Bryan Caplan  

Two Replies to Two Things

Outlier Doubts... Washington Ideas Forum...
In the comments, Two Things writes:

1. If your book about poverty doesn't discuss IQ then it will be worthless, or nearly so.

2. If your book blames poverty in underdeveloped countries on the immigration policies of developed countries then it will have negative worth, because of the risk that some low-IQ reader might believe you. Even if you think bad institutions produce poverty, one country's immigration policy cannot prevent the people of another country adopting better institutions.

1. I will discuss IQ as an important but largely non-blameworthy cause of poverty.  But the whole point of the book is to focus on causes of poverty that ultimately come down to bad choices.

2. First World immigration restrictions don't prevent Third World countries from adopting better policies.  But they do wrongfully prevent the victims of the Third World's bad policies from escaping them.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (27 to date)
Kurbla writes:

You wrote this 2. so it can be interpreted as true statement. But, the relevant question for your topic isn't whether "victims can escape", but what is total influence of free immigration on the poverty of source country. Answer is - it probably makes things worse, by depleting human capital of source country. Those who immigrate are on average younger, more educated, more ambitious, healthier, more intelligent - than those who stay in source country. So, free immigration is probably one of the causes of the poverty of Third world. It is intellectually dishonest to ignore this issue.

(If you search for victims, search refugees, not immigrants.)

Virtually Anonymous writes:

A low average IQ is, of course, a non-blameworthy cause of poverty, but a low average IQ probably also means that better institutions cannot be adopted nor imposed on that group of people.

MattW writes:

Making a way for people to emigrate from low-income countries is the Exit the Arnold Kling talks about, competitive government in an overt sense, also preventing institution reform.

Nykos writes:

Let's not forget that even though people have left their 3rd world countries because they are so poor, they might not know (or even want to think about) the causes of their poverty, nor why certain countries like the US, European countries, Australia and New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, etc. are so successful compared to their source countries.

While I do sympathize with most immigrants, the inefficiency inherent in a "one man, one vote" democracy makes it too risky to accept large numbers of immigrants whose cultural predispositions might make them vote for politicians that would turn the host country into a 3rd world nation. This effect is brilliantly illustrated with South Africa. The Apartheid regime finally allowed for democratic elections when the majority of people were living in slums, without any access to real education. Now it is the country with the highest murder rates in the world for the last 10 years or so, and the majority of voters are uneducated and elect just a single, corrupt party.

So I agree with immigration, but under one condition: the people who want to immigrate must have a level of economic and political knowledge that is equal to or higher compared to that of the natives. Anyone else should be rejected. This is the only logical conclusion I can reach about immigration after reading the book "The Myth of the Rational Voter", by Bryan Caplan.

Ted writes:

You are using opinion to attempt to prove a point. This is a logical as using a fact to disprove an opinion. "wrongfully" is very very VERY subjective.

agnostic writes:

This is the modern version of the Noble Savage delusion, which is particularly strong among libertarians -- that in civilized democracies, we have met the enemy and they are us. That's Bryan's own story in Myth of the Rational Voter -- we get the policies that we the voters ask for.

Somehow the governments, institutions, culture, or whatever controls the zombies in developing nations is akin to an alien parasite that landed from outer space and is not an emergent product of the society that it flourishes in.

In reality, their institutions are responses to the genetic and cultural make-up of the people who fit into them. A more lawless populace will result in a more authoritarian set of institutions, and that is regardless of the mechanistic basis of their lawlessness (genetic, cultural, etc.).

Therefore when the civilized countries import large numbers of them, the same pattern of institutions will either be brought over with them fully intact or will eventually emerge here as they did over there.

Thus, how well they'll assimilate -- and thereby avoid destroying the host society that enriches them -- depends on how closely their emergent institutions match ours. The Scotch-Irish with their culture of honor, or the southern Italians with their mafia, took awhile to assimilate, although there are traces of this lawlessness even today.

Still, they came from populations with a much longer history of civilization than the dollar-a-day populations that Bryan wants to bring over (just nextdoor to someone other than him), so the match wasn't so bad. Things will blow up if libertarians get their open borders wish, which luckily they won't because of the protective "bigotry" of the median voter.

paul writes:

whoa! I guess poor people bring out the statist in everyone. A smart libertarian knows when to limit freedom especially for those dumb poor people.

Nathan Smith writes:

I will post a comment here as a way of advertising my forthcoming book, Principles of a Free Society, in which I will embed the case for open borders in the broader tradition of freedom going back to Locke and Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence.

First, Bryan's argument that "First World immigration restrictions... wrongfully prevent the victims of the Third World's bad policies from escaping them" is not only true, it is obvious, and it is obviously the heart of the matter.

