Bryan Caplan  

Open Borders and Personality Bleg

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What personality types are most likely to support open borders?  Since almost no one in the First World favors open borders, we shouldn't expect to find common personalities that typically support open borders.  It's conceivable, though, that rare personalities typically favor open borders.  And it's probable that some common personalities are unusually likely to embrace this contrarian view.

In the absence of more specific evidence on personality and beliefs about immigration, I revert to the general Five Factor Model result that extroverted, disagreeable (=Myers-Briggs "Thinking"), conscientious, stable, closed personalities lean toward free-market positions.  However, low openness also correlates with low appreciation of foreigners, so I'm only confident about the first four patterns.

What about the personalities of immigration activists?  I'm unaware of any data, so I can only speculate.  My guess: Advocates of the moderate pro-immigration view that Vipul Naik calls "territorialism" tend to be very Feeling.  However, advocates of full-blown open borders and hard-line restrictionists are both probably very Thinking.  Despite our differences, Steve Sailer and I are the kind of people who place logical consistency above social acceptability. 

If Thinking vs. Feeling doesn't distinguish open borders advocates from restrictionists, what does?  Open borders advocates are probably higher in openness than restrictionists.  The big difference, though, is on neuroticism (=the reverse of emotional stability).

Restrictionists strike me as high in anxiety and very high in anger - two of the key facets of neuroticism.  Open borders advocates strike me as low in anger and very low in anxiety.  I don't mean this as an ad hominem attack, but a simple description of fact.  Indeed, if you think that anger and anxiety about immigration are warranted, you could easily dismiss open borders advocates as deluded Pollyannas.

To repeat, though, this is mere guesswork on my part.  Please share whatever insight - or evidence - you have to offer.  If possible, express your views using standard terminology from personality psychology.

HT: The admirable Vipul Naik

COMMENTS (47 to date)
Vipul Naik writes:

Here's something I wrote that is indirectly related. These are my speculations based on Haidt, Iyer, et al.'s moral foundations theory rather than personality psychology:

The moral foundations of immigration restrictionism

Ghost of Christmas Past writes:
Restrictionists strike me as high in anxiety and very high in anger - two of the key facets of neuroticism.  Open borders advocates strike me as low in anger and very low in anxiety.

Curious. I would have written the complete opposite. Open-borders advocates seem very anxious, projecting personal fears of social ostracism (exile) onto barely-related immigration rules, and very angry about exclusionary regimes which seem quite unexceptionable and indeed rather abstract* to most people.

I get the impression that open-borders advocates make many more moralistic appeals than restrictionists (who are perhaps too complacent in their feeling that since general sentiment is with them, morality must be as well). I see "morals talk" as evidence of anxiety; less anxious people are less motivated to chivvy others with moralistic arguments. The question of anger comes in here too; I see far more anger expressed by open-borders advocates toward restrictionists than the other way 'round-- though this may only reflect the fact the advocates for a (yet) minority position must necessarily work hard to overcome majoritarian complacency.

Perhaps we should give MMPI's to samples of people from both camps. We must beware of sampling only eager advocates, though-- while the bloggers and blog commenters (or essayists, or politicians) on both sides may be angry and/or anxious, the less vocal masses (who lean toward restrictionism) may not show any pronounced tendencies.

*To most citizens, excluded immigrants (as opposed to landed ones) are mere abstractions. Open-borders advocates of the more impassioned type seem to spend a lot of time imagining themselves in would-be immigrants' shoes and frequently exhort restrictionists to do likewise, but that's a very anxious kind of behaviour. (Of course there are plenty of cold, calculating open-borders enthusiasts who just see immigrants as cheap labor or ethno-leftist political cannon-fodder, but I don't get the impression that we're mutually fascinated by their personality quirks.)

spandrell writes:

"Open borders advocates are probably higher in openness than restrictionists. "

Lol. How does one get to be open while living in a bubble? Does not compute very well.

Kevin writes:

Bleg and you shall receive...

Includes both Five-Factor personality traits, ideology, and a measure for need for cognition (roughly Thinking, as you would say).

Ken B writes:


If Thinking vs. Feeling doesn't distinguish open borders advocates from restrictionists

False dichotomy.

This concern with "open borders" rather than simply permissive and welcoming policies ill serves Bryan's stated goals.

Richard writes:

Thinking is the same as disagreeableness? People who think rather than feel don't like other people?

Taras writes:

Alternatively, they may be more likely to be first or second generation immigrants themselves. Everyone in my family is high conscientiousness, low stability, moderate to high openness.

