Tag Archives: Steve Sailer

The great land value windfall from open borders

One of Steve Sailer’s themes seems to be “affordable family formation.” In the link, Sailer lays out a theory of housing prices: expensive in coastal cities because they can only expand on the landward side; really expensive in “paradises” like Hawaii and (to a lesser extent) California; cheap in “dirt” states where cities can expand in all directions. He sees “affordable family formation” as one of the main factors in making a state vote Republican. And he sees restricting immigration as a means of keeping housing prices down and family formation affordable. Partisan goals aside, it’s surely desirable for people to be able to afford to form families.

As a theory of voting, there may be something in this, but as an argument for restricting immigration, it is extremely unconvincing. If you look at a map of population density in the United States (Census Bureau), what stands out is how few and far between are the counties with 2,000+ people square mile, and how the vast majority of the country’s land has less than 90 people per square mile. Even 2,000 people per square mile is hardly crowded. That’s about an acre for a family of four. Granted that can’t all be living space. There are streets and schools and shopping malls and parking lots and all that. But 2,000 people per square mile is a comfortably thin suburb. The Census Bureau also reports that “94.6 percent of U.S. land is rural open space.”  Granted, not all land is equally pleasant to live on, and the emptiest land is in the Great Plains and other regions that most people probably wouldn’t want to live in, but there’s lots and lots of lightly settled land in verdant, temperate, even beautiful country, say in the mid-Atlantic or upstate New York, or for that matter where I live in central California. Even coastal California is pretty empty if you go north of San Francisco, or between San Luis Obispo and Monterrey. There are plenty of very livable places in America where hardly anyone is living. I think land’s share of national income is about 5%. We’re not running out of (residential) land, not even close. (Farming covers more ground, but farming is a lower-valued activity that residential users can easily buy out.)

In denying that land is scarce, I refute one critique of immigration, but you might suppose, I also forgo an argument for immigration, namely, the land value windfall for native Americans when immigration increases demand for the land they own. Surely I can’t claim that immigration benefits American homeowners by raising housing prices, yet at the same time doesn’t harm American non-homeowners by raising the housing prices they’ll face when they want to buy.

Actually, I can and do claim exactly that, and what inspired this post is that I thought of a graphical way to make the point clear. First, the effect of open borders on the market for existing housing is represented in Figure 1:

Figure 1.

market for existing housing

The stock of existing housing is, by definition, fixed– supply is perfectly inelastic— so an increase in demand due to new immigration would only raise prices. American landowners would see their real estate rise sharply in value. You might think that American landowners would only enjoy these gains if they sold, but that’s not true. Land in city centers isn’t just more expensive, it’s more valuable, because it’s close to more things, more restaurants and fun things to do, more schools, more jobs, more shopping, more varied people, more transportation. Not all Americans would put as much value on the changes as market prices would put on them; that’s why they’d sell. Meanwhile, the market for new housing would look like Figure 2:

Figure 2

market for new housing

The supply curve of new housing is horizontal because the land it’s built on would be basically free, being taken from farming activities, and the construction cost is constant. Actually, the construction cost would probably fall under open borders, given the abundance of low-wage homebuilders that would be available, but never mind. Since supply of new housing is perfectly elastic, the increase in demand would not raise housing prices at the margin. As quantity rose from Q (status quo) to Q (open borders), there would be a building boom.

Why would people pay the high prices shown in Figure 1 for existing housing, when new housing is available at P=C? Location, location, location. As cities would expand outward, the existing housing stock would be more central, and consequently more desirable, so it would command high prices. But in that case, wouldn’t American non-homeowners, even if they could still afford homes as easily as before, be pushed into less desirable locations. Not really. After all, why is urban land desirable in the first place? Density. The land per se is usually nothing special, but it’s valuable to be able to plug into the networks of specialization and trade that the city provides. Well, as cities expanded to accommodate immigrants, they could provide as much of the benefits of density to the new housing as they previously did to the old housing, even as they provided even more of these benefits to existing housing. So American non-homeowners would be held harmless even as American homeowners enjoyed a large windfall.

Of course, I’m simplifying. The supply of new land for home building isn’t always perfectly elastic. Some city sites, like San Francisco, really are uniquely beautiful and special. That said, the almost uninhabited coastline north of San Francisco is beautiful, too. Meanwhile, many other city sites– Indianapolis, say, or Denver, or Fresno– really aren’t very special. Older cities have special historic monuments. It’s possible that the new urban space called into being by the open borders building boom would be drab and lacking in character, though on the other hand technological modernity plus immigrant new perspectives might make them especially exciting. Even then, though, there would be adjustment pains, and probably in some places family formation would become less affordable.

