Bryan Caplan  

The Golden Age of Immigration

PRINT
Gretchen Morgenson on Fannie M... Minimum Wage and Internships...
The Gilded Age was no libertarian paradise, and it certainly had far lower per-capita GDP than the modern world.  Nevertheless, the Gilded Age was awesome in many important ways.  Above all, as Goldin, Cameron, and Balarajan explain in Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future, the world was never closer to the principle and practice of open borders:
Despite the erection of selective barriers to Chinese immigration to Australia, the United States, and Canada in the mid- to late nineteenth century, advocates for open migration remained influential.  In 1889, the International Emigration Conference defended the freedom of movement as a natural right: "We affirm the right of the individual to the fundamental liberty accorded to him by every civilized nation to come and go and dispose of his person and his destinies as he pleases."  International migration may have been fiercely contested from some corners and for some people during the late nineteenth century - particularly the Chinese, and also southern Europeans and Slavs - but an ideology of economic openness and liberalism prevailed overall.
Imagine - there was a time when elite opinion and public policy took free immigration seriously.  All democracy did to tarnish this political miracle was scapegoat Asian immigrants, while leaving the doors open to not just Europe, but Latin America as well.  Whatever its flaws, the Gilded Age was truly the Golden Age of Immigration.  Libertarians - and anyone who cares about the genuinely poor - should give credit where credit is due. 



COMMENTS (24 to date)
Evan writes:

What I find strange about this is that there'd be more support for free migration in a world vastly more racist than our own. Today there is much less support for open migration, even though racism is considered taboo. Even anti-immigration pundits who base their entire argument around grotesquely exaggerating the externalities generated by (allegedly) low-IQ immigrants are far less racist than the median person of the 19th century.

What's also funny is that back then East-Asians were considered the most problematic ethnic group, when today even the most anti-immigration people will concede that East-Asians are extremely smart and successful.

I suppose the fact that the welfare state was much smaller back then might contribute to it, but as I've said repeatedly before, I think most people who use "welfare externality" arguments aren't sincere, since they never take those arguments to their inevitably totalitarian conclusions. If you think the government has a right to ban immigration to reduce stress on the welfare state, you're also obligated to believe it should ban homemakers. Yet no one who claims "immigration and a welfare state cannot coexist" also claims "homemakers and a welfare state cannot coexist." Now why would that be?

Scott Wentland writes:

A couple random thoughts:

First, an interesting research question: to what extent do institutions and governance erode in quality as immigration restrictions go up?

This would be difficult to quantify, but if a country's institutions and governance erode considerably (e.g. a tyrannical ruler takes the helm), I would think people might have a greater propensity to move if it's easier to do so. This is, of course, harder to do if countries place greater restrictions on immigration.

Second, freer immigration might also help explain the prevalence and relative success of monarchy during that time (at least more success that most modern day autocratic regimes). The king has competition. If citizens really don’t like his government or laws, they can pick up and move. And like business, some fail and others receive an inflow of new “customers.”

Anyway, it is interesting to think about the equilibria under free immigration. I might pick up that book.

fructose writes:
Imagine - there was a time when elite opinion and public policy took free immigration seriously
.

According to wikipedia:

Since the removal of ethnic quotas in immigration in 1965,[2] the number of first- generation immigrants living in the United States has quadrupled,[3] from 9.6 million in 1970 to about 38 million in 2007.

The US population is projected to grow by more than 200 Million from 2000 to 2050, almost all of that will be from future immigrants and their progeny, the vast majority are allowed entry not because of skills, but because their family members got in (chain migration) or because their countries are so dysfunctional.

And when was the last time a presidential candidate ran who actually opposed the current massive scale 3rd world immigration, which brings crime, urban sprawl, and makes schools utterly dysfunctional?

Yet you think the elites are "anti-immigration", somehow?

This is the future of America with open immigration: first America becomes Detroit, all over. Then Ciudad Juarez. Then Mogadishu.

