Bryan Caplan  

Tell Me the Difference Between Jim Crow and Immigration Restrictions

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Under the Jim Crow laws, discrimination was not merely legal.  It was mandatory.  It was illegal for blacks to live, work, and shop in certain places.  Virtually everyone today regards this as an enormous injustice.  So do I.  But I question the claim that modern American policy is vastly morally superior.  The American government continues to mandate discrimination against an unpopular minority: illegal immigrants.  And this mandatory discrimination is far harsher than anything under Jim Crow.

Most obviously:

1. Under Jim Crow, there were many places in America where blacks were not legally allowed to live.  Under current immigration laws, there is nowhere in America where illegal immigrants are legally allowed to live.

2. Under Jim Crow, there were many jobs in America that blacks were not legally allowed to perform.  Under current immigration laws, there are no jobs in America that illegal immigrants are legally allowed to perform.

Admittedly, immigration restrictions are not worse than Jim Crow in every possible way.  Most notably:

1. Illegal immigrants face fewer restrictions on travel.  De facto, though not de jure, illegal immigrants are free to use any form of transportation that doesn't require identification; they can ride trains but not planes.  Under the Jim Crow laws, blacks were unable to use many forms of transportation either de jure or de facto.

2. The children of illegal immigrants face fewer restrictions on attending public school.

3. The Tuskegee Institute estimated that 3,446 blacks were lynched between 1882 and 1968 - about 40 per year.  The FBI reported 681 hate crimes against Hispanics in 2010, but only one of these was a murder.  Lest we feel too superior, note that according to conservative estimates, several hundred immigrants die crossing the border every year.

The Jim Crow laws were awful.  Still, if you had to suffer under Jim Crow or modern immigration laws, Jim Crow seems like the lesser evil.

You could object that our moral obligations to citizens are far higher than our moral obligations to foreigners.  But that's hardly satisfactory.  After all, the essence of the segregationist position was the American blacks were not fully-fledged  American citizens.  Imagine that instead of abolishing Jim Crow laws, the American public had resolved its cognitive dissonance by simultaneously (a) stripping blacks of their citizenship, and (b) declaring that "All citizens are entitled to equal treatment."  Would that have made the Jim Crow laws any less reprehensible?

Another possibility: You could say that the treatment illegal immigrants receive is an appropriate punishment for their law-breaking.  This position would be plausible if legal immigration were easy.  But for the typical low-skilled immigrant, legal immigration is virtually impossible.  The U.S. makes it illegal for most foreigners to live and work here no matter what they do.  So how does the treatment they receive in any way fit their "crime"?

But perhaps I'm overlooking some crucial distinction.  So tell me: What is the moral difference between Jim Crow and immigration restrictions?



COMMENTS (54 to date)
Gabriel Weil writes:

Immigrants generally do not end up in the United Stated because someone captured their ancestors and brought them over to be slaves. Sure, the descendants of slaves theoretically could have left, but this is a much less plausible alternative than would-be illegal immigrants staying put. I say all this who agrees with your ultimate conclusions about immigration policy, but think that the way you argue about it misunderstands the sort of objections and attitudes that supporters of immigration restrictions harbor.

Randy writes:

A line on a politician's map.

Great post.

ThomasL writes:

This isn't about your premise, but a general question across your posts on immigration. I think it would help the debate to clarify your terms.

Could you share precisely what a 'citizen' is? And consequently, what a non-citizen is?

Lee Kelly writes:

I'm British and married to a U.S. Citizen, and it was still a ridiculously expensive and drawn-out affair to get legal residence. One of the reasons why there are so many illegal immigrants is because becoming legal is extraordinarily difficult. Moreover, it's usually the people who would benefit least from living in the U.S. that find it the easiest to get legal residence, e.g. people with highly specialised and valuable skills.

There is a lot of talk about illegal immigration, but very little talk about making it easier for immigrants to become legal. Most Americans I encounter express shock when I explain to them how difficult it was, even in my circumstance, to gain legal residence. They might want immigration to be tough for Mexicans sneaking across the border, but they'd kind of like some British or Australian neighbours (not that most can tell the difference!). Basically, people are most receptive to immigrants when they're from more culturally similar backgrounds.

I can sort of understand this: people are not comfortable with racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. Sure, they might enjoy it on the weekend or out of political principle, but that's not where they want to settle down and raise the kids. Living in a community with shared language, norms, and expectations is very important to lots of people. Even among champions of "diversity", what usually prevails is just a superficial diversity of skin colour or gender, while alternative norms and expectations are strictly taboo (and they even tightly regulate what words are acceptable).

That said, I still tend to favour much looser migration restrictions, not just for the United States but all over the world.

Bear Nichols writes:

Jim Crow benefited racist unions. Blocking immigration today benefits benevolent save-American-jobs unions. See, the difference is that unions have learned to discriminate against all groups and not just one specific group. It is a similar phenomenon concerning the treatment of Stalin and Hitler. By objective measures, Stalin seems to have been much worse. The difference is that Stalin did not discriminate; he killed everyone and anyone. Hitler made the mistake of singling out individual groups.

On a more serious note, my wife (Ukrainian) and I are trying to get her through immigration right now. Once you are confronted with the Kafkaesque structure of the bureaucracy, you cannot comprehend how we still have written on the Statue of Liberty, "Give us your poor."

Jake Winship writes:

There is a clear practical and moral distinction. Illegal immigrants have the option to remain in their native country and avoid all unpleasantness and discrimination associated with U.S. law and immigration policy. African-Americans in the Jim Crow era did not have this option.