But Bryan is wrong to concede that "First World immigration restrictions don't prevent Third World countries from adopting better policies." Yes, they do. First, when a ruler's subjects have the option of exiting, the ruler needs to try harder to keep them happy so as not to lose them. (This has been called Tiebout competition.) Second, policy depends on public opinion-- even in non-democratic states there are threats of revolution, of civil disobedience, of velvet coups and whatnot that depend on public support-- and giving people from Third World countries the chance to live in rich and free countries, to experience their institutions, and then either to return or to influence their relatives abroad through correspondence and remittances, is a great way-- almost undoubtedly, indeed, the best way-- to influence public opinion in Third World countries. This is not just hypothetical. Again and again, the great source countries of immigration have democratized. In the 19th century Western Europe sent millions of immigrants; now all of Western Europe is democratic. More recently, Mexico, El Salvador, and the Philippines first sent lots of immigrants, then democratized.

Finally, even if the policies of Third World countries remain equally bad, freedom of migration would contribute to an intensification of the division of labor and raise incomes. If the United States prohibited interstate travel it would become a lot poorer even if there were no other institutional changes.

Nykos's response misses the fact that it's possible to allow people to immigrate without giving (all of) them the vote. Kurbla's insistence that the effect of immigration on the source country is the only thing that matters makes no sense. Agnostic's speculations are diametrically wrong. America absorbed generation after generation of migrants from illiberal places and its institutions remained in the strong tradition of Anglo-American liberty. It was precisely when immigration was *prevented* that America entered its most liberal phase (1930-70) that America ceased to be a magnet for freedom-lovers and began to revert to the mean. Immigration liberalization in the late 20th century was followed by a revival of freedom under Reagan and in the 1990s.

Feel free to buy my book when it comes out around the end of the year and debate me over at my blog.

Evan writes:

A few things:

1. @Kurbla: It sounds to me like Bryan's book is about the poverty of individuals. To him the poverty of countries is irrelevant. The only reason he is examining national institutions is to show how they make individuals in those countries poor. Therefore he would argue that talented individuals leaving a country would decrease poverty, because those individuals would be less poor. Nation-states have no moral status, so their collective poverty measure is irrelevant, only individuals matter.

2.While low I.Q. might reduce income, it seems to me that low conscientiousness would be a lot bigger thing to worry about. If I had a choice between employing a low-I.Q./high conscientiousness person, or a high-I.Q./low conscientiousness person, I'd pick the 1st. Have there been any conscientiousness tests done on immigrating populations? It seems that would be way more important than I.Q.

3. Thomas Sowell's "Black Rednecks" theory seems to explain a lot more about poverty than I.Q. It seems possible that I.Q. only measures genetic intelligence differences within a culture, and that as immigrants are assimilated, their I.Q.s will go up. agnostic's example of cultures of honor is proof of this, those people's I.Q.s were originally low, but went up when their cultures changed.

4.@Nykos, congratulations, you are the first person I have ever seen on this blog to provide actual evidence that a poor population given franchise would abuse it. Everyone else has just offered it as a hypothetical and expected us to think that that hypothetical should be enough to discourage us, even though they have provided no statistics related to how or how much those populations they fear vote. At least with South Africa you've provided a comparison example.

That being said, there is an obvious solution to this besides the one you proposed. Keep our citizenship quota the same, but increase our guest worker cap to infinity plus one. Then we'd have lots of people coming here who could do productive work, but be unable to vote.

5. I'm wondering if anyone is familiar with the inside view vs. the outside view. I've noticed most critics of immigration take the inside view, they take specific properties of immigrating groups and claim these properties will have negative effects. I'd like to take the outside view by looking at how many times in the past critics of immigration have made these same claims, and how often they've been right. It doesn't take much time to see that in the past nativists, have opposed immigration of the Irish, Jews, Polish, other Eastern Europeans, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, other Asian groups, etc. They have been wrong every time. Ergo, it is likely that they are wrong today when talking about Hispanic immigration.

[format problem fixed--Econlib Ed.]

Two Things writes:

Thank you for the special attention. Please note I offer a $50 bet at the bottom.

1. I think low average IQ causes bad policy (institutions), through several mechanisms which include:

(a) Low IQ people are less able distinguish good policy from bad, so they are more likely to espouse bad policy.*

(b) Low IQ people are more susceptible to the influence of rent-seekers; see (a). Rent seekers divert resources from growth to consumption. (Third-world despots and oligarchs are largely rent seekers. Often they are smarter than their subjects.)

(c) Low IQ people have lower future orientation. They are less likely to support high-growth policies since those commonly involve delayed gratification. Conversely, they are more likely to support anti-growth but immediately-rewarding policies such as wealth-confiscation. More intelligent rent-seekers will lead them down the latter path; see (b).

(d) Low IQ people are less cooperative and more violent, perhaps because they are less able to accomplish things by cleverness or persuasion so they attempt to accomplish them by force, or possibly because they are unable to estimate contingent risks to themselves. Violence harms growth by damaging productive people and assets and diverting capital into defense instead of investment. Rent-seekers harness low-IQ violence to enforce bad policy. Indeed, low-IQ mulishness may make "good government" a lower-profit proposition than simple plunder even for a despot with a long time preference.

(e) Because low-IQ workers are less productive and more likely to support and effectuate wealth-confiscation, low-IQ countries attract mainly low-capital and short-term investors. Those investors often promote bad policy, as by supporting despots in return for short-term protection.