By and large, though, the effect of immigration on land values is, if not a win-win, a win-draw: homeowners gain, non-homeowners are held harmless. The wealth effects of the land value windfall would be not only large, but widely distributed. As of 2009, over 67% of American households owned homes.

Collected comments on the World Values Survey data

Co-blogger Nathan Smith recently had a post titled who favors open borders? that looked at some data from the World Values Survey on attitudes to immigration. Nathan’s post was mentioned by Bryan Caplan at EconLog here and by Steve Sailer on his own blog here and here. Commenters at all places have raised a number of interesting points. This post is meant to expound a bit on my own interpretation and mention issues raised by commenters across all these posts.

Interesting theories for the general patterns

This is an expansion and restructuring of some stuff I already mentioned in a comment on Nathan’s post. I’ll first offer the individual theories, then the synthesis.

  1. Countries that people generally want to leave (emigrate from) tend to have a larger proportion of people supporting “let anyone come” and in general seem to have a more pro-open borders position. If this holds up empirically, one simple explanation may be a sort of intuitive Golden Rule: people who want to migrate to other countries take the right to migrate more seriously for immigrants to their country as well.
  2. Countries that generally see a higher proportion of immigrants generally tend to be more restrictionist, while countries that have a low proportion of immigrants (and a low proportion of the foreign-born in general) tend to be more pro-open borders. If this holds up empirically, then the simplest explanation might be that high levels of immigration lead to a nativist backlash by making the native-immigrant distinction more salient. One confounding factor here is that countries with a high proportion of immigrants also tend to have a high proportion of people who are more pro-open borders on account of being immigrants or related to immigrants. My suspicion is that the relation between high immigration levels and low support for open borders would be even stronger if we restricted attention to natives who are native-born and do not have a foreign-born spouse, sibling, parent, or child.
  3. Slightly related to (2), but different: countries that have higher proportions of immigrants tend to be less likely to favor extreme solutions. In other words, in addition to leaning more restrictionist, they’re generally less likely to have lots of people at the extremes of “Let Anyone Come” and “Prohibit” whereas countries like India that have a very low share of the foreign born have large proportions of people at both extremes. Of course, it’s possible that India is an outlier in this regard. I’m less sure of this pattern than the others. The simple explanation for this pattern, if it holds up, is that countries with a large resident foreign born population (whether immigrants or guest workers/students) is more tuned to the practical constraints and “arguments on both sides” and hence would be more likely to support middle-of-the-road solutions.

My overall guess, based on looking at the table, is that the very high “Let Anyone Come” countries are mostly explained by (1). Take a look at the top five countries: Vietnam, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Mali. With the exception of Vietnam, they all have GDP (PPP) per capita per year less than $2000 (they’re in the $1000-1500 range by a number of estimates — see here). Vietnam, with a GDP (PPP) of about $3000-3500 per year, is somewhat of an outlier on the GDP front, but still poor enough to go with the general thesis here. The only other country that I can see on the list with a notably low GDP (PPP) is Ghana, but the estimates for Ghana (#11 on the “Let Anyone Come” ranking) vary quite a bit between $1800 and $3100.

From #6 onward on the list (percentages 28% or lower for “Let Anyone Come”) we start seeing middle-income countries and “upper low-income countries” which are generally not places that people want to desperately leave, but also aren’t attractive destinations for immigrants in general (though they see some traffic from their bordering countries). Countries 6 to 10 are Morocco, Romania, Uruguay, Peru, and India. Of these, Morocco and India are low-income but not the extreme low-income levels of sub-Saharan Africa, whereas Romania, Uruguay, and Peru are solidly middle-income countries — GDP (PPP) between $8000 and $16000 for all of these. The case of India is a little confusing because of its huge size — there are parts of India that have income levels comparable to the extreme low-income sub-Saharan African countries, and other parts that almost make it to middle-income status. One reason for the unusual response percentages in India may be this considerable diversity in the income levels between regions.

For these countries, then, I think the main operative factors are (2) and (3) — they tend to generally be more pro-open borders but also have high numbers of people at both extremes. However, unlike the extreme low-income countries case where almost all these countries are strongly pro-open borders, middle-income countries overall are all over the map. Malaysia, the most restrictionist country by the “Let Anyone Come” metric, is also middle-income. So a more careful statistical analysis would be needed in order to decipher the patterns here.

