Tag Archives: Bryan Caplan

Open borders versus no borders: my take

The Open Borders site has a page on the distinction between open borders and no borders. The main proponent of “no borders” that I know of is Robert Higgs, who explicitly says:

I will say, in case anybody cares, that despite permitting my name to appear on the letter, it does not represent my own views accurately. I am not for (or against) open (or closed) borders; I am against borders and the organized criminal gangs who draw them in the dirt and then threaten with violence anyone who crosses the line. Of course, my ideal world is not about the erupt.

In various blog posts, my co-blogger John Lee has tangentially alluded to open borders as a moderate position compared to the radical idea of no borders. Probably unlike John and possibly also unlike my other co-blogger Nathan (see the note at the end), I self-identify as a philosophical anarchist, though I’m agnostic about the feasibility of anarchism.

Quick summary of the distinction: a philosophical anarchist is somebody who rejects the idea of the legitimacy of the nation-state. A political anarchist advocates for anarchism as a superior alternative to the nation-state. One can be a philosophical anarchist — in the sense of not viewing the state as morally legitimate — while still not being a political anarchist in the sense of believing that anarchism is necessarily an alternative worth expending effort to work towards or an alternative that will necessarily produce superior outcomes.

Note also that political anarchism comes in two flavors: “anarcho-capitalism” and “anarcho-socialism.” For the purpose of this blog post, I’ll stick to anarcho-capitalism, which is the philosophical stance of open borders advocates such as Bryan Caplan (see here) and Michael Huemer (see his book The Problem of Political Authority).

My personal take: I’m far from sure about the potential for anarchist orders that will perform a lot better than nation-states holding the quality of people roughly constant. I think it’s plausible, but I’d like to see a lot more evidence of anarchism in action at a small scale before I can sign on to political anarchism. Incidentally, Michael Huemer’s book The Problem of Political Authority (see also Bryan Caplan’s book review) offers an excellent case for the long-term potential of anarchism and a description of how the world could feasibly move towards anarchism. I think it’s a great case, and the main reason I’m not convinced is that it’s too far ahead for me to even trust my intuition as to how it might work out. It’s for roughly the same reason as the reason I approach claims about the technological singularity and its aftermath with skepticism.

But, where I differ from John is in the implicit stance that seems to be reflected in his writing that open borders is the moderate, sane position compared to anarchism, which is a crazy, straw-man position. Even if I don’t sign on to anarchism yet (for lack of evidence about it and for the very long time period that would be needed to bring it to fruition) I don’t think it’s an idea that deserves to be scoffed at or thrown out of the room. If for no other reason, because many forms of political organization (such as representative democracy with universal adult franchise) have passed from heresy and scoff-worthy curiosity to entrenched dogma.

Rhetorically, putting open borders as a “middle” position between the status quo on the one hand and “no borders” anarchism (of the sort espoused by people like Robert Higgs) on the other, will appeal to people on account of the Overton window phenomenon. Continue reading Open borders versus no borders: my take

Open borders advocates: guilty of the “not as bad as” fallacy?

RationalWiki‘s page on not as bad as describes it as a form of the moral equivalence fallacy:

There are a few different reasons someone will want to pull a “not as bad as” comparison. Consider a generic argument about something, A, and the reasoning below:

B happened, and is worse than A.
Therefore A is justified.

This is the most blatantly fallacious form of the argument and is a hindsight version of the “not as bad as” argument that states past actions can legitimise current actions. The existence of a worse atrocity in the past, however, does not actually justify anything – it merely points out that there have been similar things in the past. People who use this as a justification may be well aware that it’s logically fallacious, and use it purely as rhetoric, or as a distraction.

Open borders advocates often critique restrictionists using arguments like the master race critique from Bryan Caplan: they critique restrictionists for being unduly obsessed with the plight of the poor in the developed world, whose poverty is not as bad as the poverty of poor people in other parts of the world, or the poverty of poor people historically. Are open borders advocates committing the “not as bad as” fallacy, by trivializing, ignoring, and justifying inaction regarding the plight of the poor in the developed world, just because others have it worse?

I don’t think so. If it were the case that open borders advocates are shrugging off the harms to poor natives from immigration citing that things were worse for others, without noting any offsetting benefits to others, then this would be an example of the fallacy. However, in addition to their moral arguments, open borders advocates explicitly note their belief that open borders generate more benefits, particularly for people who may be much poorer than the poor in the developed world — in other words, poor people that the egalitarian or worldwide Rawlsian should be more concerned about. The harm wrought to poor natives is thus inextricably linked to the benefit to poorer non-natives; the inextricable link between these is what makes this a non-fallacy.

