Tag Archives: critiques of restrictionists

Future Citizens of All Kinds

We here at Open Borders have made a bit of a history questioning the value of citizenism. This post is a contribution to the debate from a somewhat different focus: the problem of future citizens.

Citizenism advocates like Steve Sailer have been clear that citizenism is a philosophy for promoting the interests of current citizens. For instance, in his article on citizenism versus white nationalism, Sailer explicitly writes (emphasis added):

By “citizenism,” I mean that I believe Americans should be biased in favor of the welfare of our current fellow citizens over that of the six billion foreigners.

Let me describe citizenism using a business analogy. When I was getting an MBA many years ago, I was the favorite of an acerbic old Corporate Finance professor because I could be counted on to blurt out in class all the stupid misconceptions to which students are prone.

One day he asked: “If you were running a publicly traded company, would it be acceptable for you to create new stock and sell it for less than it was worth?”

“Sure,” I confidently announced. “Our duty is to maximize our stockholders’ wealth, and while selling the stock for less than its worth would harm our current shareholders, it would benefit our new shareholders who buy the underpriced stock, so it all comes out in the wash. Right?”

“Wrong!” He thundered. “Your obligation is to your current stockholders, not to somebody who might buy the stock in the future.”

That same logic applies to the valuable right of being an American citizen and living in America.

Just as the managers of a public company have a fiduciary duty to the current stockholders not to diminish the value of their shares by selling new ones too cheaply to outsiders, our leaders have a duty to the current citizens and their descendants.

Leaving alone for the moment the argument that natives do in fact benefit from migrants, specifying current citizens is a necessary step for the citizenist position. For instance, Tino Sanandaji, in a blog post titled Open-Borders Daydreams, uses this citizenist logic to attack those arguing immigration benefits society:

Another amusing line of reasoning increasingly advanced by libertarian economists is that low-skilled immigration is good for “society”, as long as we redefine “society” to include the entire planet!

If the focus is not restricted to current citizens, then migrants might have to be considered future citizens, and therefore their gains would have to be considered in government actions. But this opens up a potential inconsistency: namely why include “descendants” under this system? If you want to include potential future citizens, why not also include migrants? Continue reading Future Citizens of All Kinds

Immigrants Did Not Take Your Job

This piece was originally published at the Cato-at-Liberty blog here and is reproduced with permission from the author. The original version features footnotes that have not been included here. Also, links to relevant Open Borders material have been added to the post.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) [Open Borders note: CIS describes itself as pro-immigrant. The fine print is discussed here] and author of the book The New Case Against Immigration: Both Illegal and Legal, criticized a remark I made to Washington Times reporter Stephen Dinan about a new CIS memo.

The memo, which can be found here, claims that immigrants are taking most of the jobs created since President Obama took office. I told the Washington Times that the memo “makes a mountain out of a molehill” because it ignores key economic explanations that have nothing to do with demonizing immigrants. Steven Camarota, one of the authors of the memo, even agreed that one factor I mentioned could explain his findings.

In response, Mr. Krikorian wrote that I should, “Tell that to the 23 million Americans who are unemployed, forced to settle for part-time work, or gave up looking for work altogether.”

My response is that the CIS memo is so flawed it should not be taken seriously.

Location, Location, Location

The memo looks at native and immigrant concentrations in different sectors of the U.S. economy. It points out that immigrants have made gains in some sectors where there is are high native-born unemployment rates. But the memo fails to take into account one very important factor when studying labor markets: labor mobility. This issue is so important that Harvard economist George Borjas, the most respected economists who is skeptical of the gains from immigration, called it “the core of modern labor economics” and criticized his fellow scholars for overlooking its importance. The authors did not heed Professor Borjas’ criticism. Continue reading Immigrants Did Not Take Your Job

“Only high IQ immigrants” fails to understand comparative advantage

OK, it’s time to give some strong back talk to this meme of “only high IQ immigration is good” which we’re getting in the comments. The simple rebuttal to “only high IQ immigration is good” is that this fails to understand comparative advantage and commits the maximize the average fallacy. But in a recent post, Vipul partially defends the high-IQ-only preference:

Not so fast, restrictionists would say. As Richard Hoste puts it, the comparative advantage argument works in the context of pure economics, but once we bring in crime and political externalities, it starts to falter. If crime rates go up, then your chance of being a crime victim goes up, all else equal (there are caveats to be added, but I’m using a simplistic picture of crime). Comparative advantage doesn’t come to the rescue here. And if low IQ means voting for bad policies (something that’s supported by Caplan’s research) then low IQ immigration would lead to negative political externalities.

So, I don’t think the comparative advantage argument is quite the right way to tackle the IQ deficit concern. So what is? I think we need to step back a bit and be clearer about how IQ matters to the moral and practical considerations that come up with respect to immigration and its effect on natives and immigrants. Does IQ matter in and of itself (as some indication of moral worth or desert), or does it matter because of its correlation with things like crime or political beliefs or social capital or what-have-you? It’s only the rare IQ elitist who argues that IQ is morally significant in and of itself. Most people who believe in the importance of IQ believe in it because it’s correlated with a lot of other things like crime, political beliefs, etc.