(f) (This is a bit complicated...) Do-gooders in rich countries send "aid" to poor countries. Despite do-gooders' benign intentions, the aid money is mostly pocketed by the poor countries' rulers. Those rulers use the aid money to increase their own rents from their low-IQ subjects and to enforce policies that keep their countries poor so do-gooders will send more aid. It's the Iron Law of Subsidy in action: whatever you'll pay for, that's what you'll get.

(g) (This is even more complicated...) Low-IQ people are less able to temper Caplanesque "group-serving bias" with rational enlightened (lower time preference) self-interest. So we see, for example, that high-IQ countries typically welcome foreign capital investment, whereas low-IQ countries are hostile to FDI so it typically occurs only under the protection of repressive indigenous rent-seeker regimes (or colonial/imperial regimes). The same problem crops up at multiple scales, e.g., low-IQ villagers are hostile to the successful fellow in the next village who wants to expand his farm. Low-IQ populations commonly espouse both formal and informal (mob violence) barriers to accumulation of capital and division of labor, both essential to growth.

2. Since a low-average-IQ population causes** bad institutions, it is foolish for the people of high-average-IQ/rich countries to permit low-IQ immigration. Low-IQ immigrants will produce low-IQ descendants and lower the average IQ of the population in the (formerly) high-average-IQ country, leading to a debasement of institutions there and eventual impoverishing everyone in the formerly rich country. That will harm people in low-IQ countries as well, since they will be deprived of technical advances made (only) in high-IQ countries.

I wish I could insert the graph the Audacious Epigone created showing the strong correlation between population average IQ and "goodness" of 100 countries (quality of life, growth rates, etc.). Please go look at it and read the accompanying text.

Those results are consistent with nearly all IQ-referenced cross-country comparisons. Though we can examine some colonial/imperial-government cases where low-IQ countries (or satrapies) prospered under good institutions enforced by high-IQ regimes answerable to high-IQ populations elsewhere, we have few examples of low-IQ countries with indigenous high-growth institutions. (I admit we have plenty of examples of high-IQ populations with bad institutions, so "necessary" != "sufficient" when it comes to IQ and institutions.)

Low-IQ countries are poor partly due to bad institutions and partly due to low industrial productivity (low-IQ workers are less productive in every country, regardless of its institutions).

Since low average IQ causes poverty, it is in the long-term enlightened self-interest of people in high-IQ/rich countries to discourage the diminution of average IQ in their own countries, even to the extent of preventing low-IQ immigration.

I won't contest your "moral" argument for immigration here, but please note that the IQ vs. poverty/institutions argument, call it "selfish" or "group serving" if you like, is not a simple rehash of "cheap foreigners steal natives' jobs."

The "place premium" you cite is contingent and likely evanescent. Just as workers with similar human capital have similar earnings in Salzburg and Munich, once enough low-IQ workers move into a high-IQ country, it won't be a high-IQ country any more and said "place premium" will evaporate. (Over some time, of course.) You should consider the implications of the fact that "place premium" runs both ways; i.e., a rich-country worker who emigrates to a poor country will generally earn less there than his twin back home (unless he's a member of a rent-seeking regime). Since "place premium" can be "place penalty," rich- country workers wisely avoid migration as avidly as poor- country workers seek it. However, only if natural population growth in a high-IQ country exceeds low-IQ immigration can workers in the high-IQ country avoid "emigrating without moving." Though they remain in their homes, immigration can potentially surround high-average-IQ workers with the same low-IQ foreigners they rationally wish to avoid living among!

Since the "place premium" cannot persist under conditions of mass migration, there is less of a Caplanesque "moral" case for said migration. Certainly some low-IQ immigrants could benefit from "place premium" before it evaporated but they would be eating the seed corn. Rich-country people could do more for poor-country people by sending them gifts, something rich-country people could continue indefinitely if their institutions and economy were not wrecked by low-IQ immigration. Poor-country despots will confiscate most direct gifts, so the ideal gifts are simply the results of technical innovation in rich countries blessed with the good institutions high-average-IQ's make possible. Technical advances from high-IQ countries have done more for people in the underdeveloped world than migration ever has or could.

I wish I could propose a bet on an actual effect of whatever scheme you might propose to get low-IQ countries to adopt good institutions, but neither of us can be sure that anyone will experiment with your prescriptions.

So I offer a different bet: I'll bet you $50 that a reasonable judge (I propose Arnold Kling if he'll participate, but I'm sure we could agree on some judge 'cause I wouldn't be too picky) will decide, after reading your book, that whatever scheme you propose to get low-IQ countries to adopt good institutions is obviously too utopian to succeed in actual low-IQ countries (e.g., African ones), unless imposed by a foreign power (possibly through a local client/puppet). Any scheme which requires a local despot to experience the equivalent of religious conversion shall be deemed utopian, as shall any scheme which simply assumes away ethnic conflicts. I'm willing to hand my stake to the judge now and allow you five years to publish the book. Since the object of this bet is necessarily fuzzy, I promise not to think less of you nor ever to mock you for refusing it.

