a technological fault on our part: we could make it easier to view the history of comments by specific commenters. Your expecting prior familiarity with your entire comment history (without providing relevant links), and the lack of such familiarity on the part of some of our newer bloggers (which they perhaps could overcome with a bunch of well-executed site searches), seems to have been one source of friction. If you like, I can compile a list of your past comments on specific issues on a single page so that you can link to that in the future. I hope that will reduce communication errors in the future.
                      3. I do think Ryan could be clearer about the “irritating-but-true” aspect. The way I read it (which might be different from his intention) is that he believed that critics of open borders find the moral arguments irritating because these arguments are hard to refute, and they’re hard to refute because they’re true. That doesn’t mean the critics themselves find the arguments true (Tyler Cowen being a possible exception), just that their truth (in Ryan’s view) is one reason why he think critics find it so irritating/annoying to deal with the arguments (even if the critics don’t “correctly” diagnose why they’re irritated). This isn’t a charitable view of critics, and charitability is to be desired in general, but it’s not clear that coming up with explanatory hypotheses that are uncharitable but plausible has no value (if I recall correctly, you’ve come up with many such hypotheses yourself when describing open borders advocates). It would have been destructive if Ryan had brought up this argument in the course of debating you in the OB comments, insofar as that would have come in the way of the discussion. That is probably one reason he chose to make the argument later. (It might also have been better if he’d privately contacted you prior to posting that on his blog, but from what I understand, he didn’t have your contact information and you’d declined to correspond privately with him).
                    5. Vipul,

                      The problem what Ryan did is a combination of several factors. I was not as explicit about some of them in previous comments as I should have been, and I apologize for that.

                      – First, he presents me as saying something I’d find ridiculous, as part of a post continuing his theme of the arguments for open borders being “good” and everything against “bad”.

                      – When I show up to defend myself after seeing his Marginal Revolution comment, there are several things he clearly should do, but doesn’t:

                      * At least evaluate the argument I was actually making in the comment he quoted from. If that argument is also “bad” in his eyes, why? If it isn’t “bad”, shouldn’t he state that he no longer thinks all arguments against open borders are bad?

                      * Also note that, in my first two comments on his post, I addressed all of the main content ( ), and his asymmetric “burden of proof” followup question is later answered with the powerful, symmetric “type I error” vs. “type II error” framework. He’s never acknowledged or countered this, even though it was the only thing left on the main line of inquiry. I continued to ask him to comment on the idea of balancing type I error vs. type II error with an eye to the differing costs of the possible mistakes, and he never does this.

                      Which would be sad but not unusual behavior, I suppose… EXCEPT THAT HE IS STILL SAYING ALL THE COUNTERARGUMENTS ARE “BAD”. Here he crosses the line to actual intellectual dishonesty. And, because it’s me that he is misrepresenting in the process of maintaining this dishonest conclusion, I am justified in requesting that he be held accountable.

                      – There is also the pettier dishonesty of him claiming his blog post was always intended to be about people like Tyler, and had nothing to do with me–why was my name there, and not Tyler’s, then? Not as bad as the guy in , but is there really any point in further discussion with some who lies like that?

                      – The overwhelming pattern here is that of a person who is only willing to wield arguments as soldiers, and is not currently capable of collaborative truth-seeking with someone from the other “side”. You may consider this to be acceptable. I freely conceded that this is par for the course for political discussion on the Internet, and it would be silly for me to ask for an apology, let alone a resignation, in that context! But if you do consider this acceptable, I believe that is admissible evidence for my claim that this site is currently too political to deserve support *as an altruistic cause*. Making that clear is the least I can do to encourage others to behave in a better manner.

                      (As for his last comment, note that basically everything he wrote was already addressed by . I have never expected him to know about any of my comment history beyond my direct replies to him. I already agreed to disagree on the minutiae, and explicitly stated that I didn’t see *these* disagreements as problematic. When it comes to consequences of immigration, my type I/type II error thresholds are closer to that of typical US citizens, but on some other issues his are and I don’t expect to be on the winning side of political battles in those cases.)