Vipul goes on to argue that people who make the “only high IQ immigrants” case are double-counting the harms of low-IQ immigration, and that IQ doesn’t give an extra reason for restrictionism, once one has taken possible effects on crime and politics into account. But I think Vipul is giving the “high IQ only” restrictionists too much credit. There may be subtle externalities arguments for why low-IQ immigration is worse, though I think they’re highly tenuous and have little empirical support (I’ll come back to that). But mostly, people are just failing to understand comparative advantage.

Consider the following comment from holier then [sic: should be “than”] thou:

I will say in this case I’m In total agreement with Silicon Valley. People in Silicon Valley are supporting high IQ immigrants, often with unique skill sets. They tend to add value to the nation in the short and long runs. Also, because programming is generally a value creation, rather then value transference industry, the addition of new labor can actually increase the wages of natives. A foreigner who starts a new company adds to the demand for labor. And programming is one of the few industries where smart people with little financial capital can still become job creating entrepreneurs.


For this reason I’m far more open to the case of supporting high levels of immigration of the high IQ, especially those that have skills in key industries. However, you’ll note that this is far different from being “open borders”. Open borders, in practical real life terms, means mostly supporting the mass immigration of low IQ low skill workers who will mostly compete for the existing pie rather then increase it.

This is just economic illiteracy. A foreigner who starts a new company doesn’t necessarily add to the demand for labor. He creates a few jobs directly, but if he competes successfully with existing domestic companies, he’ll destroy jobs elsewhere. If his new company is more productive than the incumbent firms he is grabbing market share from or perhaps driving out of business, he’s likely to destroy net jobs in that industry. Not that that’s a bad thing. To think it is is to be guilty of what Bryan Caplan, in The Myth of the Rational Voter, calls “make-work bias.” Productivity increases tend to hurt workers in particular industries while making consumers and investors better off. And the workers may not be harmed either in the long run, as the market recycles them into other industries. But there’s not much reason to think that foreign entrepreneurs are particularly likely to add net jobs to the economy.

Meanwhile, low-skilled immigrants can also create jobs. Suppose a lot of low-skilled immigrants come and are willing to work in restaurants for low wages. They don’t have the business skills to run restaurants, but they can wait tables and slice carrots and man the cash register. Meanwhile, a lot of hungry people in a hurry would be happy to pay $5 or $10 or $15 for a meal cooked by someone else, rather than having to do it themselves. Native-born foodies with a knack for business have an opportunity to raise some capital, set up a restaurant, hire the immigrants, while carving out a nice job for themselves running it. Of course, customers and investors benefit too. Again, I live in Fresno, and all around the city are orange orchards and vineyards. They need workers to pick the fruit. Native farmers, agronomists, irrigation engineers, etc., who have jobs in the agricultural sector depend on these workers to do the “low-skill” (it’s actually not that low-skill, I hear, but at any rate it doesn’t require much education) work that makes profits possible. Again, I work in a nice clean office building (except for the clutter on my own desk). Who keeps it clean? Not my fellow professors! We hire a janitorial service, which hires a lot of people for the low-skill work of emptying trash cans. Yes, I could take out the trash myself. But I have better things to do! Immigrants who take such tasks off my hands are “increasing the size of the pie.”

Or are these immigrants “competing for the existing pie” because other, less-skilled natives could have taken out the trash for me instead? No. That’s the wrong way of looking at it. Capitalism features competitive markets in almost every industry, but the people who are competing with each other are doing so by being productive, by creating value. To oppose “competition” to “increasing the size of the pie” is a mistake here. Some less-skilled natives probably do see their wages fall because of competition from immigrants (though even that’s controversial: less-educated natives may be able to exploit their comparative advantage in fluent English and being in the American cultural groove, and benefit from immigration just like higher-skilled natives). But if immigrant janitors do reduce the wages of native janitors, they’re still growing the pie. And the university benefits from cheaper housekeeping services.

Let me draw attention, by the way, to holier than thou‘s phrase “value transference industry.” This is not a term economists use. They don’t use it because it’s bogus. There is no phenomenon in the real world which it is sensible to refer to in this way. You could, if you liked, call theft a value transference industry, but that would be inappropriately neutral and non-judgmental. We don’t call theft “value transference,” let alone a “value transference industry,” we call it crime. Social Security might be called a value transference program, but it’s not an industry, precisely because it’s merely transferring, not creating value. It seems that holier than thou thinks the economic laws of capitalism ordain that some industries create value, others merely move it around. That’s just not how markets work. I advise holier than thou to delete this fallacious phrase from his vocabulary. Continue reading “Only high IQ immigrants” fails to understand comparative advantage

More responses to Caplan’s critics

NOTE: All commenters are referred to as “he” in the text below. I did this because the only commenters whose pen names were gendered were male, and in my experience, most commenters on libertarian blogs seem to be male. I suppose I could have used the singular “they” but it seems ungrammatical when one is referring to a specific person. Apologies to any female commenters who might have been misidentified by my choice of pronoun.