(I can't see how to bet on the effects of low-IQ immigration to high-IQ countries. So far as I'm concerned we have multiple observations of that phenomenon. I'm not disputing the current value of a "place premium" to immigrants; I'm just arguing that it will decline along with the fortunes of the recipient country.)

*Someone might argue that low-IQ people could be taught which policies are good and which bad. That is erroneous. Certainly parental or "state" authority could teach children to recite "capitalism good, communism bad." But no authority can train a low-IQ person to spot the fallacies or anti-growth elements in some clever rent-seeker's arguments for an occupational licensing law or a complex scheme of taxes and exemptions.

**Or at the very least, attracts and sustains, like frogs and storks.

fructose writes:

There clearly are counter-examples to the low-IQ/ bad policy correlation. For example, Koreans are very high- IQ, in fact they are one of the world's highest IQ populations (I think only Singapore and Hong Kong beat them). Yet N. Korea has quite possibly the worst economic policies in the world.

Conversely, Botswana has very low average IQ, but very good economic policy, and has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world for decades. What can we learn from these counterexamples? Why has (democratic) Botswana favored such good policies? Why did the intelligent N. Koreans rally behind Communism (in the beginning)?

Kurbla writes:

Evan, those "better than average" citizens in poor countries contribute not only to country average, but they directly improve living standard of other people, by providing cheaper, higher quality services and goods in local economy, and something in externalities. If one medical doctor from Tanzania emigrates to USA, it is not only that Tanzanian medicine will be worse on average - as abstraction - but his patients - as individuals - will die.

Furthermore, if we assume that some good properties of people (intelligence, health, ambitions, discipline - are at least partly hereditary) it would be even harder to get rid of the poverty in depleted source country next generation.

I think it is very strong, actually killer argument against free immigration - as long as minimizing total poverty is criteria. It is fascinating that libertarians ignore it.

Two Things writes:

Botswana is a legitimate but weak example, because it depends on a single extractive industry (diamond mining) for 36+% of GDP and worse, has 80% of its population stuck in low-productivity agriculture generating just 3% of GDP. By contrast Australia uses only 3% of its people in agriculture to generate 3.8% of GDP. Most people in Botswana live in poverty and it's not clear what they could or would do without diamonds paying for everything.

Floccina writes:

Just a few data points:

Interestingly some of the worst governed places in history:

Current North Korea
China in the Maoist period
Hitler's Germany

Floccina writes:

Barbados and Costa Rica are a couple more data points.

Evan writes:


The argument, that, as far as I can see, completely kills immigration restrictions is that anyone can instantly see what a stupid idea they would be if we decided to implement them on a state-to-state, city-to-city, or county-to-county basis, instead of just the nation-to-nation level we have now. If we needed work visas or border crossing to go work in another county it would be an economic disaster of epic proportions. The fact that people who advocate immigration restrictions between countries don't also advocate immigration restrictions between counties shows that they are obviously thinking about this issue in Far Mode, where signaling attributes about yourself is more important than getting the right answer (in this case, I imagine the thing they are trying to signal would be Solidarity against the Other).

Furthermore, knowing what Bryan's written in the past, I think he is more interested in giving everyone the chance to get out of poverty, rather than lowering it in utilitarian fashion. If I recall some of his earlier writing on the subject, his main argument is that in the U.S. and other western countries, people are generally poor because of poor choices they make, whereas in 3rd world countries, people are poor because of the actions of others, in this case corruption, bad institutions, and immigration restrictions. Since we can't do much about the first two, we should lift immigration restrictions.

Furthermore, even if we do want to maximize total wealth, there is a much better way than immigration restrictions which I mentioned before, keeping the citizenship cap the same, but letting in an unlimited amount of guest workers. That would result in lots of intelligent, ambitious guest workers coming here to work and sending the money home to their families, enriching their nation of origin. Plus they wouldn't be able to vote, totally shooting down the fear that they would damage our institutions with irrational votes (which is, as I see it, the only critique of immigration that is worth a darn). The fact that immigration critics won't even consider this option indicate to me that they have some other reason for not wanting people to come here.

@Two Things. Low I.Q. may cause bad policy, but if immigrants are assimilated properly their I.Q. should increase as per the Flynn effect, since they would move into a more intellectually stimulating environment. I know I.Q. differences are genetic, but the problem seems to be absolute I.Q. levels, not relative ones.

Furthermore, what evidence do you have that low I.Q. people participate in politics. I haven't had much luck finding a correlation between I.Q. and voting, but it looks like from the one I did find that there is a negative correlation. Furthermore, when low I.Q. people do vote they are in fact likely to vote conservative. I attribute this to the fact that low I.Q. people can often be rather bigoted, so social conservatism appeals to them. Since, by some weird quirk of psychology, social conservatism is associated with economic liberty in candidates, it looks like letting more low-I.Q. voters in will might actually increase economic freedom.

There's also the argument that low I.Q. poor will do things to the welfare state, but that seems to be false too, if you read Bryan's book, or David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom, you'll find that the welfare state on average hurts the poor and helps the middle class. Programs to the poor are tiny compared to programs to the elderly, to name just one example.

