Tag Archives: EconLog comments

The American bureaucracy that is worse than the TSA, IRS, and DMV combined

Recently I stumbled on a Bryan Caplan blog post I remember reading a couple years ago, about a businessman who was refused entry to the US purely on the basis of a technicality with his visa. The businessman, Tim Worstall, had a valid business visitor’s visa which he’d used several times before without issue. On this occasion, he was refused entry because US immigration officers just felt he ought to have a different visa in order to enter the US. They held him for interrogation without a lawyer, without recording what was said. An officer wrote an account of what happened from memory, and forced Worstall to sign this account, despite Worstall’s protests that it was inaccurate, because he “was told that if [he] did not [he] would be deported, [his] passport declared invalid for travel to the US for the rest of [his] life.” Worstall concludes:

There is no law, evidence, representation nor even accurate recording of proceedings in such “voluntary departures”. It is entirely at the whim of the agents at the border post. I was actually told by one agent “I’m gonna screw you over”. Something of a difference from what’s scrawled over that statue in New York really.

The comments are interesting; quite a few people seem horrified by the lack of due process in these proceedings. But they are really just par for the course. As I’ve written before, US consular officers essentially have dictatorial discretion in denying visa applications. Border agents have similar authority. In the comments on Caplan’s post, a Pierre Honeyman wrote about how one unprofessional US border officer arbitrarily reduced the validity of his 1-year work visa to 2 weeks, and arbitrarily invalidated the work visas of several of his colleagues.

There was another commenter, one Brian, who argued that some fault must lie with the victims of arbitrary immigration policies:

Don’t perjure yourself by signing a false statement. Don’t do or say suspicious or clever things to hostile and armed agents of a cruel and nasty government. Demand access to a supervisor, a lawyer and a judge, even if they tell you you’re not entitled to them. Have some friends expecting you who know to demand answers from local officials. Never say or do anything whatsoever in the USA without advice from a good lawyer.

I’m not sure how often Brian crosses international borders, but this is really something easier said than done. I’ve been crossing borders since young, and few things strike more fear in my heart than dealing with immigration agents, even though I know I’ve done nothing morally wrong (I’ve never crossed a border unlawfully, never been deported, never had any trouble with the law, in fact). A simple typo in your immigration papers can ruin your life. This is as true outside the US as it is in the US, though this problem is especially pernicious there.

Demanding access to a lawyer in US immigration proceedings is easier said than done, especially when you’re trying to enter lawfully. US deportation proceedings are no beacon of due process or justice, but even those subject to deportation have more legal rights than foreigners trying to enter lawfully do. Worstall could have refused to sign false statements and demanded a lawyer all he liked — the fact is, given US immigration agents’ dictatorial discretion, all of this would have been in vain. Standard principles of due process and fair trials which most of us in civilised societies take for granted simply don’t apply.

(None of this is to say we ought to blame the individual professional civil servants in immigration bureaucracies. The worst personal encounters I’ve had with immigration bureaucrats have been limited to facing mildly unpleasant demeanours; the best have been quite helpful and pleasant. But the professional conduct of individuals can never excuse the corruptness of the system that employs them.)

I don’t think it’s an accident that immigration laws are so inhumane, arbitrary, and unjust. US legal scholars note that this dictatorial discretion offered to individual US government employees stems directly from the US judicial precedent of Chae Chan Ping v. United States — better known as the Chinese Exclusion Case. As one of them says:

Reliance on the Chinese Exclusion Case is a bit like reliance on Dred Scott v. Sandford or Plessy v. Ferguson [two since overturned cases which similarly sanctioned government bigotry and prejudice]. Although the Supreme Court has never expressly overruled the Chinese Exclusion Case, it represents a discredited page in the country’s constitutional history.

When we base our laws on the moral principle that foreigners have no rights worth respecting, it should not be surprising that due process and a fair trial are consigned to the dust heap. When we base our laws on the moral principle that we can do whatever we like to foreigners who come in peace, it should not surprise us that foreigners try to come in peace without getting our attention and immigrate illegally.

Americans love to complain about government bureaucracies like the TSA, the IRS, or the DMV. At least those bureaucracies actually have rules they need to follow and can’t arbitrarily decide you really should pay more taxes than what the law says, or you really should have a driving licence for only 1 year instead of the usual 5 years, or you really need an anal probe before you board that train. Immigrants live in fear of a bureaucracy that’s worse, more powerful, and more arbitrary than the TSA, the IRS, and the DMV combined — and because they’re foreigners, we’ve apparently decided that that is perfectly fine.

Possibilities for philanthropy towards achieving more migration and/or open borders

Please don’t confuse this with the blog post open borders advocates and private charity, which is about a criticism of hypocrisy leveled against open borders advocates.