James Oswald writes:

I would guess that openness to experience is a huge part of it. I don't think you can spend your time hanging out in Ethiopian sports bars and decide to hate immigrants.

johnleemk writes:

Ghost of Christmas Past,

"Open-borders advocates seem very anxious, projecting personal fears of social ostracism (exile) onto barely-related immigration rules, and very angry about exclusionary regimes which seem quite unexceptionable and indeed rather abstract* to most people."

In my case it's because I am myself an immigrant/frequent traveller and personally know many victims of ill-thought-out immigration policies. The oppression of orthodox immigration policies (which, it is rather difficult to dispute, almost universally stem historically from racist attitudes towards immigrants) is the exact opposite of abstraction in my mind.

I remember when Bryan Caplan posed a hypothetical scenario where someone with a job and apartment in the US was prevented from re-entering because they weren't a citizen. People lambasted the scenario for being completely unrealistic, but I personally know people for whom essentially this entire scenario happened.

"I get the impression that open-borders advocates make many more moralistic appeals than restrictionists (who are perhaps too complacent in their feeling that since general sentiment is with them, morality must be as well)."

I think this is right (and applaud your willingness to consider that the moral questions surrounding immigration policy are not as black-and-white as people, on both sides, commonly tend to think). I would merely note that one could have said something similar about the opponents of the draft or racial segregation.

The economic and empiric arguments are no doubt essential to building the case for more sensible immigration policy (just as they were to building the case for rethinking the draft, or to a lesser extent, racial policies). But it hardly seems human to wholeheartedly believe in something you regard as a fundamental moral truth and yet go out of your way to avoid discussing this moral belief. I think regardless of personality type, essentially every one of us would react very strongly to something we regard as immoral.

S writes:

I honestly haven't seen any variance in personality that explains positions on immigration. Motivated reasoning seems to completely dominate both sides.

D writes:

My guess is that daily proximity to average 3rd world immigrants or more generally "NAMS" plays a stronger role. In other words I would assign more weight to experience rather than innate personality differences.

gwern writes:

To expand on Kevin:

Using a large, representative sample of the Dutch population with high quality personality measures it is first shown that the personality traits of agreeableness and neuroticism are more strongly related to immigrant attitudes than well-known predictors such as unemployment.

The correlations aren't that big:

n the first model including personality, age and sex, all five personality traits are related to the dependent variable but it only explains a modest 5 percent of the variance in attitudes towards immigrants. Once the rest of the predictors are included the variance explained increases to 28 percent and the magnitude of the personality traits’ effects is reduced. Agreeableness is clearly the personality trait more strongly related to attitudes towards immigrants. Moving from the minimum to the maximum level is associated with about a .2 increase, which is a large effect. By comparison, a well-established predictor as unemployment is only associated with a .05 decrease in pro-immigrant attitudes. Neuroticism is also associated with the dependent variable. The negative effect of moving from the minimum to the maximum value of neuroticism is about .08. Extraversion is negatively associated with pro-immigrant attitudes, while conscientiousness and self-esteem have a positive effect, but the effect size is small and they are reduced when including controls. Self-esteem has been previously found to be an important predictor of attitudes towards immigrants (Sniderman, Hagendoorn, and Prior 2004). A closer examination reveals that while its positive effect is greatly reduced when including neuroticism and agreeableness in the models. Previous results may have in fact reflected these traits’ influence. Openness to experience has been found to be negatively associated with generalized prejudice (Ekehammar and Akrami 2003; Sibley and Duckitt 2008). In the first model the association is positive, but it vanishes after controlling for education. This discrepancy in the findings motivated us to examine the bivariate correlation between openness and attitudes towards immigrants within each educational subgroup. There is no association in four of the groups. The only statistically significant association is found among those with upper vocational education (r=.06, p-value=.04).

