Tag Archives: bleg

Lebanon and political externalities bleg

A few weeks back, my co-blogger John Lee blogged about the worldwide success of the Lebanese diaspora and used this to argue against the hypothesis that people in a conflict-torn and economically unsuccessful region will necessarily be unsuccessful elsewhere in the world. Reading John’s post led me to ask the question: what about Lebanon’s immigration policy? Prima facie, Lebanon appears to be the poster child of the problems with a liberal immigration policy for refugees, ranging from political externalities (electing a new people) to culture clash. Here’s what Wikipedia’s page on the Lebanese Civil War states (footnotes and hyperlinks removed):

The Lebanese Civil War (Arabic: الحرب الأهلية اللبنانية‎) was a multifaceted civil war in Lebanon, lasting from 1975 to 1990 and resulting in an estimated 120,000 fatalities. Today approximately 76,000 people remain displaced within Lebanon. There was also a mass exodus of almost one million people from Lebanon.

The government of Lebanon had been dominated by Maronite Christians since the state was created as a safe haven for them by the French colonial powers. However, the country had a large Muslim population and many pan-Arabist and Left Wing groups which opposed the pro-western government. The establishment of the state of Israel and the displacement of a hundred thousand Palestinian refugees to Lebanon (around 10% of the total population of the country) changed the demographic balance in favour of the Muslim population. The Cold War had a powerful disintegrative effect on Lebanon, which was closely linked to the polarization that preceded the 1958 political crisis, since Maronites sided with the West while Left Wing and pan-Arab groups sided with Soviet aligned Arab countries.

The militarization of the Palestinian refugee population, with the arrival of the PLO forces after their expulsion from Jordan during Black September, sparked an arms race amongst the different Lebanese political factions and provided a foundation for the long-term involvement of Lebanon in regional conflicts. Fighting between Maronite and Palestinian forces began in 1975, and Left Wing, pan-Arabist and Muslim Lebanese groups later allied with the Palestinians. During the course of the fighting, alliances shifted rapidly and unpredictably: by the end of the war, nearly every party had allied with and subsequently betrayed every other party at least once. Furthermore, foreign powers meddled in the war, such as Israel and Syria which supported and fought alongside different factions. Peace keeping forces, such as the Multinational Force in Lebanon and UNIFIL, were also stationed in Lebanon.

So, Lebanon first let in lots of Maronite Christian refugees (under French colonial rule), leading to a Christian-dominated government. Then, they let in lots of Palestinian (mostly Muslim) refugees (in the wake of the creation of Israel and subsequent hostilities) leading to the tipping of the population scales in favor of Muslim domination. Net result: 15 years of civil war.

Bleg for anybody interested:

  1. What lessons, if any, does the story of Lebanon hold for migration policy worldwide?
  2. What other parts of the world, current or historical, resemble the pre-civil war situation in Lebanon?
  3. What parts of the world might resemble Lebanon if they moved to considerably more liberal immigration policies, particularly policies that approximate “open borders” as discussed on this site?

UPDATE 1: I discovered a lengthy article by Steve Sailer titled Diversity Is Strength! It’s Also … Lebanonization. Choice excerpts (hyperlinks removed):

Although many in our ahistorical punditariat had declared that Iraq was going to be “the first Arab democracy”, Lebanon was a successful democracy beginning in 1943, when it gained independence from France. It enjoyed a free press, women’s suffrage (from 1953), and a booming economy centered on banks, trade, and tourism.

And then it all came tumbling down. A hellish civil war erupted in 1975 and flared on and off into the early 1990s, with 100 different militias pounding each other with artillery duels inside Beirut.

Although it’s hard now to remember, during its three decades of stability and prosperity, Beirut was known as the “Paris of the Arab World”.

The more serious problem: Lebanon’s demographics shifted. The constitution was based on the 1932 census, when Christians comprised 54 percent of the population. Regrettably, but predictably, the best educated ethnicity, the Christians, had the lowest birthrate and were most likely to emigrate. In contrast, the poor and backward Shi’ites proliferated—and stayed put.