                4. “But failure to pursue or even seriously discuss opportunities to cooperate with consenting natives, while continuing to push hard for change in places like the US and UK (where political elites have already been forcing more immigration on the public than it wants)…”

                  I would draw attention here to the improper use of the term “consent.”

                  If a migrant from Mexico comes to central California to pick grapes on a vineyard that I own, this is consensual migration. The persons affected are the migrant and myself, and we both consent.

                  What broader US public opinion has to say about it may be of interest for a variety of reasons, but to ask whether they “consent” to this act of migration is misconceived. It would be like blaming a man for smoking and worshipping Buddha in the face of a non-consenting public.

                  One might, if one liked, blame the US for enacting immigration restrictions without the world’s consent. That, actually, would be much more reasonable, because the world really is affected by US immigration restrictions– their freedoms are curtailed by force– in a way that a New Yorker is not affected when a Californian hires a Mexican labor.

                  Open borders advocates do, if you want to put it this way, “cooperate with consenting natives,” even if public opinion is 90% against us. We are on the side of the grocers, landlords, and employers who will voluntarily transact with immigrants, and against the people, even if they are the majority, who want to use force to interfere with these consensual interactions.

                  1. “Christopher, I think the reason Ryan is irritated with you is that you seem to believe we want to achieve open borders by undemocratic means, or otherwise circumvent existing political processes to achieve open borders. None of us have advocated for that. Some of us might question the legitimacy of particular political processes, but that is a question separate from open borders advocacy. The closest we’ve come at all to suggesting something similar is when we’ve touched on whether disobeying immigration law is morally similar to civil disobedience of other immoral laws. We’ve not said that the process used to create immigration law is inherently evil, nor have we suggested making immigration policy outside the regular political process. It is perfectly possible to label a particular policy or set of laws as immoral and appalling, while still working to change them within the existing political process.” — John Lee

                    This argument of yours falls outside the box John Lee is outlining here, so he’s as capable as I am of articulating some objections the “90%” would have. (And that’s fine, I don’t expect all of you to agree on everything.) For completeness, I’ll summarize my view on the matter.

                    Abstract constructs like property rights require enforcement, which sometimes involves judicious use of violence. You may disagree with how some of these rights are defined (there certainly are cases, like software patents, where I disagree with the status quo), but engaging in actual civil disobedience is another matter.

                    I won’t categorically rule out the possibility that it’s a good move. The more sympathy you can earn from the people who normally enforce the law, the better your odds of successful disobedience, and I think this natural limitation of law enforcement is a healthy check on tyranny. (Sadly, improvements in survelliance technology may put an end to this check.)

                    However, this is a very dangerous path. You can draw a line between justified enforcement of rights you consider valid and unjustified enforcement of “bad” rights, but what happens when a government employee disagrees with your case that your line is objectively better than the official line? Say all you want that you’re “peaceful” and the government employee is using “unjustified violence” against you, but unless the line you’ve drawn really is that much more compelling of a Schelling point than the official line, this is unlikely to work out well.

                    If you don’t mind being a martyr, I suppose there is practically nothing I can do to dissuade you. You’re on your own then.

                5. On the transparency of negotiations

                  I didn’t mean to suggest that negotiations to open borders with governments must necessarily be done against the wishes of their citizenry, just that the initial stages of laying out such plans is generally done in private, given the sensitivity of the issues involved. Secrecy in the initial stages is a norm not just for governments but for private companies too: Facebook didn’t consult with its thousands of shareholders before buying WhatsApp, even though they probably bought WhatsApp in order to benefit their shareholders. You could argue that there should be more transparency in general. Even if all negotiations were transparent, though, they still would be done in a fairly different manner than on the Open Borders site.

                  On the geography of focus

                  You’ve claimed in this comment that we “push hard for change in places like the US and UK” and in a follow-up comment that we make “repeated calls for absolutist changes *starting* from the US” — I’m not sure where you’re getting that impression. The majority of our posts on migration are fairly general, though we more often use illustrative examples from the US given that they form a large part of our audience and our writers. (But people reading our blog in Sweden or South Africa or India haven’t found any difficulty relating to what we write). Our world map for blog coverage shows that we do cover a fairly wide range of countries (also notice that our posts about the US make up somewhere between 5% and 20% of our posts, which is hardly a lot). Moreover, even our blog posts that are about the US aren’t advocating a specific timetable of change for the US, certainly not an “absolutist” one — they’re often about using current or historical information about migration in the US context to draw general lessons (such as John Lee’s recent post The only recent post I can think of that made a specific proposal related to US policy was Michelangelo’s post but I think it would be a stretch to call this an absolutist stance for immediate open borders.