Also interesting is that conservative opposition to immigration is principled:

As expected, there is no significant interaction between need for cognition and a weak labor market position -measured as low education and unemployment- or high Dutch identification. These factors generate negative attitudes towards immigration, unmediated by reflection. On the contrary, there is a large (.25) and significant interaction between ideology and need for cognition. Right-wing people are largely anti-immigrant, independently of their tendency to engage in cognitive effort. By contrast, there is a large difference among left-wing people. Simulations show that people who place themselves in the far left (0 to 2) and have the minimum score of need for cognition score on average just .5 in the attitudes towards immigration factor. Left-wing people with a high need for cognition have much more favorable attitudes, above .7. Thus generating pro-immigrant attitudes is not automatic and easy, but some cognitive effort is required to align ideology with issue position

There is also evidence for the claim that the rich are pro-immigration because they don't think it will hurt *them*:

A second interesting finding is that people with a high education level become more anti-immigrant when they suffer a worsening of their economic situation, while the less educated do not. This suggests that the poorly educated, who are already more likely to feel that they are in competition with immigrants do not feel further threatened when their situation deteriorates. Competition for scarce resources with immigrants is not new for them. On the contrary, for the highly educated the shock may come as a surprise and they adjust their issue position according to their new situation. The highly educated are a group which is particularly likely to become more anti-immigrant when the economic situation gets worse. This finding runs counter the conventional wisdom that education teaches people deep values of tolerance. The pro-immigrant sentiment among those in a strong labor market situation may be just a fair weather opinion susceptible to erosion in the middle of an economic storm.

(How admirable of them...)

DrC writes:

FWIW. I am for open borders. You can't have a free market without the free movement of labor. I am sensitive to the argument that open borders combined with our current political system may eventually lead to a less free society, due to the voting preferences of immigrants.

I score very high on openness, high on extroversion and conscientousness, low on agreeableness, and very low on neuroticism.
I'm also an ENTJ.

My father was an illegal immigrant, so if anyone is keeping score, that's a half point for Prof. Caplan's explanation and a half point for the environmental explanation.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

I agree that familiarity with recent immigrants is highly likely to make one more immigration-friendly.

I have to add that just last week I was in a Starbucks (in the US), and overheard to a young Australian citizen explain to her parents that on re-entering the US from a vacation to Mexico the US immigration folks claimed one of her documents was out of date, and she spent about 20 minutes arguing with the immigration officer that it wasn't and she presented the evidence to him and eventually the immigration officer admitted that he was wrong and let her in - but that the whole event scared her out of her mind that she would not be able to get back to her home and job.

Seb writes:

The Freedomain Radio crowd consists largely of (very) high neuroticism completely pro open borders anarcho-capitalists. As far as the other big 5 go, I think Freedomainers are predominantly very introverted, probably low on conscientiousness, probably high on openness; and I don't know what their average agreeableness score might be.
This is the one large group of pro open borders people that I know enough about to be able speak to their personality types. (I do not recommend Freedomain Radio, just to be clear.)

My guess is that the traits that matter most are openness to experience (positively correlated with friendliness to open borders) and disgust sensitivity (negatively correlated with it).

Vipul Naik writes:

Kevin, thanks for the link, and Gwern, thanks for quoting key passages from the link.

I think that while this link sheds light on some correlates of pro-immigrant attitudes, it doesn't say much about pro-migration or pro-open borders attitudes. Here are the questions used to determine attitudes to immigration:

  1. It is good if society consists of people from different cultures: This is a really poor proxy for measuring attitudes to immigration or open borders. Obviously, if one considers the mixing of different cultures to be absolute anathema, this would be a big point against open borders (though one might still favor open borders between culturally similar countries). But attitudes ranging from agnosticism to multicultural enthusiasm are all perfectly compatible with open borders. My own position is largely agnostic on the "people from different cultures" point, yet I strongly favor open borders, probably far more strongly than many people who are great enthusiasts for a multicultural society.
  2. Legally residing foreigners should be entitled to the same social security as Dutch people: This is completely tangential to open borders. The question is also designed to discriminate against small-government folk and keyhole solution proponents, who advocate far freer movement of people with far fewer government obligations to these people.
  3. There are too many people of foreign origin or descent in the Netherlands: I guess this is somewhat related, but again, it conflates personal preference with what policies one considers permissible or obligatory from a coercive government.
  4. It does not help a neighborhood if many people of foreign origin or descent move: Mostly like (1).

Overall, the questions have a decidedly left-wing, territorialist stance, concentrate more on personal sentiments than the moral side-constraints and tactical suitability of government policy, and don't even consider radical open borders. So while they may be ideal from the perspective of the authors, they're ill-suited to the open borders support question. My suspicion is that they would completely fail to distinguish supporters of radical open borders from moderate pro-immigrationers. In fact, moderate pro-immigrationers may come out looking more pro-immigration than supporters of radical open borders, because the latter, when asked these questions, may contemplate what might or should happen under open borders, while the former might simply base their answers on their impressions of the status quo.

Somewhat tangentially related: even restrictionists claim (with some justification) to be pro-immigrant. But they're not pro-immigration -- they're okay with past immigrants, but not potential future immigrants.

