Bryan Caplan  

My Immigration Podcast

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ABC vs. Recalculation... A Noble Nobel for Medicine...
My EconTalk podcast inspired by my recent GMU talk is now up.  As usual, Russ Roberts was an incredibly engaging interviewer.  The main novelty: We're such good friends that we decided to make the interview a little more argumentative than usual.  Enjoy.


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COMMENTS (15 to date)
Prior_Analytics writes:

Hi Bryan,

As I mentioned in my comment on EconTalk, I would like open, concise and clear immigration policies, as well as a variety of policies at a level much lower than the national level.

Also, on the EconTalk blog, I raise the issue of overconfidence in our ability to make 'central planning' recommendations in regards to national level immigration polices...

Having now finished the podcast, I'll also make the 'Cultural' argument. I think the strong 'Cultural' argument could be made by someone from Hawaii, or other 'small-island' cultural, but being 4th generation Californian, and my children being 5th generation Californian, I'll make the same argument in my own context. Also, thinking a bit through my argument, it may also have 'congestion' concerns included.

Before I start, let me state, that the people that were here, in California, before my great grandfather arrived, could make this argument much better than I could, as they are fairly good examples of a population that may not completely appreciate the extent to which they benefited from the open immigration policies of California at that time.

So to the congestion/cultural argument....

What if my 'cultural' is open space, close extended family networks, and days on the beach? What if I don't want to work weekends, and double shifts just to live within a 3hr drive of my children's grandparents? What if I want my children to have a 'chance in pasadena' of living and raising their children within a 3hr drive of where I raise them? And, what if we didn't want to ride the economic waves of higher prices from one county to the next as middle income generations get priced out of one city to the next?

Why would artificially keeping congestion down, via immigration policy, be something I should not consider for cultural reasons? Hypocrisy perhaps? Besides the fact that we got here during a time of more open policies, is there something more?

My great-grandfather moved to the desert, to farm, not because he enjoyed the city, or the conveniences of cities, or because anything else to do with cities, but just the opposite.

And, yes, I understand that 'New York would be a great place if it weren't for all the people', is a bad argument as was stated in the podcast, because it is those very people that are creating the values, but this argument is apposite in many places. Some places if you travel far enough outside a city, have natural value, and its the 'lack of people' that is valued, and the 'lack of people' that is preserving the natural value of that territory.

I think the natural response is that a territory has no right to exclude people from its boundaries, but I ask why not? The very definition of civic sovereignty, is to have control over the borders of that territory? How is control from even the 'delusionally perceived' effects of outsiders, not included in the rights of civic sovereignty? Does a sovereign only have sovereignty to the degree they can make their case to an Economist?

If you'd like to take the moral route, there are those that would have us privatize everything, and under such a society, would you have any concern about a 'private territory' 'excluding' people from its property?

How is 'exclusion' immoral in the 'public' territory case, and 'moral' in the private territory case, if the results for the people being excluded are the same?

-p_a

Ricardo Cruz writes:

How is 'exclusion' immoral in the 'public' territory case, and 'moral' in the private territory case, if the results for the people being excluded are the same?

In a private space, presumably, everybody is consenting to the exclusion. They are not prohibiting you and a Mexican gardener or maid from reaching a mutually beneficial arrangement.

People should be free to exclude anyone when they want from their circle of associates, but should not do the excluding in the name of others.

Besides, in a private space, all costs of exclusion are internalized. In a public space, the majority, suffering from rationally ignorance/irrationality, will vote to exclude, no matter how costly that decision will turn out to be.

Prior_Analytics writes:

@Ricardo Cruz

"People should be free to exclude anyone when they want from their circle of associates, but should not do the excluding in the name of others."

So, Sovereignty, above the individual level, does not really exist? There is no 'we', so there can be no moral action at the 'we' level?

"In a public space, the majority, suffering from rationally ignorance/irrationality, will vote to exclude, no matter how costly that decision will turn out to be."

Individuals are always rational, but in groups always irrational?

Leo Shine writes:

Bryan

Is it not a problem that by letting poor immigrants into a country the government acts to decrease the HDI of the country even if everyone involved benefits?

rpl writes:

Prior Analytics,

Your "cultural" argument sounds more like the congestion argument to me. It reduces to something like, "There are a bunch of luxuries that I've become accustomed to enjoying at a certain price, and I want to keep out anyone who might bid up the cost of those luxuries." All that's different in your version is that you have defined enjoying those luxuries as part of your culture.

Why do you think you have a right to keep anyone else from bidding on those luxuries? Do others have the same right with respect to you? If I have a vacant lot next to my house, do I have the right to block you from buying it because I enjoy the view and/or seclusion? It seems to me that if I were to do so, it would be an offense against both you and the owner who was trying to sell it to you.

rpl writes:

Leo,

I'm not Bryan, but I'll take a stab at your question anyhow.

