Tag Archives: framing

Citizenism: how do we deal with it?

Regular readers of the blog are quite familiar with citizenism, but for those who’re new here, citizenism is basically the view the government policies should discriminate in favor of current citizens and their descendants, relative to prospective migrants and any descendants those migrants might have. Citizenism is one of the more common philosophical bases for anti-immigration arguments. The term is due to Steve Sailer, and more discussion can be found at our backgrounder page on citizenism and our blog posts tagged citizenism.

In a previous blog post, I argued that citizenism is an important under-current in the way people think about issues related to migration, even if very few people explicitly subscribe to it. However personally distasteful it might seem to people who support open borders, they (or shall I say, we) need to deal with it. But, how should we deal with it? In this blog post, I discuss some possibilities.

Approach #1: Avoid explicitly addressing citizenism (either favorably or unfavorably), while keeping citizenistic tendencies of the people you’re addressing in mind

Citizenism is only one of many under-currents in people’s thinking. Different choices of framing can put emphasis on different under-currents. One option for open borders advocates is to concentrate on a framing in terms of equality, human rights, opportunity, freedom, justice, or what not (see our moral case for starters) that does not either condone or challenge citizenism.

The logic behind such a strategy is that most people behave citizenistically only if citizenship and national identity are brought to the fore in the framing presented to them. If we explicitly mention the concepts, whether favorably or unfavorably, or even discuss them neutrally, it primes people in a certain way that will not redound to the benefit of open borders advocates. This is not to deny the possibility of a citizenist case for open borders. However, any such case typically depends on other factors (for instance, economic literacy, willingness to challenge taboos against putting a price on things) that may be even harder to sidestep or remedy than citizenism.

Obviously, this strategy will not work with hardcore citizenist restrictionists such as Steve Sailer. But such people form only a small minority and one might argue that, in public messaging, it’s worth sacrificing the need to address or steelman these individuals if that allows for easier outreach to people who don’t have strong priors on migration.

Note that one danger of this strategy is the sip taste test problem: even if ignoring citizenism might yield significant short term positive results in terms of how easily one seems to convince people, it might lead to worse long term results once the hardcore restrictionists issue responses (whether in comments on the website, letters to the editor, or separate responses in articles or talk shows). Thus, even people who choose to strategically ignore citizenism when making the “first round” of their case need to be prepared to address it if somebody brings up citizenistically laced arguments in response — and need to address it in a way that does not make them look bad for having ignored citizenism in the first place.

Approach #2: Make arguments within a citizenistic framework, without personally endorsing citizenism

The idea here is to point to the many benefits that migration may confer to receiving countries, and in general, point to the citizenist case for open borders. Perhaps even endorse keyhole solutions such as immigration tariffs or migration taxes that are designed to meet explicitly citizenist goals. All this, without holding citizenism as a moral standard or personally endorsing it.

Such arguments may be combined with other arguments in favor of migration that describe the benefits to migrants, their home countries, and the world at large. The difference is that the benefits to immigrant-receiving countries are treated more saliently and given particular importance as a guiding principle in the design of keyhole solutions.

Approach #3: Challenge citizenism, or at any rate, challenge some aspects of citizenism

The blog posts on citizenism on our site have largely followed this approach: challenging citizenism in part or whole. This does not mean that we argue that citizenism is completely wrong. Rather, various bloggers on the site have argued that there should be limits on citizenism and that arbitrary denial of the right to migrate falls outside those limits. Bryan Caplan’s post on Himmler and Nathan Smith’s follow up post stressed this point: citizenists need to specify more clearly the moral side-constraints they are operating within, and explain why they think that arbitrary denial of the right to migrate does not violate those moral side-constraints.

Where I stand

In the first year and a half of Open Borders, Approach #3 got a lot of prominence, with Approaches #1 and #2 getting some prominence, but less so. Over time, I’ve gravitated in favor of Approach #1.

The problem with focusing on Approach #3 is that, after laying out the basic arguments, there’s not a lot to say. It’s also very combative, and tends to degenerate into a game of signaling moral superiority without making substantive progress. So with Approach #3, I’d say it’s good to make the point clearly a few times, but not to make that too much of a focus of argumentation.

The problem with focusing on Approach #2 is that it doesn’t distinctively make a case for open borders, and it plays too closely to the mainstream moderate pro-immigration arguments, as opposed to the radical brand we offer here. The moderate arguments are useful, but there are already a lot of people making them. The value of adding to them at the margin is unclear.

Approach #1, by ignoring citizenism as an explicit view to address, most closely reflects the natural universalistic thinking of many open borders advocates. In that sense, it’s more honest, even if it seems evasive. It’s honest in the same way as an atheist would be more honest not to provide biblical arguments for a position every time he argues for it — the absence of explicit coverage of citizenism correctly reflects the low importance of citizenistic reasoning in the minds of open borders advocates. Of course, it’s good to have thought through and written stuff along the lines of Approach #3 to handle pushback, and even to have stuff along the lines of Approach #2 to occasionally add to the arguments.

PS: The very fact that this blog post is the first after several months that explicitly mentions citizenism is some evidence that we’ve increasingly moved to Approach #1 on the blog.