Finally Two Things, your "place premium" argument only works if immigrants settle randomly. Most immigrant settle in the same area, so even if they destroyed the place premium, that would occur only locally, not nationally.

I will conclude by pointing out how annoyed I am at how hard it is for Americans to get servants, drivers, and other such people at a reasonable price, especially people who are trying to care for their elderly relatives and could really use some cheap help. I would like to ask nativists to stop harming those people, and America in general, by keeping people who can do those jobs out.

Nathan Smith writes:

One rarely hears intelligent arguments against open borders. There are some here that, while certainly not convincing, are somewhat clever.

First, Two Things' argument seems to be that segregating the high-IQ populations of rich countries from the low-IQ populations of poor countries actually benefits the poor countries more than free immigration would, because it accelerates technological progress: "Technical advances from high-IQ countries have done more for people in the underdeveloped world than migration ever has or could." Now it is clear that this is empirically false since the typical migrant from a poor country raises his income by an order of magnitude or so, and according to the best estimates of GDP per capita in poor countries all the technological progress in history has failed to do that.

But does Two Things' critique of free immigration work in theory? (I'll assume for the sake of argument that Americans have higher IQs than foreigners, though I don't know if it's true.) Or rather-- since it is certainly incomplete as it stands-- what would we have to add to it to make it work in theory? First, a nation's technological creativity would have to depend on average IQ, not the quantity of high-IQ people, which immigration would not reduce. If segregating high-IQ people accelerates their production of ideas, it would make sense within rich countries as well to segregate the high-IQ people from the low-IQ ones. But wait a minute... we already do that! We segregate them in highly selective universities and workplaces, through non-coercive voluntary arrangements. Why wouldn't that work just as well under open borders? The country is certainly big enough to accommodate the huddled masses and still have room for faculty lounges and think tanks!

Of course, even if lowering the average IQ of Americans through immigration *would* reduce *US* per capita technological productivity, it would presumably either raise the technological productivity of source countries by raising their average IQ, or, if it lowered average IQ in both places, would raise the US population enough to increase its total technological productivity. No doubt one could invent strange functional forms for the relationship between IQ, population, and technological progress under which global IQ segregation would accelerate technological progress, but is there really any reason to think such functional forms are accurate?

I'm also unclear why Two Things' whole argument is not refuted by the Flynn effect. By the time the "place effect" wears off, average IQs would have risen.

If coercion is justified as a means of segregating people by IQ, immigration restrictions are hardly the most logical way to go about it. What we should do is (a) banish low-IQ people from the US, and (b) allow in, or if they refuse to come buy/draft, high-IQ people from abroad. Any decent person's horror at these suggestions expresses the conscience's recognition of the fact that segregation by IQ is not an acceptable reason to use coercion.

Interestingly, Kurbla's argument against freedom of migration is the very opposite of Two Things. For Two Things, the goal of immigration restrictions is to segregate people by IQ; for Kurbla, the goal is to compel high-IQ people to stay in poor countries. Now, "brain drain" may be a problem in some places, though I think studies tend to find that the extra incentive it gives to human capital accumulation more than offsets brain drain even before remittances etc. are taken into account (and the benefits of the migrants themselves!). But the brain drain problem could be very easily mitigated simply by adjusting First World immigration policies so that they didn't discriminate so much against the poor and uneducated. If Kubla is concerned with minimizing world poverty he should oppose, not free immigration, but selective immigration that favors the educated.

What I find interesting about Two Things' and Kurbla's arguments is that they both hint at a case against freedom of migration in what I might call utilitarian-universalist terms. They suggest that even if we take the welfare of people in the Third World into account, the best policy might be to restrict immigration. Now, in the many arguments I have been in about immigration, I have never heard this attempted before. My interlocutors have tended to argue against a utilitarian-universalist meta-ethic, taking it for granted that if that is conceded, immigration restrictions are indefensible, that a successful defense of the right of a nation to serve its own interests as it conceives them as far as "its own" territory is concerned is a necessary prerequisite for justifying immigration restrictions. Two Things' and Kurbla's arguments are certainly not successful, but there is a certain moral progress involved in their acceptance (perhaps only partial) of a utilitarian-universalist meta-ethical stance as the appropriate criterion for deciding the question.

And I see in that a sign that Caplan's advocacy is having a certain degree of success. I would make an analogy to the early 19th century, when defenders of another wicked institution, slavery, began to shift to "planter paternalist" arguments. Previously slavery was defended largely on self-interest grounds. Moral progress in the late 18th and early 19th centuries brought things to a point where that was no longer acceptable, and masters had to claim, to argue, to persuade themselves that they were ruling the slaves for their own benefit. In some ways that was even more poisonous, for greed and cruelty were eclipsed by pride and self-deceit, but since "planter paternalism" was empirically untenable, it prepared the ground for the complete moral victory of the new ethos of freedom. In the same way, if immigration advocates like Caplan and myself can gadfly the world into embracing a utilitarian-universalist moral perspective, in accepting that the welfare of the Third World poor must weigh as heavily in the balance as that of the First World rich, and if all we are left facing is the muddle theory and refutable empirics of critics like Kurbla and Two Things, victory is certain.

