Tag Archives: open borders advocacy

Are immigrant rights activists friends of open borders?

NOTE: This article focuses on the United States, though some of its points may be more generally applicable.

In a blog post I’m currently drafting (which will hopefully be published shortly after this one) I note BK’s criticism of open borders advocates such as Bryan Caplan — pro-migration forces as they actually exist are opposed to all the keyhole solutions that might actually alleviate the concerns of moderate critics of open borders. By siding with these “pro-migration forces” open borders advocates make it appear that their advocacy of keyhole solutions to deal with the problems of migration is a mere rhetorical fig leaf offered to critics of open borders. Here’s an excerpt from BK’s comment:

Those changes [making keyhole solutions politically feasible] would require a big political effort, since pro-migration political forces are mostly very opposed to keyhole solutions since they expect to benefit politically from bringing in immigrants that will vote for them. And so, to implement a Singapore-style solution the key step would be to push to create the legal apparatus and will to enforce that apparatus *before* adding tens of millions of recent low-skill migrants to the electorate.

On the other hand, live immigration proposals of recent years have called for amnesty of all existing illegal immigrants in the U.S. with tens of millions more to follow via family sponsorships, and reduced enforcement to enable more low-skill migration. This would drastically change the political landscape, to the disfavor of keyhole solutions. Recall that support for immigration is the area where recent migrants are most different from locals.

So generalized pro-immigration ideological pushes strengthen the opponents of keyhole solutions more than they support keyhole solutions. And in practice Bryan and folk at this site do seem to use keyhole solutions primarily as a rhetorical fig-leaf to deflect opposition and shut down conversations.

Although BK doesn’t offer any specific links, I think he’s [NOTE: I have strong reason to believe BK is male, even though it’s not obvious from the comment text, so I’ll use “he” to refer to BK] mostly on point regarding the “pro-migration” and even more broadly the “pro-immigrant” forces (even if we ignore pro-immigrant restrictionists for the moment). Frankly, I think that a lot of the pro-migration and pro-immigrant forces aren’t interested in anything approaching open borders, and may not even be supportive of expanded immigration. In fact, I suspect that a lot of what motivates immigrants’ rights activists is territorialism, an ideology that, unlike citizenism, is interested in the welfare and protection of rights of all people who are within the geographical area of the nation, regardless of their citizenship status and of whether they are authorized or unauthorized. Added: A lot of immigrant rights’ activists are also susceptible to local inequality aversion, another obstruction to keyhole solutions.

I will look at a few groups that are often (rightly or wrongly) labeled as pro-immigrant and study how their efforts might help or hurt the development of keyhole solutions.

American Civil Liberties Union

A classic example of territorialism is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU is at the forefront of defending the rights of immigrants, including “illegal” immigrants, via their Immigrants’ Rights Project. I’ve read through a number of pages on the ACLU website, and it seems to me that the ACLU takes no position on what immigration law itself should be. In fact, they concede that the US has collective property rights and can set more or less any immigration policy. The only thing they object to is inhumane deportations. From their Immigrants’ Rights Project page:

Our nation has unquestioned authority to control its borders and to regulate immigration. But we must exercise the awesome power to exclude or deport immigrants consistent with the rule of law, the fundamental norms of humanity and the requirements of the Constitution.

And they seem to take no position on the civil liberties and human rights of non-US people when they are not in US territory.

Now, you might say that this is just part of the “division of labor” that Nathan highlighted in this post. The ACLU is the American (US) Civil Liberties Union, which means that their scope is explicitly limited to what happens within the territory and jurisdiction of the United States. This means that, definitionally, qua organization, they cannot be concerned about the violation of rights of people outside the territory or jurisdiction of the United States, even if individuals at the ACLU feel strongly about these issues. Fair enough. Continue reading “Are immigrant rights activists friends of open borders?” »

Open borders and the libertarian priority list: part 2

This is the second of a planned series of three blog posts regarding where open borders fit in the libertarian priority list. In part one, I laid out the overall agenda of the series:

I aim to consider three aspects to this issue in three separate blog posts. In the current blog post, I consider the extent to which libertarians do advocate for open borders, relative to many other libertarian causes (my conclusion: not much). In the next blog post, I will consider how much energy I think libertarians should devote to open borders (my conclusion: probably more than they currently do). In my third blog post, I will consider the reasons behind what I perceive as the under-supply of open borders advocacy from libertarians.

