Tag Archives: Nathan Smith

IQ and double counting the harms of immigration

Nathan just published a lengthy and detailed critique of various critics of open borders. I think he gets many things right, but in some ways he underestimates restrictionist arguments. This isn’t entirely Nathan’s fault — restrictionists often don’t frame their arguments cogently and clearly, and it’s extremely hard to understand their arguments without spending considerable time going through them. I want to talk about one particular restrictionist argument — the IQ deficit argument, and what I think an appropriate response to this argument is. This post is not intended to address specific restrictionist critiques of IQ. I’ll do that in subsequent posts. For now, my main goal is to explain my overall position.

Now, some open borders advocates find the entire discussion of IQ off-putting and are quick to make accusations of racism and invoke negative stereotypes for restrictionists. (To take just one example of where this came up, consider the comments section of this blog post where I came under fire for engaging IQ-based arguments in the context of immigration). I do not adopt this approach for multiple reasons, most important of which is that I think some of the basic premises underlying the IQ deficit concern are valid. And, my goal in this blog post is to address IQ-based objections, not to dismiss them.

I’ll state the IQ deficit argument for immigration to the United States, though the general framework is applicable to immigration to other countries as well.

  • IQ is meaningful, measurable, and correlated with a number of real-world performance metrics. Higher IQ people tend to be more cooperative, less criminal, more innovative, better and more informed voters, etc. These correlations hold even after we control for other things such as education levels. A high IQ person without much formal education would tend to be more cooperative than a low IQ person with a similarly low formal education: Basically, I think this is correct. It seems to agree with the Mainstream Science on Intelligence and Intelligence: Known and Unknowns. Recent work by Garett Jones has strengthened economists’ appreciation of the link IQ and cooperation and its role in economic development, something whose implications I considered in this blog post.
  • Adult IQ is fairly stable (though it can go down with head injuries and certain illnesses). It cannot usually be made to go up significantly. Childhood IQ may be malleable, but we don’t quite know how to manipulate it much on the positive side, though probably malnutrition and childhood disease affect it on the negative side. I think this is broadly correct too. This also agrees with the two consensus statements above.
  • Under open borders, the average IQ of immigrants to the United States is lower than the average IQ of current United States residents: International IQ data comparisons are not very solidly established, but the preliminary evidence suggests that this is likely to be true. If Lynn and Vanhanen’s data are to be believed, then the average world IQ is about 2/3 of a standard deviation below average US IQ. I’m not very confident about this, but it’s plausible.
  • The stability of adult IQ means that even after migration, the lower average IQ of immigrants will pull down the average IQ of the United States. This seems fairly plausible to me.

At this point, Nathan jumps in and says, “Ah! Even if correct, this is not as relevant as you think. You’re committing the maximize the average fallacy and refuse to understand the comparative advantage concept.”

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.

This brings me to the crux of my objection to the IQ deficit concern. If lower immigrant IQ raises concerns about higher immigrant crime rates or wrong political beliefs, then that should show up in the evidence on immigrant crime rates and political beliefs. If it does show up there, then great, score a point for restrictionists, and now that we’ve done that, what additional information does immigrants’ IQ deficit give us? By saying that immigrants commit crime and that immigrants have a low IQ which means they would commit more crime, it seems like restrictionists are double counting crime.

What if restrictionists are unsuccessful in demonstrating higher immigrant crime? That does seem to be the case with current levels of immigration to the United States. As things stand today, the foreign-born have lower crime rates than natives both in total and for every ethnicity and for every combination of ethnicity and high school graduation status.

Some restrictionists look these data in the eye and say, “Immigrants have lower IQ, therefore they must be committing more crime, no matter what the data say.” I think the data on crime rates aren’t wrong, so let me engage restrictionists by offering alternative explanations within their explanatory framework of low IQ being correlated with higher crime rates. The first possibility is that the restrictionists may be wrong about their claim of lower IQ of current immigrants to the United States. The second possibility is that there may be certain other differences between the foreign-born and native-born Americans that compensate for the lower average IQ to push the overall averages in the other direction. Those differences may be in terms of the culture or in terms of the structural incentives and constraints faced by the foreign-born relative to natives. But whatever the story, I think that when restrictionists find that a particular predicted ill-effect of low immigrant IQ fails to materialize, then they should give up on that and concentrate on the other claimed bad effects. And, perhaps, also double-check their claim of lower immigrant IQ while they’re at it.

So my overall claim is that restrictionists who think the IQ framework is a good overarching framework within which to fit their objections can certainly offer this framework. But they should not double count harms by both including the harm itself and the IQ deficit channel for the harm as separate harms. And if a harm predicted by IQ deficit fails to materialize, they should sportingly concede the point and move on. Which means that IQ deficit ultimately serves only as a framework, not as an argument in and of itself.

I will now address a few possible objections that restrictionists might raise to what I’ve said above. Continue reading IQ and double counting the harms of immigration

Free speech absolutism versus viewpoint-based immigration restrictions

If you’re on board with the libertarian case for open borders, and believe that the right to migrate applies at least presumptively, the next task on hand is to identify the exceptional situations where this right may be curtailed in the form of a blanket denial. I’m distinguishing blanket denials from immigration tariffs and other keyhole solutions that require potential immigrants to spend a “reasonable” amount of time, money, or effort in compliance.

My thumb rule for blanket denials is: anything that constitutes sufficient reason for blanket denial of migration should also constitute sufficient reason for punitive measures under criminal or civil law in the target country of immigration. For instance, murder is sufficient grounds for imprisonment, and hence also, in my book, sufficient grounds for a blanket denial of the right to migrate. In some cases, I think the punitive measure under domestic criminal law really is morally unjustified, and hence restricting immigration on that basis is also unjustified. An example is laws against drug use in many countries — I don’t think drug use is sufficient grounds for imprisonment, and hence also not sufficient grounds for denying immigrants entry. But others, who hold different views on drug use, may come to the opposite conclusion.