A while back (November 23, 2012), open borders advocate Bryan Caplan did an immigration charity bleg. His question for his blog readers:

Suppose you wanted to spend your charitable dollars to increase the total number of people who migrate from the Third World to the First World. What approach would give you the biggest bang for your buck? Are any specific countries, organizations, or loopholes especially promising?

Unconventional answers are welcome as long as they’re genuinely effective. Please show your work.

I have been considering this question for a while. On October 27, 2012, I had a Skype conversation with Holden Karnofsky of charity evaluator GiveWell where we discussed related ideas. GiveWell decided not to publish the conversation, as it was too preliminary and tentative, so I won’t go into the details of what was discussed; GiveWell does publish better-quality conversations on its conversations page. More recently (December 7, 2012), Shaun Raviv, blogging for effective giving advocate-cum-charity evaluator Giving What We Can, expressed interest in migration as a way of helping the poor, with the first in a planned series of blog posts published about three weeks ago.

In this blog post, I will discuss various ways to increase migration and/or move towards open borders, drawing heavily on the comment responses to Caplan’s bleg.

Possible different goals people could have in mind

I want to begin with the same caution that I expressed in my own comment on Caplan’s bleg:

I think you need to be a bit more specific on what the goal is. Is the goal to simply increase the quantity of migration from people living in Third World countries, or do you wish to focus on poor people in these countries? Would a reasonably well-to-do graduate student in computer science who wants a job in the IT sector qualify for your concern? Are you okay with guest worker programs that have a return date stamped on them, or do you insist on immigration with no such return restrictions?

How you rank and rate the various ideas presented below, and which ones you consider worthy of further investigation, depends a lot on whether your goal is to increase migration numbers, whether you care about world GDP, whether you place more weight on the same numerical GDP gain concentrated on poorer people, and many other deep questions of ethics. This is one reason I’m not going to try the daunting task of ranking the many options presented.

For the rest of this blog post, I’ll use the term “immigration” to refer to both immigration and temporary movement for students and guest workers, even though that is not technically correct.

Also, just to be clear, I do not necessarily endorse all the ideas here. An evaluation of the pros and cons (moral as well as strategic) of each idea here would make this post far too long. I will discuss the more interesting ideas among these in more detail in subsequent posts, and will be happy to share my views on specific ideas in the comments if you have questions.

Options for increasing immigration without changing or breaking immigration laws

The simplest, most immediate, and least risky (in terms of avoiding trouble with the law) proposition is to attempt to increase legal (authorized) immigration within the existing framework of laws. There are many different visa categories, some of which have strict quantity limits with the limits almost always met. Other visa categories have unfilled quotas on a regular basis, and/or have no quotas. Increasing immigration in the categories that have unfilled quotas or no quantity caps is probably the more fruitful option. Some countries do not have quantity restrictions (or are very far from exhausting the quantity restrictions) but have specific points systems that require specific skills (e.g., Canada). Working to help prospective immigrants acquire these skills might be another path. Anyway, here’s the list of suggestions on Caplan’s bleg that fall in this category:

  • Marriage: Most countries offer essentially unrestricted immigration for the spouses of current citizens, wherever in the world these spouses reside. Encouraging more marriages between Americans (or people in the desired target country of migration) and foreigners might therefore be one method. Two proposals in this regard were made on Caplan’s bleg. daubery:

    For the US specifically, look for people willing to marry foreigners. This is the only immigration route that doesn’t have a hard cap. This could even be profit-making if they agreed under the table to kick back some of their increased earnings. You may need to base your matchmaking service off-shore so as not to have the list of clients fall into the hands of the US immigration force, however.

    Here’s Joe Cushing’s response to daubery:


    There is no way on earth, I’d give a woman, whom I don’t know, the power of the state to use against me by marrying me. Although I suppose an immigrant woman would have a bit less power but divorces don’t go well for men, usually. The state sides with the woman. Even if I got to know these women for a few months, you could never trust the state not to screw you over in the end somehow. The state has really inserted itself into our relationships in an unhealthy way and this is true, even for domestic to domestic relationships. It effects divorce rates, divorce outcomes, and the power structure effects otherwise healthy relationships. Whenever women complain about men fearing commitment; I like to tell them that men don’t fear commitment, men fear the state. A marriage to a man is a completely different risk than it is to a woman. This is why woman can’t understand how we feel.

    With all of this to consider, You should focus on American women who would be willing to marry foreign men. The foreign men would be willing to take the risk. Then again, domestic men would be willing to take the risk to find more attractive women than they could find here. That’s why we have these mail order bride services already.


    What about funding an agency which promotes speed-dating between third-world and first-world citizens?

    As for the ethics of this, I think there is little that is more ethical than to help people circumvent evil laws.