Patterns for specific countries

Some outlier countries have been pointed out in various comments:

  • The causes of Vietnam’s top position are unclear. Eric speculates a bit about this here (comparing Vietnam to Indonesia), and some commenters on Steve Sailer’s blog post also offer their thoughts.
  • India has received a lot of attention for having unusually high percentages of people in both the “Let Anyone Come” and Prohibit” categories. Regional variation within India may be part of the story. I offer some thoughts on India at this comment.
  • Among developed (high-income) countries, Sweden is a bit of an outlier with respect to its “Let Anyone Come” percentage. Its percentage, 18%, is much higher than the 8% and lower values for other developed countries. Steve Sailer and his commenters offer some theories about Sweden here.
  • Malaysia’s unusually low “Let Anyone Come” number has sparked the interest of my co-blogger John Lee, who offered some preliminary thoughts in this comment.
  • In this comment, Brian Moore points out that Canada and the USA have very similar views on immigration but very different immigration policies.

EconLog comments policy and open borders

Open borders advocate Bryan Caplan recently forayed into citizenism with a blog post titled A Question for Steve Sailer’s B-School Professor. Caplan quoted from Sailer’s VDARE piece on citizenism and then proceeded to make two points:

  • Citizenism, which involves giving more weight to the preferences of current citizens as opposed to prospective future citizens and other foreigners, must operate within moral side-constraints (a point made at the citizenism page and in Nathan’s blog post on the subject).
  • Just like those using the nation as family analogy, citizenists need to not merely acknowledge these side constraints, but seriously consider whether the actions they propose (such as immigration restrictions) violate these side constraints.

Caplan then invited citizenists to respond in the comments. I think Caplan’s post was well-written and to the point, but I have one point of contention with Caplan: his use of the word “monster” to describe hypothetical people who took citizenism to its logical extreme. Caplan believes that few citizenists take citizenism that literally, so he wasn’t calling any actual people monsters. But the use of the word “monster” is not exactly an invitation to civil debate, to put it mildly. Caplan’s commenters were quick to critique him, and some went beyond critiquing to offering candid thoughts on what they thought of Caplan. A lot of these comments were deleted, and the commenters banned, from EconLog. Fortunately for free speech and the Internet, the commenters found refuge in Steve Sailer’s blog. But the most fascinating and hard-to-rebut critiques among those deleted seem to not have made it to Sailer’s comments either — either because they weren’t posted, or because Sailer deleted them. Fortunately again for free speech, the commenters found yet another forum that would prove more welcoming and tolerant of their unorthodox views. Here’s page 1 and page 2 of the thread. Here are some of the best examples:

The masochistic morality of Caplan’s argument is merely the symptom of a late stage complex society with a parasitic elite, plus politically correct radiation treatments, which have obviously rendered Caplan’s brain into a vestigial organ.

To anyone of above feeble intelligence, it’s obvious that large migrations of people will lead to conflict, instability, social dysfunction, and other not very nice things. It’s obvious that employers who seek to bring in illegals so they can pay sub-middle class wages are not acting out of moral impulses to better the lives of foreigners. The rhetoric is all hypocrisy. When Caplan opens his mouth about moral imperatives, something retarded and offensive pours out. It seems to be a condition he should seek treatment for, although I understand it’s difficult to cure libertarianism.

MikeP is a racist! He thinks I should have to fill out a form when I say Bryan Caplan enticed me to post here–but what about those who were born here, like MikeP? Did they fill out any forms? Now I have to evade some Jewish woman who is patrolling the posting border with extreme prejudice! Ay caramba, I’ve been hit!

Underneath the oppressive Bush administration, little-known anti-liberty regulations prevented HIV positive immigrants from crossing so called “borders” and entering into employment contracts at my exclusive nightclub, wherein they displayed their micros to paying clients. Now, however, thanks to noted micro-American ALLAH HUSSEIN OBAMA, that regulation has been revoked, and a beautiful scene of international GDP growth ensues.

Naturally, if he were to answer these, Caplan would bluster and babble about comparative advantage and the lump of labor fallacy while dismissing cultural concerns as being of the ignorant, unwashed masses. Ultimately, Caplan is so dull that he can’t think beyond libertarian talking points to realize that importing a bunch of browns to do cheap labor is going to backfire horrendously when those same browns vote straight ticket Democrat and their elected representatives raise the minimum wage, strengthen environmental regulations, and raise taxes.