I perceive it as a choice between voice and exit, where exit in this context consists of non-entry.

Kevin writes:
Immigrants generally do not end up in the United Stated because someone captured their ancestors and brought them over to be slaves.

Does the descendant of a slave have less control over the location of their birth than the descendant of a non-American? If not, then what's the difference?

Chris writes:

"the essence of the segregationist position was the American blacks were not fully-fledged American citizens"

segregationists saw blacks as being like children (subordinate within a society), not as being like foreigners (external to the society).

Emily writes:

What about two other groups that face mandatory different treatment under the law?

1. People who commit various types of crimes. We don't just restrict where they can live or limit their employment options, we actually imprison them. In some cases, they also lose their voting rights (temporarily or permanently).
2. Children. Children are severely limited in terms of their legal rights compared to adults. This includes significant limits on the types of jobs they can work. They also can't vote and don't get to decide where they wish to live (except in very limited circumstances.)

Are these equivalent to Jim Crow? If not, what characteristics separate them from both Jim Crow and treatment of illegal immigrants?

dave smith writes:

I think Lee Kelly's comment strongly supports Byran's original point.

Maybe someone could have said "We need Jim Crow because I want to live with, work with, play with 'my own kind'."

Pandaemoni writes:

To me, even though I support largely open borders, the moral distinction is that Jim Crow applied it's penalties based on race, whereas restrictions on illegal immigrants are based on a choice those immigrants have made. They obviously made that choice (to violate the law and enter the country) because they expect it will be better to be here, even with the restrictions, than it would be to remain where they are (or to take the time to pursue legal methods of entry). Others make different choices and never have to face the same legal consequences.

Perhaps I am likening it too much to trespassing, but in general if someone clearly communicates "You may only enter my property on the following conditions . . . ," and I choose to violate those conditions, I should expect to be ejected from that property, and not treated as welcome guest prior to that. That's true even if I think the conditions are ridiculous and thing the property owner should allow unconditional access.

ziel writes:

Just as a trespasser, who trespasses on private property must suffer the penalties associated with that act (a fine, or even jail time if the trespass is serious enough), so must an illegal immigrant suffer the consequences of his illegal trespass into another country.

I hope everyone here understands the U.S. is bizarrely tolerant of immigrants, even illegal ones, in relation to the rest of the world.

Nathan Smith writes:

Immigration restrictions are a lot worse than Jim Crow, as you suggest. The differences in income between Americans and non-Americans, though of course an imperfect measure since it partly depends on human capital etc., may serve as a rough gauge of the degree to which immigration restrictions are worse.

Illegal immigrants do not suffer discrimination because of a choice they made. They did not choose to be born abroad. So the "moral" distinction is spurious. That said, illegal immigrants are more like Rosa Parks than like just any black in the segregated US. They are defying unjust laws, as every human being ought to do.

jasbo writes:

This is my first visit to econlib for a while; if this post is representative, it will also be my last for a while.

This is the worst sort of argument by partial analogy I have seen from anything other than a spinmeister or a first year undergrad.

You post this without discussing the very real moral and legal difference between discrimination among citizens based on race [bad discrimination] and discrimination among people based on their citizenship [justifiable]; what citizenship means, the importance of state stability and the role ideas of citizenship play in that; and many other similar, reasonably obvious issues.

Oh, and arguing that entry is difficult and absurdly bureaucratic is an irrelevant aside to your core point which serves nothing but rhetoric.

To glibly equate Jim Crow and immigration laws shows that you don't take citizenship and its role in the state seriously, that you don't take into account social cohesion in your abstracted moralising, and that you don't take into account the very real financial and social impact on existing citizens.

I don't usually go this hard, but to read this first thing in the morning on this site was horribly unexpected.

Faze writes:

They did not choose to be born abroad.

My teenage son informed me that he did not choose to be born, and therefore should not be required to do chores. I was stunned by his unassailable logic, and have permitted him to drop out of school, drink, drive my car whenever he wants, and play video games all day long.

Pandaemoni writes:

@ Nathan Smith:

No one is being punished by the U.S. for being born abroad. There are plenty of people who are born outside the United States who *never* feel the sting of its laws, because "foreignness" is not in and of itself the target of those laws.

Those born abroad are only subject to the unfairness of the laws mentioned *if* they choose to enter the country and, even then, *only if* they choose to do so in a manner that violate U.S. immigration laws. Non-citizens born abroad remain free to stay outside the country, where the laws have no effect, or to enter legally.

The choice to enter illegally is clearly material here. Being born outside the U.S. happens to be a necessary condition to suffering the sting of those unfair laws because we abide by jus soli in most cases, but being born outside the U.S. is not a sufficient condition for the application of those laws absent that choice.

Jacob AG writes:

@Gabriel Weil, "Sure, the descendants of slaves theoretically could have left, but this is a much less plausible alternative than would-be illegal immigrants staying put."

Is this really true? There are *very* powerful economic and political forces pulling immigrants to the United States, legally and illegally. That's not to suggest illegal immigrants aren't "choosing" to be here -- they clearly are (usually anyway) -- but I don't find the proposition that the extremely poor or politically dissident should "stay put" very plausible.

justin writes:

You could argue that Jim Crow was more psychologically damaging- Not being able to get a good job where you routinely see the current workers reaping it's benefits around town is probably a lot more upsetting than simply knowing you cannot have a job that is very far away, especially when you won't even be able to put a face to the current workers. Think Robin Hanson's near/far distinctions.