  • Adoption: Although the adoption of foreign infants does suffer from some bureaucratic constraints, this does seem to be a category that does not suffer from numerical restrictions of the kind that other visas do. Adoption is also a solution that even restrictionists (such as Mark Krikorian of CIS) would tend not to oppose, because their chief concern — that immigrants arrive already steeped in a different culture — does not apply to people who are adopted into the country they’re immigrating to at birth or when very young, and who are raised by people who are already steeped in the culture. Nonetheless, there are various obstacles arising from international realpolitik. Here’s a post by Dan Carroll (adoptive father of a kid from Ethiopia), critical of various restrictions on adoption (HT: Bryan Caplan, as usual).
  • Education and specific skills training (including language training) to help more immigrants meet the qualifications to immigrate: Lots of suggestions of this sort on Caplan’s bleg. Neal:

    Might not maximize bang/$, but here we go:

    Educational charities (incl universities themselves) who fund people from poor countries to study in rich countries – especially PhDs. They can bypass immigration to an extent as it’s a different category of visa and easier to justify hiring someone from abroad. Although this doesn’t directly achieve citizenship, it can do indirectly.

    For example, in some countries (e.g. Denmark?) I believe PhD students can be treated as staff and get work permits, and if you work for 4 years, you can get residency?

    oneeyedman (excerpt of comment, not the full comment):

    There are probably different answers for different budgets. I suspect that teaching French to African English speaking college students so they can use the Canadian point based immigration system would do it. You could fund French clubs inexpensively and partner with local schools and or professors.

    Motoko responds to oneeyedman:

    “They can bypass immigration to an extent as it’s a different category of visa and easier to justify hiring someone from abroad. Although this doesn’t directly achieve citizenship, it can do indirectly.”

    I’m in an engineering PhD program. The majority of students are foreign. The problem with hiring foreigners for high-caliber work is that they’re culturally and socially illiterate. Maybe 10% of them can overcome this hurdle and get hired in the US.

    But those that can’t… well… they just go back to their home country. They don’t earn half of what they’d earn in the U.S., but they are no longer so poor that they need our help.

    “For example, in some countries (e.g. Denmark?) I believe PhD students can be treated as staff and get work permits, and if you work for 4 years, you can get residency?”

    Good point. We shouldn’t just try to get more people in the States. Generally, we should try to get the needy into better countries that are easy to immigrate to.

    A more cynical approach (that is not suggested by anybody on Caplan’s bleg) is to help foster the creation and expansion of visa mills, which are analogous to diploma mills. While diploma mills offer fake higher education degrees for their credential value to all comers, visa mills offer fake higher education degrees to foreigners to help them get fraudulent student visas. These foreigners can take up small jobs while in the US while allegedly studying, save money, and then either get a permanent job or go home with some saved money. The probable reason is that such visa mills, aside from the ethical issues, are likely to get caught and put in trouble all people who went through the visa mill. Here’s a piece from the CIS critical of visa mills and diploma mills.

  • Better matching of employees with employers: There are some types of employer-sponsored visas for which the quotas are not completely filled, and for these, organizations that better help match employers and employees could be useful. This is particularly the case for relatively “unskilled” jobs, where employers and employees are less likely to already be connected through educational and Internet-based networks. An example is CITA (Independent Agricultural Workers Center) which matches farm owners in the US with people in other countries interested in temporary farm work in the US. The temporary worker can then get a H2 visa authorization to work at the farm. They hope to eventually be self-sustaining, but are currently structured as a non-profit and initially funded by donations. Michael Clemens blogged about CITA here. For related content, see our page on migrant labor in the US agricultural sector. There are probably similar opportunities for other countries and other worker types that help reduce the frictional costs of matching employers with employees across huge geographical distances.
  • Other creative workarounds: A few of these are listed at the migration arbitrage business opportunities page.

Making small changes or tweaks to the laws governing legal immigration

Another possible direction is to increase the quotas for legal immigration in various categories, or reduce the qualifications and requirements for those categories, or make other changes that facilitate increased levels of legal migration. I’m talking of small “tweaks” here that operate within the margins of public indifference, for which there is neither much public enthusiasm nor much public resistance. The startup visa might be an example. Effecting such a change, however, does not seem to be an easy task, at least in the US context, because any change in the immigration regime, however slight, is typically held up by demands for “comprehensive immigration reform” where the definition of “comprehensive” varies from person to person, and where the different sides of the debate often have diametrically opposite conceptions of reform.

Another possible area where policy might be more responsive to special interest lobbying while moving along the margin of public indifference is asylum advocacy. Continue reading “Possibilities for philanthropy towards achieving more migration and/or open borders” »

Open borders advocates and private charity

This post is about an accusation of hypocrisy leveled at open borders advocates. For the philanthropic possibilities towards open borders, see possibilities for philanthropy towards achieving more migration and/or open borders.

