Land Of The Free

Post by John Roccia (occasional blogger for the site, joined April 2013). See:

Well, let’s just cut right to the chase. On Tuesday, July 2nd, a guest blogger with the handle “Land of the Free” kicked the proverbial hornet’s nest here at Open Borders with a post titled Betting The Republic, and promised to reveal his/her secret identity after a week of debate.

It’s me!

Before the rotten tomatoes start flying, however, let me explain a few things. First, the views expressed by Land of the Free (or LOTF, for short) are not my views. Not even a little. Take a look at my past work here on Open Borders, and you’ll see that I’m as vehemently pro-open-borders as they come. When I wrote the two posts and the various comments as LOTF I was, to put it mildly, lying through my teeth. I wrote deliberate falsehoods about my identity and past work in order to throw you off the scent, and then I created an entirely false – but hopefully plausible-sounding – argument to present to you.

Why did I do all of this? I had two main motivators. The primary reason was as a form of social experimentation that Professor Bryan Caplan calls an “Ideological Turing Test.” A brief explanation of an ITT is this: if you can present an argument that is opposed to your own, and present it well enough that people can’t tell that you don’t actually hold those beliefs, you can be said to have “passed an Ideological Turing Test.” If you can’t pass an ITT, then chances are good that you don’t actually understand your opponent’s arguments, and are relying on straw men, being uncharitable, living in an echo chamber, or any other metaphors for poor debate technique. As to whether I think I actually passed the ITT, I’ll discuss that below.

Before I do that, I want to talk briefly about my other motivator. As far as arguments against open borders go, the issue of political externalities is the one I consider to be the strongest. I don’t agree with it, but I certainly think it’s more difficult to argue against than things like welfare drain or job-stealing, which are far more easily refuted. So in presenting this argument specifically, I wanted to draw out the very best of the counter-arguments – and you didn’t disappoint!

Michael Carey, Peter Hurley, David Bennion, Hansjorg Walther, (especially) Nathan Smith and several others presented excellent arguments – so excellent, in fact, that at a certain point I was actually unable to continue arguing the point. Some of my points were easier to refute than others (in fact, several of the points I made as part of my larger argument, such as the mention of IQ and the precautionary principle, I made to obscure my identity and leave false clues, rather than because they were especially good arguments). However, the entirety of this project was aimed towards challenging my fellow open-borders supporters to present their strongest case, and I felt the best way to do that was to present an actual antagonist to argue against.

What follows is a summary of the best arguments presented against LOTF’s main points. After that, I’ll add a few personal notes, as well as some thoughts about the ITT aspect.

  1. Assimilation effects are relatively large. Since the privilege of official political involvement is not automatic with immigration (nor does it have to be under open borders), by the time you are able to meaningfully influence politics, America will have largely changed and assimilated you. At least on average, America changes immigrants far more than immigrants change America.
  2. Additionally, even when they have the ability to vote or otherwise interact with the political process, immigrants as a group are not very involved.
  3. Founder effects, legacy institutions, and political structure all have much more influence on the politics of a nation than any single voting generation.
  4. Immigrants self-select for many traits very beneficial, and even under open borders, this effect would likely not vanish. Even with no institutional barriers to migration, migration is still difficult and those that choose to migrate often do so because they’re “voting with their feet” against the bad policies of their homeland.
  5. Lastly, even if immigrants were very heavily involved politically and voted in uniformly terrible ways, the American electorate is very elastic. Voter turnout is affected by many things, and one of those things could easily be great masses of immigrants voting in ways natives don’t like.

There is plenty of evidence to support those five positions – to start, look no further than the comments on “Betting the Republic!”

I would like to thank all of the commenters who engaged with me under my nom de plume; you made it an enjoyable and educational experience. I am filled with great confidence in the ability of the crew here to debate this topic well!
I would especially like to thank Vipul Naik, who was “in” on the whole charade, even planting a few strategic comments to challenge me further.

