Matt Yglesias: making open borders mainstream

I was delighted to read the piece What Would Happen If We Let All The Immigrants In? by Matt Yglesias on the Slate Moneybox blog, his current digital home. That’s not because I found Ylgesias’s argument new or particularly path-breaking — those who are familiar with the Open Borders site, or with the work of other open borders advocates, would probably be aware of the polling data on migration that Yglesias cites, and also of the many problems with naive formulations of overpopulation/environmental breakdown/carrying capacity-style arguments.

What I like about Matt Yglesias’s piece isn’t the substance of his argument, but the fact that he’s making it in a mainstream forum (as opposed to fringe parts of the web such as the Open Borders site you’re reading right now). For those who don’t know, Yglesias is one of the most prolific bloggers on politics and related matters in the United States (he even has a Wikipedia page). Yglesias generally identified as a left-wing progressive, but his political positions are inspired by thinkers across the political spectrum. Thus, he is widely read and respected by people across the political spectrum. When Yglesias talks about migration and open borders, hundreds of thousands of people hear him, and some of them listen to him.

In the past, Yglesias has argued for immigration/citizenship tariffs and also argued about how consequential immigration is in terms of shaping the future. His new blog post, however, seems to be his first attempt at directly engaging the empirics of complete open borders. To be clear, Yglesias doesn’t come across as an unabashed advocate of free migration. But that’s okay. Empirical debate about what will or could happen under radical open borders — with contributions from restrictionists and pessimists in addition to optimistic open borders advocates — is itself an improvement over most discussions of migration, which are myopically focused on the status quo and modest changes to it. Shifting the Overton window in a pro-open borders direction, just in terms of what sort of stuff gets discussed in migration discussions, is an important first step in the move towards actually achieving open borders.

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