Tag Archives: Sweden

What I would like from Tyler Cowen

Economist Tyler Cowen’s recent post was ostensibly about the labor market effects of immigration and emigration from OECD countries, but the latter half was devoted to a critique of open borders. Cowen:

And no I do not favor open borders even though I do favor a big increase in immigration into the United States, both high- and low-skilled. The simplest argument against open borders is the political one. Try to apply the idea to Cyprus, Taiwan, Israel, Switzerland, and Iceland and see how far you get. Big countries will manage the flow better than the small ones but suddenly the burden of proof is shifted to a new question: can we find any countries big enough (or undesirable enough) where truly open immigration might actually work?

In my view the open borders advocates are doing the pro-immigration cause a disservice. The notion of fully open borders scares people, it should scare people, and it rubs against their risk-averse tendencies the wrong way. I am glad the United States had open borders when it did, but today there is too much global mobility and the institutions and infrastructure and social welfare policies of the United States are, unlike in 1910, already too geared toward higher per capita incomes than what truly free immigration would bring. Plunking 500 million or a billion poor individuals in the United States most likely would destroy the goose laying the golden eggs. (The clever will note that this problem is smaller if all wealthy countries move to free immigration at the same time, but of course that is unlikely.)

The post seems to have generated a lot of buzz in the blogosphere (see here, here, here, here, and here for starters).

First off, although open borders advocates naturally concentrated on the latter half, it’s possible that Cowen actually intended to focus on the earlier half. The confusion about what Cowen intended to highlight is described in this comment by DJ10210:

Tyler’s strategy is interesting here. What’s the proper Straussian reading of this post? (A) Post is intended to be a critique of open borders proponents (e.g. Caplan), but opens with pro-immigration sentiment to signal that he is friendly to the cause he’s critiquing. (B) Post is intended to be a critique of immigration restrictionist, but closes with anti-open borders sentiments to signal that he understands that although he’s pro-immigration he’s not an extremist about it. (C) Both (A) and (B).

I lean toward (A) being the intended message.

I’m a great admirer of Cowen’s quality of thinking about empirical issues. In fact, right now, I’m reading his book, Average is Over, and I’m really liking it (I don’t have enough prior object-level intuition to have a strong view on the accuracy of Cowen’s predictions, but I find it plausible and well-argued). I felt that the post didn’t live up to the standard. So my first reaction to the post was to write something in between a criticism and a point-by-point response. However, after thinking it over, I see that there are a number of reasons why that would be misguided.

  • Cowen write about five posts a day, in addition to his teaching, research, administrative duties, and books. His high quantity of reasonably thoughtful output is one reason why he attracts so many readers. But this also means that many individual passages in his blog posts are not subject to the same careful scrutiny and analysis that some other bloggers (such as Bryan Caplan, or, I’d like to think, the Open Borders bloggers) give their own posts. So even though I feel that Cowen wrote these passages somewhat hastily, it’s part of the package one gets with Cowen, and nothing to complain about.
  • Cowen is in general skewed toward projecting an image of practicality and moderation, and that is part of what makes him influential as a blogger. This again is the package that his readers and those who choose to benefit from his wisdom sign on to.

With these in mind, I want to take a few minutes to note some possible messages people may take away from Cowen’s post, and why I believe these would be wrong. There is a subtext many people might be reading in Cowen’s text that open borders advocates are anti-empirical and careless and avoid obvious questions that anybody who thinks for a few minutes would come across. While I wouldn’t make generalizations about open borders advocates, I think that this site does not fit the stereotype. We have listed a wide variety of objections from both a restrictionist and a pro-immigration perspective, and attempted to address many of them — perhaps not to many people’s satisfaction, but I think it’d be fair to say that we haven’t ignored the issues. I think the menu options offer a reasonable summary (though doubtless the menu could be improved for better navigation, something that a co-blogger of mine will be working on). We have also discussed — more extensively than Cowen himself appears to have — the objections that Cowen raises in his post. If we haven’t covered a topic in sufficient depth, it is generally because (a) the existing literature and state of knowledge isn’t good enough, or (b) we simply haven’t gotten around it. We are very interested in the empirics of open borders — in understanding what might happen under borders that are open to various degrees. Let’s look at some of Cowen’s most remarkable claims.