Jehu writes:

I reject both utilitarianism and universalism, EVEN when it is applied universally (Notice that it never is--you see hardly anyone attempting to argue/browbeat the Japanese or the Chinese into opening their borders, and you see precious few working to prevent the dispossession of white people or Chinese in places where they've become the minority---typically a market dominant minority). No, I conclude that universalism is simply a guise for anti-me and anti-mine, with some allowance for a few useful idiots who hold a principled position. Given the history of what tends to happen to me and mine when we lose our demographic hegemony, you'll have to forgive me for considering anyone who advocates anything having that effect (see, I can countenance a bit of consequentialism) as my enemy.

8 writes:

Open-borders and pro-immigration advocates never want to talk about numbers. When the numbers get large enough, the natives assimilate to the immigrant way of life. Does anyone ever wonder why Madison, WI is so leftist? Would it shock you to learn that when Germany expelled communists in the 19th Century, a lot of them went to Wisconsin?

Or the natives just leave. White flight from California is just the latest example.

Open borders is not a policy, it's an anti-policy, it is the dissolution of the nation state. Have you ever thought what it would take to enforce a truly global open borders policy? It would require an authoritarian global government that spent all its time smashing the will of the entire world to settle into geographic areas with their own kind, be it ethnic, racial, cultural, etc. Charter cities, seasteading, etc. are completely incompatible with the concept of open borders + democracy.

mdc writes:

I've never understood the IQ = poverty argument.

Firstly, I am willing to accept that people in the third world may have a lower average IQ than the first world (and really be less intelligent, not that it is just an artifact in the data).

But is the difference big enough? According to this: India is in the 85 range, yet the article on The Bell Curve (book) claims that Americans in this IQ range in 1994 had at least 3x the average income of Indians today.

Maybe it's a leveraged effect: less intelligence means poorer institutions, and the institutions are the real factor. But even there, it correlates poorly. Ireland has arguably the best institutions for economic success in Europe, yet it is apparently the least intelligent country. China is apparently the most intelligent country in the world, yet for many decades had, if not the worst, then certainly in the bottom 5 institutions.

So I'm not sure this really is a major factor. Worth discussing, and certainly worth researching more, but it must be kept in perspective.

Carl writes:

Relevant link, and don't forget to follow the links explaining smart fraction theory.

Cognitive Decline: The Irreducible Legacy of Open Borders

Also, is anyone else annoyed by the complete and total neglect of cultural factors when discussing immigration? People are not infinitely malleable when it comes to culture, and it is foolish to expect assimilation to magically transform third worlders into first.

Evan writes:


You say:

Open borders is not a policy, it's an anti-policy, it is the dissolution of the nation state. Have you ever thought what it would take to enforce a truly global open borders policy? It would require an authoritarian global government that spent all its time smashing the will of the entire world to settle into geographic areas with their own kind, be it ethnic, racial, cultural, etc.

This argument's ridiculousness can easily be seen by applying it to city borders instead of national borders. Let me rewrite as such:

Open city borders is not a policy, it's an anti-policy, it is the dissolution of the city-state. Have you ever thought what it would take to enforce a truly national open city borders policy? It would require an authoritarian national government that spent all its time smashing the will of all the cities in the country to settle into city areas with their own kind, be it ethnic, racial, cultural, etc.

Once you apply that argument to cities, it sounds just plain silly. It's a good thing that cities do not control their borders. Back when they did, in ancient times, the world was poor and beset by war. It's a good thing that our Constitution forbids city and state governments from border control. And you don't need an authoritarian government for it to work. The US government is far less liberty-friendly than I'd like it to be, but it's still one of the freest in the world. And it doesn't stop people from living with who they want, there are these things called "neighborhoods" where similar people congregate voluntarily without the need for border control.

Maybe 8 will be consistent and argue for a return to the Iron Age era of city states. But more likely, he'd oppose any attempt to smash the Constitutions of countries that prevent cities from controlling their borders.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

I agree that there are two many examples of high-average-IQ countries that have had very, very bad economic policies (such as Maoist China).

Frankly, of the really die-hard communists I've met, most are high-IQ graduates of elite colleges...the lower IQ people I know are more centrist populists.

The other caveats:

1) Low IQ people armed with good capital produce more than high IQ people armed with no/bad capital (in a US office versus a Mexican farm).

2) It is very likely that genetic engineering will enhance human IQ shortly, so this may all be a short-term concern.

3) If you are smart enough to get across the border, get fake credentials, and avoid INS for years, I suspect you have on average higher IQ than many people who stayed home and worked for $1 per day.

4) Within every low-average IQ group, there are some outliers with high-IQs that will contribute a tremendous amount to the economy.

5) Every task not in my core competency that I can outsource to a low-IQ person frees up my time to do my higher-IQ production.

6) Historically, Americans have portrayed every immigrant group as being stupid, backward, and non-immersing (including Asians, Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Russians, etc.) so I am not sure I believe it this time.