Vipul Naik writes:

Your point about anger is thought-provoking. Activists of all sorts are motivated by some form of passion for their cause, and such passion is often accompanied or caused by anger. But there are at least two moot linkages:

  1. Is anger about the cause a strong correlate of passion for the cause?
  2. Does anger about a particular cause correlate with a generally angry predisposition that might show up in personality tests, or is it narrowly cause-specific?

With these two things in mind, the comparison between open borders advocates and restrictionists is interesting. I think that on the restrictionist side, anger is a great way to rally support for the cause, because it's mostly about maintaining or tweaking the status quo, and anger can be invoked easily in defense of a system under threat. On the open borders side, what's being proposed is a radical, highly unlikely change. Anger doesn't seem to be the ideal passion for seeking a highly improbable, highly speculative, and very radical change, with a minuscule base to rally to the cause.

However, I don't know if the second linkage also holds. I suspect that restrictionists' anger on the issue of open borders is cause-specific, and probably doesn't extend to their general predisposition and personality.

The more appropriate foil to compare angry restrictionists against isn't open borders advocates, but immigrant rights activists (who are often far from being open borders supporters). I think you'll generally find that the anger levels displayed by hardcore restrictionists and immigrant rights activists are pretty much on par and comparable.

Personally, I think I am very low on anger, and low to average on anxiety. More precisely, I'm probably average to high on anxiety for things that I have direct control or responsibility for, and very low on anxiety for things that are outside my control or responsibility. Even on the anger side, the rare situations where I feel anger are where I'm angry at myself for doing something I shouldn't have, and (far more rarely) at somebody else causing me direct and significant harm. Egregious government policies rarely invoke anger in me at an emotional level (though I might cognitively consider them extremely evil). I don't think anger plays any role in my pro-open borders position.

Vipul Naik writes:

D writes:

My guess is that daily proximity to average 3rd world immigrants or more generally "NAMS" plays a stronger role. In other words I would assign more weight to experience rather than innate personality differences.

I suspect that different people respond very differently to the same experience, with some becoming markedly more pro-migration after their personal interactions with migrants/foreigners, and others becoming markedly less pro-migration. For many people, there may be no effect, though they may still draw on personal anecdotes to justify their positions.

I don't know which side the overall balance lies, but if, as I suspect, the variation in how people respond is huge, then we are back to the question of what aspects of their personality or their other circumstances (independent of the acutal interactions with immigrants) are responsible for this variation.

MingoV writes:

I recall reading equally inane personality type comparisons of conservatives vs. left-wingers, democrats vs. republicans, libertarians vs. everyone else, etc.

Here's what I've seen: a person's stance on a political or social issue is not strongly correlated with personality type. It is a waste of time trying to prove that people oppose your position because they have "disagreeable" or "closed" personalities. Even if that's true, how does it help?

For an issue such as open borders, the primary determinant of someone's position is what consequences he expects. And the expected consequences will vary with the proposed implementation. If you say, "Open the borders," then I'll be opposed. If you say, "Open the borders but keep out violent criminals and make the new immigrants ineligible for welfare and Medicaid for five years," then I'm supportive. Many people oppose open borders because they have been told repeatedly that they will lose their jobs. Changing their minds (regardless of their personality types) will require a massive PR campaign.

Steve Sailer writes:

Extreme open borders enthusiasts tend to be a cross between various categories:

I. Ethnocentrists:

A. Present: My kin have overpopulated our homeland, so they should be allowed to come to America in as vast numbers as they feel like.

B. Past: My ancestors were looked down upon by WASPs when they got to Ellis Island, so I want to stick it those evil racists and vindicate my ancestors.

II. The Naive, Callow, and Overly Theoretical -- Maybe, they just got over a crush on Ayn Rand and are looking for something else.

III. People pretty far gone on the autism-spectrum

Seb writes:

MingoV, it looks to me like the evidence is not with you on this. link

You're right that what people expect is probably easier to influence than their personality traits and dispositions. But I think there are good reasons for wanting to understand what other factors also lead to persistent disagreement among people.

[html for link to pdf file fixed--Econlib Ed.]

Seb writes:

That link didn't work (I wasn't given a chance to preview my comment, I wonder why)


[Not sure what happened to you with the Preview, but I think the link wouldn't wrap a second time. At any rate, I've fixed it for you in the earlier post.--Econlib Ed.]