I’m glad to see that my first blog post sparked off a lot of debate. Bryan Caplan responded here. Perhaps coincidentally, a number of non-libertarian bloggers have recently blogged about the importance of pro-immigration advocacy. These include Matt Yglesias here and Adam Ozimek here. My co-blogger Nathan responded to Ozimek here.

This blog post will focus on the extent to which I think libertarians should focus on open borders advocacy. Prior to getting into the details, I want to clarify what I mean by the “should” here. My intuitive three-tiered view of ethics says that there are three tiers to ethical obligations:

  1. Negative rights ethics (don’t kill, steal, etc.)
  2. Contract/responsibility ethics (fulfill your contractual responsibilities, be honest, etc.)
  3. Excellence ethics (be nice, do a great job, give to charity, etc. — this is largely supererogatory).

When there is a conflict, negative rights ethics wins out over contract/responsibility ethics — for instance, it is immoral to be a contract killer, and if you did agree to kill somebody, it would be more moral to break the contract and not kill than to fulfil the terms of the contract. Both negative rights ethics and contract/responsibility ethics win out over excellence ethics, which are largely supererogatory.

Open borders advocacy, like most libertarian advocacy, falls outside the realm of negative rights ethics. For some people, including people hired by libertarian think tanks or advocacy groups, libertarian advocacy falls under the realm of contract/responsibility ethics — but whether or not that libertarian advocacy specifically includes open borders advocacy is a matter between them and their employers. So, my discussion of how important open borders advocacy should be within the context of libertarian advocacy is largely a discussion that’s part of the supererogatory framework of excellence ethics. The key point, therefore, is that I do not claim that libertarians as individuals have a personal moral obligation toward open borders advocacy. When I say that libertarians should engage in open borders advocacy, that’s just my shorthand for saying that engaging in open borders advocacy is the best use of libertarian resources based on my understanding of libertarianism, not that libertarians qua individuals are morally obligated to engage in such advocacy.

I will also repeat the scoping I did back in part 1, to circumvent the problem of libertarians (such as those who subscribe to the anarcho-capitalist counterfactual) who simply reject the case for open borders. The question I specifically consider is:

For a libertarian who is broadly convinced by the case for open borders, primarily from the libertarian perspective (but also based on other aspects of the case), how important should support or advocacy for open borders be, relative to other libertarian causes?

With the scoping done, I now proceed to make my case: open borders advocacy “should” be quite high on the libertarian priority list.

The law of large proportions

The law of large proportions says, somewhat unsurprisingly, that the same proportional change in something bigger is larger than the same proportional change in something smaller. (This is not a very standard term, and doesn’t seem to have a Wikipedia page, but see for instance here and here). In fact, even a much smaller proportional change in something bigger could be larger than a much bigger proportional change in something smaller. This term is used in the context of energy conservation. If private automobile transit causes ten times as much pollution as mass transit, then a 10% reduction in pollution from private automobile transit constitutes as much of a reduction in pollution as a complete elimination of pollution from mass transit. In particular, a 10% reduction in pollution from private automobile transit is twice as much as a 50% reduction in the pollution from mass transit. Continue reading “Open borders and the libertarian priority list: part 2” »

How persuasive are open borders advocates? The case of Bryan Caplan

To make any comment about the extent to which resources should be devoted to open borders advocacy, and the way the resources should be allocated, one must have at least some idea of how effective various forms of open borders advocacy are. One of the most admirable proponents of open borders is Bryan Caplan. Caplan has called open borders the most important issue of our time (here and here) and his writings are linked to and quoted all over this website. But just how effective is he? How many minds has he changed? How many hearts has he won to the cause of open borders? I emailed Caplan, asking him to post this question as a bleg to his commenters, a group that includes both a number of passionate pro-open borders people (like John Lee, whom I recruited to the Open Borders blog after discovering him in the EconLog comments) and some of the most articulate restrictionists of open borders, as Nathan has pointed out.