As the demographics changed, the original distribution of power among the groups became increasingly contentious. The Shi’ites demanded a new census. The Christians, who predominated in the cushiest government jobs and were guaranteed half the seats in the legislature, resisted.

Then, immigration became the straw that broke the fragile Lebanese camel’s back. David Lamb, the Los Angeles Times correspondent in the Middle East, wrote in his 1988 book The Arabs:

“Lebanon worked, however artificially, then because one group, the Christians, were clearly in control, lesser minorities were given freedom to maneuver as long as they didn’t get too uppity and everyone who mattered was making money. Tensions and hostilities festered only beneath the surface. But in 1970 Lebanon’s delicate balance was upset.”

Palestinian refugees had started arriving in 1948 and sped up after the 1967 Six Day War. Then, in the “Black September” of 1970, King Hussein of Jordan turned on Yassir Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization and booted them out of his country. They relocated to Lebanon.

By 1973, Palestinians made up one tenth of Lebanon’s population, and were radicalizing. They forged alliances with the other outsiders, the Druze. And PLO attacks on Israel brought retribution raining down on Lebanon as a whole, outraging the ruling Maronites.

On April 13, 1975, four Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting of a church. Later that day, a Maronite Phalangist militia massacred 27 Palestinians on a bus. The country descended into civil war, polarizing along Christian-Muslim lines, but with many strange alliances and rapid betrayals.

UPDATE 2: Here’s an EconLog comment by Ali about Lebanon (emphasis mine):

Mr. Econotarian, what race/ethnicity is ILLEGAL? And why on earth should Americans embrace people of any race/ethnicity who do not respect us or our laws? Yeah, you’re libertarian, but government does provide services other than welfare and THAT depends on the cooperation of the members of society. If someone makes their first act here breaking the law, and they’re rewarded for it, why on earth would they think they have to follow ANY laws? Moreover, as for “diversity” doing away with welfare, it may well do that–and with the nation itself. My grandparents, Arab Christians, left Lebanon because that country became so diverse it fell apart.

UPDATE 3: Bryan Caplan’s post Does Conflict Immigrate? is tangentially related.

UPDATE 4: A lengthy response article (in German) to Steve Sailer’s claims about Lebanon.

Bleg: research on the effects of open borders beyond the labor market

The double world GDP literature cited in Clemens’ paper (and also John Kennan’s paper) provides estimates of how free global labor mobility would affect world GDP, mainly through their effects on the labor market (though other channels of effect are also considered in these papers, albeit perhaps not as much as they should be). But I don’t know of any literature about the effect that open borders might have on crime (something I speculated about here), global IQ (something I asked Bryan Caplan to bleg), and global politics (whether through political externalities in the receiving countries or a changed political landscape in the immigrant-sending countries). Speculation about the effects on the dating and mating markets and the genetic composition of future generations might also be quite valuable (see for instance Erik’s comment).

If a serious case is to be made for open borders, and if serious efforts are to be made to move towards open borders with appropriately designed keyhole solutions, it is essential to understand, envisage and prepare for a range of scenarios regarding these questions.

So, I’m blegging for the answers to two questions:

  1. If you’re aware of any literature that considers counterfactual scenarios of radically more open borders, whether locally (for specific country pairs) or globally, but that goes beyond simply measuring the effects on the labor market, please pass it on in the comments.
  2. Assuming that I am correct about the paucity of such research, though, why is there so little research on these topics, even compared to economics research on the effects of open borders? Two hypotheses have been suggested to me:
    • Nathan Smith’s view: Various frameworks in economics, such as rationality, allow for the consideration of radical counterfactual scenarios in a manner that is not necessarily realistic but still bears some semblance of objectivity and offers some type of ballpark. No similar widely-agreed-upon first-pass framework exists in other disciplines.
    • Bryan Caplan’s view: Economics manages to attract a few people who are genuinely curious and adventurous and willing to consider radical alternative scenarios and perform a serious analysis of these scenarios. Other disciplines may not attract such people.

