Tag Archives: IQ

Open borders and the economic frontier, part 3

Last fall I wrote two posts, Open borders and the economic frontier, part 1, and Open borders and the economic frontier, part 2, which were meant to be the first two parts of a three-part series, which sought to address the large macroeconomic question of whether open borders would cause the global economic frontier to move forward faster or slower. BK had made a loose empirical argument in the comments that the more productive ethnic groups seem to be most productive when they are in the majority, less so when they live as minorities among other ethnicities. In part 1, I gave the following reasons why I was skeptical of BK’s empirical analysis: (a) the weakness of the theoretical links between race, cognition, and GDP; (b) the fact that the poor/racially disadvantaged countries are concentrated in the tropics; (c) the pattern that the racial minorities BK’s argument focused on tend to have arrived under imperialist auspices as colonizers or settlers and are therefore particularly alienated from the population; and (d) the prevailing view in our culture that “racism” is scientifically erroneous. In part 2, I explained how, in my own theoretical work, growth is modeled as “exploration of the goods space” through an expansion of the “endogenous division of labor” as capital or population expands, and applied it to the data BK had highlighted. Using the EDOL model, I derived a new theory of relative growth and decline in the 20th century, namely, that the automotive revolution altered economic geography, reducing the economic distance between all manner of points connected by land, while increasing the distance between points separated by the sea: thus Britain and its empire suffered, while the United States and contintental Europe were big gainers, and the Soviet Union also benefited.

But let me step back a bit. Economic growth is very important because, in the long run, small changes in growth rates can alter the human condition enormously. If we can raise the long-run growth rate of per capita income merely from, say, 2% to 3%, that will make our grandkids 70 years from now twice as rich as they would have been if the slower growth trajectory had been sustained. In 700 years, this small change would make our descendants over a thousand times richer than they would have been. Lately, this important topic has become the subject of a large literature, mainly in economics though it spills over to other fields as well. I got a Masters in International Development and a PhD in economics and I’ve been exposed to a lot of this literature, yet I nevertheless feel inadequate to the task of summarizing it. Still, here’s a very rough typology of theories. Continue reading “Open borders and the economic frontier, part 3” »

How did we come to be so certain that closed borders are our salvation?

Editorial note, added December 26, 2014: Welcome, Hacker News readers! This website is devoted to discussing the case for open borders, including the moral arguments for it and the practical question of how to get there. To address concerns surrounding migration liberalization, we suggest keyhole soutions and slippery slopes to it. For more about the site, you might want to read our site FAQ. Another post that you might find particularly relevant is Nathan Smith’s post on Mark Zuckerberg and FWD.us.

One puzzling thing I notice about debating immigration is how certain people often are that strictly restricting immigration is the right policy. Almost any person, when prompted, can articulate almost immediately a tonne of reasons why restricting immigration makes sense:

  • National governments have carte blanche to exclude any foreigner from their territory as matter of moral right
  • Open borders would let terrorists into our country
  • Open borders would let foreigners steal jobs from our people
  • Open borders would allow a foreign people to invade and steal our country from us
  • Permitting immigration imposes foreign cultures on our people
  • Immigrants will abuse our welfare system
  • Immigrants will undermine our institutions and replace them with their inferior ones
  • Liberalising immigration won’t really help poor foreigners anyway
  • Too many immigrants will swamp our territory or society to the point that it cannot function any longer
  • Letting in low-IQ/-skilled immigrants harms our economy or polity

But for some reason, the same people eager to expound on the litany of catastrophic harms that would no doubt ensue under open borders are rarely able to cite any sort of academic literature that backs them up. Their best retort, in terms of academic prestige, is George Borjas’s work on immigration’s impact on American wages, and maybe Robert Putnam’s work suggesting that diversity reduces some theoretical measure of “social capital”. You can’t find any empirical estimates that seriously support the above hypotheses — at least not to the degree that has people so certain the only right immigration policy is building a better and higher prison wall.