This doesn't apply to illegal immigrants, of course, but it applies pretty well to immigrants who don't come here because they're not allowed to.

Tom Dougherty writes:

Let's say there was no restriction on anyone entering the United States of America. With a doubling of the population the US's per capita GDP falls to be just below Slovinia. Slovinia is ranked at the 30th highest per capita GDP, which is not bad considering it is still above 160 other countries. As the US population triples, the US per capita GDP falls to be about the same as Barbados ranked 44th highest. When the population quadruples US's per capita GDP falls to Latvia's level. Latvia is ranked at 55th highest. The US will reach an equilibrium per capita GDP level when the population quintuples and the US per capita GDP is nearly the world average - just above Botswana's per capita GDP. But the equilibrium level would hold if all countries had no restrictions on immigration. However, since the US will be the only country with this fools policy, there is no reason why the population increase and the decline in the per capita GDP should stop here.

But hey, this is small price to pay to regain our "morality". Right?

weaver writes:

This is not a Jim Crow issue, rather this is a tough love strategy to ensure that comparative-advantage is allowed to be discovered in non-OECD countries. We need to bring the rest of the world up -- not bring them here.

One thing that is completely forgotten in this generation is that immigration was legislatively limited not only to protect the Social Security program, but also to ensure that the movers and shakers in foreign nations did not flee from adversity. In the 1800s, it could take 3 months of sea-sickness to arrive in the US, in the mid 1900s that time was rapidly approaching 1 day.

Nations with problematic policies are identified by the lack of retirement programs that rival the United States. These nations remain impoverished due to policy issues -- restricting immigration is one way to affect policy change in foreign nations.

In nations with commensurate Social Security programs, we have Soc.Sec. Totalization agreements. The Totalization agreement unifies these retirement systems and immigration (US Visit etc.) is relaxed.

To allow the movers and shakers (educated or not) to flee from the non-OECD countries, reinforces the migration problem and removes the workers from the places where the most work needs to be done.

Additionally, the illegal labor feeds the very industry that destroys the foreign micro-economies. Big AG would not be able to dominate Latin American markets without the assistance of illegal labor -- the hostile takeover of the US family farmer in the 1980s would have been impossible without illegal labor.

The end of borders will mean the total consilidation of production--eliminating redudant labor, if there is a failure in the one of supplier locations, the entire world will suffer. Examine the auto parts problem after the Japan tsunami, if President Reagan had not diversified that industry with tariffs, it would have taken much longer to recover.

Ryan P writes:

@Tom Dougherty,

I'm just checking here -- did you get those numbers by assuming that the GDP of the US is a fixed quantity in no way affected, directly or indirectly, by the number of workers, number of consumers, etc?

Unassailable logic. Now if you and everyone else wouldn't mind leaving so I can spend my $14 trillion in peace ...

Saturos writes:

Black people were brought to the US by force against their will. Illegal immigrants arrive in the US by forcible entry against our will (that is, the will of the US state, which by definition maintains ultimate control over the territory).

Evan writes:

@Pandaemoni

Those born abroad are only subject to the unfairness of the laws mentioned *if* they choose to enter the country and, even then, *only if* they choose to do so in a manner that violate U.S. immigration laws. Non-citizens born abroad remain free to stay outside the country, where the laws have no effect, or to enter legally.

The choice to enter illegally is clearly material here. Being born outside the U.S. happens to be a necessary condition to suffering the sting of those unfair laws because we abide by jus soli in most cases, but being born outside the U.S. is not a sufficient condition for the application of those laws absent that choice.
Couldn't that be translated into Jim Crow like so?:

"Those born black are only subject to the unfairness of the laws mentioned *if* they choose to act uppity and, even then, *only if* they choose to do so in a manner that violates state Jim Crow laws. Blacks are free to not act all uppity, and if they do so they will not draw the law's ire.

The choice to act uppity is clearly material here. Being born black happens to be a necessary condition to suffering the sting of those unfair laws because we abide by jus soli in most cases, but being black is not a sufficient condition for the application of those laws absent that choice to act uppity.

Emphasis where I have changed things.

@ziel

Just as a trespasser, who trespasses on private property must suffer the penalties associated with that act (a fine, or even jail time if the trespass is serious enough), so must an illegal immigrant suffer the consequences of his illegal trespass into another country.

Again, here is the Jim Crow translation:
Just as a trespasser, who trespasses on private property must suffer the penalties associated with that act (a fine, or even jail time if the trespass is serious enough), so must an black suffer the consequences of his illegal trespass into the areas of this country the law reserves for whites.

Emphasis where I changed stuff.

Furthermore, those two situations aren't perfectly analogous,you're asking a lot more of someone to let a person onto their property then you are asking them to let someone into their country.

But even if they were, even if you could give yourself rights by making extended analogies, just because someone has a right to do something, doesn't mean they should. I have a right to cheat on my fiancee with another woman, in the sense that there is no law against it where I live. But I'd still be a huge jerk if I did. Even if we did have a right to punish illegal immigrants for trespassing onto our country, that doesn't mean we're not bad people for doing so.

To extend the metaphor further, if I caught someone trespassing on my property and they could provide a good enough reason (i.e. they're taking a shortcut to the hospital,or to an important job interview), I wouldn't press charges, and I'd verbally rebuke anyone who did.