And I would like to apologize to Alexander Nowrasteh, who linked to “Betting the Republic” in a recent Cato blog post as an (as far as he knew, genuine) example of a political exernalities argument. The post, genuine or not, serves perfectly well in that role, so I hope he isn’t too upset at my ruse.

Now, lastly, I’d like to take a moment and talk about the actual Ideological Turing Test. I cannot rightly claim to have passed 100%. While none of the comments on “Betting the Republic” (or the other post responding to Bryan Caplan) indicated that anyone thought I wasn’t genuine (though several may have thought I was wrong or even foolish), the true test would have been if any restrictionists had supported me, rather than simply open-borders-advocates opposing me. If you imagine a typical Republican/Democrat debate, it would probably be far easier for a typical Republican to convince other Republicans that he was a Democrat than to convince actual Democrats that he was one of them. All our hypothetical Republican would have to do would be to play into the stereotypes his peers expected and they’d be unlikely to question his credentials – but other Democrats would more harshly judge someone who they thought wasn’t representing their views accurately.

In that sense, I did not necessarily pass the ITT. However, I would like to think that the group of people reading and commenting on “Betting the Republic” represents an above-average level of intellect and reason (to say the least). At least to some extent, convincing such a group that I was a restrictionist (a category of political viewpoint that this group in particular studies rather extensively) is enough to lead me to believe that I am accurately and charitably representing my opponents’ viewpoints. Since no restrictionists commented to support me, however, I can’t say for certain that I would be able to seamlessly pass as one of their own. So I’ll give myself a C+, but I can’t say I deserve an A.

However, this has been an enlightening and educational experience for me, and I want to sincerely thank everyone who participated. Now, answer in the comments: Did you think I was genuine (even if you didn’t think my argument was good)?

John is a passionate believer in open borders, coming at the issue from a libertarian and anarcho-capitalist moral perspective.

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

8 thoughts on “Land Of The Free”

  1. Tricked! I should have known from the very silly IQ theory you threw in the mix, but unfortunately, it’s not out of place among mainstream restrictionists (see the recent Heritage study kerfluffle). I think you did a good job, but it seemed to be more of a challenge to keep defending your view in comments. Comment thread dynamics and trolling have always interested me, especially when the majority on a thread self-identify as tolerant of a diversity of viewpoints and are then trolled. What you did was some kind of jiu jitsu reverse trolling.

    Also, I feel more comfortable now saying that I see no reason to defend American culture and political values from dilution by outsiders since these things are no better here than in any number of other countries. The idea that American civic culture is worth defending seemed to be a premise of LOTF’s shared by enough commenters to trigger lengthy discussion.

  2. “As far as arguments against open borders go, the issue of political externalities is the one I consider to be the strongest. I don’t agree with it”

    Why don’t you agree with it? It seems like your alter ego won the argument.

    “rather than because they were especially good arguments”

    Following the links its obvious you didn’t defeat those argument either.

    You need to do more then state your opponents argument, offer the same arguments against it that your opponent already defeated, and then say that you’ve somehow learned that you were right all along because you typed out the argument you haven’t beaten on your very own keyboard.

  3. Sorry, to disappoint you. In one of my comments I had already written a remark whether this might be an ideological turing test. I then left it out because it might also have been someone who had not thought his argument through well enough or who changed his opinion depending on circumstances. The good part for you was that I was that I was not expecting someone from Open Borders behind it. That Vipul Naik argued against LOTF made it improbable that that could be case because he should have known. My guess would have been someone like Steve Sailer smooth-talking and trying to tap into libertarian sentiments.

    A few things I found fishy and why I don’t think you were there so good at making the other case were: I pinned you down on the inconsistency that you argued for no immigration in effect and you claimed at the same time you would like to see more of it, and you never tried to mend this. And it was strange how someone was so patient and never made the usual attacks on others. I liked that and found it fun to engage with it. If you could get someone like that to debate here, I’d find it much more fun than debating only people who have already a similar view.