Now, if you turn the above propositions around, on all of them, we are either certain that open borders is immensely beneficial, or we’re just unsure. We know for a fact that liberalising immigration immensely helps the poorest human beings alive. Hardly any serious restrictionist disputes this; the only ones I’ve encountered who do are basing their certainty on foundations of sand: the most memorable example was a person who suggested that estimates of the place premium are wrong, because when you adjust for purchasing power parity, people in poor countries have better living standards than people in the US — such an economically-illiterate claim that it doesn’t even merit a rebuttal here. Most restrictionists are happy to concede that immigrants are made better off — they just believe that the act of immigrating makes natives dramatically worse off.

But the propositions to do with crime and “job theft” are our runners up for certainty: in the empirical literature, it’s difficult to find any serious social scientist who believes immigration increases crime rates, especially in a significant manner. And among economists, Borjas alone sticks out like a sore thumb for producing estimates showing dramatic depression of native wages (“dramatic” being a short-run reduction of a few percentage points). If there are any serious peer-reviewed, published analyses showing immigration leads to a significant spike in crime, or any landmark studies besides Borjas’s contradicting the economic consensus, I’d love to see them, because they seem to have slipped the minds of the restrictionists I’ve met so far.

Still, for virtually all the other propositions above, the evidence is either limited, decidedly mixed, or both. The long-run institutional, political, and societal effects of immigration have not been thoroughly studied in an empirical manner. But assuming we place the most weight on these outcomes (and ignore the other findings on the economics and crime of immigration), this means we ought to be cautiously uncertain about what the right immigration policy is. It means that even if we favour restrictionist policies, we do so with great uncertainty.

Yet the spectre of open borders seems to produce a stout certainty on the part of many people, who even if they aren’t dedicated restrictionists, seem quite convinced that the status quo or something close to it is certainly the right and best policy, given what we know now. There is strong certainty that a more liberal immigration policy of any kind would be a horrible idea. Yet engaging with these pro-status quo or even pro-closed borders assertions, one finds them disappointingly devoid of empirical backing.

The best ace the restrictionists have in their back pocket is the nuanced argument that reducing the proportion of high-IQ people in an economy below a certain percentage, or raising the proportion of low-IQ people in an economy above a certain percentage, would lead to a slowdown in innovation or corrosion of successful institutions. But even this claim is problematic, since it is difficult to tell how far IQ and economic growth and innovation are causally linked. And if having low-IQ immigrants is so devastating, this effect should surely be easy to demonstrate through meaningful measures of harm: slower economic growth rates, fewer number of patents filed per capita, higher crime rate. If we can’t observe these harms at existing levels of immigration — and, it bears repeating, the overwhelming majority of the empirical literature cannot find any such meaningful harms — then right now we are simply worrying about IQ for the sake of worrying about IQ.

If this whole post seems wishy-washy, since I’m essentially conceding that we are uncertain about the effect of open borders on quite a few dimensions, you’re partly right. But it’s more accurate to say that we are just as equally quite uncertain about the impact of closed borders, and to the extent we know anything with certainty, it’s how devastating they are. We can’t even rule out that closed borders are incredibly harmful to us on a number of dimensions (a straightforward reading of the empirical literature suggests that if you want to cut crime rates, you should subsidise immigration). Worse still, given the consistency of the literature regarding the impact of closed borders on the world economy and global poverty, we are absolutely certain that closed borders keep millions of people in poverty of the worst kind. We know that on average, the effect of closed borders halves the world economy.