    Any alternative hypotheses would also be welcome.

Moral Relevance of Countries Bleg

The generally accepted idea that the institutions of countries and citizenship have considerable moral relevance has always struck me as bizarre. To me, it seems obvious, on the face of it, that where a person was born, or who a person’s parents are, are arbitrary matters (that said person has no influence over) and therefore cannot be relevant to such evaluative questions as whether that person has a right to rent property or accept a job in location X. (See John Lee’s post on Phillip Cole’s moral argument for open borders, which also relies on this point.) Likewise, where we have come to conventionally draw borders on maps seems to me a matter of historical circumstances that virtually nobody alive today has any responsibility in and that therefore can have little moral relevance in evaluating people’s actions. (While I think some compelling consequentialist arguments can be made along the lines that disrespecting existing borders might dangerously offset an equilibrium, I do not think this kind of argument can take you all that far. More on this in an upcoming post.)

Perhaps most people can at least relate to my prima facie attitude described in the previous paragraph, but I am clearly in a small minority in persisting in such a view in the face of common political discourse. Almost everybody treats the moral relevance of countries and citizenship as a given (often in the form of citizenism).

This renders discussions of the morality of migration restrictions difficult and unpromising for people with views similar to mine, as it seems that those who disagree with me reason from entirely different starting points and have very different ideas about who holds the burden of proof, compared to my views. Consider the last paragraph from a response by Sonic Charmer (aka The Crimson Reach) to Michael Huemer’s guest post on Open Borders:

Let’s just note that in this ridiculous construction, not allowing someone to permanently relocate to the United States has been equated with abusing them to one’s heart’s content. Is this a real argument? I don’t think so. Even if the intended point here were stated in a more sober and less straw-manny way, the problem is that there is simply no Universal Human Right To Immigrate To The United States Of America. Such a thing is, if anything, even more problematic and mythical than the concept of a literal ‘social contract’. But if the professor nevertheless thinks there is such a Universal Human Right, where did it come from? Why didn’t he include his actual argument for its existence in that (already very long) piece?

The idea, as I understand it, is that the onus is on Michael Huemer to establish the existence of a Universal Human Right To Immigrate To The US. (Thomas Sowell expresses apparently the same view here.) This task seems hopeless, as the idea of a “Universal Human Right To Immigrate To The US” seems ridiculous. I agree that it seems ridiculous, but not because I do not think that people are generally within their (moral) rights to move to the US. I also think it would seem ridiculous to posit a Universal Human Right To Ride A Bicycle On A Tuesday, even though people generally are well within their rights to do so. We simply do not normally talk of moral rights to actions with specific, morally irrelevant features.  (Compare this point with the 9th amendment to the US Constitution; HT: Vipul.) Given that I see no good reason for considering countries morally relevant in such matters, I contend that all that is needed is a right to rent property and to accept a job, and that the burden of proof is on restrictionists to establish that the geographical location of the property or of the work environment nullifies this right.

When I say that I see no good reasons to overrule the prima facie moral irrelevance of countries I described above, I suspect that many people will diagnose me with outrageous naiveté and ignorance of strong arguments that “everybody knows” (even if they may not be able to properly articulate those arguments themselves, but then they might defer this task to figures of “obvious authority”). But while this puts me under some social pressure to pretend otherwise, the truth is that no arguments I have heard for the moral relevance of countries have seemed compelling, let alone sufficient to me.

If I were to attempt an Ideological Turing Test (i.e. to argue the position that countries are morally relevant as best I can), I might try a social contract angle, a “fragile political equilibrium” angle, a “collective property” angle, a social capital angle, a “brain drain” angle, a “differences in national IQ and personality factors averages” angle, or a “cultural differences” angle, and perhaps I would not fare much worse than many people who really hold that position – but I would find myself very unconvincing, especially because it seems to me that most of these arguments are compelling only if we’re already assuming that countries are morally relevant. (This is particularly true of the welfare state objection to open borders, as the moral relevance of countries seems essential to justifying a national welfare state as opposed to non-nation-bound welfare programs.)