                  Carl’s proposal of open borders for a small country actually received a reasonable amount of internal discussion among us, with the general conclusion being the one John described (namely, that other slippery slopes could be better). My understanding is that Carl himself doesn’t favor the “open borders in one country” solution categorically but is open to many keyhole solutions and slippery slopes (he provided feedback and inspiration for my slippery slopes post).

                  On arbitrage opportunities

                  Your point about the existence of arbitrage opportunities to make money off the inefficiencies in the migration system is an important one, and we’re generally open both to discussing and supporting/promoting such ideas (to the extent that we can reasonably evaluate them) — I listed a few such on a page a while back, and if you have more ideas, I’ll be happy to add them. However:

                  • It’s generally relatively hard to profit off improving policy, because policy tends to be a commons.
                  • The examples of Richard Stallman and Donald Knuth are also similar — they’re both well-off, but neither is particularly rich.
                  • The timescale over which open source became mainstream was about a decade (Stallman kickstarted it in the early 1980s, but it really started getting mainstream only around the mid-1990s). Open Borders has been around for less than two years (we launched March 16, 2012).
                  • Even if business opportunities exist, it requires skill to make them successful, and it’s not clear that any of us have those skills (plus there’s a huge element of luck). If you knew in 2002 that social networking would take off, that wouldn’t mean you could create Facebook, or even a million-dollar company that could be sold. At a per capita level, operating within existing laws, the business opportunities are not extraordinarily lucrative. But it’s still probably true that people who want to do a mix of making money and generating social value should consider this space (like the CITA farm workers did).

                  That said, I’d be happy to hear more of your thoughts on this front.

                  On neutral altruism

                  I think what you’re talking of here is cause-agnosticism, of the sort that Givewell and Giving What We Can promote and (claim to) practice. I think cause-agnosticism is valuable for a general organization aiming to find the best causes to work in and donate to, and such organizations do great work.

                  But I believe that the altruistic landscape benefits from other people working on specific causes in order to develop the body of knowledge, arguments, and experience for those causes to the point where cause-agnostic groups can better evaluate them. I do think that these cause-specific groups benefit from keeping an open mind and understanding that there are many other valuable causes, and that they need to make the case for their cause in the context of those other causes. But that doesn’t mean that, at the margin, a given cause-specific organization should turn cause-agnostic. Rather, I would argue that, to the extent that our views on open borders turn more or less favorable, we should simply adjust the amount of effort we put into the site, rather than pivoting the site to something related (like charter cities, seasteading, free trade, promoting good economic policy, or Singapore guest worker program changes, to take some of your examples).

                  “members of the Effective Altruism movement has to be to treat this blog as primarily political rather than altruistic in nature” — it’s a cause-specific website and blog, rather than a cause-agnostic one, if that’s what you mean. I don’t think members of the effective altruism movement think of it as anything different, nor have we tried to deceive them on that front. We’ve occasionally talked about why effective altruists should be concerned about open borders, and we’re happy to get attention from EA groups, but we certainly haven’t hidden the fact that open borders is about open borders.

                  On the importance of demonstrating good faith

                  “Meanwhile, as long as many of your bloggers can’t resist writing about the US, you need to come to terms with the extreme importance of demonstrating good faith” — yes, this is very important, and I appreciate you reminding us of that.

                  1. My objections to “political” behavior in my recent comments are specifically referring to the argument pattern Eliezer talked about in his post. I will use the phrase “mind-killed” from now on to distinguish that from other uses of the word “political”; apologies for not making this distinction earlier.

                    Some level of mind-killed behavior from commenters and bloggers is unavoidable; we’re humans, not friendly AIs with perfect checks against exhibiting those behavior patterns.

