Bryan Caplan  

Immigration: An Appeal to the Concerned Friends of Don Boudreaux

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Don Boudreaux thoughtfully discusses the putative political externalities of immigration, then ends on a pessimistic note:
I have no illusions (I really and truly do not) that anything that I write here, or that I might write in follow-up posts or essays, will convince my concerned friends that the greater danger to the freedom that they cherish lies in excusing pragmatic-seeming exceptions to freedom rather than in a principled commitment to maintain freedom...
I'm more hopeful.  I can't persuade everyone to embrace free immigration.  But I think I can persuade Don's concerned friends, given time.  And there's no time to start like the present.  Here is my appeal to the concerned friends of Don Boudreaux:

1. Contrary to Don, we should be open to "pragmatic-seeming exceptions to freedom."  But to qualify as a "pragmatic exception to freedom," the exception has to be (a) small and (b) yield large gains with high certainty.  Restricting access to plutonium is a good example of a pragmatic exception to freedom:  There are few peaceful uses, and plutonium in the wrong hands is likely to kill millions. 

2. Restricting immigration is not a small restriction on freedom.  It deprives hundreds of millions of desperate people of the basic right to sell their labor to willing employers, causing massive global poverty.  Hard truth: immigration restrictions are genuinely more oppressive than the infamous Jim Crow laws.

3. Restricting immigration to keep immigrants from voting does not yield sharply more libertarian policies with high certainty

a. Immigrants are at worst only modestly less freedom-loving than natives.  Natives aren't libertarians, and immigrants aren't Stalinists.

b. It's not clear that immigrants are less freedom-loving than natives.  Immigrants' detractors focus on their allegiance to the Democratic Party.  But after the George W. Bush era, it's hard to say if Democrats are more statist overall than Republicans.  Obama's been a disaster, but how much of his agenda would have happened anyway if his Republican opponents had defeated him?

c. In any case, the low-skilled immigrants most likely to frighten Don's concerned friends have little political influence because (a) they have low turnout and (b) democracy largely ignores low-income voters' preferences.

d. Finally, immigrants probably reduce native support for the welfare state by undermining our group identity.  This is a standard story about why the welfare state is smaller in the U.S. than Europe: People happily vote for big government as long as the beneficiaries look like they do. 

e. By the way, immigrants are clearly more libertarian than natives on immigration policy itself.  Think about this the next time that natives complain that immigrant voters are oppressing them. 

I could talk about all the economic benefits immigrants offer to natives.  I've done so elsewhere.  But if you're a concerned friend of Don Boudreaux, this is beside the point.  You may not be as absolutist as Don, but you share his presumption of human liberty.  If there isn't a strong, clear case in favor of immigration restriction, how can you in good conscience say anything other than, "Tear down this wall"?



COMMENTS (64 to date)
John T. Kennedy writes:

On plutonium, sure, whenever I'm concerned about whether people can be trusted with something, that makes me want to put corrupt political liars and thieves in charge of it....

Daniel Schmuhl writes:

"Immigrants are at worst only modestly less freedom-loving than natives. Natives aren't libertarians, and immigrants aren't Stalinists."

You do realize that the majority of the world's Muslims for example think that adulterers and apostates should be killed according to a Pew poll I seen. Should a 100 million fundamentalists have the right to come over here?

I've also seen polls showing that Hispanics have a significantly less favorable view of capitalism, only 32% of Hispanics have a favorable view of capitalism compared to whites
http://www.people-press.org/2011/12/28/little-change-in-publics-response-to-capitalism-socialism/12-28-11-2/ .

Even if you accept the idea of native support for the welfare state declining it wouldn't really matter under an open borders scenario because they would quickly be outnumbered. The poor people in India alone outnumber us.

Hopaulius writes:

Is there any example in the industrial era of a nation without any border control at all? Isn't what you are advocating an end to the nation state?

Steve Z writes:
Immigrants' detractors focus on their allegiance to the Democratic Party. But after the George W. Bush era, it's hard to say if Democrats are more statist overall than Republicans.

The implied premise here is that the worst possible option is the two party system of today, but shifted toward the D side. This is not the argument you've seen repeatedly in the comments. How can you persuade if you do not listen?

Thought experiment time. Would anybody reading this support a bill supporting unlimited free immigration for criminals who had committed common law felonies? Say other countries could empty their prisons into our borders. From what I can tell, Prof. Caplan would support this bill on ethical ground. I wouldn't. If you also wouldn't, you are an immigration 'restrictionist'-- i.e., a pragmatist. Precisely where you draw the line is just a matter of degree.

Cloaking the dispute in rights talk is just a smoke screen. Rights must yield to superior rights, and the right to national self determination has always trumped the inchoate interest of the huddled masses to trespass upon a particular country's borders. The flip side of Prof Caplan's support for unlimited free immigration is a disregard for the rule of law, e.g., cheering when the president declined to enforce the DREAM Act. The end point is doing away with the nation as a unit of polity. This is truly radical, and should not be allowed to happen without reflection.

Sal writes:

Aren't the deepest drivers of anti-immigration attitudes rooted in cultural issues (rather than economic concerns)? I think most of the people who oppose immigration do so because they fear the set of beliefs which shape our culture (political norms, religious beliefs, social and moral codes etc.) are vastly different from those of immigrants. Native cultures metamorphose when immigrant values and norms are thrown into the mix. This makes natives fearful of losing the cultural compass that informs their lives.

Let me pose this question to you Bryan:

Would you be willing to have your kids grow up in a neighborhood full of immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iran?

MikeP writes:

Is there any example in the industrial era of a nation without any border control at all?

Umm... The United States?

Or did "the industrial era" only start in 1917...

