Very interesting discussion in a recent comments section. Let me start with a quote from an e-mail by Garett Jones to Vipul Naik:
I would emphasize a different conclusion: That the low-IQ immigrants will tend to worsen the institutions of the higher-IQ countries they move to. Low IQ immigrants will, to some degree, tend to make the country they move to more like the country they came from.
Partly this will be due to MRV and Caplan/Miller reasons: low IQ groups vote for bad policies. Partly it’s because they will tend to elect individuals from their constituencies, which will, on average, tend to lower the average IQ of the legislature. And partly it’s because the bureaucracy will tend to hire individuals from low-skill groups, which will lower government quality.
For these and other reasons, new low IQ citizens impose a tax on the nation’s institutions, and this institutional cost should be counted in a candid cost-benefit analysis.
*Shorter version: Good institutions are rare treasures, and institutions are endogenous with respect to (among other things) citizen IQ. *
I would like to bracket the concerns in the second paragraph about voting, because I regard this as a solved problem, as far as the theory of open borders is concerned. Just because you let people in doesn’t mean you have to let them vote. There are already millions of Green Card holders in the US who can’t vote. The keyhole solution (Vipul’s term: I hadn’t thought of it at the time) which I advocate in Principles of a Free Society is open borders with (a) migrants preimbursing the government for their voluntary deportation if they become destitute (at least those under a new open-borders visa), (b) a surtax on (those) migrants, (c) mandatory savings, withdrawable only in the migrant’s home country, or forfeitable as part of (d) a path to “earned” citizenship once a migrant has saved a certain threshold amount in this mandatory savings account. Migrants would thus be given a substantial incentive to return home rather than to stay. Those who would choose to stay would presumably do so: (a) because their homelands were an especially bleak alternative; (b) because they foresaw high earnings in America so that forfeiting the savings account was worth it (these people would probably have relatively high IQs, on average); or (c) because they especially like, admire, and enjoy America (these people would presumably place a particularly high value on American institutions). To mix these migrants into the electorate is a very different, and doubtless much more favorable, prospect, than simply allowing anyone to come and vote. Of course, this is just one of many possibilities that would separate the right to come, live, and work from the right to vote. I made a similar point in the comments of the Garett Jones post, and added that “It’s even easier to maintain high hiring standards for the bureaucracy, which obviously doesn’t have to, and doesn’t, hire a representative cross-section of the resident population.” I also posed the question:
If I were to hypothesize that the maintenance of high-quality institutions depends mainly on the characteristics of an elite, and need not be much affected by adverse changes in the composition of the broad mass of the population, would the evidence that Garett has studied contradict me?
This was the jumping-off point for a very interesting debate between BK and John Lee. BK’s comments, in particular, are highly interesting and informative, yet I find myself unconvinced and dissenting at many points. BK answers my question:
Yes, if we are just referring to the overall demographics of a country. Note that across countries, smart people earn higher incomes as the proportion of smart people rises, not the absolute total.
Chinese-Singaporeans generate income almost twice as great in mostly Chinese Singapore as the large Chinese-Malaysian minority does in Malaysia (about $70,000 per annum vs about $38,000), even though there are less than 3 million Chinese in Singapore but almost 7 million in Malaysia. But the Chinese make up 75% of Singapore vs 25% of Malaysia…
There is a Chinese elite, but this isn’t enough to fix the institutions, which have to represent the general population. All this occurred in the context of strong legal discrimination in favor of Malay majority, racialized anti-business sentiment, and big gaps in political views between Chinese and non-Chinese Malaysians.
OK, but wait. There is a Chinese business elite in Malaysia, but the political elite is Malay. It is this Malay political elite that imposes “strong legal discrimination in favor of Malay majority, racialized anti-business sentiment,” etc. It is also important that (a) the Malays have deeper historic roots whereas the Chinese are relatively recent arrivals, and (b) the Malays are linguistically and religiously homogeneous (more or less, I think: BK and John Lee both know the region better than I do). If we’re looking for lessons from Singapore/Malaysia that cross-apply to a hypothetical open-borders United States, this argument would only be relevant if we’re supposing that voting immigrants would become the majority of the population, develop solidarity among themselves, and vote for “strong legal discrimination” and “racialized anti-business sentiment” against the offspring of today’s natives. With immigration tariffs and a gradual path to citizenship, you could more or less ensure that voting immigrants would never constitute a majority. Since immigrants would come from many different countries, it’s unlikely they’d develop solidarity among themselves except on wedge issues that related to them directly. Instead, they’d want to assimilate with American natives. Given that American society has a powerful absorptive capacity– if you’ve got fluent English and a college education and want to be a normal American, people will treat you like a normal American; and if you wereborn here, it’s taken for granted that you’re a normal American, never mind your background– any scenario resembling that in Malaysia is really quite implausible.
Also, I think the fact that immigrants would know they were immigrants makes a big difference. Malays in Malaysia think of the land as theirs. They’ve been there the longest. South Africa is in a similar situation, as far as I understand: black South Africans see themselves as the rightful owners of the soil, the whites as intruders. Russia, whose history I know better, stands in striking contrast to the 19th-century United States, because while they could both be described as multi-ethnic empires, in Russia the subordinate nationalities had never consented to be part of the Russian Empire, but for the most part had been simply conquered (it’s a little more complicated but never mind), whereas in the United States, the subordinate nationalities (if I may put it that way for the sake of the parallel) had in a real sense consented to rule from Washington by crossing oceans to immigrate. They were therefore much less inclined to question the legitimacy of the government and far more inclined to develop patriotic loyalty to the United States, superimposed on a lingering loyalty to their various mother countries. Continue reading “The American polity can endure and flourish with open borders” »