RationalWiki agrees later in the page that there is a valid form of the argument that is not fallacious, but adds further caveats:

Action B is worse than action A.
Therefore action A is the right thing to do.

This is perhaps the most valid comparison that can be drawn if discussing two courses of action that can be taken, but like most “not as bad as” arguments potentially suffers from the fallacies of the false dichotomy and argument from adverse consequences. If the argument is about ranking things from bad to worse then it’s fine; but you cannot justify A by citing only B because the two may not have anything to do with each other. This is common if Secret Option C is actually the best, but someone wants to make a red herring to avoid anyone spotting its existence.

Again, in this case, open borders advocates have proposed for consideration various versions of “Secret Option C” that could be win-win for all parties — namely, keyhole solutions such as immigration tariffs, guest worker programs, and my co-blogger Nathan Smith‘s elaborate DRITI scheme. This does not mean that all open borders advocates sign on to these keyhole solutions as truly necessary; often their signing on is in a spirit of compromise. For instance, here’s what my co-blogger John Lee said in a comment on his own post:

Thanks Nathan. I think we agree on what’s probably the best achievable policy reform for now (immigration tariffs), but I am inclined to disagree with your moral preference for Pareto-improving policies here, as well as your characterisation of them as merely “a little unfair”. I think immigration tariffs would be a massive improvement, but remain a distant second-best policy (from a moral standpoint) to true open borders. I used to consider immigration tariffs the best policy here, but have been convinced by the economic evidence that I was placing far too much weight on natives’ welfare, and far too little on migrants’ welfare. (This change in my beliefs is something I plan to write more on, so I won’t elaborate too much on it here.)

But even here, John Lee is not dismissing the harms to natives, but rather, weighing these against the gains to non-natives as well as moral considerations in coming to his conclusion that, in fact, not having immigration tariffs would be his preferred solution, if indeed that were politically feasible.

So, as a factual matter, I don’t think that open borders advocates are committing the “not as bad as” fallacy.

However, I think that the rhetoric of open borders advocates can sometimes sound exceedingly blase towards the plight of their fellow natives. Continue reading Open borders advocates: guilty of the “not as bad as” fallacy?

EconLog comments policy and open borders

Open borders advocate Bryan Caplan recently forayed into citizenism with a blog post titled A Question for Steve Sailer’s B-School Professor. Caplan quoted from Sailer’s VDARE piece on citizenism and then proceeded to make two points:

  • Citizenism, which involves giving more weight to the preferences of current citizens as opposed to prospective future citizens and other foreigners, must operate within moral side-constraints (a point made at the citizenism page and in Nathan’s blog post on the subject).
  • Just like those using the nation as family analogy, citizenists need to not merely acknowledge these side constraints, but seriously consider whether the actions they propose (such as immigration restrictions) violate these side constraints.

Caplan then invited citizenists to respond in the comments. I think Caplan’s post was well-written and to the point, but I have one point of contention with Caplan: his use of the word “monster” to describe hypothetical people who took citizenism to its logical extreme. Caplan believes that few citizenists take citizenism that literally, so he wasn’t calling any actual people monsters. But the use of the word “monster” is not exactly an invitation to civil debate, to put it mildly. Caplan’s commenters were quick to critique him, and some went beyond critiquing to offering candid thoughts on what they thought of Caplan. A lot of these comments were deleted, and the commenters banned, from EconLog. Fortunately for free speech and the Internet, the commenters found refuge in Steve Sailer’s blog. But the most fascinating and hard-to-rebut critiques among those deleted seem to not have made it to Sailer’s comments either — either because they weren’t posted, or because Sailer deleted them. Fortunately again for free speech, the commenters found yet another forum that would prove more welcoming and tolerant of their unorthodox views. Here’s page 1 and page 2 of the thread. Here are some of the best examples:

The masochistic morality of Caplan’s argument is merely the symptom of a late stage complex society with a parasitic elite, plus politically correct radiation treatments, which have obviously rendered Caplan’s brain into a vestigial organ.

To anyone of above feeble intelligence, it’s obvious that large migrations of people will lead to conflict, instability, social dysfunction, and other not very nice things. It’s obvious that employers who seek to bring in illegals so they can pay sub-middle class wages are not acting out of moral impulses to better the lives of foreigners. The rhetoric is all hypocrisy. When Caplan opens his mouth about moral imperatives, something retarded and offensive pours out. It seems to be a condition he should seek treatment for, although I understand it’s difficult to cure libertarianism.

MikeP is a racist! He thinks I should have to fill out a form when I say Bryan Caplan enticed me to post here–but what about those who were born here, like MikeP? Did they fill out any forms? Now I have to evade some Jewish woman who is patrolling the posting border with extreme prejudice! Ay caramba, I’ve been hit!