Alex writes:

Fructose,

Ask the more than 800,000 people deported under the Obama administration if that administration is in favor of open immigration.

According to this worldwide poll, 165 million people want to move to the US.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/124028/700-million-worldwide-desire-migrate-permanently.aspx

There are currently only 35 million people living here. That means that 82.5% of the people who want to come here have not. That is not open immigration by anyone's definition.

Brian Clendinen writes:

I always find it fascinating at people who use the founding fathers beliefs as a major foundation for a smaller and more conservative government, yet are against open borders. They seem to totally ignore that open immigration was universal for the most part, and it was not even considered a big deal.

I honestly think teaching historical how immigration was open in the U.S. and how we benefited from it, is the surest way to get conservatives to change their anti-immigration beliefs. The argument plays up on originalism line of thinking which always goes well conservatives.

Les Cargill writes:

"Democracy" did no such thing; the Hearst newspapers did.

Evan writes:

@fructose

This is the future of America with open immigration: first America becomes Detroit, all over. Then Ciudad Juarez. Then Mogadishu.

You're making the mistaken assumption that the reason third world countries are so awful is because they have low quality people, and that therefore all you need to do is move people from a third world country to a first world country to make it third world.

This is part of a larger trend I've noticed among anti-immigration conservatives, which that they frequently have an unconscious assumption that a person's personal virtue is the primary reason for their success or failure in life. According to this view, third world countries and poor neighborhoods are bad because they're full of bad people, and we need to keep the bad people away from us. Race and IQ research is popular among these people because it confirms their worldview.

This contrasts with alternate theories of success, which state that the situation a person is in determines their success, and their virtue means nothing.

Bryan is definitely sympathetic to the idea that a person's personality determines their success. But unlike anti-immigration conservatives, he understands that personal virtue is only responsible for variation of success between people in the same situation, for the most part situation is king. David has pointed out elsewhere that country of birth is a far greater determinant of your wealth than personal virtue.

To a typical anti-immigration conservative, restrictions on immigration are just because poverty is caused by lack of virtue, and poor countries are poor because they're full of bad people who deserve to be poor. To Bryan, these restrictions are a monstrous injustice because they're preventing people from living up to their full potential by changing their situation, third world countries are poor because the put people in bad situations, not because they have low quality people. Because they were born in a wrong country, a person who could be rich over her is poor over there, a person who could be middle class over here is poor over there, and a person who could be poor over here is starving over there.

What causes those bad situations? Lots of things, dictators, wars, idea traps, etc. All of these situations are hard to change, it's much easier to move people to another country.

The Man Who Was . . . writes:

Evan:

Us immigration restrictionists are well aware that there are complexities feedback loops.

The problem is that gung-ho immigration enthusiasts refuse to acknowledge that bad situations in the third world (dictators, wars, idea traps, corruption etc.) exist there largely because those countries have too many low quality people and that havinig a first world country requires good human capital, including higher average IQ, something which we don't know how to change, probably because of biological constraints.

The Man Who Was . . . writes:

situation is king

Biology is king. Biology creates situation.

MikeP writes:

The Man Who Was...,

Two questions:

1. Which immigrant group was it that finally raised the human capital of Britain above the dictators, wars, idea traps, corruption, etc., and on the path to the Magna Carta, the British Constitution, and the eventual founding of the US?

2. Which immigrant group was it that finally lowered the human capital of Russia and Germany into the dictators, wars, idea traps, corruption, etc., that defined them and their disastrous consequences in the mid-twentieth century?

JKB writes:

Seems to be some intentional blindness to the situation for immigrants in the Gilded Age. Are we surprised that hordes of immigrants were admitted at time when there was a great need for low paid labor in the factories? Or while the interior was considered mostly empty and could easily take the immigrants as conditions forced them away from the cities? Or that as each group, Irish, etc., found ways to pull themselves up the economic ladder another group would arrive to take the mill jobs they opened up? And all without burdening the taxpayer as poor immigrants do today, no welfare, little public schooling, no state funded healthcare. And what schooling was provided was designed to develop good workers for the mills and factories. What social services that were provided were through private charity.