                    But that doesn’t mean that it’s advisable to endorse all-zombie, all-the-time behavior, just because the source is on your side. And that’s what I saw from Ryan. No good point from me was acknowledged. Some of them do not appear to have been understood. Not unusual yet, but then he basically wrote that all my arguments were “bad” with no justification beyond an absurd misrepresentation of one argument (that follows from his universal claims of badness; if he doesn’t want to be held accountable for that, he shouldn’t be making such claims). Then, when that particular argument was restated for him, he neither points out a problem with it nor retracts his universal badness claim. And he added some petty dishonesty on top of that.

                    I may disagree strongly with some of your other bloggers, but none of them have this kind of track record of 100% mind-killed responses. This extends to all comments I’ve seen him make recently in response to e.g. restrictionists at Marginal Revolution. *Zero* actual engagement, across the board. Perhaps this was just an off month for him and he’s normally a lot better; if you can point me to genuinely constructive discussions he’s had with people on the other side in the past, I might accept that resignation is an over the top request. Right now, though, it sure looks like he’s just a liability, slowly getting more people who’ve argued with him to believe open borders advocates argue in bad faith, etc.

                    Meanwhile, of course I have no problem with an open borders site being about open borders! But there are many paths toward a largely open borders world, and Caplan at least seems to believe that simple continuation of the status quo can get us there almost by accident ( , “Once two country’s per capita GDP’s are in the 2:1 zone, opening borders lead to little permanent migration but a lot of convenience. That can and has been sold to voters.”) I suppose I abused terminology by calling this sort of thing “politically neutral”; anyway, that’s the kind of thing I meant by the phrase. Much less focus on proposals with expected 70%+ public opposition, more focus on what’s achievable with broad consent. That, I’d be happy to advise other altruists to support.

                    You’re of course correct that the success of folks like Stallman and Wales was many years in the making, and neither of them are especially wealthy. Fortunately, most of the people who’d be interested in what you or me have to say are, as you describe it, motivated by a mix of making money and generating social value. It is this type of arbitrage opportunity that should exist if your basic assumptions are sound. My own comparative advantage probably lies in keeping track of the seasteading institute’s progress for now, but I’ll keep an eye out for other opportunities.

            2. The implication seems to be that the alternatives are “marginal revolution” and “REVOLUTION,” and that we bloggers here at Open Borders: The Case are on the side of revolution. When Chang claims that “Marginal revolution has a substantially better track record than REVOLUTION,” this claim is convincingly solely because REVOLUTION in caps suggests VIOLENT revolution. That does not seem to be what Chang means, to judge by his obscure allusions to events in ancient Chinese history. What he DOES mean is very unclear. What are we supposed to conclude from the fact that two top-down reforms in the distant Chinese past were overturned? I have no clear idea what work these anecdotes are supposed to do in the argument. But the rhetorical effect of the “marginal revolution” vs. “REVOLUTION” distinction is to link Open Borders: The Case with violent revolution, and any persuasive force that Chang’s suggestion has results from that link. At any rate, so it seems to me.

              But the point, of course, is that the bloggers here at Open Borders are not advocating violent revolution. The advocacy of violence is all on the other side. It’s not even clear whether we’re advocating an especially rapid transition to open borders: what we have in common seems to be that we envision a world with open borders as an ideal and a goal, not that we share any special hurried timeline for getting there. DRITI could perhaps be characterized as “marginal revolution” if you like; certainly that would be a better characterization than REVOLUTION. In any case, if the distinction between “marginal revolution” and REVOLUTION simply involves the speed of the transition, it’s not at all clear to me that rapid transitions are more reversible than slow ones. The fall of communism in eastern Europe was rapid, yet permanent. The end of desegregation in the US was pretty rapid, yet permanent; likewise the end of slavery.

              What I see more clearly is a difference between violent social changes, which tend to be a treadmill and lead nowhere worthwhile, and nonviolent social changes, proceeding either by a kind of ongoing consent, or more dramatically by civil disobedience, and which when successful tend to be more lasting. That’s why I think it would be possible, though of course not easy, to establish a new system of moral norms by which it was taken to be morally illegitimate to block peaceful migration by force; and this system of moral norms would make the world a much better place.