Even if you think that the status quo of closed borders is right, it is worrying how uncertain we are about this conclusion. In many cases, the issues at hand simply haven’t been studied enough, and we know virtually nothing (we certainly don’t know enough to support most common restrictionist assertions about immigration). We do know the incredible destruction that closed borders wreaks on the world economy and the people of the world, to the tune of halving world GDP and keeping millions in poverty. We ought to have our top men and women working on figuring out whether we can crack the borders open at all. The fact that we don’t means we are simply irrationally certain that closed borders is the right answer. And that irrationality strikes me as best summed up in this 1881 cartoon, depicting Irish immigrants to the US — men and women bringing terrorism, crime, and corrupt institutions to American shores, people whose only contribution was adding themselves to the welfare rolls:

Editorial note: If you’re interested in discussing the many issues related to open borders, check out the Open Borders Action Group on Facebbook.

Betting the Republic

UPDATE: After reading but before citing or linking to this post, please read the follow up where the author reveals his/her identity.

Open Borders note: This is a special and unusual guest post from an individual who contacted Open Borders with a request that the restrictionist case be presented clearly to the Open Borders audience. It is a one-off post and is not part of a general trend of similar posts. The opinions expressed here are often in contradiction with the opinions of Open Borders bloggers in general.

Open Borders note: The draft submitted by the post author had no links in it. Links have been added to relevant content across the web by the Open Borders staff (with no change to the post text). These have been added by the Open Borders staff to ease additional research, and not at the behest of the author.

Author’s note: Hello, and thank you for reading. Hopefully today I’ll be challenging your perceptions and your beliefs, and I look forward to hearing your replies. Since this is a guest post, I should give you some background. I am, to use your term, a “restrictionist.” I am anti-open-borders and I have written pieces related to immigration, specifically arguing against open borders, in the past. I have been in contact with this site’s administrator for some time. We’ve had numerous debates on the topic, and I’ve asked him if he would be willing to allow me to present my argument to his readership, in the interest of a fair and open debate. He has graciously accepted.

For a number of reasons, I am not using my real name on this post. Please don’t think that means I’m unwilling to stand by my arguments! Quite the contrary – in one week, I will reveal my identity in a follow-up post. However, I would like each of you to read and consider my words with a clear mind, instead of prejudging based on my previous works, which a number of you may be familiar with. I would like to hear your arguments in response to my words, not in response to my identity. I thank the good people at Open Borders for the opportunity, and I thank each of you in advance who read this. I look forward to reading your responses!

I am a libertarian, so I believe in freedom, personal responsibility, and mutual respect. I don’t believe that your freedom to own a gun means that you have the “freedom” to shoot someone, and I believe that in the perfect world, every interaction among people would be voluntary on all sides. Because allowing unfettered immigration expressly violates these principles, I am against it.

I’m not against immigration on the margin. I believe that we are a nation of immigrants and great because of it. But the presumption of open borders and unrestricted immigration poses a unique danger to the very aspects of America that protect that greatness. Even if I had no other personal concerns, the precautionary principle itself would put me squarely in the “skeptical” camp in regards to immigration. Since I do have other concerns, however (which I have debated with other libertarians before), I will present them here.

In any society, people – especially large groups of people – exert political influence. This isn’t a factor unique to democracies, though it may be amplified by that particular form of government. Even in a totalitarian dictatorship, enough people will invariably exert influence. I’m well aware that immigrants need not necessarily be granted citizenship and thus voting rights simply because they’ve been allowed to legally remain in residence. However, consider that the alternative is hardly better: when we see millions of people living in societies outside of America completely devoid of political representation we call it “oppression!” People have, throughout history, fought long and bloody struggles for the right to be represented in their government – do we really believe that immigrants here, even if they initially promise not to, will do any less? Even if every immigrant were to come with the express condition that they understand they will receive no representation in our government, their children will be bound by no such promise. And if they are bound by it, would they not rightly complain, and struggle for the very representation their parents were willing to forgo? Whether it’s this generation of immigrants, their children, or their children’s children, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a massive influx of people from a radically different culture would radically change our nation. And what would they eventually change it into? The very societies and cultures they’re so eager to escape – and that we should be equally eager to keep out, if we believe America to be an example of a better way to organize society.