Isn't what you are advocating an end to the nation state?

No.

The borders of the nation state are by definition where other nation states' laws and agents cannot enter. It is not at all required in the definition of a nation state to prohibit entry of other nation states' people, goods, services, capital, ideas, etc.

Dan writes:

The US used to have very effective border control. The controls being that it was difficult, if not expensive, for Europeans to come here, it was difficult, if not foreboding to cross the southwest border and Canadians are already Americans but with less enmity towards the King of England.

Inexpensive aviation has minimized oceans as a border for all but the extreme poor (ie Haitians). Population growth and the expansion of roads in the southwest has all but eliminated geography as a natural border with Mexico & Central America.

The reality is that "open borders" today means something much different than "open borders" did before 1950. "Coming to America" meant something special. It required sacrifice and commitment, not just a commitment that the move was likely permanent but also a commitment to the American ideal of independence, personal autonomy and self-sufficiency.

The "open borders" experiment that is California is empirical evidence that there are real costs to uncontrolled immigration of low-skilled people to what is now a socialist, welfare nation. The fact that huge numbers of California immigrants are in prison is a red flag. The fact that huge number of California immigrants are on some form of welfare and state assistance is a red flag. The extreme economic inequality that exists in California is a red flag.

Are there any lessons to be learned from the California experiment? Or does ideology trump reason and demand all contradictory evidence be ignored?

8 writes:

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george writes:

I think California's relative demise highlights the concerns of those against open borders. California circa 1965 was the most prosperous, educated, livable place on earth. That same year massive immigration started. Now it's more like Brazil, with beautiful attractions and gated communities, but the commons are third-world.

S writes:

I think it would be genuinely interesting to see if any of Don's friends read this post and reconsider. I look forward to the follow up!

Steve writes:

Wages, GDP, externalities, voting patterns, etc. are all secondary issues here. At its root, the libertarian immigration position is based on one idea: that people have a fundamental right to live wherever they like.

To anyone who accepts this idea, border controls actively harm people by preventing them from choosing to exercise a right that could improve their lives. To people who reject the idea, permission to immigrate is a privilege that may be extended out of generosity, but need not be. Professor Caplan could save life by donating 75% of his income to anti-malaria campaigns in poor countries, or by giving one of his kidneys to a stranger who would die without a transplant. But he won't do these things, and he won't think that he's "harming" anyone as a result...because people don't have a "right" to his kidney or his money.

It seems to me that a large majority of Americans and foreigners would reject the libertarian position in favor of the idea that citizenship is something analogous to property ownership. Property owners can allow other people to live on their property, but they are not obligated to do so, even if those people will be worse off as a result of the owners' choice.

Rather than simply arguing from the same assumed premise over and over again, Boudreaux, Caplan, et al. should provide detailed, systematic support for that premise. Relatively few people agree with it, so presumably the burden of proof is on them to change peoples' minds.

Andrew writes:
At its root, the libertarian immigration position is based on one idea: that people have a fundamental right to live wherever they like.

Just to clarify. The libertarian position is that I don't have any right to use force to keep other people from engaging in trade. This includes keeping foreigners from living next door.

If you are really worried about Immigration's effects on the welfare state and democracy, then you should be arguing against the welfare state and democracy. Immigrants are neither the problem nor the issue.

Jeff writes:

I think it's kind of funny how Bryan tries to reassure us EconLoggers by claiming that immigrants views on immigration are "more libertarian" than natives, as if they were slipping across the Rio Grande with a copy of Capitalism an Freedom tucked in their backpacks. These folks aren't principled defenders of liberty; they're protecting their self interests--which is fine, I certainly don't blame them for that--but you can bet to the extent these people are libertarians, it pretty much starts and ends with their proclivity for border-hopping in search of marginally better wages. As evidence, look at immigration policies in Central America, ie, these immigrants home countries. Not exactly going to make Murray Rothbard gush. Or look at their professed views on capitalism and socialism, as whoever linked to it above.

Steve writes:
If you are really worried about Immigration's effects on the welfare state and democracy, then you should be arguing against the welfare state and democracy. Immigrants are neither the problem nor the issue.

If (open borders)x(welfare state)=problem, then we can eliminate the problem by making either open borders or welfare state equal zero. But it's not even remotely politically possible to eliminate the welfare state in 2013 America. Restricting immigration is the only feasible way to avoid the problem.

R Richard Schweitzer writes:

Let us consider the effects of "transformation of the citizenry" occasioned by immigration.

We might consider that the degree of "transformation" can be impacted by the degree of immigration.

For libertarians who would consider open and unrestricted immigration consider the following extreme and unlikely scenario:

with open integration, a full flood of devout and dedicated Shia Muslims, over time, enter into the United States in sufficient numbers to establish first areas, then regions and ultimately overall Sharia Law to fully displace the rule of law which permits libertarian conduct.

Would libertarians prefer open immigration that continues to dilute and may ultimately replace those elements of the rule of law which permit libertarianism to exist in the first instance?

Must not some care be exercised if we are to preserve some semblance of what liberties remain?

Mike H writes:

@Steve

It's true that most people have the property rights view of citizenship, but this is a false claim to a "right" born out of convenience and tradition. It extends people's claim to property that is not owned by them. It's a claim to a right to deny other people's right to self-determination. When you deny others the ability to interact, you are becoming an authoritarian.

Just because it's the way it's always been done, and is still the way everyone does it, doesn't make it the right thing to do.

Evan_S writes:

Guys, if too many immigrants get to vote, then we might get a bad government! Can you imagine?!?

Mike H writes:

@R Richard Schweitzer

with open integration, a full flood of devout and dedicated Shia Muslims, over time, enter into the United States in sufficient numbers to establish first areas, then regions and ultimately overall Sharia Law to fully displace the rule of law which permits libertarian conduct.

