Tag Archives: bleg

Possible questions for the IGM: looking for comments

I’ve written in the past about how there seems to be very little research on the effects of open borders beyond the labor market (though the effects of migration at the margin have been extensively studied). But even purely with respect to the economics, there’s a gap.

When it comes to what economists think about the effects of free migration, we know roughly two facts:

  • There is a strong economist consensus in favor of freer migration on the margin.
  • For the small subset of economists who have studied open borders, the average view seems to be that open borders would double world GDP. But there’s considerable uncertainty in the models, and the estimates range from 50-150% of current world GDP.

At least a priori, then, we could argue that the economist consensus points to open borders. But there may well be some selection bias in terms of the subset of economists who study the global effects of open borders. It would be interesting to know what economists as a whole, not pre-selected for having researched open borders, have to say about the effects of open borders. Also, given that the research tends to focus on immigration policies as they actually exist (which favor high-skilled workers to some extent) it’s somewhat less clear whether the economist consensus in favor of low-skilled migration is uniform.

The IGM Forum is one place where economists could be polled on their views. Bryan Caplan blogged about their results on high-skilled immigration. But open borders would mean open borders for people at all skill levels, and a huge part of the gain from doubling world GDP comes from the movement of people with low current skill levels.

In light of these considerations, Carl Shulman has recommended sending the following questions for inclusion in the IGM:

  1. effect of low-skill migrants on citizens (US-specific)
  2. effect of low-skill migrants on GDP, short-run (US-specific)
  3. effect of low-skill migrants on GDP, long-run (US-specific)
  4. effect of open borders on world poverty/GDP: (a) Would open borders eliminate most poverty? (b) Are the double world GDP estimates right?
  5. (This question was not suggested by Carl, but by John Lee): Importance of one’s country of birth in determining one’s income (this relates to the idea of the place premium).

Would these questions be good ones for the IGM? Which of the questions are more important? What variations would you recommend, and why? Suggestions for elaboration and improvement welcome.

Ideas on alternate places to post questions to ask economists, or other people with potentially relevant subject matter expertise, would also be much appreciated.

Is corruption on the part of consular officials good or bad?

John Lee’s post on US visa policy is, for me, a reminder of how important it is for people to have rights. Rights can sound like an abstruse or arbitrary notion. “Natural rights” sounds like a ghost from the 18th century suddenly walking the earth again. “Human rights” sounds like newfangled UN-speak. But when a person is denied a visa for refusing to laugh at a consular officer’s joke, one feels a certain indignation, a certain repugnance, as if an injury has been done to something rather ineffable but very important. It is not proportional, not fitting, unjust. It is somehow intolerable. The ineffable something that has been injured is human dignity, or in other words, human rights. Rights are the only antidote to arbitrariness and discretion.

Anyway, one of the odd side-effects of an improperly discretionary regime that doesn’t give due respect to human rights, is that corruption can suddenly seem like rather a good thing. Which of the following is more offensive?

1. A visa applicant is rejected for not laughing at a consular official’s joke.

2. A visa applicant is rejected for refusing to pay a $5,000 bribe.

My intuition actually sort of tilts towards (1) being more offensive. I’m very tentative on this point. But at least in case (2), the applicant knows the process. He has more of a sense of being the author of his own life story, of having a say, of knowing the criteria, of being able to plan.

Of course, if I put on my “economist” hat, a very simple analysis suggests itself. If a visa applicant spends his time kissing up to a consular official by researching him and learning what, e.g., laughing at his jokes, puts him in a good mood, resources have been wasted. Perhaps the consular official likes being flattered, but probably he doesn’t value it much, and surely less than the effort to do it is worth. By contrast, if the applicant pays the consular official a $5,000 bribe, both parties clearly benefit. The consular official is $5,000 richer, and the visa applicant apparently values the visa more than his $5,000, or he wouldn’t have paid. Of course, the US public, of which the consular official is supposed to act as a representative, might be deemed to suffer by the decision. But whatever the US public’s stake in immigration may be, it can hardly be claimed that the willingness of visa applicants to laugh at consular officials’ jokes has anything to do with the interests of the US public. So if the consular official is given such discretion that he is entitled to accept or reject visa applicants based on whether they laugh at his jokes or not, then he can’t be injuring the US public by exercising the discretion that has been allotted to him in a fashion that enriches him personally. Efficiency is therefore served by consular corruption.

Now, what this leaves out is truth. I presume that consular officials who reject applicants based on an applicant’s not laughing at their jokes are not deemed to have done anything dishonest or illegal, but that consular officials are explicitly forbidden to take bribes. How does that consideration weigh against the greater efficiency of consular corruption?

