Tag Archives: casual empiricism

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” »

Crime in the US under open borders

Crime is a common concern regarding immigration among US restrictionists. The statistics on immigration and crime in the United States show pretty clearly that as things stand today, the foreign-born have lower crime rates than natives both in total and for every ethnicity and for every combination of ethnicity and high school graduation status. Nathan recently blogged about how immigration might also indirectly reduce native crime rates. So, restrictionists need not be worried about immigrant crime under the status quo.

But there’s still the concern about radical open borders to contend with: even if restrictionist concerns about immigrant crime are misplaced at current rates of migration, the concern may still be valid for truly open borders. Is it? It’s hard to say anything definitive, so if you believe in the precautionary principle, this is a slam dunk argument against open borders. However, I will try to argue in this post that there is no strong reason to believe that open borders would lead to a significant upward trend in US crime rates. In fact, I would say that the odds of crime rates going up versus down are about even, and they almost certainly will not explode.

The first point I will make is that even under the current highly restrictive immigration laws, there is some immigration, including “low-skilled” immigration, to the United States from all parts of the world. While border-crossing from Mexico forms the lion’s share of “low-skilled” immigration to the United States, there are also a few low-skilled work visas and, more importantly, a diversity visa that is not designed to pick out high-skilled workers but rather favors countries that send few immigrants to the United States. Thus, the current data on immigration and crime in the United States does shed some light on what might happen under a radically freer migration regime.

However, I will, for the moment, set this point aside. Assume for the moment that current immigration from a country is completely unrepresentative of what immigration from the country would look like under open borders. What method can we then use to approximate crime rates for immigration from that country? We could look at average crime rates in the sending country. I would argue that this would overestimate their crime rates in the United States for three reasons: Continue reading “Crime in the US under open borders” »

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” »