If, by your own admission, letting the immigrants in causes no harm, then why should we care if it reduces the HDI? If the HDI scores a country negatively for things that, again by your own admission, benefit everyone involved, then the HDI is flawed and we shouldn't trouble ourselves over it.

Prior_Analytics writes:
"All that's different in your version is that you have defined enjoying those luxuries as part of your culture."

Yes, this was the point.. The reason I was uncomfortable presenting it as a congestion alone, is that to do so ignores the importance of these 'luxuries' to the lifestyle many enjoy. Cultural, be it food, or music, or activities or any other aspect of a given lifestyle are always luxuries. The fact that Brian enjoys a lifestyle that gets cheaper when immigration laws get relaxed is no more a potent argument than the argument that clearly shows that the luxuries of its lifestyle get more expensive in the same way.

"Why do you think you have a right to keep anyone else from bidding on those luxuries? Do others have the same right with respect to you? If I have a vacant lot next to my house, do I have the right to block you from buying it because I enjoy the view and/or seclusion? It seems to me that if I were to do so, it would be an offense against both you and the owner who was trying to sell it to you. "

Yes, this was also the point. Take 3 examples.

1) I own the vacant lot. Do I have the right to exclude people? Yes.

2) I share ownership of the lot through a joint partnership. Do I have the right to exclude people? Yes, if my partner agrees with me.

3) I share ownership of the lot through a stock ownership corporation. Do I have the right to exclude people? Yes, if enough stockholders agree with me.

The big question then becomes what are the rights of the sovereign? Does a sovereign State have the right to exclude certain populations from within its borders? Again, i would say yes, there is very good legal precedent for this very action.

So, in the questions of 'rights' I see no issue with strict immigration laws.

Again, I think they should be clear, and concise, and consistent, and I am even open to more relaxed laws, but there isn't an argument here to say that strict laws are in any way without legal construction.

-p_a

Gareth writes:

I'd like to follow up on the statement that immigrants have a lower crime rate. Are you really saying that the few individuals that make it through our very strict immigration process are only moderately less likely to commit a crime than the average American? This seems a damning criticism of the current system but perhaps in the opposite way you suggest. Shouldn't our system of checks be able to filter out criminals to much higher standard?

Don't you think this would change drastically if we allowed easier immigration. Consider that initially the largest impacted group would be those that have already committed at least one crime by coming here.

Also I'm not sure how to state this clearly but essentially I feel some *ownership* of the US having lived here my entire life.(Except the small portion when I was born in England:). I suppose you could think of this as past taxes paid or something. In the same way I have some say over who comes on the property I own shouldn't I have some say over who comes on the soil of the country I *own*. If not then what right do you have to keep people out of your house if they want to come in because it's warmer etc?

rpl writes:
Yes, this was the point.. The reason I was uncomfortable presenting it as a congestion alone, is that to do so ignores the importance of these 'luxuries' to the lifestyle many enjoy.
So you're saying, what, that you don't just want those luxuries, you really, really want them? Affixing a label like "culture" to them doesn't really change the fact that if you want those things but aren't willing to obtain them through peaceful trade, then you aren't really entitled to them.
The fact that Brian enjoys a lifestyle that gets cheaper when immigration laws get relaxed is no more a potent argument than the argument that clearly shows that the luxuries of its lifestyle get more expensive in the same way.
Bryan makes it pretty clear in the podcast that his primary objection to restricting immigration is that it is unjust to would-be immigrants. All the arguments about congestion, crime, wages, etc. are secondary. You are arguing that your desire for cheaper access to luxuries offsets the injustice of preventing immigration, but you offer no better argument than, "I want it, and I'm going to make you give it to me."
Yes, this was also the point. Take 3 examples.
You left out the most important example:

4) I have no ownership interest in the vacant lot at all.

It's odd that you left this one out because it is the one that is most relevant to the immigration debate. Nobody is asking you to allow immigrants to come live in your house or work at your business. All they are asking is that you not interfere if I want to rent them my house or employ them at my business.

Does a sovereign State have the right to exclude certain populations from within its borders? Again, i would say yes, there is very good legal precedent for this very action.
I agree, and I think Bryan would too, that there is ample legal precedent for immigration restrictions. However, "legal" is not the same thing as "just". I believe that the government's immigration laws are perfectly legal and well within the authority granted to it; however, Bryan makes a compelling case that they are profoundly unjust.

Note also that when I ask, "Do I have the right..." what I mean by "right" is, roughly, the philosophical and moral basis that makes some action justified. It may very well be that I have the authority or power to do something, even if I have no "right" to do it.

