This is a personal statement by Nathan Smith (written by him in first person), one of the regular bloggers for the Open Borders site. For information about Nathan Smith, see here. For all blog posts by Nathan Smith, see here. For the overall site story, see here.
History of attitude to open borders
My support for open borders goes back almost as far as I can remember. I think there was a time in high school when I used illegal immigrants in an argument against the welfare state, and somehow a liberal friend of the family took me for a hard-core restrictionist, and that made me uncomfortable. I think I hadn’t thought much about the issue then, but while I was generally a conservative, I felt that this tenet of conservatism was different, and wrong. In the few years that followed, I read a lot and my views changed pretty thoroughly, to the point where for a while I was a pacifist-anarchist in the mold of Gandhi and Tolstoy. That of course implies open borders, since if the government shouldn’t do anything, it shouldn’t restrict migration either. I somehow evolved out of that. Pacifist-anarchism is too quixotic, and I couldn’t adequately justify my moral view that all violence is always wrong. In piecemeal fashion, I began to feel that government coercion is sometimes justified, and became more like a mainstream conservative. But again, immigration was different. The various self-defense, social contract, and/or utilitarian arguments that sort-of-justified government coercion in other cases didn’t work here. Not even close. Studying international development at Harvard certainly reinforced my open borders convictions. I had always been very concerned for the poor of the world, and one reason I had never been able to regard the welfare state as a morally creditable institution is that it doesn’t help the really poor, who live abroad. Thinking nonstop about international development for two years drove this home. A stint at the Cato Institute in 2004 was uncomfortable because I wasn’t a doctrinaire libertarian, but it lastingly influenced my more fundamental ideas in a libertarian direction, though I’m still a social conservative and a liberal interventionist in foreign policy. It was then that I began writing pro-open borders articles for the online magazine Tech Central Station. My years as a PhD candidate at GMU were also favorable to my open borders views. By the way, while I studied under both Bryan Caplan and Lant Pritchett at different times, I don’t think either of them influenced my opinions much. I didn’t even know Lant Pritchett was so strongly pro-immigration until later, and I had already been advocating open borders publicly for years by the time I met Bryan Caplan. In 2010, I wrote Principles of a Free Society in response (though you wouldn’t know it by reading the book) to the SB1070 law in Arizona. I felt that SB1070 displayed a deep ignorance about the principles of a free society, and they needed a new public defense, so I wrote it.
History and future plans for involvement with open borders, both the website and the cause
When Bryan Caplan linked to Open Borders:The Case shortly after its creation, I was delighted to see that Vipul summarized Principles of a Free Society in a way that showed he genuinely understood its arguments. He was the first person I’d come across who did. I soon got in touch with him and suggested starting the blog, with himself and me as the first two contributors. In the posts I’ve written since then, I’ve tried to flesh out the case for open borders, filling in details, and responding to critics. I’ve learned a good deal, and I’m especially grateful for the stimulus it gave me to read what the Old Testament has to say about the treatment of foreigners. At the time I wrote Principles of a Free Society, I didn’t realize how unambiguously God is on our side. A future ambition of mine is to spearhead a kind of crowdsourced book that will bring the case for open borders to the world cheaply in Kindle format.