Vipul Naik writes:

@MingoV: The question Bryan poses is mostly of academic/theoretical interest, though it might ultimately turn out to have application to advocacy strategies. I don't think it was Bryan's goal to argue that information about the personality types of people holding certain views would be a way to convince others from rejecting these views. With the exception of conscientiousness, none of the other personality dimensions have a clear-cut notion of which direction is better (e.g., introversion versus extroversion, agreeable versus disagreeable), so such a strategy would in any case be ill-advised.

The analysis of personality psychology would apply to advocacy as follows: the style of argument itself might be better tailored to match the personality types of those whose beliefs you consider it most productive to change (these would probably be the "swing" folk rather than the hardcore people on either side). It may well happen, of course, that looking at personality psychology ultimately offers no insight into the matter, but I think that prima facie it is worth some consideration.

You're also right that consequences matter, but one's normative ethical stances also matter. How much does one's normative ethics value citizens relative to non-citizens? People with very similar analyses of the consequences of open borders might take very different positions on the issue based on these normative ethical stances. The question at hand is whether personality types have much of a relationship with the relevant normative ethical stances.

Taeyoung writes:

Ghost of Christmas Past more or less reflects my impression -- your perspective seems 180 degrees flipped from reality.

Hardline restrictionists generally don't seem to see open borders activists (or people more moderate on the immigration policy scale) as anything but misguided or perhaps duplicitous ("elect a new people"). Open borders activists tend to portray hardline restrictionists as super-evil racists. That says a lot, I think.

Steve Sailer writes:

Being an Open Borders ideologue is a form of socially acceptable extremism. Nobody ever gets in real trouble for advocating Open Borders. Most often they get the equivalent of a pat on the head and praise for having their heart in the right place. Open Borders extremists are seen as being on the mainstream media's side, if perhaps a little too carried away with the conventional wisdom's thinking or a little too indiscreet.

Please note that getting demolished by more realistic and better informed readers in online comments sections isn't "getting in real trouble."

Among extremist positions popular among libertarians (such as Singulatarianism, Randism, that guy in England who doesn't want to die, and having your head frozen after you die), Open Borders is probably the most respectable and most likely to get you praised by mainstream thinkers.

Steve Sailer writes:

"These are my speculations based on Haidt, Iyer, et al.'s moral foundations theory rather than personality psychology:"

Haidt's book is a big step forward, but he doesn't quite grasp the essence of the difference positions. A realistic political morality recognizes the concentric nature of sustainable loyalties, while liberalism emphasizes leapfrogging loyalties.

What Haidt never quite gets across is that conservatives typically define their groups concentrically, moving from their families outward to their communities, classes, religions, nations, and so forth. If Mars attacked, conservatives would be reflexively Earthist. As Ronald Reagan pointed out to the UN in 1987, “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”

In contrast, modern liberals’ defining trait is making a public spectacle of how their loyalties leapfrog over some unworthy folks relatively close to them in favor of other people they barely know (or in the case of profoundly liberal sci-fi movies such as Avatar, other 10-foot-tall blue space creatures they barely know).

Vipul Naik writes:


Open borders activists tend to portray hardline restrictionists as super-evil racists. That says a lot, I think.

What evidence is there to support this claim? I invite you to take a look at the website pages and blog entries at Open Borders and tell me what parts of this site portray hardline restrictionists as super-evil racists.

I have, I hope charitably, critiqued specific restrictionists for making specific racially charged arguments, such as the time (a few months ago) that participants in a forum preaching restrictionism argued that blacks were non-human, and made a number of other related claims. Apart from that, the closest you may find to the "super-evil racists" claim on our website is probably my observation that if you definitionally treat the migration of people of other races as bad, then there isn't much point convincing you on open borders. Which isn't the same as calling anybody super-evil, it's basically the argument that if there are fundamental irreconciliable differences, then argument probably won't help.

If there are other open borders advocates who have called hardline restrictionists "super-evil racists" I'd like to hear about it.

Steve Sailer writes:

Open Borders extremists represent the bipartisan mainstream elite consensus's lunatic fringe. Their mistake is they they take the immigration editorials they read in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal seriously, as if they are based on workable principles rather than just expedience and status-striving.

You aren't supposed to actually _believe_ the WSJ's and NYT's editorials on immigration, you are just to supposed to submit to them.

MikeP writes:

I'm as open borders as they come and a solid INTP.

Open borders advocates generally believe the crap Jefferson wrote about...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

...while restrictionists clearly don't believe either that all individuals are created equal, or that governments are instituted to secure individual rights, or both.