So what are our options as natives? If we allow unfettered immigration, we have only three real options when it comes to establishing the political influence of the immigrants: we can grant them full representation, we can grant them no representation, or we can grant them some form of partial representation. None of these three options seem politically viable. Granting full voting rights to people that have not been raised and educated to understand the nuances of our culture seems akin to handing a driver’s license to someone that has never even seen a car before. Even more accurately, it would be like granting citizens of foreign countries the right to vote in our elections! In fact, even pro-immigration advocates recognize this, and my understanding is that for the most part, they advocate instead for the so-called “keyhole solution” of immigration without citizenship. But that’s no better. Even the eleven million illegal immigrants currently in America exhibit political influence. Would we assume that possibly many times that number of legal ones wouldn’t, voting or no? It would only be a matter of time before a coalition formed to demand voting rights, and in an exact repeat performance of the period between 1869-1964, those immigrants will get those rights, just as black people did. The American democracy will tolerate nothing less; in fact, I’d bet that it would happen much faster this time around.

For the same reason, granting some sort of partial representation seems unlikely to remain politically viable. Any such effort would be uncomfortably reminiscent of racially-charged historical facts like the Three-Fifths Compromise, and it’s unlikely that such levees would hold against the rising tide of a concerted effort to overcome them, especially when the numbers in such an organized bloc would swell by the day from immigration itself. Other halfway measures exist as well, but each has its own version of this political dilemma. Allowing something like “free immigration zones” within America sounds reasonable – allow unfettered immigration, but only into certain areas both to prevent harms to a broad selection of natives and to limit political power to a small number of districts – but words like “ghetto” will surely be bandied about politically until the barriers are overwhelmed. The American electorate howls constantly for equality (or at least the appearance of it), and I sincerely doubt they would tolerate any appearance of deliberate inequality, even if the alternative was actually worse for everyone involved.

As a libertarian, I accept that there should be a strong presumption of allowing freedom in all forms, and I concede that this moral presumption means that we should try to allow as many immigrants as is reasonable. But “reasonable” should mean “in a manner consistent with protecting the very liberties these immigrants are seeking, and that natives already enjoy.” My solution, such as it is, is as follows: I do not believe that we should be screening potential immigrants for skill level or wealth, “stapling green cards to diplomas,” as it were. Instead, I believe we should be screening them for values consistent with maintaining a free America, and basing our immigration numbers on that statistic. An unskilled farm worker who believes in maintaining freedom and liberty is much more valuable to the nation than a skilled surgeon who would seek to emulate the failed policies of his or her homeland. If the potential immigrants were capable of governing themselves into freedom and liberty, they would not be trying to come to America to begin with. If there were a perfect way to measure political attitudes, then that could easily be an entrance criterion, but since it’s so easy to lie about such matters (especially if it becomes common knowledge that your immigration status depends on it), it is likely that some other measurable quality may be necessary. IQ stands as the most reasonable quality: it’s relatively easy to measure, and while IQ by itself need not matter, it stands as a reasonable predictor of income, which in turn is a fairly reliable predictor of education, which is positively correlated with better voting habits. Combined with the simple fact that higher intelligence makes you more likely to be more open to sound economics and libertarian ideals, it’s entirely possible that systematically lower IQ among third-world natives prevents liberty from taking root in those nations. If that’s the case, there is little that cultural assimilation will do to change that. So it stands to reason that despite the other benefits they may offer to Americans, allowing them to influence the political landscape of America is a potentially ruinous proposition.

If there were a politically viable way to divorce immigrants themselves from the political influence they could wield, then I would be far more likely to accept the open borders stance. Ultimately, I believe that immigration helped to make this country great, and that immigration will be an essential part of this nation’s even greater future. But in order to preserve this nation for the generations upon generations of immigrants to come, we need to ensure a single generation of immigrants does not overwhelm and destroy it.