One goal of my DRITI proposal is to remove such dilemmas by removing consular discretion. Only when the state seeks to discern and protect individual rights can true rule of law exist.

A Thought Experiment: Haitian Migration

As Vipul recently noted, one of the biggest questions surrounding open borders is just how many people would move to a new country. The estimates of doubling world GDP rely on this being a very large number. On the other hand, large numbers of immigrants moving to the first world also increase the concerns surrounding political externalities or the overpopulation and environment effects of migration. The number of immigrants who decide to move can potentially have important consequences for good or ill. At the same time precise estimates of how many people might move are likely to be impossible. We should probably expect at best to come to basic estimates.

But one way to help with that is to receive a multitude of informed opinions on the question and thus I come to you dear readers!

Since examining the entire world at once with this question is likely to be extremely complex, let’s use a particular country as an example: Haiti. Let’s get some basic facts about Haiti down as a way of making this task easier. Haiti’s current population is slightly under 10 million people with about a 1% growth rate under current birth/death/migration rates. The country currently has one of the highest emigration rates in the world at 5.5 people out of every 1000 leaving every year. Current income is also one of the world’s lowest with GDP per capita (purchasing power parity) at about $1,300 a year. This helps contribute to Haiti being one of the countries with the highest wage ratios with the US in a paper written by Michael Clemens meaning the potential economic gain to migrants is among the greatest (see page 11). The United States is home to currently over 500,000 Haitians with most in Florida and New York. According to Gallup polls, about a quarter of the adult Haitian population would like to migrate to the United States in particular. That would be about 1.5 million people (including everyone over the age of 15 as “adults” which depending on Gallup’s definition of adult is likely an overestimate, but then not including any children these migrants may wish to bring).

So my question to readers, if the United States were to open its borders tomorrow how many Haitians do you think would come here? Would everyone expressing an interest come or would economic factors stop them? Would the opening of borders increase how many would want to come? If other developed countries were to open their borders how many Haitians would that draw away from coming to the United States? And how much of a difference would at least partially French-speaking countries like France, Belgium, or Canada opening immigration have on drawing Haitians away from the US? Finally, would there be a difference in the amount of Haitian migration if the US opens its borders generally or if the borders are opened for only Haiti in particular? And would this emigration be a solution for Haiti’s numerous problems?

Tell Me How Himmler Misapplied Citizenism

This is a guest post by Bryan Caplan. Caplan’s previous guest post, My Path to Open Borders, has been one of the most viewed and most liked blog posts on our website.

Heinrich Himmler delivered his infamous Posen speech on October 4, 1943. The speech, which was actually recorded, is best-known as a smoking gun for the Holocaust. But the three-hour lecture also makes a foray into political philosophy. Himmler’s deep thoughts:

For the SS Man, one principle must apply absolutely: we must be honest, decent, loyal, and comradely to members of our own blood, and to no one else. What happens to the Russians, the Czechs, is totally indifferent to me. Whatever is available to us in good blood of our type, we will take for ourselves, that is, we will steal their children and bring them up with us, if necessary. Whether other races live well or die of hunger is only of interest to me insofar as we need them as slaves for our culture; otherwise that doesn’t interest me. Whether 10,000 Russian women fall down from exhaustion in building a tank ditch is of interest to me only insofar as the tank ditches are finished for Germany.

We will never be hard and heartless when it is not necessary; that is clear. We Germans, the only ones in the world with a decent attitude towards animals, will also adopt a decent attitude with regards to these human animals; but it is a sin against our own blood to worry about them and give them ideals, so that our sons and grandchildren will have a harder time with them. When somebody comes to me and says, I can’t build tank ditches with children or women. That’s inhumane, they’ll die doing it. Then I must say: You are a murderer of your own blood, since, if the tank ditches are not built, then German soldiers will die, and they are the sons of German mothers. That is our blood. That is how I would like to indoctrinate this SS, and, I believe, have indoctrinated, as one of the holiest laws of the future: our concern, our duty, is to our Folk, and to our blood. That is what we must care for and think about, work for and fight for, and nothing else. Everything else can be indifferent to us.

At least on a superficial reading, Himmler seems to be whole-heartedly embracing what Steve Sailer calls “citizenism.” Sailer’s words:

Personally, I am a citizenist

My starting point in analyzing policies is: “What is in the best overall interests of the current citizens of the United States?”

