As an open borders advocate, I’m always on the lookout for good arguments for open borders. But more often than not, the arguments make me wonder, “with friends like these, who needs enemies?” Case in point: diversity.
Now, I don’t deny that diversity has its benefits to immigrant-receiving countries, particularly when it comes to cuisine. And I’m happy to point out that open borders can help address the concerns of restrictionists such as Mark Krikorian regarding the lack of diversity in the current immigrant flow to the United States (Krikorian is concerned that the proportion of the immigrant flow coming from a single country is much larger today than in any past era, i.e., a much higher fraction of immigrants come from Mexico to the US than for any other country to the US in any other era). And it’s also noteworthy that immigration proportion seems to be positively correlated with cultural sophistication in the United States, though admittedly correlation is not causation.
But diversity has its costs. If Robert Putnam’s work is to be believed, it leads to social capital decline. To be clear, I haven’t had the time yet to thoroughly review Putnam’s work. I would start with a skeptical prior, but haven’t studied it in sufficient detail yet to make a clear rebuttal — the point I am making, however, is that if you’re interested in specifically addressing the diversity angle of immigration, you’d better engage the most serious critiques of diversity. There are also possibilities of a nativist backlash and a culture clash. In the face of these costs, the benefits of diversity need to be established rather than blithely asserted.
Frankly, a lot of the arguments that tout the benefits of diversity fail to make any meaningful case, and/or play right into the hands of restrictionists. For instance, in an otherwise decent article for The Atlantic, Noah Smith writes:
Adding diversity to our melting pot will speed up America’s inevitable and necessary transition from a “nation of all European races” to a “nation of all races.” The sooner that happens — the sooner people realize that America’s multi-racialization is a done deal — the quicker our political debate can shed its current ethnic overtones and go back to being about the issues.
Smith seems to be playing right into the hands of restrictionist concerns here. Or consider the illegal immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas (life story) who has repeatedly written that “diversity is destiny” and “demographics is destiny” and connected this to his pro-immigration and pro-DREAM Act lobbying. His basic argument is that the 21st century is a century of diversity and the foreign-born are a formidable and growing share of the American population and electorate, so nativists, better concede defeat! I critiqued this type of argument a while back:
But more importantly, in so far as Vargas is right about the “whites versus non-whites” cleavage, this doesn’t make a case for more immigration, because the demographic decline in proportion of whites is itself largely a consequence of immigration, not merely of differential birth rates. If somebody is concerned about the decline in the proportion of the white population, this bolsters the case for immigration restrictionism. By constantly harping on the decline of white hegemony in so far as it exists, Vargas seems to be daring restrictionists. And it doesn’t seem strategic to issue dares to people who already have the upper hand.
Some people might argue that, in the context of the United States, there is an aura of moral righteousness around racial diversity that makes it particularly appealing to frame pro-immigration arguments in terms of achieving diversity. Continue reading Diversity: an unimpressive reason to support open borders