Cowen writes:

Try to apply the idea to Cyprus, Taiwan, Israel, Switzerland, and Iceland and see how far you get. Big countries will manage the flow better than the small ones but suddenly the burden of proof is shifted to a new question: can we find any countries big enough (or undesirable enough) where truly open immigration might actually work?

A reader of this passage might believe that advocates of open borders are squarely disconnected from the empirical question of how many people would move under open borders, and that advocates of open borders seem to focus solely on open borders to large countries like the US. Neither assertion is true. Our world map for blog coverage shows how we cover migration-related issues around the world, including cases as diverse as Lebanon and Germany. Nor have we overlooked the significance of some countries being larger or having lower population densities than others. I made some very similar points about the dangers of extrapolating from existing data or historical experience in my blog post back in February 2013 titled open borders is a radical proposal. But for what it’s worth, the value of Cowen’s small country examples is unclear. For one, there does exist a large free movement zone — the Schengen Area, of which Switzerland is a part — and while there has been significant migration (enough to boost the case for the value of free movement) it has hardly been of cataclysmic or existentially threatening proportions. Or at least, that’s the way I interpret it. Does Cowen see things differently?

Cowen has much greater insight into the working of the world than I do, and possibly more than many of the other bloggers on this site. It’s possible that he has sound reasons for his intuition pertaining to Switzerland or Iceland or one of the other countries. It would be nice if he could elaborate more on these reasons.

Cowen also writes:

Plunking 500 million or a billion poor individuals in the United States most likely would destroy the goose laying the golden eggs.

How many would move under open borders? Cowen thinks the number is 500 million or a billion (and his language of “plunking” suggests that they’d all move more or less simultaneously and perhaps not even based on a conscious voluntary decision — but I’ll take that to be artistic license).

Now, I really like the fact that Cowen is providing a concrete estimate. It’s an important question, to be sure, because swamping is a major concern that moderate pro-immigrationers raise when faced with the prospect of open borders. And while there are many approaches (gradually increasing quotas, gradually lowering tariff rates to zero, gradually expanding a free movement zone, etc.) an answer to the abstract question “how many would move under complete open borders?” can be a useful analytical exercise in bounding the problem.

And it’s a question we have looked at repeatedly. We collected a number of links to polling data on migration — the best available data on the stated preferences of potential migrants (for what it’s worth, there are about 135 million people who want to move to the US if given the chance, and about 600-700 million people who want to move to a different country from where they currently are). I raised the “how many would move” question last July, and my co-blogger Chris followed up by asking a more specific question about open borders between Haiti and the US. These are the types of specific, concrete questions where somebody like Cowen can offer specific insight based on his deep understanding of the world — and elaborate on why he thinks open borders may be going too far. Offering the number is a great start. What I’d like from Cowen is an elaboration of how he’s getting at that number, what sort of timeframe he is talking about for the 500 million to 1 billion people, and how he thinks it might be a problem.

Cowen also talks about how open borders may be politically infeasible. We’ve asked this kind of question as well. For instance, this May, I blegged about whether open borders between the US and Canada might pass a referendum. And feasibility is certainly an important consideration when evaluating keyhole solutions.

Finally, the question of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs is an important one to us, and my co-blogger Nathan Smith views it as one of the potentially best arguments against open borders. Nathan wrote a three-part series (here, here, and here) attempting to defend open borders against this line of criticism. It’s one of the arguments we take more seriously on this website. Cowen probably has much to contribute to the discussion again, and I personally would really like to know more about what he sees as the biggest dangers to global innovation and technological progress that arise from moving in the direction of open borders, and how these might be mitigated.

Cowen has a cryptic parenthetical remark:

(The clever will note that this problem is smaller if all wealthy countries move to free immigration at the same time, but of course that is unlikely.)