I would think that appreciation for open borders would be most common in NT's since they are most likely to be able to reason out a consistent theory of rights and be less phased by the myriad phobias about immigrants' impacts on employment, economy, culture, politics, or freedom.

But even NT's would still have had to put some thought into the question before being asked whether they support free migration. The entire society and media is steeped in a culture of nativism as pervasive as was the culture of racism a century ago. It takes some conscious effort to get out of it.

Steve Sailer writes:

"Open borders advocates generally believe the crap Jefferson wrote about..."

Do they generally believe what the Founders wrote in the Preamble to the Constitution?

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Steve Sailer writes:

Here's an empirical test of the respectability of Open Borders extremism. From 1984 onward, the Wall Street Journal repeatedly editorialized in favor of a five-word Constitutional Amendment: "There shall be open borders."

Did this fanaticism lead to the Wall Street Journal being shamed and shunned by mainstream elite opinionmakers?

If you Google:

"There shall be open borders" "Wall Street Journal"

do you find all sorts of denunciations of the Wall Street Journal's Open Borders stance in, say, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New York Review of Books, Time, The Economist, CBS, PBS, NPR, The New Republic and so forth?

Nope, from the mainstream media you get cricket noises. The WSJ being for Open Borders was not something that got the WSJ criticized by respectable people. Instead, most of the top hits on Google for this search come from me or people I know.

So, Open Borders fanatics like Robert Bartley's WSJ Editorial Page are the conventional wisdom's lunatic fringe, just pushing the elite consensus to the point of absurdity.

MikeP writes:

Do they generally believe what the Founders wrote in the Preamble to the Constitution?

Yes. But they also believe that those words and the words that follow were not written only for the Yangs, but for the Kohms as well.

Steve Sailer writes:

Open Borders is the reductio ad absurdum of the conventional wisdom about immigration and diversity, so it's hardly surprising it's almost never criticized in the mainstream media, but, then again, it's not praised very often either. It's a distraction from the main message that everybody who wants to restrict immigration is an extremist.

MikeP writes:

Open borders are not even discussed in the mainstream media. It is so far outside the experience or thought processes of virtually all journalists as to be entirely unconsidered.

To journalists, open borders is roughly the equivalent of cutting government spending by a third. It is completely outside the conversation. Extremists on this topic are those crazy people who suggest that maybe it wouldn't destroy the country to let the sequester go through, making US debt hit 100% of GDP two years later as a result. People who actually want to cut government spending don't even exist.

Similarly, you will see absolutely zero mention of open borders in the mainstream media during the current immigration reform debate. The thought that there is neither need nor want for a new broad-based path to citizenship, only the need for easy and unlimited legalization, is simply inconceivable to journalists.

MikeP writes:

By the way, Mark Krikorian and CIS -- as well as other restrictionist organizations -- make it on NPR quite often. They are the "other side" whenever anyone who wants to make immigration a tad easier is interviewed.

I have yet to hear them talk to someone who actually believed in open borders. Like I said, it's outside of journalists capacity of conception.

india white writes:

Consider a less deceptive lead in next time.

The well documented relationship between INTJ personality profile and libertarian susceptibility is what comes to mind and what I expected. Instead I find rank speculation and navel gazing.

Do some research and report the results.

johnleemk writes:

To the folks referencing MBTI, I'm not aware of any empirical or academic validity MBTI has in the social sciences. Psychologists generally prefer to rely on the Big Five, which is what Bryan discussed in his post.

That isn't to say MBTI isn't fun or can't be useful in guiding one's thinking (I consider it a framework, similar to what beginning management consultants use when approaching case interviews), but pending academic citations, I am skeptical of suggestions that there is a "well documented relationship" between an MBTI personality type and something else.


I would add that on the stage at Republican presidential debates, the least restrictive immigration reform we hear about is usually E-Verify (a system which catches more false positives than true errors), and the most restrictive options we hear about involve building a wall and/or mass deportations. At Democratic presidential debates, we don't hear a peep about open borders; the focus is on "path to citizenship" for unauthorised immigrants who are already here and maybe a little bit about improving the rotten system for high-skilled immigration.

johnleemk writes:

Nevertheless, to be fair to Steve Sailer, at some point in the past open borders *might* have been a slightly more mainstream proposition. It's interesting that his main citation is to a WSJ editorial from 1984. And Barry Goldwater was almost certainly a fan of open borders:

Vipul Naik writes:

@johnleemk: What's yor source for the everify false positives claim? My impression was that the false positive rate is 1-5% and far less than 50%. Even 5% may be unacceptably high, but your literal claim would be quite wrong in that case.