I hope everyone here understands the U.S. is bizarrely tolerant of immigrants, even illegal ones, in relation to the rest of the world.
The fact that other people are worse doesn't make us good. This is about doing the right thing, not about having higher status than other countries.
Blake Johnson writes:
Those born abroad are only subject to the unfairness of the laws mentioned *if* they choose to enter the country and, even then, *only if* they choose to do so in a manner that violate U.S. immigration laws.

You fundamentally misunderstand Bryan's point. Those who WANT to enter the country legally but cannot are the ones affected by the laws unfairness. This includes not only illegal immigrants who have come to the US, as well as legal immigrants who had to endure the overly bureaucratic process to gain legal status, but all potential immigrants who have been denied the right to enter into a voluntary contract with a willing landlord and employer. The people who have to live in hellish conditions in third world countries and can't afford to get smuggled into the country are the people who are hurt the most by these laws.

Gabriel Weil writes:

It's tangled up with the whole the distinction between active assistant and refraining from harm. I know it is your view that governments are actively harming by outlawing migration, but supporters or restrictions view it in terms of the United States, as an entity, not having any obligation to help. You could try to make the argument about the descendants of slaves, but it is much less plausible. 'We' gave of the moral option of neglect when we enslaved their ancestors. Again, these arguments do not convince me that immigration restrictions are justified, by they do convince me that there is a substantial moral difference between them and Jim Crow.

Lori writes:

I second Bryan's statement. I'm a total immigration anti-hawk, albeit for mostly different reasons.

I noticed a debate has emerged as to whether people choose to immigrate. I liken this to the question of whether people choose to work for a living, or even in some cases choose to work with a specific employer. Since not working is a non-choice, I can't go 100% on the idea that working is a choice. That's why I'm somewhat sliding-scale when it comes to definition of coercion. I've come to believe that being a hobgoblin for narrow definitions, like being a hobgoblin for consistency, is occasionally a symptom of divinity or statescrittership or something.

I've also heard (but not sure whether to trust the sources) that since the start of the recent recession there's been a net movement of undocumented folk out of the U.S.A. Being a market phenomenon, it's a self-correcting phenomenon, right? :-)

Like Bruce Cockburn tells us: "I don't believe in guarded borders and I don't believe in hate"

@Saturos "...against our will (that is, the will of the US state..." Wow, and I thought I was the token devil's advocate at this incredibly anticollectivist blog. :-)

Robin writes:

I couldn't stop myself doing a fist-pump when I read the title of this post. But I have a horrible feeling that Bryan isn't changing anyone's mind.

Most of the folks who don't want to open the borders view them as enforcing a legitimate property right held by the government of the United States (as an agent of its people), and I think it seems like Bryan is sidestepping this point.

Many libertarians don't think that the government legitimately owns, well, anything really (and thinks the conflation of shared ownership by the people with government ownership is an amusing mistake people make because they're brainwashed or suffering from cognitive biases). So we find Bryan's arguments convincing, if we even needed to be convinced in the first place.

There's no reason people shouldn't believe both that the government legitimately owns the land within the lines on the map, AND that it's immoral to restrict entry, but this appears to conflict with typical moral intuitions about property rights (that e.g. I have no moral duty to invite the homeless guy on the corner to sleep in my basement).

I would really love to see Bryan address this point more directly, because the cause is doomed to failure if we can only persuade libertarians!

Tom Dougherty writes:

Ryan P,

If the US population suddenly increased overnight to 1.5 billion people, it is unassailable logic that the US per capita GDP would fall to the world average. It is unassailable logic because it is a simple math calculation. If it took ten years for the US to reach 1.5 billion people, total GDP would have had time to grow and the per capita GDP would be somewhat higher than Botswana's. Nevertheless, the relative decline of the US per capita GDP as the US population explodes would be dramatic and have a profound impact socially and economically. This is something I have not seen Bryan discuss regarding open borders.

There is a good reason not to discuss per capita GDP in relation to open borders. It is one thing to argue, “Let’s have open borders so we can be a good and moral people”. It is another to argue and convince people to go along with, “Let’s have open borders so we can be a good and moral people with the same standard of living as Botswana.” With this second argument you have just lost 99% of the people.

JohnG911 writes:

"Give us your poor" does not appear on the Stature of Liberty and it is not a statue of immigration. For those who favor open immigration or immigration without limits, please show me where it has been successful? How well is it working in Britain, France, or Sweden? Swedes can thank immigrants for much of their exploding crime rate. Brits and Frogs better get used to living under Sharia law and learn to defend themselves. More U.S. Americans are killed by illegal immigrants each year than are killed in two wars. There is a greater distinction between Jim Crow laws and immigration policy than there is between our sworn enemies and ILLEGAL immigrants. I have some wonderful neighbors who immigrated to the U.S.A. (no it’s not racist to say U.S.A.) legally and allowing illegals to live, work, and roam freely here is an insult and a mockery to them and all LAW-ABIDING CITIZENS. My daughter was hit by a driver who was obviously here illegally. She couldn’t speak English and she didn’t have a driver’s license. The police officer used an interpreter from a nearby burger joint to speak for the woman and I suspect she too was here illegally too. The officer never questioned the driver’s legal status and he simply wrote her a ticket for the accident. I guess we were lucky because most illegals don’t have insurance and they usually run from the accident scene. Before one of you claim illegals would carry insurance if they weren't here illegally, I suggest you take a trip to Mexico and most of South America.

dave smith writes:

The trespass analogies people make are ridiculous. The citizens of a country don't own it the same way I own my house.