Or is there a premise I missed that the US is seriously inhibiting immigration of workers with skills in needed industry. Seems most of what one hears about is the influx of unskilled, ill-educated poor immigrants who rapidly become a drain on social services.

This has far less to do with race and much more to do with the rise of the welfare state that makes every new person a burden on all others so value-added is now a major consideration.

fructose writes:
You're making the mistaken assumption that the reason third world countries are so awful is because they have low quality people, and that therefore all you need to do is move people from a third world country to a first world country to make it third world.

I'm not making judgements about "quality". Criminality, intelligence, time-orientation, welfare dependency. These are all totally objective traits. I'm not saying crimnal, low-intelligence people are bad people, I'm saying I don't want them to be my neighbors, and neither do you. Rich prog/libertarian Americans import these dysfunctional 3rd worlders, and then put their kids in private school or move to the exurbs.

It doesn't even matter much if their dysfunction is cultural or based on biologically inherited differences.

Both biological and cultural differences are real (and important). There is a reason why Baltimore, DC, and Camden are hellholes. It isn't random bad luck but rather because of the people who live there. It is incredibly naive to think geography of all things determines wealth, rather than culture and blood.

James writes:

It is simply not possible to have open immigration in a welfare society. The real choice is between how much immigration vs. the ammount of government assistance. It is logically possible to argue for a reduction in government assistance to immigrants in exchange for increasing the total amount of immigration. I suspect it is not politically possible to make the same argument.

MikeP writes:

James,

The 1996 Welfare Reform Act is on the phone. It wants to talk with you.

Evan writes:

@James

It is simply not possible to have open immigration in a welfare society.

It would be better to say that it is impossible to have freedom in a welfare society. As long as people have some freedom of choice in a welfare society, there will inevitably be some people, native or immigrant, whose behavior increases the odds they'll end up using welfare services. Hence there will always be pressure to regulate people's behavior, whether it be their food consumption, movement, or smoking.

I value freedom highly, so I'm willing to say that it's wrong to regulate people's behavior to stop them from being more likely to use welfare services. If you want them to use the welfare state less, don't lobby to restrict their behavior, lobby to restrict their access to welfare.

@The Man Who Was

The problem is that gung-ho immigration enthusiasts refuse to acknowledge that bad situations in the third world (dictators, wars, idea traps, corruption etc.) exist there largely because those countries have too many low quality people and that havinig a first world country requires good human capital,
I am aware of this, that is why I am very gung-ho about giving people unlimited green cards, but less gung ho about unlimited citizenship. I'd like large amount of Mexicans to come to America and work, but I'm much more wary of granting them all citizenship.

Biology is king. Biology creates situation.
Then why did Europe escape poverty before Asia? East Asians have the most biological capital, according to the Bell Curve anyway.

@fructose

These are all totally objective traits. I'm not saying crimnal, low-intelligence people are bad people, I'm saying I don't want them to be my neighbors, and neither do you.
I went to school in Detroit for two years and lived on campus. The campus was only a few blocks away from houses full of those sorts of people. I can't say I liked having those people as my neighbors, but it was really only a mild inconvenience. It meant I had to be more careful walking at night, be sure to keep my car and apartment locked, and occasionally be annoyed by beggars, but I had a strong enough grasp of crime statistics to not be terribly afraid. That experience made me realize that the dangers of those people are greatly exaggerated, and that a community of middle class people could live in their midst without much trouble.

Rich prog/libertarian Americans import these dysfunctional 3rd worlders, and then put their kids in private school or move to the exurbs.
There you go! The market has seen fit to provide you with solutions to the problem that don't require immigration restriction. Use them, instead of trying to stop people from coming here to make a better life.