The “of course that is unlikely” statement is puzzling. Of course, open borders is unlikely for the foreseeable future — whether for one country alone or for many countries together. The relevant question is not so much whether either is likely in absolute terms. The relevant question is about the relative likelihood of the US unilaterally opening its borders versus a number of countries opening borders together. I think history shows that the latter is more likely to happen — countries may form free migration zones, then gradually move to open borders for all. But I’m willing to stand corrected, since I don’t have strong knowledge here.

Perhaps Cowen’s concern is that open borders advocacy itself increases the relative likelihood of unilateral open borders relative to multilateral or universal open borders. I think that’s not the case at all. At least on the Open Borders site, we devote a fair amount of time to the immigration policy of countries around the world, including co-blogger John Lee talking about Malaysia. Does Cowen believe that the United States is uniquely susceptible to a few open borders ideologues promoting global open borders suddenly changing the minds of the powers-that-be? If so, that doesn’t square with what I believe, or what I think he believes, about the US political system. If the data on who favors open borders are any guide, the US is hardly in “danger” of any rapid shift towards open borders. The one rich country that may be in such “danger” is Sweden (also the first country to open its borders to Syrian refugees) but even Sweden has a fair degree of pushback against open borders. Note that, if anything, moderate pro-immigration advocacy tends to be much more rooted in country-specific rhetoric (such as “America is a nation of immigrants”) than the advocacy or discussion of open borders you’ll find on this site, and among other self-proclaimed advocates of open borders. (As a related aside, you might want to check our Carl Shulman’s post titled Open borders in (at least) one (developed) country on his personal blog, arguing that it might be better to attempt open borders in a single country with a relatively smaller population and then expand it to the world).

What I would like from Tyler Cowen is that, when he next discusses open borders, he gives the subject some of the same thought and attention that makes him such a great read on other subjects, and more importantly, that he share his reasoning (thereby avoiding the illusion of transparency and double illusion of transparency traps). Maybe there is a legitimate basis for his figure of 500 million to 1 billion. Perhaps Cowen has some interesting historical understanding that illuminates problems with open borders that we’ve overlooked. But we can only learn from his insight if he shares it.

A plausible response to the above is that it’s sufficient to rely on intuition here, because obviously what Cowen is saying is true. But it would be an inadequate response, given that Cowen himself is pushing back against the restrictionist intuitions expressed in his comment threads about immigrants stealing jobs from natives and turning their destination countries into economic basket cases. Intuition is a starting point, but to communicate and arrive at truths starting from one’s intuitions, it would be helpful to flesh out the rationales more explicitly.

A Somali-Swede’s reflections on open borders

This is a personal anecdote post and is a continuation of the series started with an earlier post. The opinions here are not necessarily the same as those expressed by the regular blogging staff at Open Borders. However, we think personal experiences of immigration can still offer interesting perspectives to consider within the wider context of the evidence for and against open borders.

In the 80s in Somalia my father financed an opposition organization hoping to unseat the president Siad Barre. As I, being only a child at that time, do not remember any of the happenings, stories were told to me. Sometime in January 1990 my father, a regular business man, along with other business men, was assassinated in a bomb attack commanded by the president. Shortly thereafter a civil war broke where war lords fought each other over power, so naturally, citizens, or at least those who could, had to flee. Many crossed the borders to Ethiopia and Kenya. While some stayed in Ethiopia and Kenya, many continued their journey to Europe, North America and elsewhere. After fleeing from border to border, my family, consisting of me, my mother and four siblings, made it to Sweden.

I remember coming to a refugee camp in Malmö, Skåne, which is in the southern part of Sweden. We got two rooms to share in a corridor where we jointly had access to a kitchen and a common room, even the bathrooms were jointly shared. Like a student corridor only with less partying.

It took some while to find the right place to live, we moved from town to town until we ended up in Örebro where we stayed the longest. I hated having to change school all the time. However, my mother always reminded me that our situations were different from my friends’ situation.

When I think back, I had never had a problem adapting to our new home. I was a child when we came to Sweden, so naturally it was easier for me to adapt than it was for my older brother, and easier for my older brother than it was for my mother. There were some cultural differences as I remember, but nothing that I ever thought of when I was out in the society, at school, with friends and so on. Only when I was at home as my family is Muslim, meaning that the rules at home and school differed greatly. I had no problem combining the two; I had a school identity and a home identity. Two contesting identities so to speak, so in the end I chose one I firmly believe is the correct one for me.