So far, so good. It is when we move from criminal law to civil law that things get more interesting. Certain activities, such as libel, contract fraud, and copyright infringement, are punishable under civil, but not criminal, law in most jurisdiction — they are litigated by persons, not prosecuted by the state. Libertarians (and others) are probably unanimous about the evil of contract fraud, and may have the view that, at least in some extreme cases, this may be sufficient grounds for denying the right to migrate. Libel and copyright infringement are trickier, since many libertarians (and others) feel that copyright infringement is not immoral at all, and some hold a similar view about libel. Even for those who are opposed to libel and copyright infringement, deporting people, or denying entry, for these “crimes” may seem like overkill. Other minor “crimes” like traffic infractions may also seem like insufficient grounds for denying the right to migrate.

The most interesting case, though, is the case of people holding and espousing viewpoints that are perfectly legal — in compliance with criminal law and unlikely to be successfully litigated against. First Amendment protections in the United States give people wide latitude to say a lot of things as long as these do not constitute libel/slander, infringe on copyrights, trademarks, or patents, or provide direct incitement to violence in a situation where such violence may be carried out. There are various restrictions in the United States on pornography and speech directly related to political candidates, but I’m ignoring these for the moment. In particular, it is perfectly okay from a legal viewpoint to say positive or negative things about century-old religious doctrines, regardless of the truth or falsehood of these. You could praise Christianity or Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism, or condemn these, and no legal action against you would plausibly succeed. It is also perfectly okay from a legal viewpoint to hold and espouse practically any political position from communism to Nazism to anarcho-capitalism.

Going by my thumb rule, then, viewpoint-based immigration restrictions are not morally justified. However, a number of people, even those broadly supportive of open borders, do express some sympathy for the concerns that underlie the advocacy of viewpoint-based immigration restrictions. The whole political externalities argument — which focuses on how immigrants’ political beliefs would affect political policies and outcomes — is an example. Another example is offered by my co-blogger Nathan Smith, who, in his book Principles of a Free Society, carves out a possible viewpoint-based exception to his general advocacy of open borders — the case of Islam. Given his devotion to open borders, he endorses an intermediate solution, but it still falls short of the thumb rule I outline above.

Unless it were deliberately modified to avert this result, DRITI [Nathan’s shorthand for his proposed immigration plan — “Don’t Restrict Immigration, Tax It”] would lead to large-scale immigration of Muslims in search of freedom and economic opportunity, and this is one of the more legitimate reasons to worry about it. Worldwide, Islam exhibits a large democracy deficit vis-a-vis the rest of the world (Rowley and Smith, 2009), partly because of the historical lack of a tradition of freedom, and especially of religious freedom, in Islamic societies. On the other hand, there are now quite a few Muslim-majority democratic countries, such as Indonesia. […] Mass Islamic immigration could lead to Muslim majorities in host countries, able to replace freedom with Islamic sharia.

The most drastic response to this threat would be simply to exclude Muslims from eligibility for DRITI visas, or perhaps from the path to citizenship associated with it. It is tenable that the mere fact of adherence to Islam is evidence of a commitment to values inconsistent with respecting the rights of others that justifies excluding a person as a security threat. [emphasis added, not in original] This would be unfair, however, to those Muslims, probably constituting a large majority, who have no inclination to accept and/or to act on this (arguable) tenet of their faith. […] A more moderate approach might be to screen carefully for known terror suspects and extremists, to keep a close watch on Muslim immigrant communities, and to inquire into the ideology of Muslim DRITI migrants applying for citizenship to make sure they convincingly disavow the death penalty for apostasy and other traditional Islamic beliefs inconsistent with the principles of a free society, perhaps with the help of oaths or signed statements to that effect.

The reason I think this falls short of the thumb rule I advocate is that I doubt that Nathan would agree to the idea that if a person who is already a US citizen advocated, say, the death penalty for apostasy from Islam, then that person should be prosecuted or successfully litigated against. Or even that this person should be stripped of his/her citizenship.

Personally, I do not have a firm opinion on whether viewpoint-based immigration restrictions of this kind are morally justifiable. One possibility is that my thumb rule is, in fact, wrong, and such restrictions are morally justifiable, even though citizens who espouse similar viewpoints are legally protected. Another possibility is that the restrictions are not justifiable. A third viewpoint is that, in fact, the restrictions are justifiable and that citizens who espouse similar viewpoints should not enjoy legal protection.

What we should keep in mind, though, is that even if such viewpoint-based immigration restrictions are morally justified, there is still a pretty substantial extent to which immigration can be made freer while maintaining such restrictions.

Open Borders with Migration Taxes are the Optimal Policy

I just posted my article, “Open Borders with Migration Taxes are the Optimal Policy,” at SSRN. The abstract:

For some reason, economists are less willing to advocate open migration than free trade, even though the traditional free trade models, such as Ricardian comparative advantage and Heckscher-Ohlin, cross-apply to migration. In fact, however, the case for open migration is stronger than the case for free trade, because it is possible to tax foreign-born beneficiaries of open migration policies, through migration taxes. It is here proven that a policy of open borders with migration taxes is Pareto-superior to the alternative of closed borders (or discretionary migration control). Political norms of local inequality aversion seem to prevent the adoption, or even consideration, of such a policy, and the enormous gains in human welfare that would result from it. Some proposals, including a World Migration Organization and passport-free charter cities, are proposed as steps towards a world of open migration.

Continue reading Open Borders with Migration Taxes are the Optimal Policy