Paul Collier’s Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World is probably the best book on migration from the restrictionist side that currently exists. Though, that is not saying much. It is pretty strong on the economics, and while I find Collier’s ethical attitudes weird, repugnant, and indefensible, they serve as a useful window on the way a lot of people think. Exodus is a refreshing contrast to books like Victor Davis Hanson’s Mexifornia: A State of Becoming. The arguments in Hanson’s book are too thoroughly flawed to be answered. You’d have to rip them to shreds, almost sentence by sentence, to avoid leaving the impression that anything in them is valid. Any reader who would be a worthy interlocutor in a learned conversation would have seen through books like these. My advice to writers like Hanson is to read Collier’s book and spend a couple of weeks contemplating its intellectual merits, and then ask themselves seriously whether they can emulate them sufficiently that their future writings will be net positive contributions to public debate. If Collier sets the standard that future restrictionist writings will be expected to live up to, the quality of public discourse about immigration will be vastly improved.
Interestingly, Exodus is responding in part to open borders as a political cause, even if it’s a cause that his implicit interlocutors don’t usually embrace explicitly. Whereas others will speak loosely of “the open borders lobby” as an epithet to characterize mainstream people who, in fact, want a lot of immigration restriction, Collier is a development economist who has some idea what real open borders would mean, and knows that there is a case for it. He seems to know about the double world GDP literature. So far, the debate has been conducted within the restrictionist end of the spectrum, with advocates of more migration sometimes mistaking themselves for open borders advocates because they’re naïve about how radical open borders really is. Collier thinks about migration in the context of the global struggle against poverty. He doesn’t pretend the rest of the world isn’t there. He doesn’t adopt a principle of moral indifference to the rest of mankind. That’s a big improvement over previous restrictionist literature.
At present, then, Exodus is the argument to beat on the question of open borders. For that reason, I thought it deserved, not just a book review, but a thoroughgoing engagement with the argument. That said, Collier gave me very little reason to change my mind about supporting open borders, though he might have convinced me to shift my position on a few aspects of the question in subtle ways. There are two main reasons that Collier is unconvincing. First, he has the wrong ethics: he knows about “utilitarian universalism” but is constantly engaged in inadequately motivated attempts to substitute manifestly inferior ethical ideas. Second, his policy imagination is very deficient. My greatest regret is that Collier doesn’t engage with DRITI. Again and again, I found myself saying, “Yes, that’s a problem, but DRITI solves it.”
Chapter 1 sets the stage for Collier’s book with a lot of reflections on the peculiar character of the public debate about immigration. For example, he writes that… Continue reading Response to Paul Collier: Chapter 1