        2. Lobbying for more migration in places where public opinion is receptive is just fine. But trying to change elite opinion, which is what Open Borders: The Case is best at, is worthwhile, too. It would be quite odd to think that influencing elite opinion in the direction of open borders would make lobbying for immigration liberalization harder, and I certainly see no evidence that this is the case.

    2. The claim that “other policies are more broadly effective [than open borders] at alleviating poverty” is one that I have considered, a lot, having studied international development at Harvard, worked at the World Bank, etc. I definitely think it’s false. When the estimates of the global impact of other policies, e.g., free trade or microfinance, are compared to the estimated effects of open borders, they don’t come anywhere close. Of course, if you think the “double world GDP” estimates are wildly off-base, that won’t impress you. But I don’t think they are wildly off-base. I think they’re pretty on-target. Obviously, there are large margins of error involved, but they’re not jerry-rigged to get high estimates, and my judgment is that the ways they overstate the likely gains from open borders and the ways they understate them largely balance out.

      The suggestion that “other policies” could trump “open borders first” as a means even of maximizing long-run freedom of migration is ingenious… but what can it mean? Wouldn’t “open borders now and forever” maximize freedom of migration, by definition? Or, if you mean that “open borders now” wouldn’t be *politically sustainable,* well, political feasibility and sustainability are not only very complex but somewhat outside the parameters of the discussion. Open borders won’t be implemented tomorrow. If it could be, something about the world would have to be different. Depending on what that was, open borders might or might not be sustainable. One could come up with stories in which open borders advocates today damage freedom of migration in the distant future, but such stories would be sheer, arbitrary speculation. There would be no reason at all to regard them as likely.

      Certainly, I think the best way to alleviate world poverty and to secure freedom of migration for posterity would be to shift policy and public opinion in the direction of freedom of migration as much as we can.

      1. One thing that is missed from this discussion is the fact that there are different avenues for different people do address poverty. Blogging for this site, for me, is in one sense a hobby. I’m hopefully refining my skills as a blogger and increasing my understanding of an issue (and multiple related issues, like ethics and development studies). Hopefully I will persuade some people of the merits of open borders on a number of fronts. There’s a small chance I might be involved in a moral revolution that will in turn facilitate a massive increase in human flourishing.

        But in the meantime, I’m working a full-time job and shoveling what resources I can to charities like GiveDirectly and GiveWell, which doesn’t interfere with my open borders advocacy. Open borders isn’t everything to me. We can get to our goals via different routes. All at once.

      2. Tyler Cowen is on the record as believing that native backlash is likely against premature border opening; if that happens, that’s one way for the “greedy algorithm” to fall behind in the long run.

        I think that prosperity and development/maintenance of high-trust cultures are the most important things to optimize. There is little reason for two prosperous countries to enforce serious travel restrictions between each other if both have high-trust cultures; this is what I’m choosing to call Caplan’s “open borders by accident” scenario.

        (These two things are related, of course; it’s easier to pass on opportunities to cheat others, etc. when one’s livelihood would not seriously benefit from that. “Rich but low-trust” is a failure mode to keep in mind, though, and some people I know are very worried that America is moving in that direction.)

        So, to the extent that more open borders promotes, or at least does not interfere with, improvement on these two axes, I’m all for it. If there is an apparent short-term conflict, though, I advocate focusing on prosperity and trust first. There probably is important research to do on minimizing these conflicts.

        1. I would like to add that “high-trust society” considerations are a major bottleneck when it comes to Chinese and Indian immigration today. See e.g. . I think that conversion of mainland China into a substantially higher-trust society is one of the paramount social projects of the 21st century.

          If your individual achievement-based arguments for more Chinese or Indian immigration are not proving very persuasive, I think you’ll find more success by shifting your attention to addressing citizen concerns about trust.

  3. “Let’s start with #2. Do you know *anyone* who believes the moral case is “irritating-but-true”?”

    The post never implied any particular critic believes the moral case is “irritating-but-true”. The first instance of this phrase and associated argumentation appears in Ryan’s comment on Tyler’s post. You are simply misreading Ryan’s original post by imputing a subtext that could not possibly have existed when he authored it.

    “What is the purpose of Ryan quoting me by name in that blog post, if not to make me look like a selfish prick to people on your side?”