Restrictionists have attacked open borders advocates in a number of ways, but one recurring theme in many attacks is the hypocritical private behavior of open borders advocates. Do open borders advocates donate their money to starving children in Africa? If not, what right do they have to advocate open borders, which, in the restrictionist view, impose costs on natives for gains to foreigners? For instance, john oester:

So following your own children analogy, do you feel it morally appropriate to hold back any funds to allow your own children to live at anything more than the basest subsistence level, including a lack of all luxuries from shoes to a college education, while other people’s children are starving throughout the world? If so, then your actions and irrational favoritism of your spawn, are allowing equally deserving children throughout the world to starve just so your children can have central air conditioning, a new winter coat, or other trapping of such a wasteful American lifestyle. I find you to be a monster that you can possibly sleep at night knowing how many children in Sudan could be saved today if you simply signed over your full paycheck to USAid without delay….the clock is ticking.

It would be tempting for open borders advocates to dismiss this as an ad hominem attack and choose not to reply. However, I think that the concerns raised about open borders advocates’ private hypocrisy need to be addressed, particularly given that many open borders advocates rely on their personal credibility to support their arguments.

Let me begin by pointing out that there are radical utilitarians who argue for affirmative moral obligations to give, not just some, but a lot of, one’s wealth to alleviating poverty and its ill-effects, including to people you may never see or know and who live in far-away lands. And they argue this seriously, not as a reductio ad absurdum or to accuse people of hypocrisy. The utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer has used the drowning child analogy to argue that we are morally obligated to donate a substantial amount of wealth toward poverty alleviation. Singer begins with an observation that most people would sign on to: if your donation can directly save a life for a minor inconvenience to you, you should make the donation. He then goes on to observe, however, that even after you have made the donation, you can make a further donation to save a life, and so on, and therefore you should keep donating until the overall inconvenience to you is sufficiently substantial that donating more is comparably inconvenient to letting a person die. This apparently simple logic has radical implications for how much individuals should donate to poverty alleviation, as per Singer.

Libertarians like me take issue with this consequentialist utilitarian analysis, primarily on the grounds that donating to charity is supererogatory, so even in cases where it saves lives, it is not morally required (for more on my reasoning, see here and here). I would also add that there are a lot of local knowledge and information problems with figuring out what charities do how much good and why. Continue reading “Open borders advocates and private charity” »

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” »

An offbeat argument for immigration restriction

I’m always on the lookout for new, innovative arguments against immigration. Restrictionists tend not to disappoint in coming up with creative arguments, but usually these are modest permutations and perturbations of existing arguments. Recently, however, I encountered an honestly creative, offbeat, and mind-blowing argument for immigration restriction. If I had to classify it, it would come under political externalities or under second-order harms. But neither classification does justice to the sheer creativity of the objection. The credit goes to none other than restrictionism’s most creative proponent, Steve Sailer.

Sailer makes the argument in this EconLog comment, which I’ll take the liberty of quoting in full (emphasis mine):

92% of elected Hispanic officials are Democrats. So, self-appointed Hispanic leaders tend to be overwhelmingly liberal. One reason is affirmative action. Most of these self-annointed leaders are affirmative action beneficiaries, and they have two self-interests: preserve ethnic preferences for Hispanics and increase the number of Hispanics in the country to make themselves appear more powerful.

The way out of this trap is for Republicans to eliminate all affirmative action (including disparate impact discrimination lawsuits) for Hispanics and to close the borders. After a period of wailing and gnashing of teeth, new Hispanic leaders will arise who actually represent the interests of Hispanic voters, not of themselves.

I vaguely recall reading a similar argument by Sailer elsewhere, but I can’t find any other link at the moment. Let me abstract Sailer’s framework. Some Hispanics immigrate to the United States. They increase the total number of Hispanics. Sailer is not concerned (in this comment) about whether these particular Hispanics agitate for affirmative action, or for any of the policies Sailer disfavors. He is not complaining about their actions, either in the economic and social realm or through the political channel. His complaint here is that their sheer existence in the United States makes it easy for self-appointed Hispanic representatives (who are often natives, not immigrants) to point to their numbers and make the case for certain policies (such as affirmative action) which Sailer considers harmful to the United States. And note that the people to whom they’re making the case are also usually natives, not immigrants. In other words, the existence of immigrants makes it easier for some natives to convince some other natives of policies that Sailer considers harmful to the United States. This, according to Sailer, is sufficient justification “to close the borders” as Sailer puts it.

Frankly, Sailer’s argument is a trump card, and there really isn’t much I can say in response. If people’s mere existence inside of a border, rather than what they do or don’t do, is sufficient grounds for closing a border, then it’s time for open borders advocates to pack up. Restrictionists win hands down, just as they do when they use pure racialist arguments.