Tony writes:
You could say that the treatment illegal immigrants receive is an appropriate punishment for their law-breaking. This position would be plausible if legal immigration were easy. But for the typical low-skilled immigrant, legal immigration is virtually impossible.

So the difficulty of accomplishing X legally justifies accomplishing X illegally? Or, at least, mitigates the wrongness of accomplishing X illegally?

My owning a Ferrari is virtually impossible as well. Therefore, my stealing a Ferrari should be viewed differently from other types of theft.

DaveL writes:

Jim Crow laws were enforced against people who were already citizens, based arbitrarily on their race.

Immigration laws are enforced against people who are not citizens, based on that fact alone.

The original argument is effectively an argument against any law that makes a distinction among classes of people, using as its prime example the worst such laws ever on the books. More than a bit strained, in my opinion.

Jeff writes:

Perhaps immigration restrictions are a monstrous injustice. That doesn't make them irrational, Caplan.

Since you've taken it upon yourself to dust off the specter of Jim Crow laws, let's go back to that era and recall some other key details.

Specifically, what were the consequences of them? Well, they were one of the catalysts for the Great Migration during the early part of the 20th century, where millions of southern blacks headed north to look for work in the industrialized cities of the northeast and midwest.

Stop for a moment to consider just how well that worked out. Was it all peaches and cream, with black workers adding to the pool of blue collar labor in those cities, and both the workers and the factory owners/managers growing more prosperous? Not really. The causes of decline are varied and complex, but I look around and I see that large portions of those destination cities in the Great Migration--Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, and others--are little more than burned out, deserted ruins today. Does Caplan have any thoughts to offer about how this came to be? Does he care? Or are posts like these more about flattering his own sense of moral superiority to those awful tribalists out there in flyover country? To ask the question is to answer it.

johnleemk writes:
The causes of decline are varied and complex, but I look around and I see that large portions of those destination cities in the Great Migration--Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, and others--are little more than burned out, deserted ruins today.

First time I've heard anyone refer to D.C., Philly or Chicago as burned out, deserted ruins as a consequence of the Great Migration. If you're going to go that far you might as well throw New York in there -- it'd have arguably even been true 20 or 30 years ago. Blaming the collapse of Detroit as a fundamental consequence of black migration is one of the most hilariously bad arguments I've seen in a long time -- I only hope I haven't been trolled by undetected sarcasm.

Ryan P writes:

Tom Dougherty,

If you've never seen him address the point, you might have missed more than a couple posts -- he does address it, by challenging the premise. See for example here

It is not unassailable to claim that increasing the population of the US, even slowly, would decrease US per capita GDP. Yes, I agree that if, overnight, billions of people moved here, there would be a large adjustment problem because you hadn't changed the capital stock etc. (One might wonder why people would continue to immigrate if you assume that happened, but I think you've addressed this. You've just implicitly defined "relaxing immigration restrictions" as "more people instantly move here than say they wish to move to any OECD country, much less the US in particular." No arguing with a definition!) But the most pessimistic theory of the effect of population on per capita GDP is that it's in the long run neutral, even assuming no complementarities etc.

Arthur_500 writes:

I think you are using the wrong example. There is discrimination throughout all of society and yet we accept this based on the underlying reasoning. In the case of illegal immigrants we have a means to increase the allowable quota of immigrants and currently do not have the will to do so.

Illegal immigrants are not allowed the benefits of society any more than an incarcerated criminal. In fact, they actually deserve less as the criminal has been through the legal system. According to International law, as I understand it, an illegal immigrant is in the same category as a spy - they can be shot on sight. Certainly if we did this then we would not even have this discussion. However, we are a kinder, gentler people than the law requires.

Jim Crow laws have nothing to do with individuals who have no legal right to even be in the country. It is illegal to harbor criminals and it is illegal to aid criminal activity, therefore anyone who supports an illegal immigrant is in violation of the law.

If you want to speak of the Jim Crow Laws and apartheid then may I suggest you examine the treatment of non-aborignal natives in the US versus the dual citizenship and tangled web of laws relating to our residents of aboriginal descendancy.

The issue of Illegal Immigrants is tame and easily resolved compared to the apartheid we have developed in the US relating to Indians, Hawaiian Aboriginal Natives and Alaskan Aboriginal Natives.

Jeff writes:
First time I've heard anyone refer to D.C., Philly or Chicago as burned out, deserted ruins as a consequence of the Great Migration.

I said large portions of them; I didn't make a blanket statement like that. And for the record, I live in Baltimore; and yes, big portions of it are places no sensible person would ever live if he could avoid it. Southeastern DC is of the same piece, as is North Philly and Camden, New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from the heart of Philadelphia.

Blaming the collapse of Detroit as a fundamental consequence of black migration is one of the most hilariously bad arguments I've seen in a long time -- I only hope I haven't been trolled by undetected sarcasm.

Then I would suggest you need to brush up on your urban history. Here's wikipedia on the 1967 race riots in Detroit:

The 1967 Detroit riot, also known as the 12th Street riot, was a civil disturbance in Detroit, Michigan that began in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967. The precipitating event was a police raid of an unlicensed, after-hours bar then known as a blind pig, on the corner of 12th (today Rosa Parks Boulevard) and Clairmount streets on the city's Near West Side. Police confrontations with patrons and observers on the street evolved into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in United States history, lasting five days and surpassing the violence and property destruction of Detroit's 1943 race riot, which occurred 24 years earlier.