To further my identity anecdote, a year ago at a Poli-Sci seminar we discussed multiculturalism and what it means. Specifically we discussed what should be done in a society of multiculturalism. Should the state do something or not? Previously we were told to read a few philosophers standpoints on the subject. Students started discussing and to keep it brief some argued for a better integration while some argued for assimilation. I myself argued for neither.

We were told to read philosophers representing different viewpoints in the book Contemporary Political Theory: A Reader edited by Colin Farrelly (Amazon paperback). Some of the philosophers argued for state action. Kymlicka argued in favor of group right, meaning that it is the state’s job to preserve every group’s way of life in society. Taylor stressed the importance of recognition, arguing that misrecognition can inflict harm on people. Parekh pragmatically argued in favor of an open discussion with no further agenda. The authors who are in favor of state action failed to convince me how recognizing special group rights were to be done without misrecognizing another. As I was about to lose both hope and interest I started reading the last chapter. There I found someone who had a convincing proposal. Chandran Kukathas. He argued that if the state has liberal institutions, it does not have to do anything.

Here’s why:

The reason why liberalism does not have a problem with multiculturalism is that liberalism is itself, fundamentally, a theory of multiculturalism. This is because liberalism is essentially a theory about pluralism; and multiculturalism, is, in the end, a species of pluralism. Liberalism is one of the modern world’s responses—indeed, its most plausible response—to the fact of moral, religious, and cultural diversity. Its response has been to say that diversity should be accommodated, and differences tolerated; that a more complete social unity, marked by a uniform and common culture that integrates and harmonizes the interests of individual and community, is unattainable and undesirable; that division, conflict and competition would always be present in human society, and the task of political institutions is to always palliate a condition they cannot cure. Political institutions would be liberal institutions if they left people to pursue their own ends, whether separately or in concert with others, under the rule of law. (Kukathas, Contemporary Political Theory, 2004, p.289)

While that sounds completely rational, here’s what frightens most people. “It [Liberal institution] offers the opportunity, under a state indifferent to the ways or the goals of the different peoples living under the law, for people to coexist and for their different arts and letters and sciences to flourish (or die out) with them.” (Kukathas, Contemporary Political Theory, 2004, p. 294) What frightens people, I suspect, is the possibility of their culture dying out. To get back to my identity anecdote, not preserving our culture is what made my mother the coercive mother she has been throughout my entire upbringing in Sweden. She did her best to remind that we are Somalis and that our culture is Somali. After school she refused to let me play with my friends, I stayed home, and she arranged Somali playmates for me. Only the problem was that I knew my friends at school better than I did my forced playmates, so naturally I did not enjoy playing with them. Preserving my Somali identity was more important to my mother than letting me have a sense of individuality. Recently as the nationalist party, Swedish democrats, grew in popularity, it struck me how similar their views are to my mother’s; they, in favor of preserving the Swedish culture, and my mother, the Somali culture. Out of fear of others, groups tend to alienate themselves. Not much can be done about my mother or Swedish democrats except for asking them to expand their horizons. It is therefore my firm belief that the state should do nothing but to let each group or individual pursue their ends separately, under the rule of law, as Kukathas suggested.

There are two frequently discussed topics related to immigrants in Sweden, apart from blowing crimes committed by immigrants out of proportion through media, which I will not discuss here. The two are the so called generous welfare system and segregation.