Oops. I wonder if Caplan would short-circuit on the lawgic trap.

(Not an EconLog comment)

Libertarians are basically liberals with less self-awareness, they lack even the liberal’s simple ability to project empathy onto niggers and other non-humans, perhaps because they lack any emotional capabilities whatsoever.

(Not an EconLog comment)

Kill this fucking thing with fire, tia. [referring to the EconLog comment moderator]

And revealing images such as this.

One of the comments that didn’t get through was by Dr. Stephen J. Krune, but he posted a similar comment on Open Borders:

This is far and away the spergiest discussion among the usual libertarian spergmeisters. Of course people react to overcrowding around them–typically in cities–regardless of whether there is a giant desert available somewhere else (and where they would prefer these immigrants to go and die in).

And so it is possible to have overcrowding in cities while there is “plenty of land” (I understand that spergy libertarians see no point to land other than paving it over and erecting a business park.)

Why do we favor descendents, asks the chief sperg? Because they are genetically related, which is the basis for most social behavior and cultural development. (Which is why our off-the-rails society is in a state of pre-collapse, using Tainter’s definition of collapse.) All social animals are nepotists. This isn’t “curable” because it isn’t an illness, it is the normal functioning of animals. We are animals, not replicas of Data from Star Trek, which is how most of you faggots come off.

There were also some gems among the comments that did get through. James Bowery:

Both Caplan and AMac are inhuman monsters that would deny the right of people to join together under mutual consent to pursue their strongly held beliefs about causal laws of human ecology by excluding from their territory those whom they consider incompatible with testing of those laws.

That these inhuman monsters call others “monsters” should be expected since, however inhuman they may be, they do possess the gift of gab.

If I were on a jury that was trying someone for having done harm, of any nature whatsoever, to AMac or Caplan, I would vote to acquit.

Moreover, there is no greater cause for liberty than to identify such inhuman monsters, whether they call themselves “libertarians” or “liberals” or “neoconservatives”, as the primary enemies of liberty that today wield the power of tyranny over mankind.

Any proper use of military force would have as its declaration of war that a state of peace may once again reign once these inhuman monsters no longer wield any powers of government.

EconLog comments policy

The reason I quote all these comments is not to critique them. When faced with critiques as penetrating as these, it is time to concede defeat and go home. There were a lot of other comments that made points that we’d be happy to address and discuss further on the Open Borders blog in the coming days. Steve Sailer’s own post, as well as Sonic Charmer’s thoughtful addition to the debate, are definitely more at our level and we can address these. I left a couple of comments on Sailer’s post, but haven’t had time to respond to his substantive points yet; Nathan left a comment on Sonic Charmer’s post. Other interesting critiques that we hope to address in the coming day include Maurice Levin’s critique (assuming it is written as sarcasm) and Dave’s comment. Jason Malloy’s analogy may also be worth addressing.

So why am I bringing up these comments? Because the banned commenters and others sympathetic to their plight discovered a novel and innovative way to expose the hypocrisy of open borders advocates. They drew a parallel between banning blog comments and turning away potential immigrants (or deporting illegal immigrants). Continue reading EconLog comments policy and open borders

Are immigration restrictionists pirates?

My co-blogger John Lee recently wrote a post with the intriguing title “Are immigration restrictionists pirates?” It turned out that by “pirates,” John meant, not Bluebeard or the Dread Pirate Roberts, but people who pirate music and videos off the internet. John’s point was that if immigration restrictionists are pirates, i.e., illegal downloaders of music and videos– and haven’t we all done it, at least a bit?– then they’re in no position to mount their moral high horse when talking about undocumented immigration. Commenter Leo was disappointed:

The title of this made it sound a lot more exciting than it was… I was hoping for some sort of metaphor of countries as ships or something… Yeah the title makes sense but the post isn’t as exciting as the title …I’m obviously just childish but the word pirate made me hope for a story of plunder on the high seas…

Based on this reaction, I thought there might be interest in a post comparing immigration restrictionism to plunder on the high seas. So here goes.

First, like pirates, immigration restrictionists have skills. Pirates need to have navigation, combat, recruiting and negotiation skills. They need to know a good deal about recruiting and trade routes. Immigration restrictionists need skills, too. Steve Sailer of VDARE is good at writing. Joe Arpaio has skills at prisoner abuse and attracting national media attention.