Would libertarians prefer open immigration that continues to dilute and may ultimately replace those elements of the rule of law which permit libertarianism to exist in the first instance?
Must not some care be exercised if we are to preserve some semblance of what liberties remain?

Just because you can fathom it doesn't make it a legitamate reason to deny people. As you say, it is an extreme and unlikely senario. Since it is extremely uncertain and unlikely it is an insufficient reason to deny people's right to migration.

If it actually became a realistic and concrete problem, then it would fall under Bryan's plutonium example.

Andrew writes:

Just out of curiosity, has Bryan ever reached out to other rich countries and called for them to open their borders? It seems as if the consensus position of libertarian economists is that open borders is the way to go, but why do they only focus on opening the United States' borders? The United States is enormous, and the probability of Bryan swaying outcomes here is tiny, while other countries with lower populations would seem easier to influence.

guthrie writes:

@Steve
That's a rather stark equation. You mean to suggest there's no nuance? That the welfare state must 'equal zero'? Can you elaborate on the word ‘problem’? I'm skeptical that the ‘only feasible way to avoid the problem’ is by using coercion and violence to keep people from moving, working, and living wherever they see fit. I’m skeptical that the *only* way to allow increased immigration is to *completely eliminate* welfare.

@Dan
Newsflash, it’s still foreboding, difficult and expensive to immigrate to the US, even without immigration laws. I’m skeptical that increased immigration would be a problematic burden, and I’m skeptical that the problems of California can be laid solely at the feet of immigrants. Correlation does not equal causation.

guthrie writes:

@Evan_S
Yes! Plus, look at all the bad people in the world who would come here and be bad and form leagues of badness and will (somehow) simultaneously steel jobs and sponge welfare dry and be dumb and commit crimes, *all without consequence*! And their badness would be worse than badness committed by Citizens because Citizenship somehow makes one inherently, indelibly, spiritually superior to the barbaric hordes lurking outside our line in the sand, making Our badness somehow Better…

David Friedman writes:

"The US used to have very effective border control. The controls being that it was difficult, if not expensive, for Europeans to come here,"

True in the 18th century and to a lesser degree in the 19th--although the cost was in part dealt with by contracts letting the immigrant pay the cost of his passage by having his services auctioned off on arrival as a temporary indentured servant. But by the late 19th century it was pretty easy to come and immigration was running at about 1% of the U.S. population per year. And I don't think there were effective controls on the southern border of the U.S. until well into the 20th century.

One point Bryan doesn't make is that the immigration/welfare state problem cuts both ways. Freer immigration reduces the popularity of the welfare state not merely because it makes the population more diverse but because it makes providing welfare more costly, hence politically less popular. In any case, one could, as I proposed a very long time ago, combine free immigration with restrictions on receiving welfare (or voting) for some extended period of time.

Of course, for fairness, the immigrants should also be free from that portion of taxation that pays for the benefits they would not be eligible for.

Dan writes:

Is the Libertarian position that all cultures are equal? If they are why did the United States become the world's superpower and Spain did not? If all cultures are not equal then who decides which cultures "win" and how is this decision made?

I would prefer the battle of cultures not be waged by civil war nor by legalized discrimination. Yet history shows that these are likely outcomes when dissimilar cultures collide.

A wise Republic would protect the culture that made it successful in the first place and have in place safeguards to avoid the risk of dilution. The Libertarian position seems to be presumptuous and/or naive on this matter. As if the success or failure of nations is just a matter of luck that no one can control nor predict.

Steve writes:
@Steve That's a rather stark equation. You mean to suggest there's no nuance? That the welfare state must 'equal zero'? Can you elaborate on the word ‘problem’? I'm skeptical that the ‘only feasible way to avoid the problem’ is by using coercion and violence to keep people from moving, working, and living wherever they see fit. I’m skeptical that the *only* way to allow increased immigration is to *completely eliminate* welfare.

The "problem" is the fiscal problem created by an increasing number of people who consume more government benefits than they pay in taxes. The point of the equation was to say that the problem is multifactorial: you can't just blame the welfare state and call it a day.

In theory, the imbalance could be eased either by reducing the welfare state or by reducing low-skilled immigration. In reality, it would be extremely difficult to significantly decrease benefits, so immigration is the only variable we can control substantially. The idea that we could maintain the welfare state but restrict immigrants' access to it is politically ludicrous.

Thomas DeMeo writes:

Mike H- It is true that a propert view of citizenship as a right is not strictly recognized in American law, but as a practical matter, the rights we do have give us the power to put up as many obstacles to entry as we want.

Arguing for this is a little like arguing for world peace. Probably the most common use of democracy is to create laws that lock in and protect the political power of particular constituencies.

Steve writes:

Again, all of the fiscal, political, and cultural issues have only secondary importance here. Boudreaux and Caplan argue that free immigration would be positive for Americans on net, but they would still support it even if there were net negative consequences, because they think it's morally wrong to prevent people from crossing the border.

Libertarians have no problem with laws against trespassing, because they think that private property ownership trumps non-owners' "right" to enter the property. In an analogous way, most people think that citizens' collective stake in the country trumps non-citizens' "right" to enter it. Libertarians dispute this, which logically leads them to unusual policy positions. This disagreement is the fundamental one, and we should be debating it instead of distracting ourselves with secondary issues.

guthrie writes:

@Dan
Our culture is not endangered by increased immigration. Period. The US will no more devolve into civil war than it did during the last half of the 19th century onward.