Open borders is the most one-sided issue of our times. It wins the argument and to spare. That’s my position, and if there’s a certain bravado about it, that’s my way of daring those who disagree with me to justify themselves. I want to flush out the arguments against open borders, so I can refute them. Yet to argue with run-of-the-mill immigration critics is a tedious business, because their intellectual level is so low (see my dissection of Victor Davis Hanson) that the response could only consist in cutting through crude prejudices and elementary fallacies. Bryan Caplan’s Open Borders Persuasion Bleg a few days ago was useful because he evokes a more intelligent kind of critic. Indeed, as I noted in my previous response to Caplan’s critics, Caplan has managed to muster, in his comments section, the most clear-thinking group of critics of open borders on the web, because they’ve seen him make the case for open borders in its glittering clarity. They are informed dissenters. Though still mistaken.

Caplan started the thread with this invitation:

Immigration restrictions probably have bigger effects on the world’s economy than all other regulations combined.  As far as I can tell, virtually every moral theory – utilitarian, libertarian, egalitarian, Rawlsian, Kantian, Christian, and Marxist for starters –  implies that these effects are very bad.  As a blogger, I’ve tried (though perhaps not hard enough) to make open borders my pet issue – to convince as many people as possible that the cause of free immigration is of overriding value.

My question for you: How persuasive have I been?  In particular, how persuasive have I been for you personally?  Yes, polling your own blog readers obviously courts a strong selective bias, but I still want to hear your answers.

There were probably more positive than negative responses to this introduction, including some who were completely converted to the open borders cause from indifference or hostility. I’ll focus on the negative responses though because they show what we still need to work on. I’ll cover most of them, but skip the long comments from Ghost of Christmas Past because they would need their own post.  Continue reading More responses to Caplan’s critics

Victor Davis Hanson

I made the following comment about Victor Davis Hanson at EconLog, in response to David Henderson’s recent post:

Hanson’s argument seems to consist entirely of anecdotal evidence. Well, here’s my anecdotal evidence. I moved out to the Central Valley of California a year ago. I lived for a little while in southeast Fresno, then in Sanger, a small town a little east, very near orange orchards, and now I’m in central Fresno. I haven’t had any encounters with crime. I once hired a guy who was a member of the Bulldog gang (inactive) to fix my car (didn’t know he was a gangster till he got to talking– very talkative guy). He had a lot of resentment towards the cops, and if I recall correctly his dad (we were at his parents’ house) was behind on the rent, but he was nice enough to me. I often leave my door unlocked at night. That’s dumb and it’s just my forgetfulness, but it’s indicative that I don’t feel a lot of fear. Basically, life is normal. If you look at crime statistics– see here: http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/cacrime.htm– property crimes are down, murders are down, forcible rape is down, burglaries are down by MORE THAN HALF since 1986, when Reagan’s amnesty passed. But “no one calls the sheriff anymore,” says Hanson. Well, surely they’d call the sheriff about MURDER, and that’s fallen sharply. Really, shouldn’t Hanson give us some evidence? Not just personal anecdotes but solid, statistical evidence? By his account, central California sounds like it’s descending into anarchy. Who am I to believe, him or my own lying eyes? As someone who lives here, his account just doesn’t ring true.

Now, it’s true that central California is sort of rural and backward compared to the East Coast metropolises where I lived for the previous ten years. One misses the charm of Georgetown, the buzz of sophisticated conversation in a corner Starbucks, the intelligentsia. But making the immigrants go away won’t make the intelligentsia come. On the contrary. The agricultural industry here is heavily dependent on immigrant labor. A lot of the economy around here, as far as I can tell, would just unravel without it.

I listened to a little of Hanson’s book, Mexifornia. He commits every fallacy in the book, again and again. I’ll concede that median and average incomes are probably a bit lower in the Central Valley than they would be without the immigration. That’s not inconsistent with immigration being beneficial to most immigrants and most natives, or even to it being Pareto-superior to closed borders. “Pareto-superior,” of course, is a concept far too sophisticated for the likes of Hanson to understand. Which is why he shouldn’t be taken seriously on this issue.

Henderson responded:

@Nathan Smith,
Wonderfully put, Nathan.
Until the last two sentences. I know Victor a little. As I mentioned, we are both Hoover fellows and so I occasionally talk to him in the special coffee room at Hoover. Don’t sell him short. I bet he can understand “Pareto superior.” And even people who can’t understand have views on the issue that we should take seriously. I did take him seriously, which is why I bothered responding. If we don’t take people’s concerns seriously, we get nowhere.

Well,  OK. Let me take Hanson seriously by responding to the introduction to his book Mexifornia on Google Books. It will soon become clear why I’m reluctant to respond to the whole thing. I may also make clear my impatience with Hanson on the topic of immigration. (I understand that Hanson is an excellent historian of ancient Greece. A while back, I listened to a brilliant course on ancient Greece from Yale by Donald Kagan, who repeatedly stressed his admiration for Victor Davis Hanson. But good specialists often make bad public intellectuals. I’m also probably closer to Hanson on foreign policy than Henderson is.) Mexifornia begins by pointing out that public opinion and policy have moved in Hanson’s direction since 2003. Hanson is partly right, though he exaggerates: Continue reading Victor Davis Hanson