Second, like pirates, immigration restrictionists are organized. Pirates had captains, crews, even “pirate codes” which Peter Leeson (author of The Invisible Hook) has argued were sometimes strikingly democratic, a Skull-and-Bones flag. Immigration restrictionists have organizations like VDARE and CIS, as well as ICE, the Minutemen, and so forth.

But clearly, I’m not getting to the heart of the matter.

Let me start over by using a recent Bryan Caplan post as a point of departure. Caplan’s point of departure was a Steve Sailer post (previously quoted here and here at Open Borders). So first, Steve Sailer: Continue reading Are immigration restrictionists pirates?

The nation-state is militarily obsolete

If Germany were invaded by Russia, Germans would probably trust their army of 70,000 (maybe 200,000+ deployable in all forces), with little combat experience, to attempt to defend them against the million-strong armed forces of the Russian Federation, which also has nuclear weapons. But they could hardly expect them to win. If Germany doesn’t feel threatened by Russia, that’s not because they trust Vladimir Putin, nor does it have much to do with Germany’s own armed forces. It is because they could expect aid from their much more powerful NATO allies, especially the United States, but also Britain and France, both militarily stronger than Germany, and other countries, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Portugal, etc., that don’t carry much weight individually, have a good deal of power when all are pooled together. What goes for Germany is far more true of smaller nations like Norway. Germany probably could create a military capable of fending off Russia: certainly they were able to match Russia and better in the past on the battlefield. Norway couldn’t possibly defend itself against Russia on its own, but in NATO it’s safe enough.

Is Europe a special case? Partly, though even there, it may be a special case because it is at the front end of a global trend. But there are a lot of other countries which trust to the United States, to various treaty organizations, to the United Nations, and to international norms for their protection, rather than on any merely national military. Saudi Arabia was long protected by US troops. US troops are still stationed in South Korea, providing some protection against the powerful North. US troops are stationed in Japan, and Japan’s alliance with the US is a crucial strategic asset in its duel with China over the Senkaku islands. Kuwait couldn’t defend itself against Saddam Hussein in 1991, but was liberated by a large US-led international coalition, which was concerned only partly with oil. Partly, it was concerned with a global norm of geopolitics, sometimes called “the sanctity of borders.” If Saddam violated that norm with impunity, the precedent might be followed anywhere in the world. The international community thus intervened for the sake of its own principles. At any rate, it’s clear that Kuwait doesn’t owe its independence to military solidarity among its citizens. It owes it to benevolent foreigners. And the same goes for much of the world. The UN, the US, the West, NATO, have intervened all over the world, and the implicit threat of intervention has an impact far beyond where any intervention has actually taken place. Even the mighty United States doesn’t rely only on its own strength to defend it. When the US was attacked on 9/11, not just Americans but NATO and many other allies collaborated in trying to hunt down al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Even the Iraq war, more controversial, was a coalition affair.

A world based on nation-state military self-sufficiency wouldn’t work very well. This can be seen in theory, if you think about international relations as a game with stronger and weaker players, some with a taste for predation, all living in mutual fear. Strong nation-states could prey on weaker nation-states at little cost. A “balance of power” might sometimes emerge, but as the strength of nation-states varied over time, states would often weaken to the point where they were unable to defend themselves, thus inviting attack by neighbors, either interested in predation, or taking the opportunity to destroy an enemy in its moment of weakness. On the other hand, weak states might gang up on strong states. There is no reason to expect stability in such a system. We shouldn’t expect nation-state military self-sufficiency to lead to peace or security for anyone. And if we look at history, it doesn’t. In particular, the early 20th century was a time of great wars in Europe, and it was precisely at that time that the pursuit of national interest was most unapologetic and unrestrained by other principles. Britain’s betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich, which was as disastrous as it was unprincipled, taught the world the lesson that to look out merely for narrow national interests is asking for trouble. If you let the bad guys do bad things far away, not only is that cowardly and ungenerous, but it’s stupid because they just gain momentum and are much more powerful by the time they’re coming after you. After World War II, “collective security” became the norm. Most nations delegated most of the job of security upwards, to regional or global organizations, and even the United States supplied the backbone of the regional and global organizations and made itself “leader of the free world,” rather than simply fending for itself. The nation-state became militarily obsolete. Soldiers are still recruited and commanded by national governments, but they almost always work in coalition with each other and usually far away from their national borders, aiding allies rather than defending the homeland.

Why am I stating the obvious here, and what does this have to do with open borders? Well, I’m responding to the argument that Steve Sailer has made for citizenism in this post: Continue reading The nation-state is militarily obsolete