@Steve
Firstly, we already have a problem with welfare recipients using more then they contribute. Increased immigration would only marginally affect this current ‘problem’. Secondly, you’re assuming that immigrants wouldn’t come here and begin working shortly after. I believe that’s a hasty and faulty assumption. Thirdly, politicians would be forced to respond to popularity pressures as they always have. See Prof. Friedman's post above. It's just as ludicrous to suggest that the political class of either party would long survive should they ignore the declining popularity of welfare in the face of increased immigration.

I would dispute that ‘collective stake’ is a valid or concrete concept in the first place. ‘Collectivism’ leads to tyranny. And the US immigration policy as it stands now is tyrannical. Forget ‘illegals’… just ask anyone who’s tried to immigrate here legally. The policy changes Libertarians propose would make the country sounder, stronger, and more humane.

guthrie writes:

We must resort to barbarism to keep the barbarians at bay... we have No Choice...

Dan writes:

@guthrie

No "civil war" but we do have race riots about once a generation and there is talk of one occurring if/when Zimmerman is acquitted. These tensions are not the fault of immigrants but how does the entry of millions of new low-skilled, low-educated humans help the existing group holding those same credentials?

Andrew writes:

It would be helpful if Bryan and his fellow libertarian economists were able to persuade another rich country, such as Germany or Israel, to adopt 100% fully open borders. This would provide a nice test case that would surely ease immigration restrictionists' concerns. Also, as a matter of logistics, there are a lot of poor people in countries far away from the United States that could more easily move to other rich countries, such as African immigrants moving to any number of European countries.

Steve writes:

@guthrie

I'm sure there's a homeless man near you who'd like to live in your house and sleep on your couch. Is it "tyrannical" or "barbaric" for you to deny him the right to settle in your home, if that's where he chooses to go?

I don't think that it is, because I think you have a right to do with your property as you see fit, within certain constraints. That's true even if your choice makes the homeless man worse off. It's true even if you inherited your home from rich ancestors and the homeless man was born in miserable conditions. In a similar way, I don't think we have to admit every poor foreigner into the U.S., even if our choice leaves them poorer than they would be if they got in.

Of course, you don't accept that analogy, because you don't think a citizenry can "own" a country in the way that a person or group of people can own property.

I don't have the philosophical background to make a rigorous defense of nation states or of private property, so I'll leave that to others who can do it better. All I want to do is to shift the burden of proof. I'm confident that a large majority of people in the world, past and present, would agree that nations can exercise control over their borders, so your position is quite unusual. At the very least you should try to provide some justification for it, rather than just stating it repeatedly.

Evan_S writes:
how does the entry of millions of new low-skilled, low-educated humans help the existing group holding those same credentials?

By enhancing the division of labor, specialization, and trade, thereby increasing overall production efficiency and lowering consumer prices.

The economy is not a zero-sum game.

Evan_S writes:
I'm sure there's a homeless man near you who'd like to live in your house and sleep on your couch. Is it "tyrannical" or "barbaric" for you to deny him the right to settle in your home, if that's where he chooses to go?

No, but it would be tyrannical and barbaric for a third party to prevent guthrie from doing so if that's what he wanted to do, which is in effect what immigration restrictions do.

Andrew writes:

Why is the focus of open borders advocates such as Bryan and Don always on the right of poor immigrants to work for an American employer? Surely an Ethiopian immigrant has the right to work for a willing employer anywhere on the globe, from Japan to Great Britain, etc. I haven't read Michael Clemens' paper where world GDP doubles with open borders, but I'm assuming he meant the whole world has open borders, not just America.

guthrie writes:

I myself am homeless... save for the fact that I have sold my labor to a willing employer and with the money earned from that sale, purchase - on a monthly basis - the right to reside in a dwelling owned by someone else. What difference does it make if I were born in Tucumcari, or Timbuktu?

There is not one person in this thread or on this blog site who personally knows me... but if you accept that I a) sell my labor to a willing employer and b) use part of those funds to pay for a roof over my head, what part of that equation is affected by my nationality?

Mercer writes:

" Freer immigration reduces the popularity of the welfare state not merely because it makes the population more diverse but because it makes providing welfare more costly, hence politically less popular. "

That is not what happened in CA or in the country at large. The Latino votes helped bring about a big expansion of the welfare state with Obamacare.


" you’re assuming that immigrants wouldn’t come here and begin working shortly after. "

If they work at below average wages they will receive Medicaid or government subsidies under Obamacare and Medicare after they turn 65. Their children will also receive government paid schooling.

guthrie writes:

@Mercer

Was it *just* the Latino votes? There weren't *any* other factors in the passage of Obamacare?

James A. Donald writes:

For the most part, the people we are getting from Mexico are the Mexican underclass, mostly indios. They did not work for employers in Mexico, and not many of them are working for employers here.

In Mexico they hunted, gathered, and stole. Here they hunt cats, gather from dumpsters, steal, and collect welfare, for example food stamps, free medical care at hospital emergency, and their numerous girlfriends spawning numerous anchor babies.

NZ writes:

With increasing frequency, would-be immigrants crossing our southern border are extorted by drug cartels into being mules. I don't know how many end up getting caught shortly after arrival, and I don't know how this skews the numbers on immigrant-perpetrated crime. It's just something to think about, though it seems like a significant proportion of deportations happen after immigrants get into trouble while driving.

Tighter restrictions on immigration might make would-be immigrants more desperate and thus more willing to be mules. On the other hand, coupling tighter restriction on immigration with fewer prohibitions on drugs (at least on the supply-side) would nip that problem in the bud.

guthrie writes:

@James
"All 'indios' are indigent. Mexican indios can only ever be indigent. Therefore all Mexican indios need to be attacked and beaten up – starting of course, with someone like a small woman who cannot and will not fight back"...

guthrie writes:

@Andrew
My guess is that it's because they are most familiar with US policy...

