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.

Nathan Smith is an assistant professor of economics at Fresno Pacific University. He did his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University and has also worked for the World Bank. Smith proposed Don’t Restrict Immigration, Tax It, one of the more comprehensive keyhole solution proposals to address concerns surrounding open borders.

See also:

Page about Nathan Smith on Open Borders
All blog posts by Nathan Smith

5 thoughts on “Why the deficit of immigration advocacy? A deficit of demand, not supply”

  1. I think this is quite right. My counter-response would be: supply creates its own demand. There is no question that open borders is a radical cause, even though for most intelligent people it ought to be a no-brainer (much like how ending slavery, segregation, or apartheid should have been no-brainers). Every radical cause has to start somewhere. Those who already believe in the justness and rightness of looser immigration are morally obligated to spread the word, even if at this time there is little receptive audience for it.

  2. It’s interesting that few of the people Ozimek does single out for praise (in this post and the previous one linked) are open borders fans per se: the only one on his list is Michael Clemens. It seems that Ozimek is more interested in relatively mainstream writers (such as prolific progressive blogger Matt Yglesias) who use their wide reach to talk about immigration, rather than relatively more controversial but explicitly pro-open borders libertarian writers such as Bryan Caplan, who Ozimek has heard of and even had blog debates with. Perhaps mentioning weird libertarians is considered unsuitable for a mainstream publication such as Forbes.

    It’s even possible that Ozimek was partly inspired to blog this by Caplan’s response blog post to my blog post, assuming he read that. But he doesn’t mention it, so I can’t be sure either way.

    1. Vipul,

      You guys do a great job here, I am sorry to have left you off the list, your work deserves to be praised.

      You are partly correct though that I had in mind mainstream writers who use their platforms to address immigration. Because it is such a demand side problem, as Nathan says, I think to get the arguments out more will require mainstream writers to use some of their market power to push a somewhat unpopular topic onto their readers and be willing to suffer the privately sub-optimal posting mix.

      I am not a proponent of immediately open-borders, but I am a proponent of more open borders. I lay out my position here: http://modeledbehavior.com/2011/06/24/immigrants-pie-tim-lee-and-reihan-salam/

  3. Sure, one does not want to get less people to read their blog. It is an understandable reason but not a good enough reason from an ethical stance, ins’t it? The fact that blogs are written not in the spirit of freedom of expression like in the early internet days (to use the definition and description of what the essence of blogging is by Geert Lovink), but instead that blogs are written in order to get more readers to perform better SEO-wise and advertising wise, is sad; or just what it is now really.

    As such, I join the prayer of Johnleemk for supply to create demand… However the supply needs to be of better quality than the biased politician debates we get in the press – indeed joining Adam Ozimek argument here. Eventually, let’s hope some genuine internet blogging will spark from this and tackle the essential issue of our contemporary globalised societies – though as I said right above, not sure how much blogs are left nowadays that are not driven by traffic.

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