Let’s discuss the welfare system first. I am against the welfare system for moral reasons as I do not endorse coerced redistribution of wealth (just to be clear). One day at one of my poli-sci seminars, I went out to the smoking area, for a cigarette, at the same time as my classmate, a Swedish guy from the southern suburbs of Stockholm. Out of curiosity, I asked him why he never spoke during our seminars. He told me that his views are not welcome as is he is not the political correct type. I jokingly said, “You’re not a weird neo-nazi, are you?” He said, “no, but I would want immigrants to assimilate to my culture or to kindly leave my country.” I had never heard people say such a thing before. I did not get upset, people say all sorts of infantile things. I tried talking to him about diversity in individuals instead of cultures. He did not argue against individual diversity so that gave me the chance to explain that it isn’t that different from multiculturalism. He then admitted that he had no problems with multiculturalism per se, but that he did not want immigrants to come here and cheat off the welfare system. Once that was clear for both of us, we discussed whether he thought that cheating off the system was inherently immigrant behavior. We googled a few scandals (thank God for Google) and saw that many who cheated were also Swedish. He tried to excuse the Swedes who cheated, but the sound of his voice was not as convincing as he stuttered throughout the excuses. I then told him that, yes, some immigrants cheat the system, but so do some Swedes. Bad people can be found in all cultures, there’s nothing inherently bad with one culture. If anything, the welfare system should be abolished or at least significantly reduced, so that those who cheat do not get the chance to cheat, and those who desperately need it can be funded by private donations.

Segregation is not such a big deal. People live in different areas. That’s all. Among those who oppose certain people living in certain areas, seek for one group to influence the other group, often the group they perceive as successful. I’ll let you decide whether that sounds good or not.

Segregation causes people to know more about a certain culture and less about another. It’s not that different from a book you read and book you did not read. So if someone refers to the book you did not read you just stand there clueless. While people often admit that they don’t know a thing about a book they didn’t read, they often speak of other cultures in a polarizing way and this even more because they read certain aspects in media, where they report about an immigrant committing a petty crime. Media is supposed to report unusual happenings and not every day life stories, so I’m not accusing media of polarizing (that may happen among weird journals). This is not something that happens only among Swedes, it happens among immigrants too.

A while ago I lived in Rinkeby, a place where the inhabitants are almost 90 per cent immigrants. I had been at school with some Swedish friends and asked them to tag along to my place. Everyone started excusing themselves and while I understood why, I just laughed about it. One of the guys said, “well, Ladan, it’s okay to hang out with you because you’re not like a typical immigrant, you’re like us, but we’d rather not go to that place.” At a later time in Rinkeby I was hanging out with my foreign friends and people started discussing differences between Swedes and immigrants. They were all joking and laughing about it, saying things like, “oh Swedes are boring, I don’t get their humor. One of their childhood friend is Swedish. So I asked them, why they didn’t find her boring and everyone agreed that Johanna is different, “she’s not like the typical Swede, and she is more like us”.

So in the end people seemed, according to my observation, to be much more relaxed around people they know or can use social references with. Even among my friends who study different fields do not get it each other entirely. I often hear someone who studies politics complaining about how boring it is to talk with someone who studies mechanical engineering, because that person did not get him or her when they tried to discuss Skinner’s theory on Republicanism.

People are different in many ways, and while they should remain different we should all work on being tolerant towards those who are different from us. Diversity is great; it means that we are all free to pursue our own ends. Even if we all lived in one big area, erased borders, domestically or internationally, we’d still be different. Diversity should not worry us, once we become too alike, that should worry us.

Open borders in Scandinavia: a brief case study

Now here is an interesting account of migrant workers who live in overcrowded quarters and work for relatively magnificent wages doing menial work which natives don’t deign to do. The twist, of course, is that the migrants are Swedes working in Norway. It’s fascinating, and it illustrates, I think, to a large degree that the social problems presented by migrants will never go away completely.

After all, Sweden and Norway are both relatively rich countries with a shared culture and history. If ever there were two countries better suited for open borders, it’s hard to imagine, and so it is of course unsurprising that their borders are in fact open to each other. Yet none of this has made all the common stereotypes about migrant workers go away: Swedes are seen as living in filthy, overcrowded lodging, doing menial work and being uncouth, uncultured. Employers simultaneously prize them for their work ethic and willingness to accept lower wages than the natives.

All this of course overstates the tensions that exist between the two: clearly, Norway is not on the brink of social collapse because of a horde of unwashed Swedish masses. The natives and migrant workers may coexist uneasily, but I do not think anyone would suggest that Norway’s taking in Swedes has harmed Norway, or Sweden for that matter.