Since it seems necessary to me to take such a “back to basics” approach, given the persistent disagreement about what the morally relevant starting points are, I hereby issue a bleg: What are the strongest arguments (both in objective terms and in terms of their appeal to the masses) for the moral relevance of countries – particularly concerning such questions as where one may rent property and work? (Not excluding arguments pertaining to one of the “angles” I’ve listed above – I do not claim to have conclusively laid the viability of any of these general lines of argument to rest.)

Afterthought: Although this is isn’t what I primarily have in mind, Vipul’s previous bleg about universalist defenses of citizenism might provide an interesting way of approaching this question, too.

US-Canada open borders referendum bleg

I define “open borders between the US and Canada” as meaning that US and Canadian citizens are free to enter the other country not just for short-term visits but for long-term visits and can settle in the other country to live, work, marry, or do other stuff, without needing to go through any immigration bureaucracy. Border checkpoints may still exist. One might define open borders more expansively to include all permanent residents of either country. As co-blogger John Lee noted in this post, the US-Canada border is not completely open in this sense: while citizens and even permanent residents can move freely between the countries for short-term visits, they still need to go through a bureaucratic (and uncertain) process in order to take up a job or settle long-term.

My two bleg questions:

  • If the United States had a nationwide referendum among citizens (with simple nationwide vote-counting, unlike the complicated electoral college system used for presidential elections) on whether the US should have open borders with Canada, would the referendum pass, and by what margin? Feel free to provide probability distributions, and if necessary, indicate sensitivity to framing, timing, and contextual factors that affect the outcome. Note that “pass” here is based on a majority of those who vote, not based on a majority of the entire citizenry.
  • If Canada had an equivalent nationwide referendum, would it pass? Again feel free to provide probability distributions, and if necessary, indicate sensitivity to framing, timing, and contextual factors that affect the outcome. Note that “pass” here is based on a majority of those who vote, not based on a majority of the entire citizenry.

UPDATE: A friend on Facebook had pointed me a while back to Annexation movements of Canada.

Bleg on Nathan Smith’s DRITI scheme

UPDATE: Added links to downloadable versions of the relevant chapter from Nathan Smith’s book.

One of the questions that many people have asked regarding the Open Borders site is — what’s the first step you propose? As a site, we do not take a very specific position, though we do recommend various keyhole solution-type proposals like immigration tariffs and guest worker programs as conversation-starters. But it would be useful to have a single scheme or proposal that attempts to address all the different aspects together, and which people on different sides of the issue can then critique.

My co-blogger Nathan Smith, in his seminal (or at any rate, should be seminal) book Principles of a Free Society (Amazon ebook) has come up with just such a scheme. It’s called Don’t Restrict Immigration, Tax It (DRITI) that combines the ideas of many keyhole solutions to the various objections that have been raised to immigration. Although the book is not available for free, it’s only $2.99, and I strongly urge you to buy it — the chapter on immigration alone is worth the price of admission for people who are interested enough to follow the blog. The full chapter can be downloaded as a Word Document or as a PDF.

Cover of Principles of a Free Society

But in order to make the idea more widely accessible, I have, with Nathan’s approval, put up a page about DRITI on this website. The page describes the key features of Nathan’s proposal, along with links to some online discussions of specific aspects of the proposal on this blog and elsewhere.

Although the scheme looks great in theory, there is a difference between theory and practice. I’ve already had a back-and-forth with Nathan on the aspects of the scheme that I was most concerned about (and his replies have largely satisfied me) — the relevant links are on the DRITI page. But others reading about it may have other questions. Please voice your views and ask your questions about the scheme in the comments below, and hopefully Nathan will reply to them, either in the comments here, or in a subsequent post.