Ricardo Cruz writes:

Prior_Analytics writes "In a public space, the majority, suffering from rationally ignorance/irrationality, will vote to exclude, no matter how costly that decision will turn out to be."

Individuals are always rational, but in groups always irrational?

I am not your econ professor, anyways...

People are not always perfectly rational. And that's true whether they are making a binding decision, or voting with other people on what to do. There is a difference in incentives between these two actions though. If your decision is final, you spend more time doing research than if you just get one vote in a group of twenty people. This is called rational ignorance, and such analysis applies to the behavioral study of stock holders of a company, or voters in a democracy.

Bryan has also argued that voters try to signal certain features when voting for a candidate/party: he called such behavior rational irrationality. It provides for an interesting model, but I'd first become acquainted with rational ignorance before going deeper.

There is no 'we', so there can be no moral action at the 'we' level?

I don't understand what you're asking.

Ryan writes:

I mostly liked your EconTalk podcast about immigration, and thought most your arguments for open immigration were pretty good. But your thought experiment where a person goes to Haiti to do humanitarian work only to discover they he can't return to the U.S. is, I think, off. What I think you're trying to show is that only country of birth--which is a matter of luck --separates poor Haitians from comparatively well off Americans. The randomness is unfair! Well, the listener certainly gets a sense of outrage, but, I think, for the wrong reasons.

I think the biggest source of outrage in the example is not the randomness of allocation to countries, but the random government rule change mid-trip. The humanitarian was relying on the fact that he would be able to return to the U.S. The reaction would be much different if the humanitarian knew before he left that he could not return. I don't see how outrage over a sudden rule change helps your case for open immigration.

The hypothetical is also unsettling because the humanitarian had something that was taken away from him, as opposed to having had less to begin with. I'd feel bad for a billionaire that lost his fortune and had to make due with $100,000 a year, even though that income is actually quite good by most standards. But maybe that is parts of your point--that we should be just as outraged about the unseen consequences of immigration policy as the seen consequences in the hypothetical? Maybe we should lament missed opportunities as much as a loss? At least the humanitarian got to live in the U.S. for a while. But psychological, I don't think we do, which makes the U.S.'s arguably unduly-restrictive immigration policy at least more psychologically benign than your hypothetical.

Finally, your hypothetical misses the mark because the humanitarian is permanently and involuntarily relocated. I think people would find the idea of a person who lives in Portland, OR going on a business trip to New York, NY and then discovers that he can't return to Portland mid-trip troubling, even if he could take his family and friends with him. And by your account, New York is better than Portland. So I don't think this sense of unease has much to do with different standards of living. The average person is going to find this sort of involuntary, permanent relocation and disruption of life troubling, regardless of economic opportunity.

clay writes:

Here is another thought experiment:

If you exchanged the population of Haiti with the population of the US, so that you had 310 million genetically ex-Haitians living in US geography, and 9 million citizens from US living in today's Haiti geography, what do you think would happen?

Do you think that the US would remain the successful and desirable place to be and Haiti the poor and miserable place to be?


As many have pointed out, there are many examples in history of every ethnic group having low-IQ or other serious genetic/hereditary problems, and in hind-sight, that mind-set was wrong. That is still clearly the core issue behind limiting immigration. This is also socially dangerous even discuss. Neither Caplan nor Roberts gave this serious consideration.

Caplan addressed concerns of crime and abuse of the welfare state, but only did so for first-generation immigrants. Those social problems are hereditably linked and the concern is over future generations and large shifts of the hereditary makeup of our population.

clay writes:

One more question: Does Bryan Caplan practice what he preaches?

Does he send his children to schools that are 80%+ hispanic or black students?

I don't know this, but I can almost guarantee that he sends his children to a school that are predominantly caucasian students.

Chris Koresko writes:

@Bryan:

I enjoyed your podcast, but I came away unconvinced. This was especially true of your opening argument, in which you present a hypothetical scenario of an American who is arbitrarily denied the right to return home from a trip abroad, and make a case that this is no more abusive than denying a foreigner the right to enter the U.S.

From my perspective, this overlooks the fundamental issue: The American is defined as such by his participation in a mutual covenant of loyalty between the individual citizen and the nation, as represented by its government. The abuse that occurs in your scenario is the breach of that covenant by the government.

Two Things writes:

Gareth writes:

I'd like to follow up on the statement that immigrants have a lower crime rate.

Caplan is being disingenuous there. While in fact immigrants have fairly low crime rates (still higher than most natives, though), the children of low-IQ immigrants have remarkably high crime rates. The children of Mexican immigrants are the worst, they are eight times as criminal as their parents and much more criminal than most natives.

When the descendants of low-IQ immigrants merge into the US population they assimilate into the underclass and have much higher crime rates than either high-IQ natives or the descendants of high-IQ immigrants.

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