In contrast, so many others think in terms of: “What is in the best interest of my: identity group / race / ethnicity / religion / bank account / class / ideology / clique / gender / sexual orientation / party / and/or personal feelings of moral superiority?”

Sailer repeatedly appeals to citizenism to reject open borders.  Though I think he’s totally misguided, I would never equate him with Himmler.  I wouldn’t approvingly quote Sailer if I thought otherwise. I mean this in all sincerity, and do not mean to damn with faint praise. To condemn all citizenists because someone kills in the name of citizenism is pure guilt by association. Homicidal maniacs have yet to find a political philosophy they cannot twist into a rationalization for their crimes.

So why bring Himmler’s speech up at all? Because this particular homicidal maniac appears to correctly deduce his criminal actions from citizenism. Himmler embraces absolute devotion to  “the best overall interests of the current citizens of Germany” as the highest morality. In consequence, we can politely but firmly ask mainstream citizenists for clarification. Precisely how does Himmler misapply your political philosophy?

Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Himmler is misapplying citizenism because the actions he defends were ineffective or counter-productive means to advance German interests. This story has the implausible implication that Himmler would have been right if the policies he advocated did in fact tip the scales of victory to Germany, leading in turn to a higher standard of living for Germans than we’ve actually observed.
  2. Himmler is misapplying citizenism because many of the people he wanted to murder were German. This story has the implausible implication that murdering non-Germans was OK. Furthermore, Himmler could reply that any so-called “Germans” he wants to murder lost their German citizenship years earlier.
  3. Himmler is misapplying citizenism because the doctrine only applies to Americans. While Americans should favor fellow Americans, Germans should not favor fellow Germans. This story has the implausible implication that it would have been morally permissible for Americans to work Russians, Czechs, and other foreigners to death if it had promoted American well-being.
  4. Himmler is misapplying citizenism by taking it too literally. As Sailer puts it, “All ethical principles come with endless grown-up qualifications to fantasies hatched by childish minds.” But Himmler could easily retort, “All ethical principles come with endless childish excuses to escape unwelcome duties.” As he explains elsewhere in the Posen speech:

    The Jewish nation will be rooted out, says every Party Comrade, that’s quite clear, it’s in our program: shutting the Jews down and out, rooting them out; that’s what we’re doing. And then they all come along, these 80 million good Germans, and every one of them has his decent Jew.

My best guess is that avowed citizenists will flock to something like #4. I hope they do. But I still have to ask them: Given the horrific actions that people like Himmler have explicitly committed on citizenist grounds, why don’t you calm our fears by fleshing out the crucial qualifications that the Himmlers of the world fail to grasp? Why don’t you go further by naming some actually-existing American policies you oppose even though they’re literal implications of citizenism? If citizenists want their position taken seriously, they should start pre-emptively defending their positions from misinterpretation, even if it does tax their patience.

The photograph of Heinrich Himmler visiting Dachau concentration camp featured at the head of this post originates from the German Bundesarchiv, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike licence.

Open borders and religious freedom

I am probably in the minority among Open Borders: The Case contributors in regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in United States vs. Windsor as legally absurd and ominous for liberty, and especially for religious freedom. Ben Domenech gives a good description of the threat to religious liberty from the gay marriage movement:

The problem with gay marriage is not about gay people getting married – they’ve already been doing that, or living that way. The problem with gay marriage is not that it will redefine marriage into a less valuable social institution in the eyes of the populace – that is already happening, has been for decades, and will continue regardless of whether gays are added to it or not. And the problem with gay marriage is not about the slippery slope of what comes next – though yes, the legal battle over polyamory and polygamy is inevitably coming, as the principle of marriage equality demands it does…

No, the real problem with gay marriage is that the nature of the marriage union is inherently entwined in the future of the first line of the Bill of Rights: our right to religious liberty. Orthodox believers of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths were slow to understand this. I’m talking about something much bigger here than the discrimination lawsuits brought across the country against bakers and photographers: I’m talking about whether churches will be able to function as public entities in an era where their views on sin, particularly sexual sin, are in direct conflict with not just opinion but the law – and proselytizing those views from the pulpit or in the public square will be viewed as using the protection of religious expression to protect hateful speech.

We saw this problem already in Illinois’ marriage law, where churches that do not allow same sex unions would essentially have to close their doors to full participation in civil society. We see it as a constant issue regarding Canada’s hate speech laws, where courts must discern whether quoting Bible verses amounts to “harming the public discourse.” We will see it more here. That obvious oncoming clash strikes me as the most troublesome aspect of this, and the one that has received the least attention in the rush to legalize. The argument has been more about benefits and social outcomes and “won’t somebody think of the children”, ignoring the core problem, which raises challenges to the freedom of speech and expression the likes of which led to the pilgrims crossing the sea in the first place.