Troy Camplin writes:

I don't know why my posting last night was never put up. So let me repeat:

Your book needs to make the point that poverty is the natural state of things for human beings, that wealth is what is unusual, and that it is therefore wealth, not poverty, which needs to be explained. To the extent that poverty needs an explanation, one should investigate why some people/communities/countries are still poor, or relatively poor. Further, poverty within those groups/countries should be compared across time. I want to see *that* book written. To the best of my knowledge, it never has. All I have ever seen are books which ask the bogus question of "what causes poverty", as though that were what was unusual in human history, rather than wealth.

[Hi, Troy. I've checked but can't find any record of your earlier post, not even in the spam folder. Good that you re-posted it.--Econlib Ed.]

agnostic writes:

Sure we could easily assimilate the dollar-a-day populations, based on previous success with Europeans and Northeast Asians. (Don't ask how well Africans and Amerindians are doing, though.)

Similarly, based on the previous success of mortgages, a few fluctuations aside, who says we can't keep handing them out to whoever wants them? I mean, if you want to keep the poor and non-Asian minorities from getting mortgages or access to easy credit, you're just some kind of crazy racist and elitist who wants to keep them from enjoying a high standard of living like the privileged white people.

Again I'm especially surprised at this lack of basic reality check because libertarians and Austrian-ish people are supposed to have sophisticated views about how heterogeneous labor and capital are, negating the lazy comparison between Irish immigrants in the 19th C and dollar-a-day immigrants in the 21st.

Two Things writes:

Evan and Nathan Smith have kindly offered several objections to my thesis. I will now show that those are ill-founded.

Nathan Smith writes "the typical migrant from a poor country raises his income by an order of magnitude or so, and according to the best estimates of GDP per capita in poor countries all the technological progress in history has failed to do that."

Perhaps he didn't notice that "GDP per capita" has population in the denominator. World population growth has long depended on technological advances made in/by high-IQ countries. (Pre-Industrial-Revolution technology would not feed even half the modern population, much less immunize it against smallpox and polio. To a first approximation all scientific and technical advances since the Industrial Revolution have come from the people of high-IQ countries.) For many decades in the underdeveloped world, added income from technological progress went into population growth instead of capital accumulation. (Bryan Caplan says people in advanced countries should "have more kids," so presumably people in underdeveloped countries have an equal right to procreate.)

Back-of-the-envelope calculations are sufficient to show that technological progress has done more for people in poor countries than migration, and a proper analysis has to go something like this:

Suppose people in poor countries each have 1 unit of income and gain 9 units upon migrating to a rich country (Nathan Smith's ratio estimate, though the extreme simplification is mine). From 1965 to 2000 the US admitted almost 23 million immigrants. Suppose illegal immigration was 7 million more. Suppose all came from low-IQ countries (untrue). Suppose other advanced countries together admitted another 120 million from poor countries. So from 1965 to 2000 perhaps 150 million migrants from poor countries increased their income by 9 units each. Total gain: 1,350 million units. During the same interval more than 2,500 million people obtained at least 1 unit of income (world population grew from 3.3 to 6 billion), mostly in poor countries. 2,500 is much larger than 1,350; Q.E.D..

And don't forget diminishing marginal utility. The first unit of income (subsistence) is more valuable to an individual than the tenth income unit, so since technology exports from advanced countries enable population growth in underdeveloped countries they provide much more subjective value to the recipients in toto than income gains from migration.

I'm confident that more detailed calculations would bear out my main claim. Anyone care to bet?

Nathan Smith next writes that, for changes in population IQ mix to matter "a nation's technological creativity would have to depend on average IQ, not the quantity of high-IQ people, which immigration would not reduce. If segregating high-IQ people accelerates their production of ideas, it would make sense within rich countries as well to segregate the high-IQ people from the low-IQ ones. But wait a minute... we already do that! We segregate them in highly selective universities and workplaces, through non-coercive voluntary arrangements. Why wouldn't that work just as well under open borders? The country is certainly big enough to accommodate the huddled masses and still have room for faculty lounges and think tanks!"

Well, a country's technological creativity, industrial productivity, and wealth do depend on the proportion of smart inhabitants! In practice "average IQ" is a good proxy for the more precise "smart fraction" figure because IQ (for reasonably-specified populations) is distributed along a bell-shaped curve. If the mean is higher, the fraction over a threshold will be too. Low-IQ immigration lowers both average IQ and the relative size of the smart fraction.

As for "faculty lounges," nearly all countries "segregate" their more intelligent people in universities and workplaces* (the size of those depends on the bell curve), so we have a natural experiment. Hypothesis: a relative handful of smart people can lead a great mass of dull ones into a bright industrialized future. Empirical result: it never happens. (How many scientific advances have come out of Rwanda's smarties?) When the smart:dull ratio falls there aren't enough smart people free to advance civilization, they're all occupied managing (or exploiting) the dull people who surround them [don't miss Garrett Jones' comment]. (Examples of colonial/imperial regimes partly industrializing low-IQ countries don't undermine my thesis, because (a) the real advances come from the external (high-IQ) power, (b) the amount of force required seems (historically) unsustainable as well as immoral; See Nykos' comment above.)