MingoV writes:

Supporters of unlimited immigration discuss the overall benefits to the nation such as increased human capital, increased tax revenues, and more diversity. The costs of open immigration rarely are discussed. Here are a few:

1. Most immigrants will arrive destitute. Even if they have a job lined up, on arrival they will need food, shelter, and transportation. Who pays?

2. Most immigrants will work at jobs that do not provide health insurance benefits. They haven't got much money. If they need costly medical care, who pays?

3. Immigrants tend to move to cities where there are similar immigrants. Such cities can experience rapid increases in population. The cities may need to add water sources, sewage treatment plants, roads or road lanes, schools, etc. Who pays? (The immigrants tend to share apartments or small houses. The cities get almost no additional property tax revenues from the immigrant influx. Tucson is an example.)

Tax revenues from immigrants may eventually make up for the initial local, state, and national expenditures, but they may not. I am not opposed to open immigration, but I will not pretend that open immigration is cost-free.

Andrew writes:

@guthrie,

Of course they are most familiar with US policy, however, that does mean they are ignorant of foreign countries' policies. Especially reading Tyler Cowen, it's hard to come to the conclusion that he is an ignoramus with regards to the outside world. There is a history of libertarian economists, think Milton Friedman, having a profound positive impact on foreign countries that later serve as a beacon for liberty. It's just silly to focus solely on changing the immigration policy of one humungous country, when there are many smaller rich countries with far more restrictive immigration policies located much closer to poor countries.

Dan writes:

If Libertarians favor open borders for the nation do they feel the same about their communities and neighborhoods?

A generation ago there were statists who believed that the solution to inequality was to bus kids from affluent neighborhoods to poor schools and to bus kids from poor neighborhoods to rich schools. Does any one believe that this form of redistribution is not an affront to liberty?

Now certain Libertarians preach of the imperative to open the border and allow any and all into the country. Where will they go? If they flood into a small town will they not create a burden on that school's resources? How is this outcome any different than the statist approach of busing poor kids into the rich school?

Or do Libertarians support the freedom of people to use zoning laws (ie high prices) to restrict who can move into their communities. If they do then how do they reconcile the contradiction that they favor open borders for a nation but not for a community?

Engineer-Poet writes:
Restricting immigration is not a small restriction on freedom. It deprives hundreds of millions of desperate people of the basic right to sell their labor to willing employers, causing massive global poverty.

I call b---s--t.  The conditions in the United States which allow our (relative) peace and prosperity are the product of its current citizens (they certainly did not exist under the aboriginal peoples).  What's wrong with all the other peoples of the world, that they can't do the same in their own territories?

On the contrary:  whatever conditions they create THERE (that they are so eager to get away from), they would almost certainly re-create HERE.

But the biggest problem is that immigration is THEFT.  Yes, you read that right.  IIUC, the people of the United States have made trillions of dollars (on the order of a half-million dollars per capita) of investments in things like roads and schools and water systems.  Someone who just waltzes in and takes up residency deprives US citizens of a share of use of what they and their ancestors have created, without having to pay for it.  That is THEFT.

We should be charging all non-resident immigrants a "use tax" for our amenities, and require a half-million non-refundable fee for permanent residency.  We should probably negotiate reciprocity agreements with England, Australia, etc. but third-worlders and those from alien (e.g. Asian) cultures should have to pay full freight.

Hell, just throw out the 1965 and later immigration acts and go back to what we had from the 20's.  It worked.

guthrie writes:

OH, fie and woe! What shall we do with all the indigents? Where shall we house them? How shall we feed them? Care for them? Educate them? How shall our hamlets and villages cope with the influx? Oh how might answers arise, supplying solutions for these pressing needs? Surely the answers cannot arise as the needs do... when does that ever happen? Oh, when shall those spurious Libertarians address these concerns? Do they not know that the only answer to these heathen crossing our borders... as they are, each and every one stupid and lazy and prone to crime... each last one an unmitigated burden on Us... the only way to deal with them is to shut them out to a man. To incarcerate, to deportate, to terminate, to allow them to rot in whatever hell they were born into. For surely that hell is of their own making. And it's that hell they would deign to bring to our shores, but for our vigilance and righteousness. Amen and God bless our holy borders!

guthrie writes:

@Andrew
I really can't speak for Bryan et al. As for me, I am not nearly as familiar with other countries' policies as I am with ours. It's my feeling that the US can take the lead on this issue, but that's just me.

guthrie writes:

In all these arguments for the status quo - immigration wise - all I can see is a deep lack of faith in our system, a deep lack of faith in our Culture, a deep lack of faith in our Society, and a deep lack of faith in humanity.

I have said before: this is the position I have come from. None of these objections are unfamiliar or ignored. They were once mine.

The Snob writes:

California is a desperate mess, but Texas seems to still be doing ok, and both are very large border states. Perhaps there's a lesson in there?

Dan writes:

@guthrie,

Do Silicon Valley billionaires who live in gated communities display "faith in the system". If so why do they take such active measures to separate themselves from the lower classes? Why are they so intent on reducing the economic leverage of those Americans who are already in the country? Whose interests are THEY fighting for?

Engineer-Poet said it perfectly. If our nation's aristocrats truly wanted to be altruistic they would work to make others nations as prosperous as ours. This would be the better outcome as all the world would benefit.

Let's make open immigration conditional on a plan that would require all of our nation's wealthiest communities, like Woodside, CA and Potomac, MD to house, educate and socialize with a sizable portion of the world's indigent. Then let's see how enthusiastic those CEOs and politicians would be about the economic surplus of immigration.