Bleg: research on the effects of open borders beyond the labor market

The double world GDP literature cited in Clemens’ paper (and also John Kennan’s paper) provides estimates of how free global labor mobility would affect world GDP, mainly through their effects on the labor market (though other channels of effect are also considered in these papers, albeit perhaps not as much as they should be). But I don’t know of any literature about the effect that open borders might have on crime (something I speculated about here), global IQ (something I asked Bryan Caplan to bleg), and global politics (whether through political externalities in the receiving countries or a changed political landscape in the immigrant-sending countries). Speculation about the effects on the dating and mating markets and the genetic composition of future generations might also be quite valuable (see for instance Erik’s comment).

If a serious case is to be made for open borders, and if serious efforts are to be made to move towards open borders with appropriately designed keyhole solutions, it is essential to understand, envisage and prepare for a range of scenarios regarding these questions.

So, I’m blegging for the answers to two questions:

  1. If you’re aware of any literature that considers counterfactual scenarios of radically more open borders, whether locally (for specific country pairs) or globally, but that goes beyond simply measuring the effects on the labor market, please pass it on in the comments.
  2. Assuming that I am correct about the paucity of such research, though, why is there so little research on these topics, even compared to economics research on the effects of open borders? Two hypotheses have been suggested to me:
    • Nathan Smith’s view: Various frameworks in economics, such as rationality, allow for the consideration of radical counterfactual scenarios in a manner that is not necessarily realistic but still bears some semblance of objectivity and offers some type of ballpark. No similar widely-agreed-upon first-pass framework exists in other disciplines.
    • Bryan Caplan’s view: Economics manages to attract a few people who are genuinely curious and adventurous and willing to consider radical alternative scenarios and perform a serious analysis of these scenarios. Other disciplines may not attract such people.

    Any alternative hypotheses would also be welcome.

Poor countries and IQ externalities

BK helps make the case for open borders in poor countries:

Interesting point by Jones: if high-IQ people produce positive externalities well above their market wages in poor countries, then citizenists in poor countries should be willing to offer larges subsidies for high-IQ immigration:

“If IQ has the sizeable positive externalities posited here, then there may be room for a Coasian bargain between countries with low current LV IQ and higher IQ individuals in other countries.  One purely suggestive possibility: If the ratio of private to public benefits of higher IQ are even half as large as the 6:1 ratio suggested by Jones and Schneider (2010), a low LV IQ country could rationally offer a 100% subsidy for any wages a high IQ immigrant earns in excess of that nation’s median wage.  In practical terms, a 10 year income tax holiday for permanent immigrants with engineering degrees could accomplish the same goal of encouraging high IQ immigration. “

Favoring engineers seems too much like “picking winners,” and I don’t think the research is really there to support anything so specific (don’t forget that the most obvious externality of engineers, that they invent things, is global in nature) but a simpler policy recommendation to derive from this argument would probably imply that poor countries should simply open their borders to immigrants from rich countries. Rich countries generally have higher average IQ, certainly higher levels of education, and probably other traits– work ethic, perhaps, or trustworthiness– that make their home countries productive. I don’t have great data on this– go, IMPALA!— but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be very easy for an immigrant from the US or Western Europe, with or without an engineering degree, to migrate to India or Malawi or China or Russia and just get a job, never mind a tax holiday. Why don’t poor countries offer free immigration to holders of US, EU, Japanese or South Korean passports? I suspect that it’s some combination of (a) elite protectionism– a corrupt business elite makes the rules and doesn’t want the competition from capable Westerners or East Asians– and (b) global norms– rich countries have migration restrictions and they’re either blindly imitating or else retaliating out of pride against countries that exclude them. But it would be interesting to investigate further.

Related thoughts: (1) Would it be easy for rich countries to negotiate away restrictions against their nationals working in poor countries, in return for a bit more openness to migrants from those countries, or perhaps other concessions, e.g., aid or trade? (2) Would a high-profile open-borders movement in the US and/or Western Europe, even while unsuccessful domestically, change the climate of ideas and persuade poor countries to open their borders to migration, to gain the “moral high ground?”