Coleman Young, Detroit's first black mayor, wrote in 1994:

“ The heaviest casualty, however, was the city. Detroit's losses went a hell of a lot deeper than the immediate toll of lives and buildings. The riot put Detroit on the fast track to economic desolation, mugging the city and making off with incalculable value in jobs, earnings taxes, corporate taxes, retail dollars, sales taxes, mortgages, interest, property taxes, development dollars, investment dollars, tourism dollars, and plain damn money. The money was carried out in the pockets of the businesses and the white people who fled as fast as they could. The white exodus from Detroit had been prodigiously steady prior to the riot, totally twenty-two thousand in 1966, but afterwards it was frantic. In 1967, with less than half the year remaining after the summer explosion—the outward population migration reached sixty-seven thousand. In 1968 the figure hit eighty-thousand, followed by forty-six thousand in 1969.[63]

According to economist Thomas Sowell:[64]

Before the ghetto riot of 1967, Detroit's black population had the highest rate of home-ownership of any black urban population in the country, and their unemployment rate was just 3.4 percent. It was not despair that fueled the riot. It was the riot which marked the beginning of the decline of Detroit to its current state of despair. Detroit's population today is only half of what it once was, and its most productive people have been the ones who fled.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1967_Detroit_riot#Aftermath

Who knows more about the history of Detroit, you or Coleman Young, johnleemk? Do you think Thomas Sowell is just making things up?

My point is not that it's all black people's fault that Detroit and the South Side of Chicago are wretched, dangerous places to live (although certainly, people like the rioters mentioned above certainly are culpable to some degree); my point is that people of different ethnic or cultural groups do not always get along swimmingly. Far from it. Now, race relations seem to have improved between black and white people in this country over the last 40 years or so, and that's swell! But as they say in the finance business, past performance is no guarantee of future success.

The process of integration and assimilation is often a mysterious and messy process that occasionally go awry. When it does, there are serious consequences. Whether its riots in Detroit, trains being bombed outside Madrid by Islamic fundamentalists, Anders Bering Brievik coldly slaughtering dozens teenage leftists, Coptic Christians being gunned down in the streets of Cairo...ethnic and cultural divisions are real, and they are big. Bryan is a smart guy. His failure to seriously grapple with these issues is strange. Hence my supposition that posts like these are a kind of self-flattery for him.

johnleemk writes:
Illegal immigrants are not allowed the benefits of society any more than an incarcerated criminal. In fact, they actually deserve less as the criminal has been through the legal system. According to International law, as I understand it, an illegal immigrant is in the same category as a spy - they can be shot on sight.

Please tell me you're trolling. What source do you have for this ridiculous claim that an illegal immigrant has no rights under international law? All people are part of the legal system. US law gives illegal immigrants certain basic rights and privileges. Take the fourth amendment guarantee of due process for instance: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

There is a clear distinction between "citizens" and "persons," one which the US Constitution acknowledges. Your understanding seems to be that anyone who is not a citizen is therefore not a person and not entitled to even the basic right to life.

Tom Dougherty writes:

Ryan P,

Your link, even though about wages and not per capita GDP, bolsters my point. Bryan writes, “Immigration restrictions "work" - they successfully create price wedges greater than any other”. Open borders will also “work” – successfully eliminating wage differentials between the US and the rest of the world. You will increase the welfare of most people on earth – at least for a little while – at the expense of the welfare of the people in the US.

Wikipedia's definition of open borders is: An open border is a border that enables free movement of people between different jurisdictions with limited or no restrictions to movement.

The OECD does not have open borders with the rest of the world (no country I know of does have open borders with the world). So, the people of all countries outside of the OECD will not have the opportunity to move there, but they will have the opportunity to move to the US if we have open borders. (The OECD by the way consists of many countries on many different continents and includes the US. Therefore, it is a very unusually choice to use as an example and I am not sure why you picked it).

The economic argument for open borders is to allow a temporary increase in the welfare of billions of people at the expense of a permanent decrease in the welfare of hundreds of millions of people within the US.

Ryan P writes:

Tom Dougherty,

I mentioned the OECD as an example because there have been studies of how many people in the third world wish to move to any country in the OECD, and because the result is fewer than the number you imply would move to the US overnight.

I think you're misreading the economic research on immigration, as the consensus is more or less exactly the opposite =-- there may be a temporary loss of welfare to some people in the US, but there is clearly a permanent increase in welfare to foreigners & immigrants. (The welfare gain to the native population could be permanent or it could be temporary, depending on whom you ask.)

It's also possible you might be glossing over some of the material at that link. It's talking about increases in per capita GDP (that is, doubling-ish world GDP), not wages. Note also that the existence of a wage gap does not imply removing the wage gap occurs primarily or even significantly by reducing the absolute wages of first world workers.

Tom Dougherty writes:

Ryan P,

The economic research on immigration has to do with marginal (read small) changes in the population due to increased immigration, which can be a net positive. With open borders, we are no longer talking about marginal changes in the population, but large scale changes. Any change in economic growth due to a massive influx of immigrants will be minor compared to the changes in population with open borders and will do little to prevent a rapid decline in per capita GDP. Finally, the wage gap due to immigration restrictions does imply that a removal of the restrictions would cause first world wages to fall.

Ryan P writes:

Tom Dougherty,

If you want to argue that there's no empirical evidence about large population changes, that's fine, but you can't then turn around and say you're confident that if such evidence existed, it would confirm your priors and reverse the sign of the evidence we do have. (And again, if you did think that's the case, I'm not sure why you think billions of people would still move here -- ballpark estimates are only 145 million would like to move here now.)