Speaking of faith, I have none as it concerns our nation's elite who are willing to spend so much of their money to live separate and apart from the rest of us, and yet who preach that the rest of us should be more tolerant and receiving of the world's poor. Do not actions speak louder than words?

guthrie writes:

@Dan
People who live in gated communities prefer those communities. I do not. Even if I did, my communities' 'jurisdiction' would be unanimously agreed upon by the residents, and would end at the gate. As you and I do not agree upon immigration policy, we probably ought not live together in the same gated community.

I am neither wealthy nor altruistic. You're speaking past me here.

So, the answer to coercion is more coercion? Come, man...

You also appear to have no faith in the humans who would live here, attempting to improve their own lives, and in the process, improving yours. The 'elite' care nothing for your disdain. It's the impoverished of the world who suffer from it, however. Loud speech indeed...

Vipul Naik writes:

The discussion above is very interesting. This blog post attempts to address some of the issues raised in the comments above:

Open borders advocates and private charity

terrymac writes:

Does Europe count as industrialized? I have seen a picture of a "border crossing" in Switzerland, and it's nothing like the fortified barriers in the USA. One is supposed to buy a window sticker to pay for tolls. If a guard is present at the border, he'll check. If not, you're on your own - honor system. That's all the "border control" they have.

In times of peace, why should there be any more?

dsgntd_plyr writes:

terrymac wrote:
Does Europe count as industrialized? I have seen a picture of a "border crossing" in Switzerland, and it's nothing like the fortified barriers in the USA.

Switzerland doesn't border Mexico. Is the US-Canada "fortified?"

Professor Bourdeaux lost me when he called immigration controls "tyranny". This is moralistic posturing. The plutonium example illustrates the problem. Some restrictions on freedom make sense.

Please read Garrett Hardin's "The Tragedy of the Commons" (__Science__, 1968).

Seems to me, if you want to think clearly about something that matters, think instead of something else that doesn't matter which shares common features with the issue. Suppose you own a pasture on which you graze cattle. You have determined the optimal number of cattle that your pasture will support. Your neighbor has overstocked his pasture with skinny, diseased cattle. Do you maintain your fence or not?

The common property of the US is the property of current citizens, not all 7 billion of Earth's inhabitants.

1. Value is determined by supply and demand, therefore: ...
2. A world in which human life is precious is a world in which human life is scarce.
3. The Earth's human population cannot grow without limit.
4. The Earth's human population will stop growing when either (a) the birth rate falls to meet the death rate or (b) the death rate rises to meet the birth rate.
5. The Earth's human population will stop growing as a result of either (a) deliberate human agency or (b) other.
6. Deliberate human agency is either (a) democratically controlled or (b) other.
7. The government of __A__ (locality) is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber).
8. All human behavioral traits are heritable; therefore: ...
9. Voluntary programs for population control selectively breed non-compliant individuals.
10. The Earth's maximum possible instantaneous population is greater than it's maximum possible sustainable population.
11. The Earth's maximum possible sustainable population leaves little room for wilderness or large terrestrial vertebrates.

A compulsory Chinese-style policy is the optimistic scenario. Build a wall.

Dan writes:

Is all immigration to all nations beneficial to all people in those nations? That is a bold claim and empirical evidence suggests the answer is NO. Immigration without assimilation creates factions that divide communities and weaken national resolve.

Google "2005 French Riots" for one real, modern example of poorly planned and executed immigration.

Tocqueville observed that the United States culture was unique and that this uniqueness allowed democracy to succeed where it had failed so many times in Europe. If Tocqueville is correct then it might be important to understand what was unique about 19th century US culture and to ask whether that uniqueness persists today? And if what was unique then is no longer unique now it might be important to understand what the ramifications are for the future of democracy in America.

To preach uncontrolled immigration as a benefit, absent of any explanation of how those benefits will be realized, is to be either an ideologue or a simpleton. I cannot think of any successful institution on this planet that does not regulate in some way its clientele. Public schools demand residency. Universities filter on standards of achievement. Businesses select who gets to work for them and set prices on the goods and services they sell. Cities, communities and neighborhoods impose standards of conduct and behavior and punish those who do not abide.

There is no free for all, anywhere. A nation that wishes to pretend otherwise will find such freedom to be extremely expensive and costly.

guthrie writes:

@dsgntd_plyr
"Switzerland doesn't border Mexico."

So?

"Is the US-Canada "fortified?" "

More now than ever before, with no (foreseeable) hope of returning to what was 'relatively unfortified'. Am I missing your point?

@Malcom
"The plutonium example illustrates the problem. Some restrictions on freedom make sense."

Yes. They make sense when there's legitimate danger involved. You've either missed or are purposely misconstruing Bryan's point.

The 'common property' argument is tired and should be abandoned for better ones. Please read Prof. Bourdeaux's 'The Nation Is Not A House' http://www.ilw.com/articles/2008,1218-boudreaux.shtm

Comparing people to cattle and invoking Malthus does not bolster your case.

@Dan
Here is an article discussing empiric data: http://openborders.info/double-world-gdp/

"Immigration without assimilation creates factions that divide communities and weaken national resolve."

Where is your empiric data?

Are you absolutely certain that the French riots were divided cleanly between citizens and immigrants? Is there no shadow of doubt that the *only* causal factors in those events were ones of Immigration and Race?

"To preach uncontrolled immigration as a benefit, absent of any explanation of how those benefits will be realized, is to be either an ideologue or a simpleton."

Agreed. The explanations come by way of economics. It's called 'division of labor' and 'comparative advantage'. You're welcome (see also the link above).

"There is no free for all, anywhere. A nation that wishes to pretend otherwise will find such freedom to be extremely expensive and costly."