    Ryan rants that a common response to the moral case is to try to reassume the moral high ground by asserting that states have a moral right to control their borders arbitrarily, and quotes you making just this point. Yes, you make many arguments against open borders. But one of your clearest complaints has been that the moral case for open borders is actually immoral because it ostensibly violates the moral right to national sovereignty. Quoting you when you’ve written a good example of the classic response doesn’t seem like any kind of personal attack to me.

    “Tyler clearly states that he thinks Bryan gets crucial details wrong.”

    Actually, he writes “I would say Bryan has the moral high ground but not a practicable proposal” and goes on to bash citizenism as morally defective compared to cosmopolitanism: “The comparison of where the major injustices are generated is not even close.” Tyler essentially concedes the moral case. He just curiously finds exposition of the moral case objectionable, calling it literally “objectionable, fact-denying, self-righteous nonsense”. If this is not an example of finding the moral case “irritating-but-true” (or perhaps “true-but-irritating”), then what is it?

    “But if he is reading my comments closely enough to pull a quote out of context and represent it as a far weaker argument than I actually made, it’s not unreasonable to expect him to address the actual content before he goes back to claiming that all arguments against open borders are bad.”

    Ryan was not writing a general case for open borders. If he was, of course it’d be reasonable to expect him to address every claim you’ve made. But he was clearly focusing his post particularly on the often-presented argument that open borders advocates are making morally-irritating claims which don’t jibe with national sovereignty.

    “You are, of course, free to ignore me and simply embrace political activism, but I think I’d be far from the only person who’d be disappointed; this site really was on the cutting edge of making an intellectually honest, politically neutral case for open borders.”

    What does politically neutral even mean in this case? How is arguing for a major policy change supposed to be apolitical or non-political? Open borders can never be accomplished by apolitical means when the political process is the only way to really implement open borders. A general theme of your comments here seems to be your general distaste and offense at any attempt to pursue open borders through the political process, as though simply advocating the implementation of open borders is tantamount to direct coercion.

    If what you are looking for is bipartisanship or non-partisanship, we’ve generally remained above the fray of partisan political arguments (typically when we do enter them, we condemn all parties, because there is no true politically-influential open borders party in the world today). And Ryan’s postings, whatever their (de)merits, clearly don’t show any partisan favours. The worst that can be said about them is that they might be construed as disingenuous — a view I plainly disagree with, since I think you’re attributing to him an allegation he never made about you.

    1. “But one of your clearest complaints has been that the moral case for open borders is actually immoral because it ostensibly violates the moral right to national sovereignty. Quoting you when you’ve written a good example of the classic response doesn’t seem like any kind of personal attack to me.”

      You may see national sovereignty as an arbitrary convention, but it’s one of the conventions that most people structure their lives around. I don’t see anything “true” about the moral claim that there’s nothing wrong with an individual member of a nation ignoring major national rules. At least when the nation lets you leave, renounce citizenship, and opt out of those rules; I’ve agreed that exit restrictions are much more problematic.


      “He just curiously finds exposition of the moral case objectionable, calling it literally ‘objectionable, fact-denying, self-righteous nonsense’. If this is not an example of finding the moral case ‘irritating-but-true’ (or perhaps ‘true-but-irritating’), then what is it?”

      Echoing Tyler’s choice of words, “high-minded but impractical” seems fair to me. Tyler very clearly states that he thinks expositors of the moral case are making untrue statements, and that he thinks these untruths are a big deal.


      “Ryan was not writing a general case for open borders. If he was, of course it’d be reasonable to expect him to address every claim you’ve made.”

      It was his habit of stating that he had seen no good opposing arguments that poured gasoline on the fire. I certainly don’t go around claiming there are no good arguments for open borders in the US; I’m willing to call some of them bad, but others I just disagree with while believing that it would be reasonable for someone with different preferences, etc. than my own to accept the argument.


      “What does politically neutral even mean in this case? How is arguing for a major policy change supposed to be apolitical or non-political? Open borders can never be accomplished by apolitical means when the political process is the only way to really implement open borders. A general theme of your comments here seems to be your general distaste and offense at any attempt to pursue open borders through the political process, as though simply advocating the implementation of open borders is tantamount to direct coercion.”