Framing immigration and the sip taste test fallacy

I’ve been reading through the memos on immigration that have been put out by the Frameworks Institute, which describes itself as “changing the public conversation about social problems” and, from what I can make out, takes broadly progressive positions on various issues (or rather, offers framing advice geared towards progressive causes). (Thanks to Alex Nowrasteh for sending me the link for these memos). These memos were also briefly referenced in Fabio Rojas’s post open borders: what to do about it (part 2). The memos are targeted mostly to a US audience.

Let me begin by pointing out what parts of these memos I find intuitively plausible. First, I think that they’re largely on target with respect to their key suggestions to pro-immigration advocates: put emphasis on prosperity, opportunity, and fairness, don’t activate zero sum thinking, and avoid blaming people or calling them bad names. There are also suggestions — somewhat morally dubious but probably strategically valid — to tailor the message based on the race and ethnicity of the people receiving the message. When talking to whites, for instance, the memo recommends the value of “Fairness between Places.” When talking to blacks, it recommends the value of “Fairness between Groups.” When talking to Latinos, it recommends emphasis on the “value of opportunity.” The morality of offering different messages to different audiences seems questionable to me, but I don’t doubt the research they highlight to show that different framings appeal differently to different racial and ethnic groups on average.

The part where I’m not on board with the Frameworks Institute, however, is when it comes to their Don’t list. For instance, they suggest:

  • Don’t talk about immigration as a legal issue, or mention illegal immigrants.
  • Don’t evoke the Crisis frame by talking about how widely and deeply broken the immigration system is.
  • Don’t talk about securing borders or preventing problems.
  • Don’t begin the conversation by focusing on good immigrants, because that brings to mind all the bad immigrants.

I’m quite skeptical of all these suggestions. The way the Frameworks Institute comes up with these suggestions is by doing controlled experiments — expose people to different framings, see how they respond to each one within the setting. For instance, two people may be presented with otherwise identical paragraphs one of which has a phrase evoking a certain frame, and the other one without that phrase. The audience reactions are then compared.

The problem here, however, is that the research methodology seems to focus on people’s instantaneous responses, rather than their considered responses after reflection. In particular, it doesn’t seem to account for how people would respond after they had time to hear opposing viewpoints. Continue reading “Framing immigration and the sip taste test fallacy” »

Open borders: what to do about it (part 2)

This is a guest post by Fabio Rojas, a professor of sociology at Indiana University. Rojas maintains his personal webpage here and is one of the bloggers at the orgtheory.net blog.

This guest post is the second in a three-post series on how one could achieve open borders. The series focuses on public opinion and immigration policy in the United States, but its insights may apply to other nations as well. The first post of the series can be found here.

Open Borders: Changing Public Opinion

Broadly speaking, fundamental policy change, such as creating open borders, is often the result of two forces, public opinion and organized action (“politics”). Open borders will become a reality when the public stops believing that immigrants are a threat and people who take the time to fight anti-immigration policies in the courts, legislatures and even in the street succeed. This essay focuses on one side of the equation – public opinion. Though I believe that all countries should have open borders, my comments are aimed at people in Western nations such as the US because my comments are based on what I’ve learned by studying social movements in relatively open nations. My comments don’t apply to nations that are authoritarian, such as North Korea, or countries that do not have some type of legal and political system that admits challenge. The next instalment will focus on politics, the “how to” of political change.

Framing the Issue

What should open borders advocates say to the public? In general, it is a mistake to offer highly technical arguments. Most people won’t be interested in subtle arguments about migration. Instead, open borders advocates should offer what social psychologists and linguists call a “framing,” a very general concept that allows people to succinctly identify a problem and think about the solution. A successful framing defines the way we see things and what we think is possible. A good framing appeals to some basic moral intuition, not scholarly argument. Scholars who study social change often find that framing among activist is something that often precedes broader change. (See Robert Benford and David Snow’s “Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment,” in the 2000 Annual Review of Sociology 26: 611-639. Available on JSTOR).

Anti-immigration sentiment seems to rely on two frames. Among liberals, there is the “social problems” frame. Immigration is bad because new people require more resources such as jobs and government services. There is also a related view that immigrants will have problems assimilating into American society. They won’t learn the language and they can’t get educated. All these criticisms of immigration appeal to the idea that a nation is like a boat. The boat has only so much space and overcrowding will sink the ship. Immigrants are inherently bad. It’s just that low levels are preferable for technical reasons.

There is also a nativist framing that views immigration as a threat. Immigrants are viewed as outside the native ethnic group. They are impure and not really American. They are of lower moral character and are more likely to require charity and more likely to be criminals. From this perspective, immigration restrictions are needed to preserve native culture and keep out people who will drain resources and be a drag on the rest of society.

It is not clear to me that open borders advocates have articulated a compelling alternate frame, even though I find lengthier academic arguments to be persuasive. For example, many in the immigrant rights community draw attention to the suffering of immigrants. While I agree that immigrants unjustly suffer, this is an ineffective framing of the issue because immigrant rights activists rarely attack the premise that immigration restrictions themselves are unjust. In other words, as long as average Americans think that it is normal to restrict immigration, framings such as “immigrant rights” or “end the suffering” will not be effective.

It is worth mentioning that some writers have thought carefully about framing. The FrameWorks Institute, a group that studies how to make people think differently about policy issues, has issued two papers dealing with framing immigration (available here). Continue reading “Open borders: what to do about it (part 2)” »