Again, agreed. No supporter of relaxed immigration I've read so far has come across as presenting a 'free for all', not to me anyway. Of *course* there will be some cost. Is it 'extreme'? That's debatable. Is it more costly than losing human lives which could otherwise not only be salvaged, but likely made better? Not. Even. Close.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick writes:

(Malcolm): "The plutonium example illustrates the problem. Some restrictions on freedom make sense."
(Guthrie): "Yes. They make sense when there's legitimate danger involved. You've either missed or are purposely misconstruing Bryan's point."

How so? Professor Bourdeaux wrote of restrictions on freedom as "tyranny" and Professor Henderson corrects him. While I agree with the correction I disagree with Henderson's contention that "to qualify as a "pragmatic exception to freedom," the exception has to be (a) small and (b) yield large gains with high certainty." Why must the exemption be "small"? The compulsion to reproduce originates in the nucleus of every cell and receives reinforcement through cultural evolution. This compulsion evolved when humans were scarce. The restriction will be massive but the downside of unrestricted population growth is enormous. Where do you disagree with the numbered argument I outlined above?

(Guthrie): "The 'common property' argument is tired and should be abandoned for better ones. Please read Prof. Bourdeaux's 'The Nation Is Not A House' http://www.ilw.com/articles/2008,1218-boudreaux.shtm"

Okay, but if his argument is no better than the one that Henderson rebuts, I don't expect to learn much. We do in fact hold property in common. My turn to make a recommendation: Posner, "The Law and Economics Movement" (AER).

(Guthrie): "Comparing people to cattle and invoking Malthus does not bolster your case."

You're missing this point:...
(Me): "if you want to think clearly about something that matters, think instead of something else that doesn't matter which shares common features with the issue."

Malthus was right. Over the long haul, the Earth's biomass is (approximately, and asteroidal impacts excluded) constant. That's Darwin as well. Or do you think the world is 6000 years old?

guthrie writes:

@Malcolm
'Why must the exemption be "small"?'

Because we wish to limit the power of the State to coerce. There is also far more certainty that controlling the supply of Plutonium will preserve human life, while it can be argued that controlling human movement does more to make life miserable and end it sooner for those who are so controlled. I would rather the State control Plutonium than human movement.

'Where do you disagree with the numbered argument I outlined above?'

This thread is about immigration, not population. I did not address your list b/c frankly it seemed to me slightly off-topic and a non-sequitur.

But since you ask, I disagree with your conclusion. It could just as easily be concluded that we expand our population base to include other biospheres, created by human agent, on other planets. Allowing population to grow without restriction is truly the 'optimistic scenario', IMO.

'... I don't expect to learn much.'

Never know until you read it, right? Same for me and Posner. But the subject fascinates me so I'm sure I'll get something out of it...

'Malthus was right.'

Seems to me that Malthus had very little faith in human ingenuity and imagination. I'd call that at least mistaken if not outright incorrect. I'll site another source, 'Infinite Resource' by Ramez Naam. If you don't want to spring for the book, there's plenty of pertinent content in the articles and interviews he's made on the subject.

'Or do you think the world is 6000 years old?'

Cute. Rest assured Malcolm, my faith in a Young Earth is about as deep as what would seem to be your faith in humanity (or at least human ingenuity). So, you tell me... do you believe the Moon landings were staged?

Malcolm Kirkpatrick writes:

(Malcolm): "Why must the exemption be 'small'?"
(Guthrie): "Because we wish to limit the power of the State to coerce. There is also far more certainty that controlling the supply of Plutonium will preserve human life, while it can be argued that controlling human movement does more to make life miserable and end it sooner for those who are so controlled. I would rather the State control Plutonium than human movement."

Immigration control (from over the border and from the future (natural increase)) prevents a tragedy of the commons. Value is determined by supply and demand. A world in which human life is precious is a world in which human life is scarce. Human misery is like heat; in the absence of barriers (insulation) it flows until it is evenly distributed. Absent restrictions on immigration and natural increase the entire Earth will eventually look like Calcutta.

(Malcolm): "Where do you disagree with the numbered argument I outlined above?"
(Guthrie): "This thread is about immigration, not population. I did not address your list b/c frankly it seemed to me slightly off-topic and a non-sequitur."

Immigration policy is a subset of population policy, which is a subset of environmental policy.

(Guthrie): "But since you ask, I disagree with your conclusion. It could just as easily be concluded that we expand our population base to include other biospheres, created by human agent, on other planets. Allowing population to grow without restriction is truly the 'optimistic scenario', IMO."

Science fiction/fantasy and hope are not strategies.

(Malcolm): "'... I don't expect to learn much."
(Guthrie): "Never know until you read it, right? Same for me and Posner. But the subject fascinates me so I'm sure I'll get something out of it..."

Okay. I read it. Bourdeaux simply asserts "because they're different". Weak. Why are they different?

(Guthrie): "So, you tell me... do you believe the Moon landings were staged?"

No. How is this relevant? Do you suppose that lunar colonization will address human crowding on Earth?

guthrie writes:

'Immigration control (from over the border and from the future (natural increase)) prevents a tragedy of the commons.'

How can we prevent something we apparently already have? And even though it's so common and so tragic, life somehow continues to improve for those who live in *relative* freedom. Is it not possible that 'the commons' simply need to become 'not common' anymore? Is it not possible that Kolkata looks the way it does because of backwards *policy* and *tradition* rather than *population*?

'... population policy...'

So would you be the one who decides who can/cannot breed? Good luck with that...

'Science fiction/fantasy and hope are not strategies.'

Agreed.

'Bourdeaux simply asserts "because they're different". Weak. Why are they different?'