Underneath the oppressive Bush administration, little-known anti-liberty regulations prevented HIV positive immigrants from crossing so called “borders” and entering into employment contracts at my exclusive nightclub, wherein they displayed their micros to paying clients. Now, however, thanks to noted micro-American ALLAH HUSSEIN OBAMA, that regulation has been revoked, and a beautiful scene of international GDP growth ensues.

Naturally, if he were to answer these, Caplan would bluster and babble about comparative advantage and the lump of labor fallacy while dismissing cultural concerns as being of the ignorant, unwashed masses. Ultimately, Caplan is so dull that he can’t think beyond libertarian talking points to realize that importing a bunch of browns to do cheap labor is going to backfire horrendously when those same browns vote straight ticket Democrat and their elected representatives raise the minimum wage, strengthen environmental regulations, and raise taxes.

Oops. I wonder if Caplan would short-circuit on the lawgic trap.

(Not an EconLog comment)

Libertarians are basically liberals with less self-awareness, they lack even the liberal’s simple ability to project empathy onto niggers and other non-humans, perhaps because they lack any emotional capabilities whatsoever.

(Not an EconLog comment)

Kill this fucking thing with fire, tia. [referring to the EconLog comment moderator]

And revealing images such as this.

One of the comments that didn’t get through was by Dr. Stephen J. Krune, but he posted a similar comment on Open Borders:

This is far and away the spergiest discussion among the usual libertarian spergmeisters. Of course people react to overcrowding around them–typically in cities–regardless of whether there is a giant desert available somewhere else (and where they would prefer these immigrants to go and die in).

And so it is possible to have overcrowding in cities while there is “plenty of land” (I understand that spergy libertarians see no point to land other than paving it over and erecting a business park.)

Why do we favor descendents, asks the chief sperg? Because they are genetically related, which is the basis for most social behavior and cultural development. (Which is why our off-the-rails society is in a state of pre-collapse, using Tainter’s definition of collapse.) All social animals are nepotists. This isn’t “curable” because it isn’t an illness, it is the normal functioning of animals. We are animals, not replicas of Data from Star Trek, which is how most of you faggots come off.

There were also some gems among the comments that did get through. James Bowery:

Both Caplan and AMac are inhuman monsters that would deny the right of people to join together under mutual consent to pursue their strongly held beliefs about causal laws of human ecology by excluding from their territory those whom they consider incompatible with testing of those laws.

That these inhuman monsters call others “monsters” should be expected since, however inhuman they may be, they do possess the gift of gab.

If I were on a jury that was trying someone for having done harm, of any nature whatsoever, to AMac or Caplan, I would vote to acquit.

Moreover, there is no greater cause for liberty than to identify such inhuman monsters, whether they call themselves “libertarians” or “liberals” or “neoconservatives”, as the primary enemies of liberty that today wield the power of tyranny over mankind.

Any proper use of military force would have as its declaration of war that a state of peace may once again reign once these inhuman monsters no longer wield any powers of government.

EconLog comments policy

The reason I quote all these comments is not to critique them. When faced with critiques as penetrating as these, it is time to concede defeat and go home. There were a lot of other comments that made points that we’d be happy to address and discuss further on the Open Borders blog in the coming days. Steve Sailer’s own post, as well as Sonic Charmer’s thoughtful addition to the debate, are definitely more at our level and we can address these. I left a couple of comments on Sailer’s post, but haven’t had time to respond to his substantive points yet; Nathan left a comment on Sonic Charmer’s post. Other interesting critiques that we hope to address in the coming day include Maurice Levin’s critique (assuming it is written as sarcasm) and Dave’s comment. Jason Malloy’s analogy may also be worth addressing.

So why am I bringing up these comments? Because the banned commenters and others sympathetic to their plight discovered a novel and innovative way to expose the hypocrisy of open borders advocates. They drew a parallel between banning blog comments and turning away potential immigrants (or deporting illegal immigrants). Continue reading EconLog comments policy and open borders

Are immigration restrictionists pirates?

My co-blogger John Lee recently wrote a post with the intriguing title “Are immigration restrictionists pirates?” It turned out that by “pirates,” John meant, not Bluebeard or the Dread Pirate Roberts, but people who pirate music and videos off the internet. John’s point was that if immigration restrictionists are pirates, i.e., illegal downloaders of music and videos– and haven’t we all done it, at least a bit?– then they’re in no position to mount their moral high horse when talking about undocumented immigration. Commenter Leo was disappointed:

The title of this made it sound a lot more exciting than it was… I was hoping for some sort of metaphor of countries as ships or something… Yeah the title makes sense but the post isn’t as exciting as the title …I’m obviously just childish but the word pirate made me hope for a story of plunder on the high seas…

Based on this reaction, I thought there might be interest in a post comparing immigration restrictionism to plunder on the high seas. So here goes.