That's another reason I don't fear lots of low-IQ immigrants coming to my country. Even if they're as bad as you say, the odds are they'll live in some inner-city ghetto, not next door to me. All the crimes they'll commit will be against each other, and they were doing that in their home country anyway.

It is incredibly naive to think geography of all things determines wealth, rather than culture and blood.
Culture and blood determine relative wealth, but geography and luck are important for absolute wealth, which is what I value. If you don't believe me, compare the income of an average African American with an average wealth of an African. Plus, these things contribute to each other, African Americans tend to have higher IQs than Africans, presumably because Africa is such an awful place that living there lowers your IQ.

"This is the future of America with open immigration: first America becomes Detroit, all over. Then Ciudad Juarez. Then Mogadishu."

19th-century version: This is the future of America with open immigration: first America becomes the Bowery, all over. Then Dublin. Then Warsaw.

The Man Who Was . . . writes:

I'd like large amount of Mexicans to come to America and work, but I'm much more wary of granting them all citizenship.

Are they really going to be content to just pick fruit and clean toilets without getting in on the goodies that more productive citizens have. This is incredibly naive.

P.S. This was tried out in Rhodesia. Didn't work out so well did it.

Then why did Europe escape poverty before Asia? East Asians have the most biological capital, according to the Bell Curve anyway.

Asians hunt old paths well. Not so great at innovation. IQ is very important, but is not the only component of biological capital, as should be obvious.

fructose writes:
19th-century version: This is the future of America with open immigration: first America becomes the Bowery, all over. Then Dublin. Then Warsaw.

There was nothing like Detroit, Camden, Baltimore, LA, etc in 19th century America. Crime rates are more than twice as high as they were in 1965, when the new immigration law passed. IN SPITE of a vast increase in private security and law enforcement spending, record high incarceration levels, growing prison sentences, militarized police, etc.

High-level European immigration did cause traumatic social problems in early 20th century America. The country was badly divided between white ethnics (which dominated the Democratic party)and old Americans (Republicans) for decades. Only in the 1980s (more than 50 years after the 1925 law restricted high level immigration, and after the '65 law brought in millions of non-whites) did the political divisions begin to fade. This was in spite of the fact they weren't biologically less capable than old WASPy Americans.

These new Americans are less capable, they are visibly distinct, they have different languages and religions. If white ethnics didn't integrate until decades after high-level immigration from (Ireland, Italy, Poland, etc) ended, how long will these much more different people take to integrate? Likely, it will never happen.

Shane writes:

One thing I wonder about is the formation of new national identities in the US, Australia, etc. which were not connected only to ethnicity.

My guess is that the decline of Native Americans left a gap whereby immigrants could create a new "American" national identity.

Back in the Old World, however, the natives weren't going anywhere. So English settlers in Ireland or German colonists in Eastern Europe neither assimilated nor replaced the natives. Ethnicity remained tied to nationality.

Hence much 19th and 20th century nationalism in Europe was based on ideas of common blood ancestry. This, I guess, could also inform aversion to immigration in much of the Old World today. In France, Serbia and Japan ethno-nationalism survived, while it declined in the New World.

This in turn makes me wonder if it might be sensible to control migration to countries with strong senses of ethnic national identity: if immigrants will never be accepted and integrated then social fractures could follow?

Renato Drumond writes:

Crime rates are more than twice as high as they were in 1965, when the new immigration law passed.

Actually, crime rates are declining.

rational skeptic writes:

Quick proposal:
Open borders for elites. I am essentially asking for what already exists in the university system for professors (they attract talent from around the world). Since the main argument against immigration I usually hear is that it would hurt poor people through decreased wages, why not set the system up so that competition is localized in professions. This should either decrease the price or increase the quality of the service for poor people (with all the problems that Europe is having I see no reason why we wouldn't want to make it easy for their doctors to come on over). Over time the number of professions that are covered in this "elite" system could expand. Does this (at least in the beginning stages) not accommodate both the Evans and Fructoses of the world? Could this be sold politically?