Caplan was kind enough to do an Open Borders Persuasion Bleg, and Nathan has since written a blog post responding to some of Caplan’s critics. My focus here is not to respond to the critiques of Caplan (a job that Nathan has already done, with the exception of taking on Ghost of Christmas Past). Rather, my goal is to do a quick quantitative and qualitative analysis of the comments, and then to use these to pontificate on the future direction and focus of open borders advocacy.

Quantitatively measured conclusions: some evidence of effectiveness

I have a quick summary of the responses here. For each commenter, I tried to identify the commenter’s stance on open borders pre-Caplan and post-Caplan. For commenters where the stance was unclear, I selected all possibilities that were consistent with the comment. Here’s what I took away from the analysis:

  • About half the commenters (46/90 in my count) were influenced toward more open borders. 10/90 were influenced toward more closed borders, and the rest were either unaffected or their comments did not make it clear how they were affected. Note that my count of unaffected people includes people who were already so pro-open borders that their conviction couldn’t be strengthened further.
  • The overall mix of commenters’ positions pre-Caplan and post-Caplan has changed to some extent to the pro-open borders position. Support for closed borders (i.e., more closed borders than the status quo) decreased, and support for radical open borders increased. There was a shift all along the chain from closed borders to the status quo to moderately more open borders to radically more open borders. The most dramatic shift, though, was the shift from moderately more open borders to radically more open borders. Caplan seems to be most convincing in this group.
  • About 60% of the commenters (54/90 in my count) said, directly or indirectly, that Caplan had persuaded them about the importance of the issue. This includes some people who were already so radically pro-open borders that they couldn’t move further in that direction — Caplan influenced these people to attach a greater priority to open borders. It also includes people who aren’t completely convinced by Caplan, but think that this issue is important and deserves more attention, and appreciate Caplan’s efforts to address the issue.
  • There were a bunch of people (16/90 in my count) who said that Caplan had successfully addressed some, but not all, of their concerns about open borders.
  • Among the specific points where commenters considered Caplan unconvincing, political externalities was the most significant. Other issues raised by the commenters included IQ deficit, dysfunctional immigrant culture, and the welfare state/fiscal burden objection. Unsurprisingly for an economically literate group of commenters, the suppression of wages of natives issue was raised by almost no commenter.

Qualitative nature of complaints

The gist of the qualitative pushback that Caplan received from commenters was that he didn’t take restrictionist concerns seriously enough for them to be convinced that his advocacy of open borders had adequately taken these objections into account. Now, prima facie, this objection seems weird, because Caplan has spent more time than almost any other open borders advocate I know trying to address restrictionist arguments such as IQ deficit and political externalities (though I hope that the coverage of these topics on the Open Borders blog will soon outstrip Caplan’s coverage). He has been willing to consider keyhole solutions as an alternative to closed borders. Yet, commenters are not satisfied with Caplan’s efforts. Continue reading “How persuasive are open borders advocates? The case of Bryan Caplan” »

What do open borders advocates really want?

How do we translate the cause of open borders into specific policy recommendations? The range of policies entailed by “looser border controls” is wide — and the range of policies which might be mistakenly attached to the “open borders” idea is even wider. It is important to be clear on definitions when we discuss the idea of open borders, lest we waste time on proposals which few actually support.

Before I continue, note that I speak only for myself; not for Vipul, not for Nathan, and not for any other advocate of open borders, even though we all support greater immigration. In fact, immigration supporter Tyler Cowen declares himself opposed to open borders, even though I suspect under my definition of “open borders”, he may be one of our greatest advocates.