I think you're ignoring the possibility that restrictions on labor mobility create a wage gap primarily by keeping the wages of people born in the third world low. I'm not sure why, if the physical capital stock is endogenous and flexible, you'd assume it mainly drives up native wages. And since that's consistent with the evidence we have for the effect of all migration so far, I'm really not sure why I would assume as you do that it's largely a wage booster for native labor (though apparently not keeping down the return to capital).

Tom Dougherty writes:

Ryan P,

When you refer to the capital stock driving up native wages (and you say I believe this), I take this to mean that within a country the capital stock drives up the wages those who are native within that country and not the immigrants within the country. Actually, I don’t believe this and I don’t see how anyone who did believe this would worry about any influx large or small of immigrants. Further, if I did believe that the capital stock only boosted the natives’ wages and not the immigrants’ wages I wouldn’t hesitate taking your position on this issue.

Also, regarding the interesting survey you linked to, 700 million people would consider immigrating and 145 million would consider immigrating to the US. If policy makers in the US decided to lift all restrictions on immigration, you could throw all of those numbers out the window. It would not be hard to believe both of those numbers increasing greatly, especially the number that would be willing to come to the US. How much those numbers would actually increase is debatable.

Ryan P writes:

I didn't say the capital stock mainly drives up native wages (I asked why you think restrictions on labor just keep up US wages as oppose to keeping down third world wages). I was saying that the only reason I could imagine someone thinking new people decrease wages is as a temporary effect until the capital stock increases. If you think new people drive down wages, you also must think it drives up the return to capital, thus increasing investment, until labor & capital return to the balanced growth path ratio they're at now. For some reason, you seem to assume this won't happen, but you never say why -- possibly because you haven't worked out all the implications of your mental model?

The same question goes for why you assume both of the following simultaneously: (a) large immigration flows permanently decrease US wages to average global wages [because the only thing keeping US wages high is the absence of labor -- take that, total factor productivity!], and (b) despite this effect, migration wouldn't decrease -- in fact, 10 times more people would want to migrate.

Tom Dougherty writes:

Ryan P,

You are saying that a low capital to labor ratio would cause high returns to capital and increased investment. But this is the situation the third world is in now. The third world has low capital to labor ratios, yet capital isn’t flowing from the first world to the third world to reap the gains from high returns. Not only do I assume this won’t happen, it doesn’t happen. This is called the Lucas paradox.

As the capital to labor ratio falls in the US due to open borders, wages would decline and per capita GDP would decline. Net migration would not decrease until were no gains to be made from relocating to the US. The rate of migration would slow down as you approached an equilibrium level. But I don’t see why migration would stop before an equilibrium level of per capita GDP or perhaps an equilibrium of wages between the US and world was reached.

Ryan P writes:

Yes, parts of the third world have low total factor productivity. This is why both capital & labor flow from some parts of the third world to the first world (or would flow anyway, if only we didn't erect barriers to mutually beneficial trade). In no way does this imply that a larger US population would decrease long run levels of US GDP, GDP per capita, US growth, labor productivity, balanced growth ratios of labor to capital, etc. There is neither any theory suggesting that would be the case nor any empirical evidence in favor of this claim. If you have some evidence, I would be interested to hear it.

Ben writes:

The problem with the trespass analogy is that I am not allowed to let them onto my property as the government deems them undesirables. This not only infringes on their right to travel (one of the oldest most basic common law rights) but also both their and my right to free association.

Evan writes:

@Jeff

Stop for a moment to consider just how well that worked out. Was it all peaches and cream, with black workers adding to the pool of blue collar labor in those cities, and both the workers and the factory owners/managers growing more prosperous? Not really. The causes of decline are varied and complex, but I look around and I see that large portions of those destination cities in the Great Migration--Detroit, Baltimore, Cleveland, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, and others--are little more than burned out, deserted ruins today. Does Caplan have any thoughts to offer about how this came to be? Does he care? Or are posts like these more about flattering his own sense of moral superiority to those awful tribalists out there in flyover country? To ask the question is to answer it.

I knew it would come to this eventually. Once you start claiming that "undesirable" people who are allegedly "low IQ" should be prevented from migrating long national borders, it's not long at all before you start thinking that maybe they shouldn't be allowed to travel within national borders either. You start thinking that maybe Jim Crow wasn't such a bad idea after all.

The Great Migration was a good thing, because of the immense economic benefit it gave to blacks. Those gains were so huge that they easily negate any problems it also caused. The only way one could disagree with this is if you think that black people's interests shouldn't count, that they are dangerous animals that need to be contained instead of people whose rights and wants need to be taken into account. That is a horrifying attitude. Even if I believed all that "race and IQ" stuff people throw out around these issues all the time it wouldn't matter. High IQ people aren't utility monsters.

In regards to your points about the Detroit Riot, I've had to study the riot in the past and it seemed to me like it was one of those freak events that snowballed out of control, rather than being racially motivated. I think that people sort of project whatever Grand Cause interests them onto it because it makes them feel more secure to think that historical events are caused by Grand Sociological Forces rather than freak accidents. I don't doubt that the riot caused a lot of productive people to move, but that seems likely to be due to the human tendency to weigh large dramatic and scary events more than they rationally should, rather than response to grounded racial fears.