First, like pirates, immigration restrictionists have skills. Pirates need to have navigation, combat, recruiting and negotiation skills. They need to know a good deal about recruiting and trade routes. Immigration restrictionists need skills, too. Steve Sailer of VDARE is good at writing. Joe Arpaio has skills at prisoner abuse and attracting national media attention.

Second, like pirates, immigration restrictionists are organized. Pirates had captains, crews, even “pirate codes” which Peter Leeson (author of The Invisible Hook) has argued were sometimes strikingly democratic, a Skull-and-Bones flag. Immigration restrictionists have organizations like VDARE and CIS, as well as ICE, the Minutemen, and so forth.

But clearly, I’m not getting to the heart of the matter.

Let me start over by using a recent Bryan Caplan post as a point of departure. Caplan’s point of departure was a Steve Sailer post (previously quoted here and here at Open Borders). So first, Steve Sailer: Continue reading Are immigration restrictionists pirates?

How persuasive are open borders advocates? The case of Bryan Caplan

To make any comment about the extent to which resources should be devoted to open borders advocacy, and the way the resources should be allocated, one must have at least some idea of how effective various forms of open borders advocacy are. One of the most admirable proponents of open borders is Bryan Caplan. Caplan has called open borders the most important issue of our time (here and here) and his writings are linked to and quoted all over this website. But just how effective is he? How many minds has he changed? How many hearts has he won to the cause of open borders? I emailed Caplan, asking him to post this question as a bleg to his commenters, a group that includes both a number of passionate pro-open borders people (like John Lee, whom I recruited to the Open Borders blog after discovering him in the EconLog comments) and some of the most articulate restrictionists of open borders, as Nathan has pointed out.

Caplan was kind enough to do an Open Borders Persuasion Bleg, and Nathan has since written a blog post responding to some of Caplan’s critics. My focus here is not to respond to the critiques of Caplan (a job that Nathan has already done, with the exception of taking on Ghost of Christmas Past). Rather, my goal is to do a quick quantitative and qualitative analysis of the comments, and then to use these to pontificate on the future direction and focus of open borders advocacy.

Quantitatively measured conclusions: some evidence of effectiveness

I have a quick summary of the responses here. For each commenter, I tried to identify the commenter’s stance on open borders pre-Caplan and post-Caplan. For commenters where the stance was unclear, I selected all possibilities that were consistent with the comment. Here’s what I took away from the analysis:

  • About half the commenters (46/90 in my count) were influenced toward more open borders. 10/90 were influenced toward more closed borders, and the rest were either unaffected or their comments did not make it clear how they were affected. Note that my count of unaffected people includes people who were already so pro-open borders that their conviction couldn’t be strengthened further.
  • The overall mix of commenters’ positions pre-Caplan and post-Caplan has changed to some extent to the pro-open borders position. Support for closed borders (i.e., more closed borders than the status quo) decreased, and support for radical open borders increased. There was a shift all along the chain from closed borders to the status quo to moderately more open borders to radically more open borders. The most dramatic shift, though, was the shift from moderately more open borders to radically more open borders. Caplan seems to be most convincing in this group.
  • About 60% of the commenters (54/90 in my count) said, directly or indirectly, that Caplan had persuaded them about the importance of the issue. This includes some people who were already so radically pro-open borders that they couldn’t move further in that direction — Caplan influenced these people to attach a greater priority to open borders. It also includes people who aren’t completely convinced by Caplan, but think that this issue is important and deserves more attention, and appreciate Caplan’s efforts to address the issue.
  • There were a bunch of people (16/90 in my count) who said that Caplan had successfully addressed some, but not all, of their concerns about open borders.
  • Among the specific points where commenters considered Caplan unconvincing, political externalities was the most significant. Other issues raised by the commenters included IQ deficit, dysfunctional immigrant culture, and the welfare state/fiscal burden objection. Unsurprisingly for an economically literate group of commenters, the suppression of wages of natives issue was raised by almost no commenter.

Qualitative nature of complaints

The gist of the qualitative pushback that Caplan received from commenters was that he didn’t take restrictionist concerns seriously enough for them to be convinced that his advocacy of open borders had adequately taken these objections into account. Now, prima facie, this objection seems weird, because Caplan has spent more time than almost any other open borders advocate I know trying to address restrictionist arguments such as IQ deficit and political externalities (though I hope that the coverage of these topics on the Open Borders blog will soon outstrip Caplan’s coverage). He has been willing to consider keyhole solutions as an alternative to closed borders. Yet, commenters are not satisfied with Caplan’s efforts. Continue reading How persuasive are open borders advocates? The case of Bryan Caplan