    And then I think your introductory argument is really good of how American society would not tolerate second-class cititzens and would grant them citizenship no matter what they think at the start. And I’d that is really a weak point in the arguments here. It may work in the Gulf states, but guest workers in Germany have become citizens over time in this way (and that’s not a bad thing). It does not matter whether you might not believe it, I still think it is a good argument. It is like you had written a mathematical proof that is correct, and then you try to retract it because it was only ironic and you don’t believe it.

    I don’t feel duped, more sad that there are no restricitionists who are willing to engage arguments for open borders, so they might stay weak because they are never put to the test.

  4. One other thing why it is really hard to pull this off is that you also have to emulate the silly things. What struck me as very strange was when I challenged you on whether you were a libertarian, and I didn’t get some proof like “I have read all books by Murray Rothbard, so my position directly follows from my libertarian views”. Or things like “go read Human Action yourself before you claim I am not a libertarian”, “as Hoppe ingeneously remarked”, “only Keynesian would argue like that, I’ve studied Austrian Economics for years” or “I have voted for Ron Paul before you were even born”.

    Maybe this is how libertarians come across here in Germany (unfortunately, there are very many who are restrictionists), and American libertarians are not that crude. Actually, I would consider myself a libertarian, but am not sure I want the label because it can be so misleading. And then your argument should work also for people who do not subscribe to all of your views.

  5. Your discussion of IQ erroneously understated the effects, but that was consistent with a libertarian without a good grasp of the science.

    “IQ stands as the most reasonable quality: it’s relatively easy to measure, and while IQ by itself need not matter, it stands as a reasonable predictor of income, which in turn is a fairly reliable predictor of education, which is positively correlated with better voting habits.”

    The direct effects of IQ on education are stronger than those mediated via income. And IQ has direct effect on political behavior, controlling for education. And not just as a matter of correlation: early IQ differences among siblings within the same family predict future education, crime, and political behavior. So early IQ is causal of political effects directly and mediated by education.

    You could have learned that reading Bryan Caplan or psychologists. But instead you presented a less plausible chain of correlations, suggesting that the chain was likely to break on one of the links, as though you couldn’t help arguing against yourself. Or decided to talk about IQ with a flawed understanding of it:

    “(in fact, several of the points I made as part of my larger argument, such as the mention of IQ and the precautionary principle, I made to obscure my identity and leave false clues, rather than because they were especially good arguments)”

  6. I think you miss the main point why the political externalities objection is so hard to refute: it is essentially correct. It only applies to a much narrower range than what its proponents usually try to make you believe.

    (1) There are totalitarian ideologies that are out to kill a lot of people.
    (2) They can have and have had support in the millions, and totalitarian ideas can dominate whole societies.
    (3) They can take over under favorable circumstances, one of which is support by the majority or a strong minority of the population. If they are well-organized a sizeable minority will do.
    (4) This is a very serious threat to anyone who is opposed to them (and usually to many of the totalitarians themselves), I mean serious in the sense of life and death, freedom or slavery.

    Now you can easily make hypotheticals where a large influx of such people can make the difference between staying free or being enslaved. You only have to twitch the parameters. And you don’t even have to build any scenarios that are simply stupid because they go against common sense.

    Here’s a simple proof by construction: You are the only inhabitant on an island. Some totalitarian group sends 100 of them over. And then let’s see how long you can resist them, by votes, influence, force, whatever. (And no, the island is mostly uninhabited so they move in via homesteading, and you do not have a say in whether they can enter “your” property.) QED.

    The real counterargument is not that the argument is apriori false, only that the assumptions you have to make are unrealistic (and often by a wide margin) at least for a country like the US with a population of 300 million. If it were Iceland with a population of 300.000, I’d say most of your counterarguments fail. There are realistic hypotheticals that do not go against common sense and where things go very wrong, Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union would have had enough dedicated people to swamp Icelanders (still such a scenario is not particularly probable, but then it is a very serious threat as well).

  7. I will say you fooled me for the most part. I think that by the end of our back and forth where you were comparing anti-liberty thinking immigrants to bombers and murderers I had started to think you just held crazy views and started to lose my charitability. Sorry if I got a bit rude there by the way.

    But your original post and initial comments did come off as sincere.

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