The main source of error is people entering inaccurate information (often deliberately) so as not to get detected for being unauthorized to work. This error rate is about 50% according to some estimates.

Also, those who advocate expanding the sytem probably also want to lower both these error rates, so a troubling but not extraordinarily high error rate is not a slam dunk argument against devoting more resources to everify if you believe that a perfectly operating everify would be a godsend.

Vipul Naik writes:

@Steve Sailer,

I have read your Taki Magazine piece, and I've also read similar theories of victim mascots being put forward by others, such as Thomas Sowell in his "Vision of the Anointed" and in various online articles. I'm not convinced of the applicability of this to the citizenist versus universalist debate, however, which is the most relevant case for the open borders questions.

Setting aside open borders, consider the question of foreign aid. The US government spends under 1% of the government budget on foreign aid. Those of a somewhat universalist disposition (who also believe that foreign aid works and don't have libertarian-style qualms about government spending outside constitutional purposes) argue for increasing this percentage. Yet, they certainly don't argue for increasing this percentage to the levels of the intra-US welfare state. If, however, they valued natives and non-natives equally, then given that the US population is about 5% of the world population, it would be conceivable that true universalists would ask for 19 times as much money to be spent in foreign aid compared to the domestic welfare state. If they further adopt the view of the welfare state as redistributive towards the poor, the multiple could be even higher once you compare the concepts of poverty in the US and in the world. If they adopted the "leapfrogged loyalty" standard you suggest that liberals have, the multiple would be even higher. Yet, I am not aware of any proposals that suggest foreign aid of any form to be even comparable to domestic welfare spending, let alone more than 19 times as big.

I think that even modest moves away from citizenism seem like "leapfrogged loyalties" to hardline citizenists like you although, looked at in perspective, they still place a substantially greater weight on the welfare of current citizens relative to non-citizens (or potential citizens).

[By the way, I don't have any particular view on foreign aid, but I am sympathetic to the idea that a lot of it is wasted and creates perverse incentives and should not be expanded. My purpose here was to consider the citizenist critique that foreign aid quantities show that the US (or for that matter, other countries) place a greater weight on foreigners than on citizens].

Moving to the topic of immigration, your citizenist perspective is hardly alien to the left. Here, for instance, is a Prospect Magazine piece that advocates citizenism almost as clearly and forcefully as you do. Citizenism, not universalism or leapfrogged loyalties, underlies the recent anti-immigration piece published by an employee of the Economic Policy Institute in a New York Times op-ed.

Bryan Caplan asked you a while back to "please name a few examples of citizenist policies that you think go slightly beyond the limits of our moral obligations to outsiders? A few examples of such policies that you think are just barely within those limits?" I'm quite interested in knowing the answer as well, so I have a better idea of the standard you are using to judge policies.

PS: Concentric circles of moral concern are fine, but a justification is required to make one particular (and artificial) circle in that family, the nation-state, the one of paramount importance as opposed to smaller circles (like family, local community, and racial/ethnic subgroup), larger circles (like humanity) or cross-cutting circles (like religion, broad racial category, profession, or area of interest). You have argued that (emphasis mine) "Precisely because basing loyalties upon a legal category defined by our elected representatives is so unnatural, it's the least destructive and most uplifting form of allegiance humanly possible on an effective scale." But declaring allegiance to all of humanity, or to all sentient or sapient creatures, is also unnatural, and I don't see how your logic makes national loyalty morally superior to global loyalty, once you acknowledge that both are unnatural and artificial in a world where natural loyalties are far more parochial.

Vipul Naik writes:

@Steve Sailer:

I'm sympathetic to your claim that open borders is the logical conclusion of many of the arguments laid about by moderate pro-immigrationers, who often fail to follow through on the implications of their own claims. My co-blogger Nathan has argued along similar lines critiquing an immigration moderate:

Reppert’s seemingly commonsensical moderate position is not actually a feasible, sustainable compromise. One amnesty would create the expectation of another amnesty, which would draw in more immigrants hoping to benefit from the next amnesty, until, hopefully, people start to see that the only way to reconcile a decent respect for human rights with incentivizing law-abiding behavior is to open the borders.