The lessons of this tale are many, and can really be marshalled to support any stance you like on open borders. What I would focus on is of course the optimism — that even if we can’t make inherent anti-foreign bias or mistrust of foreigners go away, there’s no reason to expect your society to break down just because you admit most any foreigner to work and live in your country. What a pessimist would focus on is how Norwegian issues with migrants might be magnified if Norway opened its borders to most anyone — since, after all, plenty of us around the world would be willing to take on Norwegian summer jobs that pay 30 or 40 US dollars an hour!

At the same time, one must be careful to nuance the picture: 13% of all Norwegian residents are already immigrants, with the top 3 source countries being Poland, Sweden, and Pakistan in that order. Poland and Pakistan are clearly no Sweden, and yet there is no evidence either that immigration is threatening Norway. The author of the Swedish migrant worker account asserts (without citation) that “Over the past ten years, Norway has taken in more foreign labor than any other European country.”

One might cite Norway’s immense mineral wealth as a factor in its resiliency to the harms of immigration here — it’s interesting to note that policies in natural resource-rich countries in general seem more accepting of migrants — think Canada, Australia, Malaysia, the UAE, and I suppose, Norway. But I am not sure if that is the whole story, as I can’t think of an obvious prima facie reason why mineral wealth, as opposed to wealth in other forms such as industrial or human capital, should substantially matter here. If we are talking about wealth redistribution to immigrants, that’s one thing — but a lot of these countries have limited if not zero redistributive policies for many if not most migrants. Good luck trying to take advantage of the UAE or Malaysian welfare states — and it’s not like Canada or Australia are giving away the farm to most people who come over either.

Overall, I think the Norwegian case supports revising upwards our prior probabilities of the potential success of open borders. At the very least, it supports that relatively uncontroversial (I hope) notion that more liberal immigration policies in some countries would be a good idea. It certainly does little, I think, for the common supposition that rich countries generally either don’t benefit much from immigration, or are actively and substantially harmed by immigration.

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.

Who favors open borders?

The World Values Survey records quite a bit of information about public opinion related to immigration. I’d like to do in-depth analysis of it at some point. Here are a few things I’ve noted so far (no rich statistical analysis yet though):

  • Young people worldwide are more favorable to open borders, but the effect is very slight. There is no sign– yet– that generational change will tilt the world towards open borders.
  • Children of immigrants are somewhat more favorable to immigration.
  • There seems to be NO correlation worldwide between attitudes towards immigration policy and self-positioning on the left-right spectrum. (This surprised me.)
  • There seems to be no correlation between social class and attitudes towards immigration policy, unless it’s that the middle classes are a bit more favorable.
  • Correlations with life satisfaction are weak; however, the most strongly restrictionist attitudes seem to be more common among people leaning towards dissatisfaction with their lives.
  • People who trust foreigners “completely” are more favorable to a welcoming immigration policy (well, duh), yet 13% of those who don’t trust foreigners at all still say “let anyone come.”
  • People who don’t want immigrants as neighbors are more likely to favor strict limits on or prohibition of immigration (58%, to 42% of those who don’t mind immigrant neighbors) but some of these, too, favor “letting anyone come.”
  • No difference between men and women.

There are large differences across countries in attitudes towards immigration policy. Only 48 countries seem to be covered by the survey, but among those, two-thirds have public opinion more favorable to immigration than the United States, as measured by the share saying “let anyone come.” In particular, Mexican attitudes towards immigration policy are more liberal than Americans’. Some commenters at this site have suggested Asia as an example of a more restrictionist society that nativist Americans might desire to emulate. The WVS data suggest that this is true at the level of public opinion: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia have some of the lowest shares of open borders supporters in the world, though in the terms of the number favoring “strict limits” or more, South Koreans are more liberal on immigration than Americans are.