The conflict between sexual liberty and religious liberty is unlikely to be one the religious will win, in large part because of the broad and increasing acceptance of an idea President Obama has espoused more than once in public: that the religious have a freedom to worship, and that’s where it ends. When you leave the pew, you must leave your faith there. Among the religious, this is absurd – their entire lives are defined by their faith, in ways large and small. For both Christianity and Islam, the core of their faith is built on a call to take the message to the world, spreading it through public witness and preaching. Yet this belief in the limited freedom to worship is what led Obama’s administration to argue that faith-based hiring and firing is a discriminatory act for religious entities

In a litigious society, those conscience conflicts will multiply, with pressure on anyone who “refuses and refers” to be stripped of their government-provided license or memberships in professional society…

In a nation where fewer people truly practice religion, fewer people external to those communities will see any practical reason to protect the liberty of those who do. The world could in time come full circle to Mrs. Campbell’s old line: You are free to believe, as long as you don’t do it in the streets, so as not to frighten the horses.

Now, I won’t presume that you agree with Domenech here. Maybe you think his fears are overblown. Maybe you think he’s right that religious freedom will be curtailed in due course by the gay marriage movement, and it should be. In the interest of coalition politics, though, it’s worth sympathizing for a moment with people who see things this way. For open borders is connected to religious freedom, in several ways.

First, it’s a good bet that open borders would let in populations considerably less favorable to same-sex marriage, on average, than the US public currently is. Same-sex marriage and other recognition of legal status for same-sex couples is largely restricted to parts of the US and western Europe. With opinion having turned sharply against them in recent years, social conservatives might want to consider trying to elect a new people through open immigration, whom they have good reason to suppose would be more favorable to their point of view.

But even more fundamentally, it would be nice to have some place to go to if religious freedom in the United States does suffer a major setback in the years to come. A few months ago, I wrote a post about the Pilgrims. They fled from western Europe to the largely uncultivated wilderness of America. (Yes, there were Amerindian tribes here, but they were sparse and far below the carrying capacity of the country.) It took a great deal of courage to leave their native country that way, but of course it was crucially important that there were places where they could go, having procured a sort of vague royal approval gotten by backdoor methods (albeit not for the site where they actually landed), but basically without needing anyone’s permission.

I anticipate significant personal costs from the advent of gay marriage. Conscience does not permit me to refer to a gay relationship as a marriage, yet now, in law, that’s what it will be, and all sorts of anti-discrimination laws will tend to force me into situations where I will be obliged to violate my conscience in order to avoid seeming by my words or actions to condone gay marriage. Now, suppose I find that this strain is too much. I can’t stay. I can’t reconcile the demands of discrimination law with the demands of conscience. Or worse, my church is forbidden to operate because it refuses to perform gay marriage ceremonies. So I and many others like me want to emigrate. The Pilgrims went to America. Where could we go now?

It would be nice to have the IMPALA data in order to get a basic idea of what the emigration options are. Does anyone know, by the way? It would be no use emigrating to western Europe, where the threat to freedom of religion is if anything worse, but what about East Asia? Africa? Latin America? At any rate, for the moment, religious conservatives still have some influence in US politics, and one thing they could do with it might be to urge the US government to negotiate freedom of migration deals with other countries, so that if, at some point in the future, religious repression becomes intolerable, they’ll have someplace to go where they can live their religion freely. This is yet another reason why Christians should favor freedom of migration.

Incidentally, this post is relevant to Fabio Rojas’s post on social conservatism and attitudes to immigration. Rojas finds a significant positive correlation between support for gay rights and support for immigration. While that’s not too surprising, a quick look at the map of gay rights around the world suggests that opponents of gay marriage should, in principle, welcome hordes of immigrants from Asia and Africa, and to a lesser extent Latin America. See also Pew’s global snapshot of same-sex marriage. Immigrants to the US might assimilate to the prevailing views in the US, but I suspect that founder effects will be less important here, since while much of the institutional legacy of a country consists of procedures known to specialists to which the broader public conforms and in which new specialists are trained, gay marriage seems to be an issue on which the average person is more likely to have his own opinion and not to defer to the status quo. Of course, for opponents of gay marriage, the rest of the world’s lack of enlightenment might be an argument against opening the borders and jeopardizing the progress already made.