Evan writes:

@The Man Who Was...

Are they really going to be content to just pick fruit and clean toilets without getting in on the goodies that more productive citizens have.

They will get in on the goodies, by making money and buying them. That's the whole point of letting in more immigrants (well, that and more workers). What does voting have to do with that? Puerto Rico has been happy to not vote for decades.

Even if they did vote, I am not convinced that they'd vote for left-wing policies. Generally low-IQ people are conservative, not liberal, the only reason Latino voters vote Democrat is because Republicans persecute them to win votes. Leftism tends to be a result of medium intelligence, not low intelligence. That's why the left asks "What's the Matter with Kansas?" they can't understand why poor people aren't liberal.

Asians hunt old paths well. Not so great at innovation. IQ is very important, but is not the only component of biological capital, as should be obvious.
That's obviously untrue, China surpassed Europe in innovation and standard of living several times in medieval times, it was only bad luck and bad governance that slowed them down again. Sometimes biology just loses out to geography, culture, and plain bad luck.

I don't even see how you could measure that. It's probably possible to vaguely measure the amount of innovation Asians generate, but determining how much of it is caused by biology is probably impossible.

The research on biology and intelligence is far from settled. When I first read The Bell Curve I found its findings very plausible. But the research of people like Sowell and Turkheimer has since convinced me that I was mistaken, and that the findings presented in that book do not tell the whole story. Murray and Hernstein made a good start, but there's still a lot to discover. I still think biology is probably important for intelligence variation in middle class and rich folks, but for poor people other things probably play a greater role.

@Shane

One thing I wonder about is the formation of new national identities in the US, Australia, etc. which were not connected only to ethnicity.
Eric S. Raymond has a good essay on this topic.

This in turn makes me wonder if it might be sensible to control migration to countries with strong senses of ethnic national identity: if immigrants will never be accepted and integrated then social fractures could follow?
On the other hand, maybe interacting with more immigrants will force people to give it up this ethnic identity nonsense. Ethnic senses of national identity are evil, we need to discourage them. Fortunately, as Raymond points out, ethnic identity in Europe seems on the decline, since they've seen what it leads to.

@fructose

There was nothing like Detroit, Camden, Baltimore, LA, etc in 19th century America.
Pretty much any American city in the 19th century had more crime per capita than any of those places.

Crime rates are more than twice as high as they were in 1965, when the new immigration law passed.
No they're not. One of the big news stories lately is how crime rates are among the lowest ever and are going down in spite of the recession. I don't know how you missed it.
MichaelM writes:
I am aware of this, that is why I am very gung-ho about giving people unlimited green cards, but less gung ho about unlimited citizenship. I'd like large amount of Mexicans to come to America and work, but I'm much more wary of granting them all citizenship.

Probably the single worst thing you can do for the health of a republic is create a permanent class of residents with no citizenship rights.

I'm currently reading an old book on an older subject: The period of American history under the Articles of Confederation. The kind of radical liberalism displayed by normal people from this time is astounding. In some ways, there was a high-tide back then that we still have yet to reach, as evidenced by this kind of talk.

Of course, in other ways, we've come very, very far. There's a story I've heard about a well-off black businessman from Philadelphia showing up at the polls on election day. Not to vote, because, although he did have the legal right, he knew none of the people present would let it happen, but to get his employees to vote for the man he supported. Two practices we've either left behind or are in the process of leaving behind: Voter intimidation by society, and by employers.

The Man Who Was . . . writes:

They will get in on the goodies, by making money and buying them.

No, they'll want to vote themselves goodies out of other people's pockets.

Generally low-IQ people are conservative, not liberal

They vote almost uniformly liberal. Haven't you even bothered to look this up. The top and the bottom vote left and the middle votes conservative.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top