      By “politically neutral”, I meant “has consent from natives, in the manner defined by the country in question”; apologies for the abuse of language. My objection is to political/media collusion that forces policy very different from what the public wants. I’ve given the US and UK as examples of afflicted countries, and Australia and Canada as examples of largely uncorrupted countries. There are judgment calls involved re: whether one should count a particular form of arguable “collusion” as simply good strategy that one has to be politically naive to reject, or actually something you don’t want to be associated with. I suggest that if you are making many of these judgment calls in the “good strategy” direction, though, you are probably on a dangerous track.

  4. Vipul has asked me to add a final word here, so I would like to see if I can do so productively.

    First of all, Christopher Chang was not the only one to have suggested that I could have handled myself better in the comments of various blogs, including this one and Marginal Revolution, and probably most especially .

    To the extent that, as Chris notes above, immigration is an emotionally charged issue, a reasonable person can’t fault any of us for succumbing to our emotions from time to time. But to the extent that I am in control of my own thoughts and actions – which is to say, entirely – it falls to me to rise to the highest possible bar. Vipul especially gave me suggestions on how I might have improved myself there. The lesson is well learned, and I have him to thank for learning it.

    And indeed, Mr. Chang, I have you to thank as well.

    As to claims of dishonesty or misrepresentation, I will have to defer to John’s description of my comments and blog posts. His comments do reflect my thoughts and intentions when I wrote them. For as far as we can incriminate me for having an off-putting tone when I write, I stand by the contents of what I said. If, after all this, one still concludes that I put words in Chang’s mouth, I encourage the reader to follow the links to the “offending” blog post, and further to to provide additional context for my blog post that has thus far escaped scrutiny. There, an additional discussion unfolded regarding rights and ethics, much of which was paraphrased when I blogged about it later. If I failed to do my due diligence on Chang’s prior comments, let us not make the same mistake regarding the context of the blog post to which he took offense. (I might as well link to it here, for completeness:

    So, while I don’t think it’s time for me to resign just yet, I think it’s safe to say that it’s not merely a noble endeavor to maintain good faith in a policy discussion – it’s also practically useful. I’m sure we’ve all taken that from this discussion, if nothing else, and I, for one, look forward to applying the lesson in the future.

    The written word – especially the blogged word – is a clunky way to engage in human relationships. I’m not sure any miscommunication would have occurred here, had we been discussing this over proverbial beers. So my offer to Christopher Chang stands, and I hope he’ll take me up on it. There really is no reason for two reasonable people to have this kind of conflict over a policy discussion. I’m certain a more private, friendly form of communication could resolve this happily.

    1. Okay, I’m actually willing to drop my resignation request now. This is a major improvement in attitude.

      I was also unaware of the rwcg blog. This, in particular, is much better than I had expected:


      Bryan Caplan, economist:

      “Swiss anti-immigration voting was highest in the places with the least immigrants! This is no fluke. In the U.S., anti-immigration sentiment is highest in the states with the least immigration – even if you assume that 100% of immigrants are pro-immigration.

      […] The main hurdle to further immigration is insufficient immigration.”

      Thus showing no hint of awareness of what many commenters point out, that causation could be an issue – let alone establishing that it runs in the direction he implies.

      I mean, if you went to Harlem you’d probably find very high anti-KKK sentiment. ‘Despite the fact’ that Harlem has a very low KKK-per-capita! And there is also probably much higher KKK-acceptance in certain places that have higher KKK membership. So ‘ironic’! Clearly what is needed here is a federally-funded program to bus KKK members into Harlem, as that will make Harlem residents like them more.

      The real story here is that even a very smart and careful thinker like Caplan is fully capable of tossing logic out the window when he is motivated, when it’s an issue he cares about.


      I consider my “100% mind-killed” hypothesis disproved by this.

      1. Oops, that quote was actually not from Ryan, I misread his comment and somehow thought he was pointing to a second blog of his. My bad.

        However, I think there are now real grounds for optimism that Ryan and perhaps some others here will set off fewer “bad faith” alarms in others in the future, and I hope this will simultaneously improve your prospects for success and the fraction of people who are happy to see you succeed.

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