Tag Archives: Bryan Caplan

Open borders and the libertarian priority list: part 1

If you take a look at the pro-open borders people, pro-open borders reading list, or the pro-immigration and migration information web resources on this website, you’ll notice that libertarians are overrepresented compared to their share in the general population. Part of it stems from my own biases while collating material for the website (see, for instance, my avoidance of folk Marxist arguments) but part of it reflects the fact that, compared to other political philosophies, libertarianism is more likely to foster clear-cut and radical support for open borders, as outlined on the libertarian case for open borders page. Of course, there are many objections to the libertarian case as well, of which some, such as the anarcho-capitalist counterfactual, have been raised by libertarian thinkers. I personally don’t find these arguments convincing, but it’s not the goal of this blog post to rebut these arguments (you can learn more by following the links). Rather, my goal is to consider the question:

For a libertarian who is broadly convinced by the case for open borders, primarily from the libertarian perspective (but also based on other aspects of the case), how important should support or advocacy for open borders be, relative to other libertarian causes?

This is an important question, because libertarians, who generally tend to be economically literate, understand that time, money, and energy for libertarian advocacy are scarce. Allocating these scarce resources wisely is important if libertarians wish to make a practical impact. [For this discussion, I am dodging Patri Friedman’s critique of libertarian folk activism. That critique raises important questions, but it’s a topic for another day.]

I aim to consider three aspects to this issue in three separate blog posts. In the current blog post, I consider the extent to which libertarians do advocate for open borders, relative to many other libertarian causes (my conclusion: not much). In the next blog post [UPDATE: now available], I will consider how much energy I think libertarians should devote to open borders (my conclusion: probably more than they currently do). In my third blog post, I will consider the reasons behind what I perceive as the under-supply of open borders advocacy from libertarians.

The bloggers and writers in the pro-open borders people list are some of the most prolific writers on the subject of open borders. It would be reasonable to assume that the proportion of their writing efforts that they devote to open borders is an upper bound on the proportion devoted by libertarian bloggers and writers in general.

Let’s begin by looking at Bryan Caplan. Continue reading Open borders and the libertarian priority list: part 1

Wars of liberation versus open borders

Open borders advocate Bryan Caplan talks about good and bad arguments for pacifism in his blog post How Not to Be a Pacifist. The blog post talks about the Vietnam War and the morality of US intervention in the conflict. Caplan argues that while there were strong humanitarian reasons to oppose the communist regime in Vietnam, these ends would have been better served through a policy of open borders in the US for refugees from Vietnam. He bolsters his case by considering the 300 days of open borders between North and South Vietnam.

The case that emigration is an important weapon in the battle against communist and other tyrannical regimes has been made elsewhere as well, but Caplan’s argument adds a new twist by comparing open borders with wars of liberation. My paraphrasing of his argument would be that if you think that a humanitarian injustice justifies a military intervention (war of liberation) you should also think it justifies open borders for the victims of that injustice. With this in mind, let’s look at the chart of possibilities for a person’s attitudes towards wars of liberation and open borders:

Rows represent attitudes to wars of liberations, columns represent attitude to open borders for victims Support open borders for victims of tyrannical regimes Oppose open borders for victims of tyrannical regimes
Support wars of liberation Uncommon, but consistent. Found among some neoconservatives and internationalists (liberal and libertarian). Example: My co-blogger Nathan Smith (his views on Iraq) Common, but inconsistent. Include significant fraction of mainstream US conservatives
Oppose wars of liberation Uncommon, but consistent. Example: Bryan Caplan (blog post) Uncommon, but consistent. Found among paleoconservatives, some isolationist liberals. Example: Steve Sailer (article)

The top right quadrant — support wars of liberation but oppose immigration — is the most interesting because it seems prima facie inconsistent, yet is widely held by a large number of people who identify themselves as conservative in the United States. Unfortunately, I don’t have any convincing theory or idea to explain this inconsistency.

UPDATE: See also the immigration and wars of liberation page on this site and a related piece by Jacob Hornberger.

Is There a Downside to Presidential Nullification?

So I should have known: the most astute analysis of Obama’s semi-amnesty is by Bryan Caplan. In particular, Caplan gets at a thought that was starting to form in my mind, too, namely, what a nice thing a doctrine of presidential “nullification” might be. By “nullification,” I (and Caplan) mean that presidents could just decide not to enforce laws that they disagreed with especially strongly, which is suggested by Obama’s semi-amnesty. Of course, the Obama administration probably wouldn’t want to characterize it that way, and I’m sure the lawyers could develop other, less controversial defenses of the move which would have better (probably almost certain) odds of passing judicial muster. Or in brief: presidential nullification seems to be rather a constitutional innovation, of rather dubious legality, whereas Obama’s move is probably quite legally defensible on other, surer grounds. Still, it might set a precedent that would amount to a kind of doctrine of presidential nullification. Is that something that should make open borders support hesitate in applauding this? OK, strike that, stupid question; it’s pretty obvious that whatever constitutional principles are at stake are less morally urgent than the need to stop deporting innocent people. Let me rephrase: would there even be any significant downside to a doctrine of presidential nullification? Or as Kling and Caplan formulate it:

Kling: My reading of the policy is that the President is nullifying a law by refusing to enforce it.  That is a precedent  that could come back to haunt us.

Caplan: I say the laws on the books are so overwhelmingly wrong that even random Presidential nullification would be a huge expected improvement.  My question for Arnold: What’s the best law any future President is likely to nullify due to Obama’s precedent?  I just don’t see this slippery slope leading anywhere we should fear to slide.

Exactly. What if a President Romney refused to enforce the individual mandate provision of Obamacare? Fine by me. What if a President Romney passed de facto tax cuts by just instructing the IRS not to collect some kinds of tax? Well, 1) that wouldn’t be so terrible, and 2) it seems unlikely to happen.

Obama’s semi-amnesty does seem contrary to the spirit of the rule of law, even if he could probably make a strong claim that it’s legal. But we shouldn’t speak as if “rule of law” is an unqualified good. It depends on the content of the laws. If it’s a choice between a more chaotic situation and a more coercive situation, the former is usually better. Continue reading Is There a Downside to Presidential Nullification?