Did you ignore the third paragraph? It answers that question directly. Here... I'll reprint it for you:

'The analogy of a home to a nation is more misleading than helpful. Unlike a home, a nation—at least each nation whose citizens are free—is not a private domain; it does not belong to anyone in the way that a house belongs to its owner. Also unlike in a home, living space within a free country is allocated by market transactions rather than by the conscious, nonmarket decisions of the residents of a house. A person who enters a country and purchases a place to live displaces no one in the way that an intruder into a home would displace a resident from his bed and favorite chair. In addition, of course, every intruder into a home likely intends to inflict some harm on the household’s residents. In contrast, the vast majority of persons who enter a country intend no harm to anyone.'

'How is this relevant?'

It's as relevant (if not more so) as your question to me about a 6000 year old earth.

'Do you suppose that lunar colonization will address human crowding on Earth?'

... and this is why it's more relevant. You sought with your quip to mock my intelligence. Fair enough. My question mocks the tendency of population alarmists to ignore technology *we already have* to expand humanity beyond Earth *should we ever need it*. Which we don't, and won't for quite some time. We will have Lunar and Martian colonies established well before any real population crisis occurs.

You may dismiss it as 'science fiction', but there are many thousands of people worldwide willing to spend their money, brainpower and lives proving you wrong. Given my faith in humanity, I'm far more willing to bet with them than with you.

So Malcolm, for the most part you can relax. The Earth is fine. Humans are fine. If the problem is pressing enough and people are free enough, solutions will be discovered and produced. Human life on earth will continue to improve.

The only real caveat to this would be if humans aren't free to create those solutions. And closed borders (to say nothing of something called 'population policy') makes humans less free. Let us then strive to allow humans to be as free as possible. In fact you ought to be advocating for them yourself, Malcolm. For if the problems are as pressing as you say, our future generations will need all the freedom they can get.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick writes:

(Guthrie): "How can we prevent something we apparently already have?"
Okay; minimize. We don't have to exacerbate the tragedy.

(Malcolm): "... population policy..."
(Guthrie): "So would you be the one who decides who can/cannot breed?"
Please address the arguments I actually make.
"5. The Earth's human population will stop growing as a result of either (a) deliberate human agency or (b) other.
6. Deliberate human agency is either (a) democratically controlled or (b) other."
(Guthrie): "Did you ignore the third paragraph?"
No. Banks own many homes in which the mortgage payer has the right to decide who may visit. If you want a closer analogy, however, ownership of Marriot stock does not confer the right on any shareholder to invite friends to occupy hotel rooms for free. Countries are corporations.

(Malcolm): "How is this relevant?"
(Guthrie): "It's as relevant (if not more so) as your question to me about a 6000 year old earth. ... and this is why it's more relevant. You sought with your quip to mock my intelligence."
Not at all. It's an application of efficient market theory to biology. Life has had time to expand into every available niche. Watering tropical deserts aside, making room for more human biomass means displacing (exterminating) non-human biomass. Value is determined by supply and demand. Doctrinaire libertarians would cheapen human life.

Ghost of Christmas Past writes:

Sayeth our host:

2. Restricting immigration is not a small restriction on freedom.  It deprives hundreds of millions of desperate people of the basic right to sell their labor to willing employers, causing massive global poverty.  Hard truth: immigration restrictions are genuinely more oppressive than the infamous Jim Crow laws. [emphasis added]

"Massive global poverty" is obviously caused by local conditions rather than restrictions on migration. If you look at the advanced countries of the world you see no clear advantage to admitting large numbers of immigrants, nor disadvantage to excluding them. For every Canada there is a Korea. For every USA* there is a China. At the same time countries like Argentina prove you can have immigration and economic stagnation both. Australia is the exception that proves the rule: it is an advanced country only because its natives were replaced with migrants from other already advanced countries.

Since local conditions determine poverty, the question is whether those conditions reflect the character of the people in some area or merely some political conditions which could be remedied if the people were galvanized somehow (compare N and S Korea)

However, both answers militate against mass migration. Moving won't change any migrant's innate qualities, and bringing people raised in a bad political culture into a country with a good one may harm it.

The way to end global poverty is to encourage industrialization and political evolution in impoverished countries. Immigration restrictions don't make hundreds of millions of people poor, they never had such an effect and still don't. Immigration restrictions merely help protect wealth won by other means from dissipation.

Compared to local oppressions which keep the masses of the world in poverty restrictions on immigration to faraway industrialized countries rate about zero on the oppression meter. The secret police who beat up "speculators" who attempt to barter a few radishes on the black market in North Korea work for the local despot, not for the OECD.

*Even the USA continued to get richer during 45 years of minimal immigration in the 20th Century. Why didn't all other countries do likewise?

guthrie writes:

@Malcolm
‘Okay; minimize. We don't have to exacerbate the tragedy.’

Right. As mentioned, we can make the commons ‘uncommon’, and eliminate the tragedy. Problem solved.

‘Please address the arguments I actually make.’

Very well. I dispute the phrase ‘will stop growing’. My question is, why? Why would and why should human population ‘stop growing’? All that follows from your list hangs on this phrase. That’s a lot of weight resting on a rather bold assumption.

I still maintain that the use of the phrase ‘population policy’ suggests instituting eugenics. ‘Democratically’ administered or no, this is abhorrent.

‘Countries are corporations.’

Again, no it’s not. A country is neither a house, a farm, or a corporation. All of these analogies break down at the same points. They are not useful in the discussion over immigration, which is not your discussion, by the way.

‘Value is determined by supply and demand’

Wrong. ‘Value’ is subjective.
http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2010/06/values_are_subj.html

@Ghost

I’m gonna pick on this one word: ‘dissipation’.

Why are you so sure the wealth would dissipate with more relaxed immigration? Your examples give an unclear picture at best.

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