Yet, this is not an indication that open borders is currently a mainstream position. One could well argue, as Peter Singer does, that donating large sums of money to the world's poorest people is a moral obligation that follows from commonsense morality and well-understood cultural and religious precepts such as tithing. It's also true that Singer's position, while it has been critiqued for perhaps being more extreme than it needs to be, has not been widely denounced. This does not mean that Singer's radical proposal of donating large sums of money to poverty alleviation is a mainstream position. Roughly, open borders is to the rhetorical and on-the-ground status quo regarding borders what Peter Singer's proposals are to the rhetorical and on-the-ground status quo regarding charity.

Steve Sailer writes:

The Wall Street Journal repeated its call for a five word Constitutional Amendment "There shall be open borders" about five times in the 1980s, and editor Robert Bartley revived it once or twice in the early 2000.

So, Open Borders fanatics enjoyed the support of the single most valuable mouthpiece of that era.

What's fascinating is how little the WSJ was criticized for this from the left. Michael Lind, who has the politics of a Truman Democrat, criticized it in Salon and Mother Jones, but otherwise ... crickets and an occasional cough.

The mainstream today sees Open Borders extremists as people whose hearts are in the right place, but who take the logic of the mainstream conventional wisdom a little too far and too fast, so they might scare the dumb masses before "immigration reform" gets shoved through in Washington. So, best to not give them any publicity until after the deal is done. Then, you extremists will be useful in the next round of opening the borders, so your day in the spotlight will come.

MikeP writes:

So, Open Borders fanatics enjoyed the support of the single most valuable mouthpiece of that era.

With seven whole articles over thirty years? What support!

Meanwhile, to put some numbers on my NPR claim above, let's ask the Google...

immigration "Center for Immigration Studies" -- 368 hits
immigration "Numbers USA" -- 52 hits
immigration "open borders" -- 125 hits

Among those 125 hits, there is a smattering that actually sound like they might be open borders advocates. I'll have to click through to see what they mean by that. Maybe a quarter more have to do with easy movement around the EU.

But the great majority either bring up open borders as the straw man that of course they are not for or as the straw man that the other guy is for.

That is why the mainstream media is silent on some column in the WSJ on open borders: It simply doesn't occur to them to be interested in the concept.

The mainstream today sees Open Borders extremists...

The mainstream today doesn't see open borders extremists.

Vipul Naik writes:

Apropos Taeyoung's claim of accusations of racism, I decided to do a quick Google search to see whether restrictionist sites use the term more often or pro-migration/pro-open borders sites:

Restrictionist websites:
racist -- about 560 results
racist -- about 7500 results (!!)
racist -- about 280 results
racist -- about 1300 results
racist -- about 1900 results
racist -- about 30 results (unusually low for a restrictionist website)

Explicitly pro-open borders sites:
racist -- about 110 results

Other pro-migration sites:
racist -- about 30 results
racist -- about 120 results
racist -- about 110 results

Other sites discussing migration:

racist -- 23 results
racist -- about 50 results

The above numbers seem to tally with my initial impression that people on the restrictionist side are a lot more concerned about the issue of racism compared to open borders advocates or the more generally pro-immigration folks.

Of course, other interpretations of the numbers are possible and I might be missing some of them.

Steve Sailer writes:

MikeP complains:

"Open borders are not even discussed in the mainstream media."

Look, the big boys like Obama, McCain, Clinton, and the Bush family just want you Open Borders purists to keep your mouths shut a little while longer while they shove through "immigration reform." They want the voters to pay as little attention as possible, so having you guys promote your reductio ad absurdum of what the Establishment is doing is counterproductive to them. After amnesty goes through, _then_ you guys will get a little media love in the long process of softening voters up for the next amnesty.

Joss Delage writes:

I'm in favor of open borders and I'm an INTP, with emphasis on I (to some extent) and T (off the chart - everyone is a bleeding heart F to me).

I think you're under-estimating the importance of N/S and P/J, and over-estimating I/E.

Steve Z writes:

I take this to be just a poorly disguised ad hom attack on immigration restriction advocates. Instead of just coming out and saying, "you guys are hate-filled and narrow-minded, unlike me and my pals, who are open and agreeable" Professor Caplan instead writes, "in my experience, immigration restrictionists have _personality types_ that are hate filled." Or something like that.

It is difficult to accurately interpret the emotional reasons for the political positions of your opponents; and making the attempt without a proper empirical basis almost always obfuscates more than it reveals, because it coats prejudice with the veneer of objectivity. It might be interesting to collect a sample of hardcore immigration restrictionists and open borders advocates and administer the MMPI-2. I doubt there would be a statistically significant difference between the groups. However, I bet that both groups are a lot nerdier than the general population, because caring intensely about anything abstract is the classic marker of the nerd.

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