What I find most interesting in the international data is that some developing countries have far more favorable attitudes towards immigration than any rich country. In Vietnam, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, and Ethiopia, nearly half the population favors letting anyone come. India has an unusually large number of open borders supporters as well, though it is also tied for highest in terms of the number of people supporting complete prohibition of immigration. Several countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America also seem to have more open borders supporters than any of the rich countries, except Sweden, which appears to be an outlier, with a far more pro-open borders populace of any rich country included in the survey.

Country Let anyone come As long as jobs available Strict limits Prohibit

1

Vietnam

49%

27%

22%

1%

2

Burkina Faso

43%

45%

10%

1%

3

Rwanda

41%

48%

8%

2%

4

Ethiopia

40%

28%

27%

5%

5

Mali

34%

46%

16%

4%

6

Morocco

28%

41%

20%

11%

7

Romania

23%

42%

23%

11%

8

Uruguay

23%

56%

17%

3%

9

Peru

23%

50%

21%

6%

10

India

23%

22%

25%

30%

11

Ukraine

21%

53%

19%

7%

12

China

20%

51%

21%

8%

13

Ghana

18%

39%

36%

6%

14

Sweden

18%

54%

27%

1%

15

Guatemala

17%

55%

21%

7%

16

Argentina

15%

45%

34%

6%

17

Serbia

14%

26%

46%

14%

18

Bulgaria

13%

55%

24%

8%

19

Moldova

13%

50%

26%

11%

20

Poland

12%

35%

46%

6%

21

Mexico

12%

45%

25%

17%

22

Zambia

11%

30%

44%

15%

23

Brazil

9%

47%

33%

11%

24

Georgia

9%

19%

56%

16%

25

Finland

9%

40%

48%

3%

26

Turkey

9%

43%

27%

21%

27

Italy

8%

49%

37%

6%

28

Canada

8%

51%

39%

2%

29

Spain

8%

48%

42%

3%

30

Slovenia

7%

56%

29%

8%

31

Germany

7%

43%

45%

5%

32

USA

7%

37%

49%

8%

33

Chile

6%

50%

35%

9%

34

Cyprus

6%

36%

51%

7%

35

S Africa

6%

16%

48%

30%

36

Switzerland

6%

67%

26%

1%

37

Indonesia

6%

15%

72%

8%

38

Andorra

5%

72%

22%

1%

39

Egypt

5%

25%

43%

26%

40

Thailand

5%

16%

65%

14%

41

Norway

4%

53%

42%

1%

42

Trinidad And Tobago

4%

32%

55%

10%

43

Australia

3%

54%

41%

2%

44

S Korea

3%

56%

36%

5%

45

Japan

3%

42%

50%

5%

46

Taiwan

3%

30%

58%

9%

47

Jordan

2%

28%

46%

25%

48

Malaysia

2%

8%

72%

18%

 

Another very interesting pattern emerged when I dug down into the data involving religion. When asked “How important is God in your life?” on a scale of 1 to 10, about half the respondents answered “10” and half answered something less.  I was distressed to discover that those for whom God was very important in their lives seemed to have less favorable attitudes towards immigration. But when I broke it down by religious demonination, I found something different. While Muslims who regard God as very important in their lives tend to be more restrictionist, Christians of each denomination are more likely to support open borders if they are strongly in touch with God, as shown in the table below (which includes all denominations for which there were over 500 observations in the WVS dataset):

 

How important is God in your life? (scale: 1-10)
Religious Denomination <10 10
Roman Catholic 9% 15%
Protestant 7% 15%
Evangelical 7% 11%
Orthodox 13% 19%
Church of Sweden 16% 19%
Muslim 19% 13%
Buddhist 7% 9%
Ancestor worship 44% 57%
Hindu 12% 15%

 

The percentage in each cell represents the share of respondents saying “Let anyone come.” Note that it is not the case that Christians are more supportive of open borders in general. Many factors affect support for open borders, and it seems that public opinion in rich countries is often less favorable to open borders. And of course most rich countries are nominally/historically Christian. So Muslims are actually more likely than most Christian denominations to favor open borders. But within each Christians denomination, there is a statistically significant (though fairly small) positive correlation between rating God’s importance in one’s life “10” and advocating “let anyone come.”

Continue reading “Who favors open borders?” »