It is crucial to be clear about what “open borders” really means in terms of end goals. Being vague about the meaning of “open borders” makes it easy for restrictionists to attack straw men, while ignoring the strongest arguments for open borders. So when I seek open borders, here is what I want: people to be able to cross international borders at will, insofar as this is administratively practical.

Continue reading “What do open borders advocates really want?” »

Why the deficit of immigration advocacy? A deficit of demand, not supply

Adam Ozimek at Modeled Behavior argues that “Bloggers and Economists are Failing on Immigration“:

This is a point I hinted at in this previous post but I wanted to make more explicitly. Bloggers and economists are failing when it comes to their coverage and discussion of immigration as an economic policy lever. Despite the occasional coverage it does get, the fact that we should have more high-skilled immigration (HSI) remains an extremely under-blogged topic. Yes, there are many things that “deserve more attention”, especially many third-world tragedies. But this is domestic policy of extreme importance, and it is a solution rather than an unsolvable problem in a faraway land.

I know that most bloggers do a pro-immigration piece occasionally, but there is nothing like the outrage, urgency, and ceaselessness that comes with other domestic policy blogging topics. Compare the pro-HSI blogging to posts that are pro or con fiscal policy. Or monetary policy. Where is the tirelessness of the market monetarists when it comes to high skilled immigration? Or how about the ceaselessness and outrage that liberal economists bring when arguing for fiscal stimulus?

My tentative conclusion is that people don’t blog this because there is no argument to have with each other. You can see this is true in the fact that I’m not even mentioning any facts or arguments for immigration in this post. High skilled immigrants are entrepreneurs, it would help ameliorate our long-run demographic problems, etc., etc. You know the arguments. The downside is, this means this issue can’t be used as a cudgel against intellectual opponents because few reasonable people disagree. We cannot raise or lower each others status by writing about this. If this is indeed why the topic is so under-blogged, it may well be an unmovable reality of blogging, but it is a pretty poor excuse and we should be challenging each other to do better…

There are some good guys here. Michael Clemens is one of the strongest voices out there regularly arguing for more immigration. Noah Smith dedicates a high percentage of his writing to this.  But few write about this issue as it deserves to be written about. Bloggers and economists respond to their individual incentives, so I’m not sure what can be done to motivate more here…

I’m not calling out any individuals here, but I am challenging bloggers and economists to answer these questions: are you writing and talking as much about high-skilled immigration as you should be? And if not, why aren’t you doing it more?

I’d nominate my co-blogger Vipul Naik as one of the “good guys.” Actually, Bryan Caplan is even more deserving of mention, being more long-standing and prominent. But I doubt that Ozimek has ever heard of Vipul Naik, or myself. I would suggest that Ozimek think about the demand side. Maybe bloggers don’t blog about immigration that much because readers don’t want to read about it. Maybe a blog devoted full-time to immigration, like Open Borders: The Case, would struggle to build a big enough readership to get the attention of a Forbes journalist like Ozimek, no matter how scintillatingly smart Vipul and I were. I get the sense from the comments on Caplan’s immigration posts that many readers read him in spite of his open borders views. If he blogged about immigration all the time, he might lose those readers.

I think the topic of immigration makes people uncomfortable. People like to think of themselves as fair-minded, favorable to equal opportunity, generous to the poor, and so on. But anyone who is fairly smart and well-informed can’t think about immigration for long without becoming uneasily aware that open borders holds all the moral aces, and the whole system of nation-state sovereignty and migration control must be re-examined and to some extent eviscerated. The usual food chain of ideas, with elites producing ideas that non-elites want to consume, breaks down, because honesty would force the elites to say things that non-elites would angrily refuse to listen to. I’m oversimplifying a bit, but my tentative hypothesis is that bloggers and economists are relatively silent on immigration because rank-and-file readers can’t handle the truth.