If you haven't already I recommend you read my point is that people of different ethnic or cultural groups do not always get along swimmingly. Far from it. Now, race relations seem to have improved between black and white people in this country over the last 40 years or so, and that's swell! "Ron Unz's article on immigration. He argues that, in America anyway, most ethnic groups get along fairly well, and that blacks are an exception due to their unusual historical circumstances. The fact that he believes this even though he opposes immigration makes his view very credible.

[content is garbled because of a mispasted and missing url and html code. I've removed the url in order to post the content.--Econlib Ed.]

Dan writes:

Bryan Caplan has got to have the most rosy-eyed view of of the world of anyone I have ever heard of. It must have been a priviledged life that led him here!

Sadly when you come to fuller conciousness, the contradictions fall fast and hard. Here's one: Every illegal who comes to America multiplies their carbon footprint manyfold. Advocating that everyone be allowed to come here is to advocate for environmental disaster on an unprecedented scale.

Here is another point that Bryan Caplan should understand:
There is something called a commons which consists of finite things, such as, to give a few examples:
(a) road infrastructure
(b) buildable space
(c) public institutions such as schools
(d) the power of the vote and polical control over your institutions
(e) welfare budgets
(f) the environment
(g) the ENVIRONMENT
(h) the courts and criminal justice system
(i) lower-skilled jobs

In an overcrowded country such as India, the commons and the environment are destroyed and quality of life is terrible. Social capital is extremely low, no wants to invest in the commons and the nation stagnates.

The mark of almost all underdeveloped countries is that the commons is tragedy and the only things that remain in good shape privately walled off. Many nations dealing with overpopulation now have ruined commons that were once healthy commons.

The reason borders exist is first of all to protect the commons. Considering that the commons is a tragedy in most countries from whence immigrants currently come, and considering that these immigrants to not arrive with a tradition of investing in the commons, it is impossible to see that open immigration can be anything but a commons-tragedy.

Even if most illegal immigrants were models, using up little welfare and investing in the commons (and the opposite is clearly true these days) the consuming of a share of space and voting power is an absolute and permanent loss to all who are here.

Recent immigrants understand this deeply and often do not favor open borders but tighter limits for America! They understand what they have just acquired and how it is being diluted.

Almost every nation has tighter limits than ours. Are they all the Jim Crow South? Or do they understand reality a bit better?

Perhaps a world where the commons is destroyed and all that is good is in private hands is the libertarian ideal. In that case the libertarian ideal is common across the world and it is decidedly unpleasant to live in.

Dan writes:

The number one reason why you need borders is because both peoples and cultures are different and tend to make different choices.

Borders are a way for people, at the society level, to face the consequences of their personal actions.

For example, in Mexico, the tendency was for people to have unlimited numbers of children without the ability to pay for them. The consequences of this, crowding, crime and economic hardship for example, led Mexicans to reduce their birthrate all the way down to replacement.

But Mexicans arriving illegally in America have a much higher birthrate than Mexicans in Mexico. Why? They do not face the consequences of their behavior because it is subsidized by Americans. A majority of Mexican immigrants receive food welfare and medical welfare, our country is not as crowded and, until recently, a beautiful house in the suburbs was available to every person who could fog a mirror with the help of no documentation loans.

When the quality of life in the United States declined as the effects of massive illegal immigration in the Bush years came home to roost, with no documentation loans and an immigrant-fueled housing bubble leading into a huge recession, Mexicans finally felt the consequences of their actions and their birthrates stated to decline in America.

Note that the states which had the biggest housing bubbles and declines had large populations of illegal immigrants -- California, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, DC metro for instance.

I'm sure your gut is to dismiss illegal immigration as having any impact on Americans whatsoever, but before you do, have a look at this:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2011/09/the-9-largest-and-smallest-declines-in-home-values/

Look at the lists. Illegal immigration was huge in 100% of cities with big housing declines and in 0% of cities with the least housing decline.

Correlations of 100% across this many datapoints are significant to a degree rarely found anywhere.

Tony J writes:

One group are ancestral victims to US Empire protraction and plunder during an expanding era. The other group are victims to US Empire protectionism and preservation in a declining era. This trend if followed leads us towards a collapsing Empire.

Morally there are no differences between Jim Crow and immigration restrictions . Morality ceases to exist at the point of a gun by one party towards another. The initiation of force has no moral grounds.

DMR writes:
The trespass analogies people make are ridiculous. The citizens of a country don't own it the same way I own my house.
Yes they do. The government controls the borders, and the nation's land operates in a similar way to private property. It's not exactly the same, but analogous. For people so smart, you like to play dumb on that subtle distinction.

Now, sure, you might think that it's morally wrong for governments to have control over borders, just as an anti-property-rights person, like a commune hippie, thinks it's wrong for me to own a house and protect my borders.

Border laws and border control may be immoral and property rights may be immoral, but that doesn't change the fact that they exist.

DMR writes:

By this logic, all laws are Jim Crow laws since they apply to people on one side of a border, but not on the other.

For example, if you are a citizen of another country, do not visit the US, and do not do business inside the borders of the US (which are entirely arbitrary), you don't have to adhere to US tax law. How is that fair?

Why should people get away with paying no tax, just because of a line on a politician's map? And how come they don't have to abide by FDA rulings? etc. (arguments that you don't agree with those particular bodies or their laws don't invalidate my point, just by the way)

DMR writes:

Absent any responses, I'll assume my previous comment was a knockout punch.

To repeat. According to Caplan's logic, all national laws are Jim Crow laws.

Reductio ad absurdum, QED.

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