Tag Archives: meta-counterarguments

Benefits and harms to migrants: a meta-response

I just published a blog post titled gains from migration: GDP versus surplus where I make arguments similar to those in the blog post by Michael Clemens titled Do the Gains from International Migration “Go to the Immigrants”? But in true Caplanian fashion, I think it may be better to step back a bit and offer a meta-counterargument to people who use “all the gains from migration are captured by the migrants” as sufficient grounds to dismiss the huge benefits from open borders. And while I’m at it, I want to consider its mirror image argument, which is also offered by many restrictionists (though I haven’t yet seen a restrictionist offer both arguments simultaneously).

  • Benefits go “only” to the migrants: The claim here is that the benefits of open borders are huge, but they go “only” or “largely” to the migrants. Once we subtract off the benefits to the migrants, the benefits to the rest of humanity are miniscule, zero, or negative. So, open borders aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
  • Open borders hurt the very people they’re intended to help: This argument has a few respectable versions, such as the killing the goose that lays the golden eggs formulation and the cheap labor leading to a technological slowdown argument. But, there are a lot of other versions of the argument, and the version I want to address here builds upon the analogy between immigration restrictions and apartheid in South Africa. The claim is that the end of apartheid spelled disaster for South African whites and blacks. If immigration restrictions are like apartheid, then open borders might lead to the very same problems globally that we currently see in South Africa. Typical for this line of reasoning is this comment by egd on Bryan Caplan’s blog post:

    Do you seriously believe that open borders would lead to such an outcome for you?

    No, but that’s not the right question, is it?

    Even in South Africa, treatment of whites after apartheid is far better than treatment of blacks under apartheid.

    Has ending apartheid made whites better off?

    Has ending apartheid made blacks better off?

    The answer to both of these questions is pretty clearly “no”: more poverty, more income inequality (to the extent it’s bad), reduced life expectancy, and other problems have developed in South Africa.

    The root cause isn’t desegregation, the root cause is political externalities associated with desegregation. Political externalities matter.

    James A. Donald, in a further comment on the same blog post, writes:

    It is glaringly obvious that not only are whites far worse off with the end of Apartheid in South Africa, blacks also are worse off.

    The flood of illegals from neighboring black countries has ended with the end of apartheid, and in many cases reversed. Blacks are voting with their feet that black South Africa is no good, after previously voting with their feet that white South Africa was good.

    Electricity has become intermittent, water is dangerous, and the higher stories of tall buildings have become uninhabitable

    Black incomes have fallen dramatically following the end of apartheid



    When the superior rule the inferior, it is not only better for the superior, it also better for the inferior.

    Even if blacks had the same income, that would be no substitute for the lack of clean water, lack of reliable electricity, and lack of law and order.

    And that is what America will become in due course with current levels of immigration of inferior people.

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