We are dealing with a threshold effect and one that depends on population boundaries. High-IQ people cease to advance civilization when subjected to the negative influence of too many "nearby" low-IQ people. The baleful influence of low-IQ people diminishes with "distance" (MIT people risk occasional muggings by low-IQ people in Cambridge but are largely unaffected by millions of low-IQ people in Rwanda. If they moved to Rwanda they'd be toast). You can substitute political/military boundaries, weighted by degree of permeability, for mileage in the "distance" metric. If every country's population had the "world average IQ" civilization would cease to advance. Such advance is the only way to improve the lot of poor people so we should eschew schemes to retard it by dumping low-IQ people into high-IQ countries. (City boundaries? The one between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso is important. The one between Minneapolis and St. Paul isn't. Please think of a more interesting argument.)

Evan and Nathan Smith appeal rather vaguely to the Flynn Effect, suggesting it will somehow turn dull people into smart ones (even as soon as they migrate!) so we might as well ignore IQ differences. Sadly, that's nonsense, because the Flynn Effect doesn't do what they want it to. ("IQ" is the best-recognized short formula for "general intelligence" (even though its technical meaning is somewhat different) so I use it in lieu of more precise but less accessible jargon, but I do regret that using it invites unsophisticated criticism citing a (misunderstood) Flynn Effect. I feel like a doctor who, having told a general audience to wash their hands before eating so they won't ingest "germs," is attacked by people shouting "wheat germ is good for you!")

Evan writes "most immigrant[s] settle in the same area, so even if they destroyed the place premium, that would occur only locally, not nationally." Excuse me, but "place premium" is Caplan's thing, not mine, and if you're right then migration would be even more pointless than Caplan suggests. My view is that any "place premium" is an asset of the current residents of the better place which they may rationally defend by excluding immigrants likely to destroy it.

Who cares whether low-IQ people go to the polls in high-IQ countries? As Nykos pointed out (and it's easy to multiply examples beyond South Africa-- see Pakistan, Bolivia, Philippines, etc.) it's a whole 'nother ball game when much of the population is low-IQ. Even if they don't vote they're happy to participate in factional violence.

Evan writes "I will conclude by pointing out how annoyed I am at how hard it is for Americans to get servants, drivers, and other such people at a reasonable price, especially people who are trying to care for their elderly relatives and could really use some cheap help. I would like to ask nativists to stop harming those people, and America in general, by keeping people who can do those jobs out."

I appreciate Evan's candor, because when people like me point out that immigration boosters are often just looking for cheap servants, boosters shower us with imprecations as a kind of squid ink. Yet here we have it straight out. I say (a) the low price of low-IQ immigrant "cheap servants" depends on privatizing benefits and socializing costs (low-IQ "cheap servants" will have low-IQ kids who'll clog taxpayer-funded schools and medical facilities and prisons; when plutocrats replace aging cheap servants--arthritic from scrubbing floors on their hands and knees--with fresh young immigrants the discards will go on the dole; and when the natural increase of "cheap servants" exceeds the natural increase of plutocrats the former group will join the dangerous underclass rather than emigrating "back" to their parents' hellholes of origin); and (b) this admission belies immigration-boosters' oft-repeated claims to be motivated by altruism.

(I don't ask anyone to support an altruistic immigration policy-- I'm don't-- but immigration boosters' frequent hypocrisy on this point annoys and disgusts me.)

The "servant problem" in America is caused by Baumol's cost disease and by upper-class reluctance to bring violent lower-class natives into their homes. Immigrants are humbler and low-wage immigrants are much less criminal than their offspring. Only continuous low-wage immigration could relieve the cheap-servant shortage, and then only at gigantic social cost (there is no doubt that low IQ immigrants cost taxpayers more than their labor is worth to their employers). The cheap-servant shortage is a bad reason to encourage low-IQ immigration-- Americans should just pay competitive wages for native servants of adequate quality or invest in labor-saving technology.

Evan, if the US did admit "guest workers" without political rights, would you countenance forcing them to go home (to poor countries) when their terms of indentured servitude were up? What about their kids? Yeah. So much for the "guest worker" solution.

I wrote to Bryan Caplan that I would not dispute his juvenile "moral" argument for unlimited immigration on this page, so naturally I have concentrated on empirical issues. It's straightforward to show that a "utilitarian-universalist" moral code is non-adaptive (that is, unlikely to persist across generations under natural selection). Contra Nathan Smith I do not concede any authority to such a silly thing, but for those who remain deluded by it I am willing to illustrate that even "utilitarian-universalism" should not require high-IQ countries to accept unlimited low-IQ immigration.

*In very low-IQ countries, high-IQ workplaces are often the offices of foreign concerns or rent-seeker despotisms.

Doc Merlin writes:

"I will discuss IQ as an important but largely non-blameworthy cause of poverty. "

Low IQ is not completely exogenous. For example, conditions of extreme poverty can cause low IQ. This makes it somewhat blameworthy, at least in say North Korea.

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